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SHOULD POLITICAL LIBERALS BE COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATIVES? PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE

  • John Tomasi (a1)

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It is easy and popular these days to be a political liberal. Compared to ‘ethical liberals’, who justify the use of state power by way of one or another conception of people's true moral nature, ‘political liberals’ seek a less controversial foundation for liberal politics. Pioneered within the past twenty years by John Rawls and Charles Larmore, the ‘political liberal’ approach seeks to justify the coercive power of the state by reference to general political ideas about persons and society. Since it abandons the debates about personal moral value that have historically dogged liberal theory, political liberalism offers itself as a more latitudinarian, indeed a more liberal, form of liberalism. Being a political liberal is not the only way to be a good liberal, but this approach has become prevalent enough that I shall focus upon it here.

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I thank my fellow contributors to this volume for their spirited response to a first draft of this essay. During the past year, I presented versions of this argument at Yale, Duke, Harvard, Brown, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona, and the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2002. I am grateful to the participants and organizers of these events. For extended discussions and/or written comments, I thank Charles Larmore, David Schmidtz, Bill Galston, Tom Spragens, Stanley Hauerwas, Stephen Holmes, Martha Minnow, David Estlund, Chris Eisgruber, Luke Swaine, John McCormick, Corey Brettscheider, David Grant, Carmen Pavel, Tony Laden, Leigh Jenco, Patchen Markell, Jacob Levy, Steven Kelts, and, especially, the editors at Social Philosophy & Policy. I dedicate this article to the memory of Sir Bernard Williams, teacher and friend.

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