God and Rawls

Peter Berkowitz, "God and Rawls," Hoover Institution Policy Review, June and July 2009.


It is commonly supposed that liberalism — the political theory that holds that all human beings are by nature free and equal, that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, and that government’s task is to secure the equal rights of all citizens — is rooted in exclusively rational and secular principles. Thomas Jefferson may have proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that we are free and equal because God created us that way and endowed us with unalienable rights. But that was the 18th century, when Christianity held sway and Deism thrived, and Jefferson, in any event, was given to rhetorical flourishes. Two and a half centuries later, liberalism, it is widely thought, has been purified. Religious people may find religious reasons for embracing individual freedom and human equality, but the theistic notions and religious language that were never essential to liberalism’s core conceptions have long ago fallen away or have been deliberately and decisively discarded. Today, liberalism can stand straight and tall on its own reasonable and nonreligious bottom.


Hoover Institute