The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus

John Rawls, "The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus," New York University Law Review 64 (1989): 233–55.


In a society marked by a pluralism of comprehensive moral views the ability of a constitutional regime to maintain widespread allegiance is due to “overlapping consensus.” Those with divergent comprehensive views may nonetheless agree on a given political conception of justice. However, the idea of an overlapping consensus as used in Professor Rawls’s earlier works, has caused some misgivings. It seems to suggest that political philosophy is “political” in the wrong way. Professor Rawls answers these misgivings. A political conception of justice, such as Rawls’s “justice as fairness” in A Theory of Justice, is not merely tailored by the dominant group to justify favored results. Nor does it presuppose any particular comprehensive doctrine, whether religious or philosophical. Rather, as supported by an overlapping consensus, justice as fairness falls into a special domain of the political. It gives the framework of a stable constitutional regime by resting on the consensus of citizens who share an understanding of the role of certain basic rights and liberties, even though they may not agree on comprehensive doctrines.

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