Liberating Liberalism from Liberal Neutrality
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Liberal neutrality is the idea that laws should not be based on religious or philosophical doctrines that not everyone accepts. The idea is closely related to the "liberal principle of legitimacy", which holds that laws are legitimate only if they are acceptable to people who are subject to them. In this thesis, I examine if the idea of neutrality meets liberalism's own requirements of legitimacy. To do so, I ask what arguments can be given to persuade evangelical Christians--a sizable minority of the U.S. population who are opposed to neutral policies on abortion, school prayer, etc.--to accept neutrality. First, I examine Ackerman and Rawls's "consensus-finding" argument, which claims generally that most comprehensive conceptions of the good are compatible with neutrality. Second, I examine Larmore, Dworkin, and Kymlicka's "consensus-building" arguments, which try to locate particular principles which non-neutralists (perfectionists) are likely to accept, and the acceptance of which is said to guarantee the acceptance of neutrality as well. I find both arguments unsatisfactory; neither is acceptable to a person who subscribes to the evangelical view of God and human nature. Third, I consider Rawls's proposal to exclude evangelicals and the like, based on the test of reasonableness which he believes is "freestanding". However, I find his test of reasonableness dependent on particular understandings of the terms "free and equal citizens", "common human reason", and "fair terms of cooperation". The test of reasonableness, I suggest, is not freestanding, and it is thus circular to use it as a criterion of exclusion. I conclude, therefore, that liberal neutrality fails to satisfy the liberal principle of legitimacy.