Rawlsian Liberalism and/as American Progressivism

Anno LVII, n. 234, maggio-agosto 2022
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text


Without denying that the new century has pushed center-stage new political problems, I want in this essay to push back against the idea that TJ and Rawls’s work more generally are best understood as artifacts of the so-called mid-century, post-War, American consensus and so now of interest mainly for historical and perhaps aesthetic reasons. I aim to show that, notwithstanding some overlap, neither TJ nor Rawls’s work more generally articulates and defends, as a matter of substantive political commitment, the so-called mid-century American liberal consensus. Rawls’s substantive political commitments are better understood in relation to earlier 20th century American progressivism and to the complex crisis of American democracy that was already unfolding decades before the Great Depression and World War II. Understood thus, TJ and Rawls’s work more generally belong to and advance an enduring American tradition of progressive republican liberal democratic nationalism. To this tradition belong not only America’s greatest 19th century presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, but also two of its greatest 20th century presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as the now mostly forgotten early 20th century American intellectual father of the progressive republican liberal democratic nationalist vision that Rawls would do so much to revive and advance, Herbert Croly