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John Rawls’ account of political liberalism posits the necessity of a metaphysically neutral “public reason” to avoid privileging any comprehensive doctrine in the public square. The natural law tradition has been claimed by some as meeting this standard. However, thinkers such as Tracey Rowland criticize the attempt to make natural law a secular, neutral ground; she believes it must be rooted in an overtly Trinitarian and Christological theology. However, such theological assumptions are not shared by those of other comprehensive doctrines. Chantal Mouffe has also challenged Rawls’ consensus conception, focusing rather on the inevitable ideological conflicts to be found in society. This approach is known as agonistic pluralism. I contend that agonistic pluralist theory can provide one way of intellectually justifying an Augustinian Thomist natural law approach to public discourse. That is, agonism’s critique of the concept of “public reason” creates space for political argumentation rooted a natural law account; even an account such as Rowland’s that is strongly suspicious of the possibility of an ideologically or theologically neutral common ground. This is ironic given that Mouffe’s theory is premised on a rejection of the idea of “nature” as natural law theorists understand it.

About the Author

Dr. Young is a political theorist with research interests in modern political thought, the political theory of international relations, and the intersection of theology and political theory. He has presented papers at several academic conferences in the United States and has authored articles, book chapters, and book reviews. His current research is on the relationship of political liberalism and natural law.



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