Marcus Schultz-Bergin


Public reason liberals argue that coercive social arrangements must be publicly justified in order to be legitimate. According to one model of public reason liberalism, known as convergence liberalism, this means that every moderately idealized member of the public must have sufficient reason, of her own, to accept the arrangement. A corollary of this Principle of Public Justification is that a coercive social arrangement fails to be legitimate so long as even one member of the public fails to have sufficient reason to endorse the arrangement. This high bar for justification has led many critics, most notably David Enoch, to argue that convergence models are incapable of vindicating liberalism. They argue that in a sufficiently diverse society, there will always be someone for whom an arrangement is not justified, and therefore convergence liberalism leads to anarchy – the view that no law or coercive social arrangement is legitimate. Other critics accept that convergence liberalism could vindicate core liberal institutions but nothing more, and thus argue that the view makes libertarians effective “dictators”. In either case, critics hold that this objection is sufficient to reject convergence liberalism, either in favor of alternative public reason views or as a means of rejecting all public reason views.

In this paper I argue that convergence liberalism can overcome this anarchy objection. I show that the objection largely rests on misinterpretations of convergence liberalism, and thus clarify aspects of the theory. However, I also show that internal debate over the scope of public justification – what stands in need of justification – must be resolved in favor of a wide scope, encompassing both State-based and non-State-based coercion, in order to overcome the anarchy objection. Therefore, my response to the anarchy objection has implications for how convergence liberalism should be developed going forward.