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Rawlsian Affirmation of Difference 1

The Liberal State in Evolution

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John Rawls’ political theory is an immanent critique and analysis of politics that posits the essential principles of cooperation in society via practical thought that makes no reference to transcendence or truth.

His system is one that addresses a society that is pluralistic, that is composed of diverse individuals pursuing different visions or conceptions of the good.

Rawls’ theory contemplates the essential principles necessary for fostering and embracing tolerance and acceptance in such a society, a thin theory aimed at addressing our inherent interdependence, and our inherent need to cooperate.

Dovetailing with Deleuze

Rawls’ vision supplements Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of difference by explicating a theory of the requirements of a society that embraces creativity and experimentation in life.

Rawls’ vision of a liberal pluralistic society is implied in Deleuze’s virtuality and deterritorialization, and supports his naturalistic affirmation of life as pure difference.

Further Deleuze’s explication of the social and political, via concepts such as desire as overflowing in productivity and creativity and the machinic nature of interconnectivity dovetail with the Rawls’ concepts of political freedom, equality, and fairness.

Practical Public Justice

Knowledge of the concepts of freedom, equality, and fairness are provided in the original position but only arrived at as social and political principles as a result of practical deliberation in relation to the conditions necessary for the real and social exercise of the force of pure difference.

Rawls clearly separates political theory and public morality from ontological or epistemological realism.

Rawls’ political vision is not a conception of reality or truth or ethics in the Deleuzian sense, but instead a procedural and substantive vision of justice in the public sphere; a process of practical thought about public justice, and how to order social institutions.

Rawls’ thought relates to the liberal political state only, which is not endowed with transcendent qualities, but instead the result of an evolving tradition and the collective experience of human social interaction, a way of life.

As a social formation, the liberal state evolves over time with every new circumstance that arises.

The liberal political state is the explication of a social formation that has actualized, but continues to be informed by the virtual.

Construction of a Thin Theory

Rawls’ theory is a thin theory of the political good; one that is not grounded in comprehensive metaphysics or morality.

Rawls’ theory of the good in politics is constructed via practical discourse that creates guidelines reflexively in the context of a history of pluralism and perspectivism in society.

The guidelines make sense only insofar as people with different visions have a need to come together and cooperate for survival and for the mutual pursuit of their own comprehensive visions.

The guidelines are derived through immanent reasoning and outline only a minimum standard necessary for cooperation in society: they are the result of a fully immanent process of political decision making, in the context of the liberal society’s traditions and public values.

And a political liberalism that evolves over time can be normatively incorporated into Deleuzian philosophy insofar as it affirms the active forces of life, desiring production, creativity and experimentation.

Liberal State as Evolving Social Formation

Rawls’ theory directly addresses the necessities of the actual in which we find ourselves at any moment in time.

His principles are derived in the context of a history in which states other than a liberal pluralism have arisen in history and persist in our present-day; states based on organicism and totalitarianism; the tyranny of unity as transcendent utopia, that would deny the dynamic nature and diversity of life.

The liberal state is an actualization, a deterritorialization of the organic or authoritarian state, and a reterritorialization of particular singularities that promote the freedom of becoming, the freedom to create the new.

As such, the liberal state continues to evolve, and Rawls painstakingly reminds us of the temporal nature of his political vision:

The liberal state is fragile and can only survive insofar as it is propelled forward by the virtual nature of history itself; only insofar as its energies are directed in a manner consistent with the affirmation of life.

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Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.



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