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Rawlsian Affirmation of Difference 3

Deleuze and Rawls as Political Naturalists

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The original position and reflective equilibrium together create a vision of practical thought that engages at the level of the plane of immanence.

They are Rawls’ attempt to clear the deck of striations that would inhibit the return of pure difference on the immanent plane.

Any public morals referred to by Rawls are created purely in aid of a constructivist approach to understanding the ordering of society. In fact, there is no reference to “morality,” as Deleuze would understand this term.

Public morality is not the comprehensive morality of right and wrong; nor that of good and evil.

Nor is this the affirmative ethics in the sense of Nietzsche / Deleuze.

Supplementing Deleuze with Rawls

But deliberations in the original position would place minimum limits on Deleuzian ethics, perhaps a limit Deleuze failed to articulate clearly.

Supplementing Deleuze with a Rawlsian vision of society clarifies that, in the context of the actualization of the liberal political society, there are limits to what we might do in pursuing our conception of the good: a territorialization or striation that evolves but is constrained by the need to affirm life in society.

Visions of the good that would destroy other people’s ability to pursue the good are clearly beyond the freedoms we enjoy under a liberal form of government.

Activities that would negate life itself, would deny others the ability to affirm life, are not acceptable within the confines of the liberal state.

Aspects of a comprehensive conception of the good that would separate others from their power to pursue their own conceptions of the good are deterritorialized by the liberal state.

Such beliefs must be left at the door before entering a liberal pluralism.

Affirm Life

Rawls articulates the political protections and responsibilities required for a pluralistic society in which we are all free to pursue our own versions of the good life; contingent terms we would reasonably agree on if we were forced to see society from multiple perspectives of the good life.

The only requirement is that we affirm life itself.

Rawls’ theory is a public framework for setting up the conditions for our inherent ability to go to the limit of what we are, individually and collectively.

Rawls’ vision is of the thin pluralistic state that promotes the ability of all to pursue the good in their own way, affirming life; but reciprocally, rejects reactive forces and dominating power in society that would interfere with other people’s ability to pursue the good.

Liberal State as a Deterritorializing Force

The pluralistic liberal state is posited as a deterritorializing force relative to other forms of government.

The liberal state is not comprehensive or structural in the sense of how to live a good life; but instead promotes the minimum requirements for enabling all members of society to affirm life, to exercise their will to power.

The freedoms provided have a clear relationship with our capacity to create and experiment with life.

Maximum freedom and equality before the law under terms that are fair to all promotes change and diversity; promotes becoming, is an affirmation of pure difference.

Interdependence as Process

Our interdependence and the need for social cooperation are at the core of Rawls’ political philosophy.

Social cooperation is at the heart of his vision of political liberalism and justice as fairness.

Deleuze would agree: we are interdependent, as actualizations of a virtual process, we create by connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting, in society (as well as encountering the virtual within).

To interconnect, in society and beyond is to affirm life; it is to create socially.

The focus for Rawls’ project, the ordering of public institutions in such a way as they are both legitimate and stable, is an expression of this need to cooperate and nothing more.

No Transcendent Subject

Insofar as the rights and obligations of citizens are not of a transcendent subject, no resentment or bad faith, guilt or shame, can possibly arise in relation to his political theory.

There is the mutual respect of citizens qua citizens, but there is no thick morality attached to cooperation in society.

Rawls sets up interaction in the liberal state in a manner he practically views as something we would accept voluntarily given our need to pursue the good life, to affirm life in all of its diversity.

Living Principles

To Rawls and Deleuze, we as human beings, as actualizations of a virtual process, matter.

We are an appropriate machine or assemblage to focus on in the political context; but perhaps we are not the only one.

The principles agreed on are arrived at by us as parties to the original position who understand that our actualizations matter; but the principles evolve as we evolve; they are living principles, principles of life in the social and political.

Practical debate is not based on some mystical objectivity, but is an immanent objectivity of justification only: tentative, contingent, fallible.

The state itself is immanent and practical.

Political liberalism blasts through transcendent representation, the dogmatic image of thought, to arrive at a purely constructivist vision of society, one that is actualized but evolves, so long as power in society does not block, does not reactively striate, the affirmation of life.

Political Naturalism

Both Rawls and Deleuze are naturalists through and through.

Their visions promote all that affirms life, and deny power to all forces that would negate life.

The essence of the liberal political state is the affirmation of all forms of life, and the denial of striations in society that would defeat life.

Both philosophers assert a live and let live philosophy.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!


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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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