Liberal Neutrality and Moderate Perfectionism

Res Publica 19 (4):297-315 (2013)
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(Winner of The Res Publica Essay Prize) This article defends a moderate version of state perfectionism by using Gerald Gaus’s argument for liberal neutrality as a starting point of discussion. Many liberal neutralists reject perfectionism on the grounds of respect for persons, but Gaus has explained more clearly than most neutralists how respect for persons justifies neutrality. Against neutralists, I first argue that the state may promote the good life by appealing to what can be called “the qualified judgments about the good life,” which have not been considered by liberal perfectionists including Joseph Chan and Steven Wall. Then I clear up several possible misunderstandings of these judgments, and argue that: (a) moderate perfectionism does not rely on controversial rankings of values and is committed to promoting different valuable ways of life by pluralistic promotion; and (b) moderate perfectionism requires only an indirect form of coercion in using tax money to support certain moderate perfectionist measures, which is justifiable on the grounds of citizens’ welfare. Thus, I maintain that moderate perfectionism does not disrespect citizens, and is not necessarily unfair to any particular group of people. It is, in fact, plausible and morally important. The defence of moderate perfectionism has practical implications for the state’s policies regarding art development, drug abuse, public education, and so on.
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