Starting from the ‘Dewey Lectures’, Rawls presents his conception of justice within a contextualist framework, as an elaboration of the basic ideas embedded in the political culture of liberal-democratic societies. But how are these basic ideas to be justified? In this article, I reconstruct and criticize Rawls’s strategy to answer this question. I explore an alternative strategy, consisting of a genealogical argument of a pragmatic kind – the kind of argument provided by authors like Bernard Williams, Edward Craig and Miranda Fricker. I outline this genealogical argument drawing on Rawls’s reconstruction of the origins of liberalism. Then, I clarify the conditions under which this kind of argument maintains vindicatory power. I claim that the argument satisfies these conditions and that pragmatic genealogy can thus partially vindicate the basic ideas of liberal-democratic societies.