The Origins of Contemporary Liberal Theory Revisited
The history of twentieth-century political thought has often been told as a story of death and revival, with the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971 marking a point of rupture, and the birth of contemporary liberal theory. This story needs to be revised in a number of respects, and in this talk I’ll focus on two in particular. First, this conventional picture neglects the history of Rawls’s own theory. Using unpublished material, I offer a reconstruction of Rawls’s early political thought. Returning the young Rawls to his proper intellectual and ideological context, however, generates a puzzle, for the political force of his early writings appear to stand at some distance to the liberal egalitarian philosophy later known as Rawlsian. How, then, should we explain the origins of contemporary liberal theory? The second part of my talk offers a preliminary account.
Katrina Forrester is a lecturer in political thought at Queen Mary University of London, and from summer 2017 will be assistant professor of government and social studies at Harvard University.