The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 18, 1998

William O'Neill
Pages 161-176

Babel's Children
Reconstructing the Common Good

In this essay, I consider the rival liberal and communitarian accounts of justice emerging in complex, pluralist societies. I argue that we err in posing the question of human rights as a Hobson's choice between a formal, universal metanarrative, as envisioned in philosophical liberalism, or as a merely local, ethnocentric narrative of the western bourgeoisie, as in the communitarian critique. For human rights are best viewed rhetorically, as establishing the possibility of rationally persuasive argument across our varied narrative traditions. The essay concludes by attending to the role of religious belief in the public reason of a postmodern society.