Volume 38, Issue 3, July 2021
Does Liberal Egalitarianism Depend on a Theology?
John Rawls’s argument for egalitarianism famously depends on his rejection of desert. In The Theology of Liberalism, Eric Nelson contends that Rawls’s treatment of desert depends on anti-Pelagian commitments he first endorsed in his undergraduate thesis and tacitly continued to hold. He also contends that a broad range of liberal arguments for economic egalitarianism fail because they rest on an incoherent conception of human agency. The failure becomes evident, Nelson says, when we see that proponents of those arguments unknowingly assume the anti-Pelagianism on which Rawls relied. Nelson concludes that egalitarianism must be given a different political and theoretic basis than Rawls and his followers have provided. I argue that Nelson misreads Rawls and that egalitarians can avoid inconsistency without staking a theological claim they want to avoid.