Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus Book Review Michael Coulter

Perspectives on Political Science, Spring 2001 v30 i2 p123

Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus. (Review)_(book review) MICHAEL COULTER.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2001 Heldref Publications

  • Klosko, George

Democratic Procedures and LiberalConsensusNew York: Oxford University Press271 pp., $45.00, ISBN 0-19-829234-1Publication Date: March 2000

In Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus, George Klosko makes a contribution to the recent debate regarding liberal political theory by considering the relationship between liberal principles and political sociology and social psychology. In this sense, the work fills a gap between John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and Alan Wolfe’s One Nation after All. Klosko, a political theorist at the University of Virginia, is also the author of The Development of Plato’s Political Theory, among many other books.

In Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus, Klosko first examines variations of moral principles that could be adopted in liberal regimes. The bulk of the book is devoted to an examination of values held by citizens of existing regimes. It includes an excellent, albeit brief, theoretical discussion of empirical research. A theoretical examination of empirical research is often missing in works by empirical social scientists, and political theorists rarely confront social science data.

Klosko first examines the degree to which citizens of existing liberal political orders can be said to practice toleration. Citing a vast number of studies, he argues that tolerance is not as widely practiced as many contemporary liberal theorists would like. He then considers the relation between religion and democratic values. Klosko, it seems, considers strong religious belief to be, in large part, an impediment to the widespread acceptance of tolerance and other democratic values. This is a one-sided view of the relation between religion and democracy; one could argue that certain expressions of religious belief, such as those expressed by Roger Williams, promote liberal values. Also using survey data, Klosko argues that in existing liberal orders there is much support for democratic procedures–greater than for toleration.

The values to which Klosko gives primary attention–toleration and distributive justice–make up only part of a liberal order, however. Klosko does not discuss commitment to the role of law, respect for private property, or industriousness. A longer account of liberal virtues can be seen in William Galston’s Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State.

The significant contribution of Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus is Klosko’s demonstration of the inadequacies in John Rawls’s political project, which depends on “political constructivism”–constructing a political order in theory. Klosko argues forcefully that liberal theorists cannot count on liberal citizens to accept a “strong rights principle” version of liberal principles–that on the contrary, as empirical evidence shows, a strong rights principle is not widely accepted. Liberal theorists must look to the political principles that actually are accepted by a majority of liberal citizens. Liberal polities must be established on the best possible liberal consensus. Klosko observes that “there is strong consensus on the central political values concerning the need for democratic procedures and individual rights” (182). At the same time, there should be procedures that prevent illiberal actions in areas where there is no consensus.

This work is well suited for graduate students and political theorists interested in contemporary liberalism.


Grove City College

Named Works: Democratic Procedures and Liberal Consensus (Book) – Reviews