This Independent Study thesis confronts contemporary political liberalism, using John Rawls as the author of focus, with problems of identity formation and radical pluralism. In the thesis, I use William Connolly’s arguments on the nature of our social world to address some aspects of Rawlsian liberalism that may be worrisome. Rawlsian liberalism assumes that people will find consensus across their fundamentally different belief systems and identities in order to establish just society. Connolly argues that attempting to overcome deep differences and belief systems and identities through forcing consesnsus is conceptually misguided and dangerous for society as it can lead to massive exclusion and violence against those who do not accept the principles to consent to.

The first and second chapters of the thesis consider Rawls and Connolly’s arguments in contrast to each other and examine the political implications of their theories. The third chapter focuses on Chantal Mouffe’s work on agonism as a potential way to counter the dangers of Rawlsian liberalism. For Rawls, pluralism is reconcilable through his notion of consensualism. However, Mouffe follows Connolly in seeing our social world as embedded in differing identities and belief systems, and argues that radical pluralism necessarily prevents liberal societies from reaching any healthy kind of consensus or reconciliation. Conflict is inevitable in our world, but Mouffe distinguishes between negative and positive conflict. In order to work with radical pluralism, we must not ignore our identities and belief systems, but rather put them in direct contention in a way that creates something positive out of radical negativity or the inability to resolve differences based on rationality. Agonism is thus antagonism that does not see opponents as enemies, but as legitimate adversaries – positive conflict. In this thesis, I argue against the Rawlsian liberal project to find consensus using Connolly’s argument on the nature of our social world, and then proceed to argue for an ideology of agonistic democracy to back our politics that I see to be a better response than the Rawlsian liberal response.


Hustwit, Ronald

Second Advisor

Desiree, Weber


Philosophy; Political Science


Ethics and Political Philosophy | Political Theory


Ethics, Political Theory, Political Philosophy, Rawls, Connolly, Mouffe, Agonism, Agonistic Democracy, Identity, Difference

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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