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Philosophy and Civil Society

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ESSAY 3: The Site as Book


1. Liberal political theory as a form of civic culture



2. Civic culture as a limited, countervailing form of culture






3. Civic culture as a means of establishing and maintaining a cultural consensus among adherents of conflicting world views


The book, The Culture of Citizenship: Inventing Postmodern Civic Culture
-- an overview of its thesis and content.

          1. Political, not metaphysical. In his book, Political Liberalism, Rawls defines the cognitive status of modern liberal political theory. According to Rawls, liberal political philosophy is properly understood not as a set of claims about the nature of things, but rather as a body of doctrine addressed to citizens of modern constitutional democracies for the purpose of building consensus on the principles of liberal justice. This Rawlsian conception of liberal political theory should be radicalized and extended to encompass the entire body of ideas or form of culture that we associate with the European Enlightenment. This means that we must begin to conceive of liberal moral and political "theory" (along with its metaphysical and epistemological underpinnings) explicitly in terms of its rhetorical function, as a set of discourses designed to render intelligible and to motivate the development of the capacities proper to liberal democratic citizenship -- specifically, the capacities for civic freedom and civic justice. In short, we must begin to rethink liberal political philosophy as a component of liberal democratic civic culture, a particularistic form of culture whose function is to produce the attitudes and dispositions required for full membership in Western civil societies.

          2. Partial, not comprehensive. In Political Liberalism, Rawls emphasizes the limited scope or range of applicability of liberal moral and political ideals -- that those ideals apply only to the part and not to the whole of life. This limitation of scope should also be radicalized and extended to encompass the entire "Enlightenment project." This means that, once we have conceived of liberal moral and political "theory" (along with its metaphysical and epistemological underpinnings) explicitly as a component of a particularistic form of culture, we must then clearly identify the specific and particularistic domain of culture to which it belongs -- namely, civic culture. Further, we must arrive at a new understanding of the limited scope and function of this domain of culture and of how it is related to other domains of culture -- above all, those defined by comprehensive worldviews that shape and nurture totalizing ethnic and religious ways of life.

           3. Overlapping consensus. In Political Liberalism, Rawls describes the central role played in a liberal democracy by an overlapping consensus (of comprehensive doctrines or totalizing world views) supportive of liberal democratic moral ideals and institutions. This Rawlsian notion of an overlapping consensus should be radicalized and explored fully with respect to the unique cultural demands that the achievement of such an overlapping consensus makes upon individual citizens. To maintain an overlapping cultural consensus supportive of liberal democratic moral ideals and institutions, citizens must develop an identity capable of tolerating extreme cultural difference.
          On the one hand, for purposes of participation in civil society, citizens must view themselves and one another as free and equal individuals. On the other hand, for purposes of the pursuit of the good life, citizens must view themselves as members of cultural communities or traditions governed by comprehensive or totalizing world views. For an overlapping consensus to be achieved and maintained, citizens must fully adopt both of these opposing standpoints and then find some way to make them mutually reinforcing. One primary goal of a specifically postmodern form of moral philosophy must be to provide a moral and political vocabulary capable of mediating this conflict between civic and communitarian identities, so as to make the achievement of a new overlapping consensus possible.


Information about the print versions.

First Edition
Published by SUNY Press, 1994
ISBN: 0-7914-2034-5

Second Edition
Published by The Council for Research and Values in Philosophy, 2001
ISBN: 1-56518-168-9

Some copies of first edition may still be available from Amazon.com.
Second edition available from Amazon or directly from publisher (send order to [email protected])


"The Culture of Citizenship is provocative, path-breaking scholarship. In it, Thomas Bridges presents liberal political philosophy as in retreat from its traditional confidence in the 'modernist rhetoric of pure theory.' Instead, Bridges argues, figures such as John Rawls are inching toward a 'rhetorical turn' toward context, culture and history, a direction this book seeks to accelerate. To this end, the book explores the often surprising and deeply challenging implications this rhetorical turn holds for the philosophy of politics and culture."
               -- William M. Sullivan, co-author, Habits of the Heart

"Bridges joins commentators such as William Galston (Liberal Purposes) and Ronald Beiner (What's the Matter with Liberalism?) in probing the weaknesses of modernist liberalism. Taking his bearings from John Rawls's Political Liberalism, Bridges criticizes Enlightenment-based metaphysical foundations for individual citizenship and autonomy because this universalism has implicitly denigrated particularistic cultural ideals and worldviews. More importantly, it has lessened both the intelligibility of liberal ideals to particularistic cultural communities, and also the possibility that these communities will "succeed in discovering within their own local cultural traditions motivational resources supportive of the pursuit of the civic good." Bridges suggests that we "de-totalize" the concept of civic freedom by recognizing that it applies only to a part of life. Civic freedom requires individual commitment to particularistic life ideals, and also the affirmation of their possible revocability both by oneself and by others. The tension between simultaneous commitment and detachment provides the space for civic freedom, and it is this narrative imagination that it is the task of civic education to cultivate. Bridges incorporates creativity as well as intellect in this thoughtful and provocative project."
              -- CHOICE (January, 1995), Reviewed by E. R. Gill, Bradley University


INTRODUCTION: Salvaging Liberalism from the Wreck of the Enlightenment

CHAPTER I. Modernist Liberalism and Its Consequences

A. Civic culture and the modernist rhetoric of pure theory
B. Consequences of modernist liberalism

CHAPTER II. Rawls and the Shaping of a Postmodern Liberalism

A. Addressing the consequences of modernist liberalism
B. The rhetorical turn: from political theory to civic culture
C. The teleological turn: citizenship as a highest-order interest

CHAPTER III. The De-Totalization of Politics

A. The rhetorical turn and the intelligibility of liberal democratic citizenship
B. The de-totalizing character of liberal doctrine as a component of civic culture
C. The de-totalization of the liberal democratic public sphere

CHAPTER IV. The Liberation of Desire

A. Motivating full cultural citizenship
B. The counter-narrative force of civic freedom
C. Civic justice and the liberation of desire

CHAPTER V. God and the Space of Civic Discourse

A. Inventing postmodern civic culture
B. God and the civic good
C. Civic friendship, Christian love and the providential order of history

(4 options)

1. To access an HTML version of the entire text of The Culture of Citizenship in a single file (about 900k -- needs a fast connection), click HERE To access an HTML version of the entire text by chapter (much smaller files and faster download), click HERE.

2. To download an e-book version (about 250k) of the entire text of The Culture of Citizenship, click HERE. (NOTE: You must be using Internet Explorer 5.x and have the Microsoft Reader installed on your computer in order to read this file. To download the Microsoft Reader, click HERE. NOTE: Netscape Navigator will not install the file properly in your e-book library and you will not be able to read it with Microsoft Reader.)

3. To download a .pdf version (about 475k) of the entire text of The Culture of Citizenship, click HERE. (NOTE: you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer in order to read this file. To download the latest version of the Acrobat Reader, click HERE.)

4. To download a text version (about 600k) of the entire text of The Culture of Citizenship, click HERE.

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