From Nora to the BNP: Implication of Cavell's Critique of Rawls


  • Clare Woodford


This article examines Cavell's critique of Rawlsian citizenship, namely that Rawls’ desire to seek a democratic way of life in which citizens can reassure themselves that their behaviour has been ‘above reproach’ reflects a distorted and hence inadequate conception of the demands of the moral life. Although the aim to be ‘above reproach’ was only expressed in Rawls’ ‘A Theory of Justice’, I extend Stephen Mulhall's work to show that Cavell's concern holds not only for Rawls’ ‘Political Liberalism’ but also ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited’. Having shown that Rawls did not attend to this concern, I then demonstrate the importance of Cavell's argument in the practical context of responding to resentment in democracy. I examine the challenging case of supporters of the BNP's extremist politics, arguing that Rawlsian public reason potentially restricts justice in a way avoided by Cavell's, albeit more demanding, appeal to conversation.