The Well-Ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse

The forthcoming article “The Well-ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse” ( by Hun Chung is summarized by the author below.

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Can a well-ordered liberal democracy sustain liberal democratic political order after the intrusion of illiberals who wish to change the political system into a perfectionist state? This paper examines whether “the well-ordered society” – which is John Rawls’s proposed conception of an ideal liberal democratic society – can successfully restore political order once it is destabilized by the intrusion of unreasonable political officials who intend to change the political constitution according to their particular comprehensive moral/religious doctrines. In doing so, this paper offers a formal analysis of two competing institutional solutions that have been offered in the philosophical literature of public reason liberalism: namely, public reason vs. convergence discourse.

Public reason and convergence discourse are two alternate forms of public justification. In public reason, public officials are restricted to using only public reason – viz. the type of reasons that everybody shares in virtue of being a liberal democratic citizen regardless of his/her particular moral/religious commitments – to justify political proposals. In convergence discourse, public officials are allowed to rely on private reasons stemming from their own comprehensive moral and religious doctrines to justify political proposals (as long as their proposals are, in the end, consonant with the political conception of justice undergirding the liberal democratic society.)

This paper examines how successful these two institutional solutions are in restoring liberal democratic political order in the well-ordered society once it is destabilized by the intrusion of unreasonable public officials via a formal game-theoretic model.

The formal results of the model show that as an institutional device to restore liberal political order, public reason (modeled as cheap talk) fails completely. This confirms previous worries that it is unlikely for public reason to perform such a stabilizing role as using public reason is mere “cheap talk” that illiberals can readily imitate to falsely assure other liberals to cooperate, which they can, then, exploit for the sake of advancing their own illiberal political aims.

The formal results also show that convergent discourse (modeled as costly signals following Kogelmann and Stich 2016), although doing better, has its own critical limitations. Specifically, it turns out that convergence discourse succeeds only under relatively favorable conditions – namely, when the political ambitions of illiberals are not too excessive relative to the number of comprehensive doctrines existing in the well-ordered society. Even under relatively favorable conditions, there is no guarantee that convergence discourse will successfully operate and restore liberal democratic political order. And, even when it does successfully operate, there will always be some positive probability that the well-ordered society will destabilize nonetheless. Moreover, unlike what Kogelmann and Stich have previously claimed, the effect of social diversity on the success of convergence discourse is at best ambiguous: it may increase the success rate of convergence discourse by increasing the cost of its proper use which makes it more difficult for the illiberals to successfully imitate; but it may also disrupt its very success if it goes too far by introducing moral and religious fundamentalists whose desires to impose their comprehensive doctrines on society are particularly high.

About the Author: Hun Chung is Associate Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University. The research “The Well-ordered Society Under Crisis: A Formal Analysis of Public Reason vs. Convergence Discourse” ( is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.



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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.