John Rawls’ second book, Political Liberalism, deals with a crucial question. Rawls is trying to work out how it is that a liberal democracy can be understood by its citizenry as legitimate, just and stable, given that its citizenry is composed of people who hold irreconcilable fundamental beliefs. As he puts it: “How is it possible for those affirming a fundamental worldview, religious or nonreligious, and in particular doctrines based on religious authority, such as the Church or the Bible, also to hold a reasonable political conception of justice that supports a constitutional democratic society?”
Now it is not only religious faiths that Rawls has in mind here, but also citizens that have irreconcilable philosophical worldviews. The secular philosopher, no less than the devout religious believer, has a belief system about the most basic nature of the world and human existence, and the meaning and substance of ethics. These views differ profoundly amongst themselves, and the history of philosophy suggests there is little prospect for overcoming disagreement on who is right. Given these divergent belief systems—this ‘fact of pluralism’ as Rawls calls it—how is it possible that Christians and Muslims, Kantians and Aristotelians, atheists and spiritualists, can all accept and morally uphold the same system of government and the same set of laws?
Rawls’ solution, the central thesis of political liberalism, is to appeal to an ‘overlapping consensus’. An overlapping consensus occurs when a diverse community of people agree on key principles of justice, even as they disagree on the deeper reasons for those principles, and on more comprehensive details about how lives should morally be lived and what is valuable in human life. An overlapping consensus is a genuine commitment to shared principles. It is not about ‘putting up’ with a system for the time being until things can be changed for the better when one’s faction has more power. It is not a mere compromise or balance of power—not a ‘modus vivendi’.
I think much of what Rawls says in fact taps in to the way many people in liberal democracies think about the nature of legitimacy, and in what follows I am going to try to give an account of how this works. While I will depart from Rawls a little on a couple of points, the intention is to give a pretty clear and non-technical account of his basic theory.
Why is this a good idea, given that I’m afraid it’s going to make for a pretty long blogpost? (So buckle in, we’re here for a while.) Unfortunately, the importance of Rawls’ book is matched only by its lack of clarity. Even outright enthusiasts for the work acknowledge it is not an easy read, and Rawls himself admitted some of his early formulations of what he was saying were inconsistent and misleading. So the aim here is to give a sensible overview of what I think is a pretty perplexing theory at first reading.
|While important, the perplexities in Rawls' work can give rise to all sorts of fevered scribblings...|
The core elements
Let’s begin by explaining a few elements of the system, and then we will look at how they all fit together. I have renamed some of Rawls’ terms here, because his terminology can be a bit confusing and longwinded.
First, a ‘fundamental worldview’ is a belief system about the nature of the world, society, human nature and morality. Religions are obvious examples, but so too are philosophies. One can hold to Kant’s philosophical worldview as a fundamental worldview, for example. Fundamental worldviews have three key features. Feature one is that they give an account not only of what general political arrangements are justified, but also about how one should live one’s life. In philosophical terminology, they tell us not only about what is ‘right’ (explaining what rules and laws should we have) but also about what is ‘good’ (explaining what is valuable in human life and relationships). Feature two is that fundamental worldviews answer the most foundational questions of philosophy—they provide an account of what things exist and of their nature and relations: in technical terms, they provide an ‘ontology’. Feature three is that fundamental worldviews are general in nature. Because they announce the key truths about human existence, they aim to apply to everybody universally. If you believe what Kant says we should do, or what Jesus says we should do, then you think that, ideally speaking at least, everyone should do what Kant or Jesus say as well.
Second, a ‘life-plan’ is a person's plan for how they intend their life to go, an account of what is valuable in one’s own life. Each person possesses their own life-plan. Of course one’s life-plan will be influenced by whatever fundamental worldview one holds, but even among adherents of a single religion there will be people pursuing different professions, different relations, different ambitions and different priorities. Each person crafts their own life-plan, even though they may share a fundamental worldview.
Third, ‘liberal principles’ comprise a set of basic values familiar in liberal democracies. They include, for example, a conception of all people as free and equal, living under the rule of law, and an idea of society as a system of fair cooperation. One paramount principle is of reciprocity—a pervading awareness that unless we are willing for others’ beliefs and truths to rule our lives, then we should not be hoping for our truths to rule their lives. If we are to engage in rule-making with other people, then, we need to try and speak in terms that they can recognize as making sense to them. For example, we can’t appeal to what it says in our Bible to explain why other people should accept a rule. Instead we should appeal to the liberal principles. As well as dictating how we should engage in public debate (namely, by appealing to principles every citizen can be expected to accept) these liberal principles also include some substantive rules about how people are to be treated. For example, the liberal principles will affirm that everyone has a set of basic rights that have a special priority, and that everyone needs some minimum of resources that allows them the type of independence and security necessary to enjoy those basic rights.
These liberal principles are pretty general. They probably rule out a no-holds-barred libertarianism on the political right (because of the requirement of minimum resources to all citizens), and various forms of socialism on the left (because of the prioritization of citizen's individual rights). Otherwise, though, the liberal principles can accord with a family of more specific liberal philosophies. We’ll turn to these specific political ‘liberal philosophies’ in a moment, but for now it is worth noting that the liberal political principles can give us an outline of a basic constitutional structure. If we all agree on the general liberal principles, then we should be able to work out what broad political structure we should have. For example, the liberal principles might lay down a bill of rights, a separation of powers to ensure the rule of law, and rules about the nature and makeup of legislative bodies that will determine the finer-grained laws we are all to live by.
|Justice-as-fairness: now just one of a family|
of reasonable liberal philosophies.
The fourth element is made up of the specific ‘liberal philosophies’ I mentioned in the last paragraph. For our purposes here a ‘liberal philosophy’ is a specific, coherent and systematic account of a political regime that conforms to the more general liberal principles, for instance of understanding all citizens as free and equal. Such a liberal philosophy is quite detailed—we are able to use our specific liberal philosophy to determine the exact boundaries of each of the rights, what sort of equality of opportunity people deserve, and what resources people are entitled to. Rawls’ first work, A Theory of Justice, was framed by him as a fundamental worldview that put forward a correct account of justice, namely ‘justice-as-fairness’. In his later work, though, he has changed the status of this account. Now justice-as-fairness is no longer understood as a fundamental worldview developing universal principles of justice. Rather, Rawls reconceives justice-as-fairness as just one of a family of liberal philosophies that align with the general liberal principles. (Rawls thinks that justice-as-fairness represents‘the most reasonable’ of the liberal philosophies, but nothing in his overall picture depends on us accepting this. I don't.)
In other words, Rawls’ justice-as-fairness presents one example of a liberal philosophy that will supply particular answers to our major policy questions—but it is not the only such example. Other interpretations of the liberal principles are possible, precisely because these principles are general. For instance, left-libertarianism, Lockean liberalism and perhaps some brands of utilitarian liberalism are all liberal philosophies that accord with the liberal principles as I described them above. I will use these three specific liberal philosophies, along with justice-as-fairness, as my examples of liberal philosophies, but don’t worry if you don’t really know exactly what these are. All that matters is that that they are specific and systematic accounts that share the larger idea that all citizens are free and equal, but interpret that idea in slightly different ways. You can think of the liberal philosophies as something like a more coherent version of the political positions of all the mainstream political parties in western democracies (conservative, liberal, labour, republican, democrat, green etc).
The liberal philosophies share much in common, but they differ in their specific policies; adherents of each will disagree on key questions regarding the boundaries of different rights, the legal duties we owe to each other and the requirements of distributive justice (such as the merits of welfarist taxation). While each liberal philosophy agrees that all citizens are free and equal persons joined in society for fair cooperation, they will understand each of those terms differently, and so will argue, and vote, for different sorts of policies as they engage in public debates and enact legislation.
Importantly, the liberal philosophy is not the same as a fundamental worldview. The liberal philosophy is a systematic and coherent account of rights, duties and legal processes. However, it makes no specific claims about the fundamental worldviews that might lie beneath that account. It is a political philosophy that avoids all the controversies of ‘first philosophy’—that is, it is agnostic about deeper questions of metaphysics, epistemology, axiology and suchlike. Also, the liberal philosophy does not aim to fill out every detail of a person’s moral life. It says what a person’s legal rights and duties are, but assets nothing about how citizens should use those rights in order to live a ‘proper’ or ‘perfect’ life. In just those two ways the liberal philosophy differs from the fundamental worldview.
I think this distinction between liberal philosophies and fundamental worldviews makes sense when we think about the history of political philosophy in general. For example, very diverse people can and do find many of the arguments, and the broader political philosophy, of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government to be compelling. But that doesn’t mean they commit to the natural law and Christian underpinnings of that work. Locke’s liberal philosophy is ‘modular’, as it might be put. It is a systematic and coherent account of rights and duties, and reasons for them, that can be embraced by people holding very different fundamental worldviews—including even people like me, who are quite agnostic about religion and religion’s relationship to ethics.
How do these four elements fit together in Rawls’ system?
We can think of three of these elements as different types of overlapping consensuses—that is, beliefs and values that are shared despite deeper or more personal differences of belief and value.
To explain, let’s begin with a single person, Amy. Amy has her own life-plan—her own ideas on how her life will go and her picture of what is valuable in her life. This life-plan is not shared by anyone else; it is Amy’s plan about how Amy’s life should go. But Amy also has a fundamental worldview, a set of deep philosophical, moral or religious views that she holds as true. Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that Amy is a Christian. (I use Christianity just because I am more familiar with it than with other religions, and so hopefully less likely to make a blunder about its beliefs. But most other religions should be able to slot into everything I say here.)
So Amy is a Christian, and let’s say she shares this belief system with others in her society, including Betty and Cathy. Let’s suppose also that their Christian worldview is what Rawls’ calls a ‘reasonable’ fundamental worldview. This means that it is consistent with the liberal principles—it envisages all citizens as free and equal. (Why might we expect fundamental worldviews to be reasonable? We’ll consider that important question below.) Amy, Betty and Cathy therefore all agree on the liberal principles. Because they agree on these, they can also agree on a liberal basic structure for society—a constitutional setup. But this doesn’t mean they agree politically on everything. In fact, Amy and Betty think that the best liberal philosophy, and the one that best fits with their Christianity, is (let’s suppose) a pretty egalitarian one, such as justice-as-fairness. For that reason they tend to vote towards the political left (democrat, labour, etc). Cathy disagrees, however. When she reflects on the nature of freedom and equality, she selects a political system where each person has a guaranteed minimum of resources from which to begin, but then is allowed to keep whatever she can make of those resources. Cathy therefore opts for left-libertarianism as her liberal philosophy; she directs her votes towards more right-wing and conservative parties. While Cathy agrees with Amy and Betty about what the general constitutional structure of the society should be, and with their fundamental worldview of the Christian faith, she disagrees with them on matters of taxation and equal opportunity. From her left-libertarian standpoint, she argues with Amy and Betty in public forums, and she votes against their more egalitarian legislative proposals.
Now consider David and Ernie. David is a Kantian—he believes all of Kant’s deep philosophical arguments about the nature of reality and human existence, and he uses Kant’s categorical imperative as a moral guide for every piece of decision-making in his life. David also believes in God (as Kant himself did), and situates this belief within his larger Kantian philosophical worldview. David is impressed with the liberal philosophy of justice-as-fairness as a powerful account of what Kant's categorical imperative requires in terms of justice. So, like Amy and Betty, he sees justice-as-fairness as the correct liberal philosophy. Ernie, on the other hand, does not believe in any sort of God. His value system is an ecological one. Following the writings of the environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold, Ernie sees himself as a fellow-traveller on the Earth with all other living creatures, functioning together with them in a larger community. As Leopold himself did, Ernie agrees with the liberal principles—in his view the rights of animals and parts of the ecosystem overlay across the rights of people and citizens. So let’s suppose that, envisaging human beings as animals engaged in the business of looking after their lives, Ernie holds to a Lockean liberal philosophy—albeit one that gives a strong place to stewardship and care of the natural world.
These five citizens all live together and constitute a society that each of them sees as legitimate. They all affirm its constitutional setup and agree on the legitimacy of the laws it legislates. But how is this agreement possible? There is no shared fundamental worldview on the nature of existence and the reasons for being moral. There is no agreement even on a liberal philosophy about what rights and duties each person should have.
The reason a shared view of political legitimacy is possible is because all five of these citizens share an overlapping consensus on the general liberal political principles, and therefore on the constitutional structure in which they all live. Within that structure, they argue with each other about what rights and rules are just. As things stand, Amy, Betty and David form a smaller overlapping consensus of their own—they all agree that justice-as-fairness is the best liberal philosophy. They vote on that basis, and because the three of them form a majority, the laws in the society reflect that specific liberal philosophy. The constitution, however, does not reflect the majority view of justice-as-fairness. It remains neutral between all the competing liberal philosophies. If Amy comes to be persuaded by Cathy’s political arguments, or if Betty suddenly converts to Ernie’s ecological worldview, then the voting majority will shift and new policies will be enacted as law. Again, of course, the over-arching constitutional structure will remain the same.
Why is this picture of the political landscape helpful?
This picture resonates, I think, with the actual way many people in liberal democracies accept as legitimate rules that they do not themselves accept as fully just. Ernie, for example, does not agree with the liberal philosophy held by the majority, nor does he accept the fundamental worldview (the Christian religion) that the majority of other citizens use to ultimately ground their views. Ernie is not a part of either of those overlapping conceptions. He is, however, part of the crucial overlapping consensus on the general liberal political principles and the constitutional arrangements that follow from them.
From Ernie’s perspective then:
i) Ernie agrees with everyone else about the liberal principles, and would reject as utterly illegitimate any deviation from the rights and decision-making processes enshrined in the constitution. He views rules violating the constitution and its liberal principles, such as the breaching of basic rights, as illegitimate and to be rightfully resisted.
ii) Ernie disagrees with the specific liberal philosophy that is currently reigning as a majority in the legislature—he thinks the laws enacted from this conception by the majority are not fully just, in the sense that he believes a different liberal philosophy is right. He thinks those legislated laws are, however, legitimate and he agrees to abide by them. Ernie’s acceptance of the legislated laws is guaranteed by his commitment to the rule-making procedures set down in the constitution, and it would be a betrayal of these for Ernie to use his disagreement with the law as an excuse to break the law. Of course, Ernie is a vocal opponent of many of these laws, and he hopes over time he can convince others to change their minds, so that his liberal philosophy will gain a majority in a future legislature, and he will then be able to live under the protection of rights and duties that he sees as being fully right, and not only legitimate. In summary, Ernie views locally enacted laws falling outside his liberal philosophy (but within the liberal principles) as unjust, but nevertheless legitimate. He disagrees with them vociferously, but acknowledges he morally ought to obey them.
iii) Ernie does not believe in the fundamental worldviews held by anyone else in his society. However, those doctrines held by others do not rule his life. When Amy, Betty, Cathy and David engage with Ernie in serious political dialogue, they don’t speak from the perspective of their fundamental worldviews, but rather from their specific liberal philosophy. Since this is a specification of the general liberal principles that Ernie also shares, they are speaking to him in a language he can understand and advocating a position that he can see as reasonable, even if not one that he himself upholds.
iv) Ernie lives his own life in the legal structure created by the constitution and the current legislation, through his own life-plan. Ernie’s life-plan differs from others’ plans for their lives, but this is seen by everyone as a perfectly fine situation. The political space created by the current laws and the constitutional protections give him freedom to follow his life-plan to a substantial degree.
The reason I have sympathy with Rawls’ idea of political liberalism is that it seems to me that something like the picture outlined above is actually operative in liberal democracies. That is, I see myself as someone a lot like Ernie. I have my own life-plan, but I wouldn’t want to recommend it for anyone but me. I have my own fundamental worldview or ‘first philosophy’. I think it’s mostly on the right track, but I don’t think anyone who is sceptical of it is being unreasonable or stubbornly ignorant. I have my own specific liberal philosophy—it’s basically a welfarist Lockean political theory. I think laws that depart too far from its classical liberal rights are unjust, but that doesn’t mean I think I am entitled to disobey those laws. To the contrary, if the majority of my citizenry vote for a particular party or policy, then I accept that result as legitimate. That doesn’t mean I’d accept anything, however. There are laws that could be passed, or political changes that could happen, that I would think are illegitimate and unacceptable. These would be laws that violated citizens' most basic rights, or those arising after an illicit seizing of power by a military coup. These fall outside what is allowed by the liberal principles and the constitutional structure I accept.
In other words, Rawls’ theory provides a sensible account of political positions that I think all of us can understand: it allows us to distinguish between ‘not something I’d choose’, ‘immoral, ‘unjust’ and ‘illegitimate’, and explains how we can form genuine allegiances and shared understandings with people from all sorts of diverse fundamental worldviews.
The Burdens of Judgment and the Fact of Incommunicability
Now all of this opens up two big questions. One, why should we expect the overlapping consensus on the liberal principles to arrive and to stay stable over time, from the point of view of each of the fundamental worldviews? Two, why does each citizen take their allegiance to the liberal principles as the priority, rather than their specific liberal philosophy?
The key answer to both questions lies in an awareness of reciprocity—a way in which we realize we are alike to others and they to us. We all have our fundamental worldviews, whether philosophical, moral or religious, and we have deep reasons to believe these are true. But we find that these reasons are, in a very potent sense, incommunicable. We cannot simply persuade others, with any guarantee of success, into believing our religion or first philosophy by reporting the certainty that gripped us when we first read the Bible or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Even if we put those texts into others’ hands, they might not care to read them. Even if they do, we find there is no guarantee they will be converted. And even if they are converted, we may find to our dismay that their newfound beliefs are actually somewhat removed from ours.
What is to explain this perplexing difficulty in communicating the deepest truths from one person to another? The answer might be that reasoning and thinking about first principles and theoretical philosophy is a difficult and ambiguous business. Rawls calls these difficulties the ‘burdens of judgment’, and probably this is a part of the picture, at least in terms of why we struggle to get consensus on philosophical truths. But I don’t think we need to commit to this. Many people adopt their fundamental worldviews on the basis of faith, and the complexities of abstruse philosophical reasoning have nothing whatsoever to do with their choices. So I think we should dispense with Rawls’ idea of the burdens of judgment, and simply appeal to the undeniable fact, apparent to everyone, that truths about such matters are notoriously difficult to convey. Call this the ‘fact of incommunicability’. We encounter this fact every time we try and convert someone to our fundamental worldviews—and all the more every time they try and convert us right back. We feel we are not being unreasonable in resisting their alleged ‘truths’, and—we reflect—they are surely not being unreasonable in resisting ours.
The same holds true, though to a more limited extent, for the specific liberal philosophies. Here again, we witness what apparently reasonable people engaging in good faith with others, sharing their reasons, but without this giving rise to any shared consensus on whether justice-as-fairness, left-libertarianism or any other given liberal system of rights and duties is true.
For these reasons, we cannot expect to create legitimacy of government by a consensus on fundamental worldviews or on specific liberal philosophies. Humans are just too darn diverse for this to be possible. People split into a bewildering plurality of beliefs and values at a moment’s notice, and resist being reformed into a unity by persuasion, proselytizing or exhortation. Basic reciprocity requires that we can no more expect others to be ruled by our fundamental worldview than we ourselves would be willing to be ruled by their doctrines.
But shared agreement on more basic principles is possible—indeed, the very same argument given above as to why it is next to impossible to expect agreement or alignment on fundamental beliefs itself presses us towards the basic liberal ideas of tolerance, freedom and equality. Because everyone is different in their fundamental worldviews, and will remain so, we can all get together and agree on a political system that tolerates this difference.
If that little argument doesn’t convince you, then perhaps the point can be made simply through observation. Countless fundamental worldviews are in fact compatible with liberal principles. We witness this every day in western liberal democracies. Because we have this level of agreement—this overlapping consensus—we can agree on much of the substance of a constitution, namely, the protection of basic rights. But we also know that laws must be made, governing one way or the other further arrangements, such as those governing equality of opportunity and distributive justice. As such, we agree on ways of deciding these issues (for example through majority vote) and ways of giving each other reasons that they can understand for why they should adopt our political views. The specific liberal philosophy helps here. If we make arguments from our own liberal philosophy, then even when we speak to others who have a different liberal philosophy, we are dealing in concepts (freedom, equality, fairness, cooperation) that each of us understands. As such, we can have an overlapping consensus on a group of broad principles, and upon the procedures determining more specific legislation.
The liberal principles of equality and liberty are all we agree on. But when combined with the facts of pluralism and incommunicability, they force us to realise that all we can expect of others is acceptance of those liberal principles. There is no agreement beyond those principles (the fact of pluralism) and we cannot expect to produce such agreement either through argument or reporting about the revealed word of God (the fact of incommunicability). We are in the position of needing more specific rules than these general principles offer, so we have to come up with some ways of creating more specific rules notwithstanding the fact that those more specific rules will inevitably clash with elements of someone’s (perhaps our own) specific liberal philosophy.
Ultimately, the resulting conception of politics (political liberalism, as Rawls calls it) provides us with a way of holding our own views on what is true and just, but at the same time believing that our truth—because it is not communicable—cannot justifiably be a legitimate reason for demanding others conform to it.
It seems to me that this view really does help explain what is otherwise very perplexing—namely, that many citizens of liberal democracies, with very different fundamental worldviews, are able to genuinely perceive their nation’s laws as legitimate and justified, even when they in fact disagree with, object to, and vote against those laws.
What is the relationship between the fundamental worldview and the liberal principles?
This question may be asked differently. We might ask—why should we expect an overlapping consensus on general liberal principles, given the breathtaking diversity of people’s fundamental worldviews? Why don’t people simply read off what is right and good from their fundamental worldviews and reject as illegitimate anything that departs from this specific account?
Rawls is, I think, less than explicit on this question. He does point out that there is usually a certain amount of ‘slackness’ in fundamental worldviews that make them open to different interpretations. As such, there will usually be a way of making them compatible with the liberal principles. Rawls’ argument is probably true, but it only gets us so far. Saying that Christianity is compatible with liberal principles is not the same as telling us that all Christians have compelling reasons to actually interpret their religion in this way.
So are there such reasons? I won’t go into any details here, but I think there is much to be said on this question. One promising answer is that any given fundamental worldview is likely to give general commandments to value peace, cooperation, respect, dignity and fairness. Given the evident facts of pluralism and incommunicability, it makes sense to interpret these values in accord with liberal principles. That is, because everyone is bound to have different worldviews, and we can’t expect to convert them just by showing them the Bible/Quran/Nicomachean Ethics, peace and respect for dignity demand that we show them tolerance, thereby seeing them as free to do their own thing, and equal with us in their entitlement to do so. Imagine yourself in the position of John Locke, sitting down to pen 'A Letter Concerning Toleration'. As a devout Christian, you look around at the horrific conflict and internecine violence caused by clashes between different religious groups. Whatever Jesus wanted, you think to yourself, he didn't want this. From a Biblically-justified concern with peace and gentleness, then, you are moved to adopt tolerant liberal principles.
Another promising answer is that people that hold a fundamental worldview also have moral intuitions and feelings about particular situations. Almost every non-psychopath can feel sympathy and empathy, feel that violence needs a special justification if it is to be legitimate, and feel the moral pull of reciprocity. As such, ordinary people may well try to stake out a political philosophy that accords with both their fundamental worldview and those moral judgments about specific questions (Rawls calls this a method of ‘reflective equilibrium’). As an example of this, one of my esteemed colleagues at Griffith University, Associate Professor and Imam Mohamad Abdalla, says that when he speaks to young Australian Muslims about values, he tells them to take from Australian culture everything they think is good in it, and to take from Islam everything they think is good in it. That seems to me perfectly sensible advice—advice, moreover, that could certainly motivate the alignment of a fundamental worldview with broad liberal principles of equality, freedom and tolerance.
There are other ways I think fundamental worldviews could have reasons to be brought to undergird and commit to liberal principles, but I will not try the reader’s patience any further—given what has already been a pretty long discussion.
To sum up, Rawls’ theory of political liberalism offers a useful model of how it is possible for people with conflicting and irreconcilable fundamental worldviews to come to genuinely commit to a liberal constitutional structure, and accept as legitimate laws enacted within that constitutional structure, even if they view any particular one of those laws as strictly speaking unjust.
A few notes on reading Rawls
In the foregoing I have renamed a few of Rawls’s key terms. What Rawls calls a ‘comprehensive doctrine’ I’ve term a ‘fundamental worldview’. What Rawls calls a specific liberal ‘political conception of justice’ I’ve called a ‘liberal philosophy’. What Rawls calls a ‘conception of the good’ I’ve call a ‘life-plan’.
One of the reasons Rawls’ theory of political liberalism is so difficult is that Rawls developed the position over a long period of years (from around 1985-1997), shifting what he said as he responded to reviews and objections. Unfortunately however, Rawls never left us with a full and comprehensive statement of his views before he died, so his final position needs to be gleaned from several different sources. A good place to start is his final article on the subject:
John Rawls, ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited’ The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Summer, 1997), pp. 765-807 (reprinted in the Expanded Edition of Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, 2005, pp. 440-490).
There is some excellent secondary literature, of course. Two that I found particularly helpful in developing the above account, and that I highly recommend, are:
Wenar, L. (1995). Political Liberalism: An Internal Critique. Ethics, 106(1), 32-62.
Dreben, B. (2003). On Rawls and Political Liberalism. In S. Freeman (Ed.), Cambridge Companion to Rawls (pp. 316-346). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.