Res Publica

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Comment: Reciprocity and the Rise of Populism

  • Paul WeithmanEmail author


It has recently been contended that the rise of populism in the US, culminating in the election of Donald Trump, vindicates liberal political theory, and the liberal political theory of John Rawls in particular. For the election of someone like Trump is just what Rawls’s theory would lead us to expect. Rawls’s theory would lead us to expect it because Rawls thought that if a liberal democracy is to be stable, it must satisfy the demands of reciprocity. But there is ample evidence that the contemporary US flouts those demands, and so an angry backlash of the sort that carried Trump to the White House is not surprising. I draw on research sociologist Arlie Hochschild did among voters on the American right to show that the failure of reciprocity which explains Trump’s election is not a failure of exactly the form of reciprocity Rawls had in mind. The difference between the two forms of reciprocity is suggestive. It suggests the sort of policy conclusions liberals and progressives ought to draw from Rawls’s theory to address our current predicament.


John Rawls Reciprocity Populism Samuel Scheffler Arlie Hochschild Progressivism 



I am grateful to Daniel Brudney, to Dustin Crummett, to William Edmundson, to Brian Leiter and to an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier draft.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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