By Kristen Deede Johnson
This book is part of emerging literature in American Christian political theology, a literature that plots the territory between the legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr and the mantle of Stanley Hauerwas. The central thesis of the book is that if John Rawls and other political liberals emphasize unity at the expense of the expression and valuation of difference, radical democratic and agonistic political theorists emphasize difference at the expense of any real unity or political cohesion. The synthesis of this dialectic is best achieved through an Augustinian reading of the relationship between the city of God and the earthly city and a theological ontology that envisages difference as constitutive of an ultimate or eschatological unity. Christian engagement with earthly politics may positively anticipate, albeit in fallen and contingent ways, this eschatological unity and politics per se is conceived of as a conversational space in which differences may interact in such a way as to forge common objects of temporal love. It is such common objects of love that form the basis of a genuinely shared res publica.
The book opens with an account of liberalism as a regime of toleration that conceives of itself as neutral in relation to differing accounts of the good and as simply setting the terms and conditions through which differences can be held together in pursuit of a common life. Kristen Deede Johnson develops a critique of this approach through a close critical engagement with the work of John Rawls. Beginning with an exegesis of Rawls’s account of political liberalism and its reception by various critics, she goes on to argue that the conception of political liberalism as only political is misleading. Rawls has an ontology at work in his political theory and it is one that serves to exclude rather than include a considerable …