‘Public Justice’ as a
Critical Political Norm
by Jonathan Chaplin
Philosophia Reformata 72 (2007) 130–150
‘Public justice’ is one of the most widely-invoked of the many distinctive terms coined by Herman Dooyeweerd but, strangely, one of the least well analysed. Dooyeewerd holds that that the identity of the state is defined by a single, integrating and directing norm, the establishment of ‘public justice’. Elaborating the implications of this claim has occupied much neo-Calvinist political reflection and guided much political action inspired by that movement. Yet surprisingly little sustained theoretical reflection has been devoted in recent times to examining its inner meaning and coherence. This article offers some preliminary groundwork necessary to that theoretical project. The first part presents a close reading of Dooyeweerd’s account of public justice, identifies ambiguities and inconsistencies in that account, and suggests a reconstruction displaying its wide-ranging dynamic thrust more prominently. The second part identifies two substantial challenges confronting this account: its relative neglect of processes of democratic deliberation and advocacy, and its underdeveloped critical potentials.
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