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Frank I. Michelman, Civility to Graciousness: van der Walt and Rawls, 23 Ethics & Pol. 495 (2021)

Abstract: Johan van der Walt finds the essence of the concept of liberal democratic law to lie in an uprootedness of law “from life.” He connects that finding to a modern experience of life fundamentally divided. Division of life occurs both at the societal level, as a fact of visionary pluralism, and at the personal level, as an experience of deep-set inner conflicts of passions and motivations. The path to law-from-life uprooting from the experience of external social division may be the more obvious; the path there from the experience of internal conflict may be the more interesting. The two paths join at a crucial place reserved by Van der Walt for indispensable moments of “sacrifice” – or, better, “gift;” or, still better, “graciousness” – in the liberal democratic experience of law. We ask here whether that is also the place of “civility” (in the lexicon of John Rawls), where the conception of liberal democratic law put forth by Rawls in his philosophy of political liberalism may be seen to meet up with the thought of Van der Walt.