According to Rawls, because of the vast number of beliefs and world views that result from reasonable pluralism, political legitimacy due to coercion is not possible. This is partially solved by the idea of overlapping consensus, which states that even though people of different beliefs cannot be coerced by others, they can reach agreements by finding the ideas that they can all believe in, regardless of background. Although the diversity of beliefs and world views can be a positive quality of a society, Rawls finds that it poses a problem when it comes to the question of who can have power over other citizens. Before discussing reasonable pluralism, Rawls opens his argument with some information about the political society and political power. There are two important points according to Rawls. The first is that “political society is closed,” and citizens cannot simply choose to enter or leave.
The next point is that “political power is always coercive power applied by the state,” these points set the foundation for how citizens must always be involved in the political process and how there must be coercion for political power to exist Reasonable pluralism is defined by Rawls as, “the fact that a diversity of reasonable comprehensive doctrines is a permanent feature of a democratic society. This is the first fact that he states to address the idea of political liberalism, and he makes clear in this definition that it is characteristic of democratic societies. The next fact supporting political liberalism also deals with democracy Rawls writes that, “In a democratic regime political power is regarded as the power of free and equal citizens as a collective body.” According to Rawls, these two facts comprise the definition of political liberalism and solidify the claim that reasonable pluralism appears in democracies.
Rawls addresses the problem that democracies require people to hold power over others in order to effectively ensure justice by explaining that justice must be carried out through a political conception, The problem, however, is that reasonable pluralism makes it difficult to determine how justice will be carried out and by whom. The concept of an overlapping consensus that Rawls introduces can function as a solution to the problem caused by reasonable pluralism. Rawls writes, “The idea of an overlapping consensus is introduced to make the idea of a well-ordered society more realistic and to adjust it to the historical and social conditions of democratic societies, which include the fact of reasonable pluralism.” This idea is justified with the explanation that in a society with reasonable pluralism, “citizens have conflicting religious, philosophical, and moral views. An overlapping consensus is necessary because of this conflict According to Rawls, having an overlapping consensus means that “the political conception is supported by the reasonable though opposing religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines that gain a significant body of adherents and endure over time.
In this definition, Rawls explains the overlapping consensus to contain all of the doctrines that are gradually accepted by citizens, even those of different backgrounds and beliefs, Rawls affirms this concept, writing that the overlapping consensus is “the most reasonable basis of political and social unity available to citizens of a democratic society. The conclusion that “unity” is an important end goal for a democratic society supports the idea of an overlapping consensus, as its goal is to overcome the boundaries created by societies with diversity. Even in a society where there is a diverse array of individuals with different opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds, a condition which Rawls calls reasonable pluralism, it is possible for political agreements to be reached because of the idea of the overlapping consensus. According to Rawls, this overlapping consensus allows for the ideas held by all citizens regardless of citizens to become the norm.