The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy

11 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2010 Last revised: 10 Mar 2020

Date Written: December 21, 2009


At the beginning of my career as a law professor, in the mid-1970s, I was principally engaged by – and I remain engaged by – constitutional controversies closely aligned with moral controversies: the constitutional controversy, for example, over laws banning abortion. (I have also been engaged by the related question of the courts' proper role – especially the U.S. Supreme Court's proper role – in resolving such controversies.) I was soon confronted by the question of the proper relationship of morality to constitutional law. Because for most citizens of the United States morality is religiously grounded, another question – one that would become for me a scholarly obsession – quickly came into view: the proper role of religion in the politics and law of a liberal democracy. Before long I was in the grip of this large question: Can any worldview that is not religious support – embed – the twofold claim to which liberal democracy is, as such – as liberal democracy – committed, namely, that each and every human being has equal inherent dignity and is inviolable?

I can now see, in retrospect, that each of the principal questions that have engaged me over the course of my career concerns one or another aspect of the political morality of liberal democracy; in particular, each question concerns either (a) the grounding, (b) the content, (c) the implications for one or another political-moral controversy, or (d) the judicial enforcement of the political morality of liberal democracy.

Note: In my new book, The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010), I address all four aspects: grounding, content, implications – in particular, implications for the political-moral controversies over abortion and same-sex marriage – and judicial enforcement. In the book, I am particularly concerned with the proper - and properly limited - role of religious faith in the politics and law of a liberal democracy. Those interested in seeing the table of contents and reading the introduction to The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy can download this document.

Suggested Citation

Perry, Michael John, The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy (December 21, 2009). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 10-001, Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-91, Available at SSRN: or

Michael John Perry (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2086 (Phone)

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