Charlie Hebdo Meets Utility Monster

17 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2015 Last revised: 9 Jan 2016

See all articles by William A. Edmundson

William A. Edmundson

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: December 21, 2015


The Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 and the subsequent attacks of November 13 cast a garish light onto a conundrum at the center of how liberal democracies understand themselves. The Syrian emigrant crisis has added further color. How can a tolerant, liberal political culture tolerate the presence of intolerant, illiberal, sub-cultures while remaining true to its principles of tolerance? The problem falls within the intersection of two developments in the thinking of John Rawls, the great American political philosopher who died in 2002. The later Rawls struggled with the problem of how society might stably survive the clash of plural sub-cultures that a liberal society - unless it is oppressively coercive - must itself foster and allow to flourish. And he separately struggled with the problem of how liberal peoples might peacefully share the planet with illiberal, but "decent" peoples elsewhere. This article shows that Rawls's two solutions do not easily mix.

Keywords: philosophy, political philosophy, Rawls, Charlie Hebdo, religion, liberal democracy, political liberalism, political society

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K40, K49, Z00

Suggested Citation

Edmundson, William A., Charlie Hebdo Meets Utility Monster (December 21, 2015). The Critique, January-February 2016; Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-32. Available at SSRN:

William A. Edmundson (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
85 Park Place NE
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-413-9167 (Phone)
404-413-9225 (Fax)


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