Americans interested in community today often lament precisely what conservative Americans prize: the perceived emphasis on individual rights and absence of explicit endorsements of civic duty, collective authority, and social equality in our eighteenth-century founding documents. Many who are familiar with the influence John Rawls had on contemporary political theory likewise fault him for prioritizing liberty over equality, a preference widely criticized by communitarians insisting that the common good is the proper end and measure of government. This article challenges those understandings of our nation’s founding, and of Rawls’s work, in order to show that concerns with the common good run as deeply through American history as do celebrations of individual rights.

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