Talk May Be Cheap, but Deeds Seldom Cheat: On Political Liberalism and the Assurance Problem

Baldwin Wong, Man Kong Li

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In a well-ordered society, democratic officials face an assurance problem. They want to ensure that others will act reasonably when they do the same. According to political liberals, public reason can solve this problem, but the details of how assurance is generated are unclear. This article explains the assurance mechanism in political liberalism. Apart from public reason, mutual assurance is also provided by a long-term record of civic deeds. By performing civic deeds over time, officials signal their reasonableness to each other. This record of civic deeds is costly to unreasonable officials and thus represents a reliable way to differentiate trustworthy fellows from others. The article also shows that a recent critique of political liberalism, which argues that public reason is merely cheap talk and thus political liberalism fails to provide mutual assurance, misses the point. It overlooks that assurance is created through talks and deeds together.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Feb 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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