No American author over the previous fifty years has done greater damage to the study of political doctrine, to jurisprudence, or to the very foundations of our Constitutional regime than John Rawls. When some details of his theory have been ably criticized by Professor Corey, the true problem goes far deeper, at the manner that Rawls conceives his task of”moral theory.” Simply put, in disregard of the Constitutional order that already exists in the USA, and its foundation in the thought of liberal thinkers and statesmen such as Locke, Montesquieu, and the American infantry, Rawls writes as if the very fact that people disagree about the orders of justicea phenomenon characteristic of political life under virtually any non-despotic political regime–would be still a problem to be”resolved” by getting everyone to agree to a”concept” concocted by one doctrine professor or another. The basic problem with Rawls’s approach, as critics such as Benjamin Barber and Seyla Benhabib have discovered, is that it attempts to eliminate politics.
While their intentions may be not as violent, contemplate how much moves like Antifa and the Proud Boys are from winning the type of popular support that allowed the large-sale warfare waged over the streets of Weimar Germany–or people of Thucydides’ Corcyra.
With the exception of 1860 (and possibly of partisan extremists following the elections of 2016 and 2020), the huge majority have accepted this, even when their favorite party loses an electionmeaning the policies government pursues about everything from taxation to shield to regulation to offense to judicial appointments are not the ones they most favored–they will continue to enjoy a fair security of life, liberty, and property, thanks to our Constitutional order.
This consensus has been recorded by writers ranging from Tocqueville–see that his discussion of”small” vs.”great” parties–to historians such as Louis Hartz and Daniel Boorstin. If anything were to make our politics a lot stranger, it would be a text such as A Theory of Justice that informs people that when their vision of the great life differs from the author’s, their aspirations have”no value.” (Rawls uses that term into connote”conceptions of the good” that violate that which he maintains are the “broad limits” his principles impose “the type of men that guys would like to be.” For instance, people whose perspectives of the great society entail setting legal limitations to”religious and sexual practices” that seem”shameful or degrading” would automatically have their perspectives ruled from the governmental arena. Certainly, judicial rulings that read policies such as gay marriage and transgender faith into our Constitution and legislation, following Rawls’s plan of dismissing the electoral , have tended to spark popular passions into an unhealthy degree, producing what is widely referred to as a”culture war.”)
Freedom and Community
I believe there’s far less to Rawls’s concept, in its first or revised variations, compared to Corey maintains. Contrary to Corey, we needed Rawls to tell us this a liberal regime has to guarantee human liberty, equality before the law, also”reasonable pluralism.” (Watch, on the past, Federalist 10.) Nor would we have”much to learn in Rawls” into the result that a diverse, liberal state like ours can’t at precisely exactly the exact same time become a”community” based on a set of shared”ethical functions.” Our requirement for a widely shared, albeit limited, morality, has been addressed at length by these liberal scholars as William Galston and Peter Berkowitz. As Madison observed in Federalist 55, a republican government such as ours presupposes, over every other form, a high amount of moral merit. (Think of these virtues as patriotism, courage, tolerance, compassion, moderation, honesty, industry, thrift, and devotion to family.) But we barely needed Rawls to describe our country won’t ever be”that a polity such as Calvin’s Geneva”!
From Rawls’s time, naturally, Americans’ general standards of moral behavior had become much less restrictive than previously –thanks to innovations like same-sex marriage, the legalization of pornography and abortion, and a judicial mandate of rigorous political neutrality between religion and atheism. These developments certainly grapple with Rawls’s morally libertarian aim. (In the time of this writing, the Biden government had only eliminated the ban on acknowledging transgendered individuals to the army, without a consideration being given to the effect on unit cohesion, while the New York State legislature is contemplating a proposal to legalize streetwalking.)
But how would the large bulk of Americans have been induced to endure these sacrifices as they did to their country in conflicts such as World War II without the type of human feeling which Aristotle (Politics III.9) deems crucial for a political community? Think about the peroration of all Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, appealing to just such sentiments of brotherhood in an effort to prevent the Union from falling apart. And concerning the consequences on our nationwide well-being of the type of libertarian sexual morality that Rawls and his frenemy Nozick recognized as a source of justice, then consult with the writings of educated observers such as Myron Magnet and Mary Eberstadt–or else, as Christopher Wren’s epitaph ordains, simply look about you.
What Corey means by saying that politics should be”non-purposive into the greatest extent possible” is beyond me, because it could have been to the writers of the Declaration of Independence. Just as it is natural to all human beings to pursue specific purposes in their own lives, it is inevitable in forming and attempting to preserve political communities, they will expect the government to enact policies which they believe (correctly or not) will benefit themand will want to convince their citizens to favor those policies too. As Aristotle puts it into his Politics, although human beings originally sort cities for the sake of life, these cities keep in life as a way to living well.
Turning to the particulars of Rawls’s”two principles of justice,” Corey rightly criticizes the very first principle, ordaining the”highest equal liberty” for all, and assigning it”priority” within the next principle (that legitimizes inequalities in social and economic goods provided they optimize the well-being of the”least advantaged”) for its abstractness. In fact, Rawls’s mandate that”freedom can be restricted just for the interest of freedom” is without substantive meaning whatsoever : every law restricts people’s freedom to do something or other! Rawls’s consignment of financial liberties into his next principle–like the best to earn a living in a trade of a person’s choosing, or to get one’s property secured against theft or lawless governmental confiscation, were not as vital than liberty of speech, the press, or religion–has been absolutely arbitrary, a manifestation of the Progressive liberalism of the time and milieu, was given judicial imprimatur from the Supreme Court’s”favorite position” doctrine at the 1930’s.
People who wish truly to encourage liberty and justice should abandon”moral concept” and then return to the study of classic texts of political philosophy in addition to the writings of the best American statesmen, all whose reflections involved the acute, open-minded consideration of other political statements, and also grounded their balances of justice in an understanding of human nature.Contrary into Corey, Rawls doesn’t literally mandate political redistribution of land, in the feeling of its direct seizure. Rather, he urged these conventional liberal policies since progressive income and estate taxation. Yet, as classical liberal and libertarian writers such as John Tomasi have pointed out (as Corey properly notes), there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that the financial well-being of the”least advantaged” wouldn’t be more likely to be improved by means of a system which permits and promotes the most gifted and loved ones of society to earn top rewards, instead of through redistributive taxation, since in so doing they would be elevating the great deal of their weakest fellow citizens too. This, obviously, was John Locke’s point in Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise,”Of Property”: under a regime of financial liberty with secure land rights, also a day-laborer at England is better fed, clothed, and housed than the weakest of Indian chiefs.
But there’s a deeper motive underlying Rawls’s difference principle compared to solicitude for the welfare of the bad. In Part Three of Theory, he enunciates a remarkable doctrine of”excusable envy”–in breach of each one of those excellent religious and cultural customs –according to that it is”rational” for those lower down the economic scale to feel envious of these richer than they’re, in case the inequalities between them exceed certain (unspecified) limitations. It’s at this point that we discover the underlying if unacknowledged connection between Rawls’s doctrine and that of Karl Marx, possibly inspiring the name of a recent study from William Edmundson, John Rawls: Reticent Socialist. So far as I knowthe only precedent behind Rawls’s difference principle is Marx’s and Engels’s mockery of their so-called”utopian” socialist competitions, at Part III of this Communist Manifesto, on the ground that they sought”to improve the condition of each member of society,” rather than benefit only the oppressed proletarians.
Just as there was no space in the Marxian plot for people who discovered the promised proletarian dictatorship (to be administered with”Communists” such as Marx and Engels themselves) damaging to their well-being,” Rawls informs readers that find his strategy antithetical to their good that”their character is their own misfortune.” Even though Rawls was no violent revolutionary, he, like Marx and Engels, aimed to encourage resentment among the different courses, as opposed to serve the frequent good. (He offered just the lame explanation that given the requirement to operationalize the word”common good,” it would be simplest, provided the”ethos” of a contemporary democratic society, to recognize the most common good with that of the least advantaged.
In this light, it is imperative to note that Rawls did not at the end prioritize political freedom in any way, contrary to his promises. He voiced a studied agnosticism concerning if his principles tended to favor a free-market economy over a socialist person, oblivious to the causal association between the latter and the refusal of political liberty. He evinced no sense that a political regime which produces everyone a worker of the state deprives them of their liberty that would let them criticize the government–or perhaps openly detract from now reigning political fashions. (Consider now’s”cancel culture.”) In his previous writings, Rawls allowed the priority of freedom could be suspended if such suspension proved required to progress the”economic and social” state of the poor–thereby sanctioning the alibi provided by each Marxist despotism for its denial of liberty and the rule of law, even though the denial served only to improve the despots’ wealth and power.
As opposed to permit the amount of financial regulation or amount of taxation at a free society to be negotiated through the governmental process, taking account of varying conditions and competing partisan requirements, Rawls insisted his own notion be substituted to the great older one embodied in the documents that Americans inherited out of the patriots of 1776, 1787, and 1865, essentially putting political dispute to an end.
“Moral Theory” Versus Political Philosophy and Liberal Statesmanship
Ever since Theory was initially published, it’s served as a prototype for professors of political or moral”concept” or even jurisprudence to generate their own subjective, utopian variations of a mere culture, hardwired to political and financial realities. Rawls’s schooling has served only to erode the true bases of political liberty and of conventional,”bourgeois” morality.
Those who wish truly to promote liberty and justice should abandon”moral concept” and then return to the study of classic texts of political philosophy in addition to the writings of the best American statesmen, all whose reflections involved the acute, open-minded consideration of other political statements, and also grounded their balances of justice in an understanding of human character.