The Pathos of Politics (68) John Rawls

John Rawls

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory, however elegant and economical, must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions, no matter how efficient and well-arranged, must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. ~ John Rawls

The magnum opus of American moral and political philosopher John Rawls (1921–2002) was A Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls picked up where Kant left off in considering the social contract and freedom. While others had used social contract theory to explain the origins of the state and sovereignty, Rawls resurrected the social contract to explain the principles of justice. Rawls’ prime target of disdain was utilitarianism.

The fault of the utilitarian doctrine is that it mistakes impersonality for impartiality. ~ John Rawls

Rawls viewed the maximalist edict of utilitarianism – “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” – as bearing the seeds of injustice.

It may be expedient, but it is not just that some should have less in order that others may prosper. ~ John Rawls

Rawls’ rational against utilitarianism was welfarism: that moral value is best adjudged by the consequences of policies. There is a historical irony in this, as utilitarianism was the soil from which welfarism sprouted.

To puncture utilitarianism, Rawls plucked a dart from natural law: that there was the fundamental right to a decent life for each person. In this, Rawls was the inverse of Spencer.

Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. In a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculation of social interests. ~ John Rawls

Rawls criticized democracy as a commodity for sale.

In constant pursuit of money to finance campaigns, the political system is simply unable to function. Its deliberative powers are paralyzed. ~ John Rawls

Rawls appreciated the tyranny of the majority that rides shotgun alongside democracy.

Essentially the fault lies in the fact that the democratic political process is at best regulated rivalry; it does not even in theory have the desirable properties that price theory ascribes to truly competitive markets. ~ John Rawls

Rawls recognized that capitalism lacked the fundamentals necessary for a just society.

There is a divergence between private and social accounting that the market fails to register. One essential task of law and government is to institute the necessary conditions. ~ John Rawls

Rawls considered civil liberties the preeminent societal value: everyone deserved equality in political affairs.

The circumstances of justice may be described as the normal conditions under which human cooperation is both possible and necessary. In justice as fairness society is interpreted as a cooperative venture for mutual advantage. ~ John Rawls

Rawls saw it as inevitable that societies have socioeconomic inequalities. He considered class structure ineradicable, even under ideal circumstances; but that did not make it right.

No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society. ~ John Rawls

For Rawls, natural inequities do not justify unequal justice.

To each according to his threat advantage does not count as a principle of justice. ~ John Rawls