Social Justice, Libertarianism

Neo-Rawlsian Libertarianism: Two Principles of Justice for Bleeding Hearts

During the recent Cato Unbound discussion on the history of libertarian thought, David Friedman has asked how the “neo-Rawlsian” libertarianism that John Tomasi and Matt Zwolinski (and I) affirm is a compelling alternative to the natural rights and utilitarian defenses of libertarianism. In this post, I explain the version of neo-Rawlsian libertarianism that I think can answer David’s concerns.

In David’s first post, “Natural Rights + ?” he asks if neo-Rawlsians endorse the Rawlsian Difference Principle. If they do, then they probably embrace the notoriously implausible maximin principle.  But that conception of justice has at least as many problems as natural rights and utilitarian views.

I don’t think the neo-Rawlsian view (to the extent that there is one) has to draw that deeply on Rawls. In fact, from what I can tell, even John, who is more Rawlsian than any of us, rejects maximin. So my goal is to sketch a broadly Rawlsian theory that fits within what John calls the  market democratic research program, a program that develops theories that combine a commitment to thick economic liberty with a concern for the least-advantaged.

The theory I sketch is broadly Rawlsian in two respects: in the justification for the principles and in the content of the principles (following a useful distinction drawn by Alex McCobin in his response to John and Matt). The justification is Rawlsian because it is contractualist in that it determines the correct principles of justice by asking which principles impartial, diverse, free and equal individuals would select for themselves. The principles are Rawlsian mainly because they take the form of two broad principles of justice, one that concerns a highly-weighted list of liberties and the other which concerns the distribution of other social and economic goods.

Neo-Rawlsian libertarianism, then, is composed of two principles of justice that I will develop by modifying Rawls’s two principles in light of important libertarian insights.

I. The Liberty Principle

Here’s the later Rawls’s statement of his first principle:

First Principle: Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value (PL, 5). 

The basic idea is that each person can claim against her fellows the moral authority to act in accord with her conception of the good and her sense of justice up to the point where this claim infringes on the similar rights of others. Each scheme of liberties must be adequate for citizens to develop and sustain their two “moral powers,” namely the capacity for a conception of the good and a sense of justice. Rawls singles out political liberties by giving them a special guarantee of fair value because political liberty is especially vulnerable to social and economic inequalities otherwise permitted by the Difference Principle.

Libertarians should alter this principle in a number of respects. First, the first principle includes a wide scheme of liberties but it excludes all economic liberties other than the ownership of personal property and freedom of occupation. John calls Rawlsians who endorse this view economic exceptionalists because they hold that the ground of their preferred scheme of economic liberties does not apply to broader economic liberties like freedom of contract, the ownership of capital goods, etc. A libertarian should accept these arguments and so elevate many economic liberties to the status of basic liberties (liberties that much be protected constitutional protection against legislative interference).

However, the neo-Rawlsian libertarian does not make all economic liberties basic rights. Like traditional Rawlsians, neo-Rawlsian libertarians only think that economic liberties are basic if they are necessary for the adequate development of one’s moral powers as described by a conception of the person as a (in Tomasi’s terms) responsible self-author. The right to own capital is a basic liberty because many valid conceptions of self-authorship include owning and running a business. However, the right to absolute ownership over capital is not a central part of being a responsible self-author. So there a conception of the person undergirds the scheme of liberties, simultaneously expanding and limiting their scope.

Second, following classical liberals, neo-Rawlsian libertarians demote the value of political liberty. Neo-Rawlsian libertarians hold that political liberties are not more important than civic, religious and economic liberties. Only some members of the public prize political participation more highly than other social practices. Further, neo-Rawlsian libertarians will deny that political liberty is a precondition for protecting other rights. Political liberties don’t improve outcomes all that much. For the libertarian, economic liberties are more important guarantors of freedom and justice. (For now I won’t address claims that political liberties matter less than other liberties, though I think there’s a lot to explore here, as Jason Brennan has recently argued.)

Finally, neo-Rawlsian libertarians will reject the idea that any of the liberties must be guaranteed their fair value. As long as each person has sufficient liberty to pursue her conception of the good and act in accord with her conception of justice, she has no further claim on her fellows.

So here’s my best rendering of the first principle of neo-Rawlsian libertarian justice:

The Neo-Rawlsian Liberty Principle: Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, a scheme compatible with the same scheme for all; these liberties include extensive civil, religious, political and economic liberties. 

This principle is neo-Rawlsian because (a) it has a contractualist foundation and (b) because it resembles the traditional Rawlsian first principle. Now let’s turn to the second principle.

II. The Social Justice Principle

Rawls’s second principle of justice has two parts. The first is the Fair Equality of Opportunity Principle and the second is the Difference Principle. Here’s the later Rawls’s statement of his second principle:

Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society (PL, 6). 

The second principle regulates social and economic inequalities. Now many of you know that the first principle has lexical priority over the first. But you should also know that the Fair Equality of Opportunity principle has priority over the Difference Principle.

The second principle concerns the arrangement of primary goods (goods that any rational form of life requires, like food, healthcare, etc.). We might call this the “social justice” principle or the “distributive justice” principle because it concerns the distribution of primary goods not determined by liberty rights.

Libertarians should alter this principle in a number of respects. First, they should reject an equal distribution of primary goods as the justificatory baseline. In other words, the reason that distributions require justification is not that they are unequally distributed. Instead, I suggest that distributions require justification on the same grounds as liberties are assigned to persons – that these resources are required to practice and pursue one’s conception of the good and sense of justice. In other words, the primary complaint that can be lodged against a distribution is that it does not provide enough for the adequate development and exercise of the two moral powers.

On the libertarian view, there is no presumption in favor of an equal distribution of goods because there is no presumption in favor of any goods existing at all. Goods must first be produced before they are distributed and social institutions should be arranged so that this basket of goods is as large as it can be. Then the least advantaged only have a claim on the cooperative surplus if it is required to ensure that their lives meet a decent threshold. Otherwise goods should be distributed in accord with the Liberty Principle. For this reason, I think the neo-Rawlsian principle of social justice is sufficientarian. The sufficiency threshold is bound to be controversial. But we do not need to set the threshold to proceed.

Second, libertarians should reject equality of opportunity as a basic part of justice. It is not equal opportunity that the government should ensure but rather fair opportunities. Equal opportunities will require leveling down in many cases (Rawls actually has a caveat for this case). What we want is for opportunities to be distributed such that they (a) maximize the net amount of primary goods and (b) provide a threshold of opportunities for the least-advantaged so that they can develop as responsible self-authors.

Third, libertarians should focus on maximizing the cooperative surplus, but not on maximizing the benefit of the least-advantaged. The least-advantaged cannot constrain a distribution on the grounds that it does not work to their maximal benefit. Further, libertarians will certainly reject the maximin principle on which the Difference Principle is based. There’s just no good reason to adopt it unless you have an incredibly thick impartiality guaranteeing device like Rawls’s veil of ignorance where all knowledge of probabilities is excluded. There’s just no compelling reason to be that risk averse.

Finally, libertarians are not in the business of rewarding goods to those who give up them up via deliberate risks they take or life choices that they make. So the sufficiency condition should only apply to those who accidentally fall below it.

So let’s reformulate the Rawlsian second principle into a neo-Rawlsian Social Justice Principle:

The Neo-Rawlsian Social Justice Principle: Social and economic distributions are to satisfy three conditions: first, they are to maximize the sum total of primary goods subject to the limitations of the Liberty Principle, second, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair opportunity, and third, they are to provide a sufficient bundle of goods to accidentally disadvantaged members of society. 

Now admittedly Rawls’s principles are unwieldy. And the principles I have formulated are more unwieldy still. So let me try to boil them down. Here’s the Neo-Rawlsian libertarian conception of justice in a nutshell:

Liberty Principle: Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equally extensive basic civic, religious, political and economic rights and liberties.

Social Justice Principle: Social and economic distributions should maximize the cooperative surplus and provide all with fair opportunities and a threshold of primary goods below which no one can accidentally and reliably fall. 

As John argues, the social justice principle should not run afoul of libertarian criticisms. We are not assuming that any one person distributes all these goods in a literal sense. Instead, we are specifying a condition for valid complaints against one’s institutional structure. Citizens of liberal societies have a complaint against their state (or market anarchist legal institutions) if the state upholds legal standards that predictably have effects that violate the first or second principle. Thus, their complaint applies to the use of coercion to sustain a society’s basic structure.

So we can answer David Friedman’s question of “Natural rights + ?” by pointing to the two principles and rejecting maximin and the Difference Principle in favor of our two principles. I am enough of a political liberal to worry that parties may not endorse any one set of principles as best. But I think that these principles best articulate our shared considered judgments about justice.

And here’s why: the two principles give great priority to liberty, but not absolute priority. Further, no one has a basic, absolute right to any form of private property. Instead, economic liberties exist only to respect and promote responsible self-authorship. Doing so requires extensive but not maximally extensive economic liberties. And second, the social justice principle is built on libertarian consequentialist concerns. The case for the market is not merely that it protects liberty but that it maximizes the cooperative surplus, provides opportunities for all and helps the least advantaged live a decent life.

In this way, we combine deontological considerations and consequentialist considerations within a contractualist framework.

Incidentally, we can also respond to Roderick’s claim that the self-ownership principle is sufficiently consequence-sensitive in virtue of building consequentialist considerations into the rationale for self-ownership. To charge self-ownership with being insufficiently consequence-sensitive would be, in Roderick’s words, double-counting. But we can see that isn’t so. Principles with a consequentialist rationale can still fail to be sufficiently consequence-sensitive. Our considered judgments should lead us to embrace these two principles over the self-ownership principle because distributions should be more directly sensitive to good consequences. In other words, if the consequences of “freed markets” were very bad, then we should condemn freed markets. On Roderick’s view, if freed markets produced bad consequences, we’d be much less justified in rearranging property rules to remedy those consequences. But that’s too absolutist a conception of property rights, even if the ground of self-ownership is partly that when followed it produces good consequences.

I’m not sure just what Matt’s principles are, but John’s principles are a bit more Rawlsian than what I have laid out. The two principles are rough approximations of what I think ideal justice requires.

  • Gordon Sollars

     I wonder how the neo-Rawlsian libertarian’s policy prescriptions differ from the policy prescriptions of,  say, the notorious utilitarian who wrote Capitalism and Freedom?

  • Andrew Cohen

    Kevin-I wonder if you could say a bit more about what you consider fair opportunity.  I am worried, in particular, about a luck egalitarian concern that might push fairness into equality.  If Joe is born to poor parents in an impoverished neighborhood, his opportunities will be limited, etc.  This seems unfair.  Is it?  If not, what is needed to achieve fairness–without achieving equality of opportunity? ( If it is thought fair, by the way, I think something has gone amiss.)

    • Kevin Vallier

      I was thinking of fair as sufficiency, now that I think about it.

  • First, excellently done.

    Rawls settled on the maximin strategy only by concluding that people in the original position would not and should not know about the relative frequencies of the different positions they were creating in society.  If there was a very badly “worst off” group, then that group might turn out to be common rather than rare.  So cost-benefit analysis was right out, and maximin was the only other choice.

    This is an odd move to me, given that the basic facts of human nature might lead to at least some inferences — somewhere, at some point — about the relative frequencies of wealth and poverty in different types of societies.  Whether those inferences were correct or not, they would be made.  There is no obvious reason to forbid them, but forbidden they are.

    As Friedman (I think correctly) points out, a society where everyone has a wealth of 100 is not obviously superior to a society where everyone has a wealth of 1,000, but for one person with a wealth of 99.  (And if the former IS obviously superior to you, then simply adjust the numbers until it isn’t.)

    Finally, we really should ask about the plausibility of a society of this type and how likely it is to endure over time.  Is, say, comparative advantage a “basic fact” of human nature, of the sort that people will have in the original position?  If so, then we would become much more eager to accept the second sort of society, because we would infer that the person with 99 would probably be able to increase his wealth fairly easily, provided only that we’d gotten up an otherwise relatively fair labor market.

  • Hume22

    My biggest problem with Rawls (and Gaus and “neo-Rawlsians”) is the assumption of a closed non-voluntary political society from which the principles of justice are derived.  Scanlon tells us what “we” owe to “each other”, but Simmons is right in pressing the “we” and the “each other” assumptions.  At least Dworkin and Tamir attempt an account for who “us” is (although Dworkin fails (embarrassingly so) to produce anything close to a plausible story).  Rawls and Gaus simply assert, “hey, that’s just how it is; death and taxes … and ‘us'”.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Gaus does not rely on a closed society. In fact, his theory is built for all non-sociopathic humans. That’s clear in all three of his major works. And while Rawls does limit his theory of justice to nations, he has a theory of international justice.  The real idea at the root of both is that social-moral and political normativity are bound by shared ideas and norms. Without that background, its hard to see how our justifications for laws and policies can get purchase with others. 

      • 3cantuna

        Gaus is compatible with anarchy?

        • Kevin Vallier

          That’s not what I meant, but I did present a paper at the Molinari society of the Eastern APA where I tried to show that market anarchy can achieve legitimacy as understood by public reason liberalism. Email if interested.

          • 3cantuna

            Will do. I hope you don’t think I was going for a “gotcha” question. Not my intention– at least in this instance haha.

      • Hume22

        What is the appropriate range of our moral and political claims?  Who ought we direct moral and political claims to?  From what I recall, Gaus explicitly allows “practice” to decide because “Moral rules … are social rules, and social rules exist; our social life occurs in the context of existing social rules. … Thus the range of the public is determined by the extent of the moral practice governed by the rule.” [Gaus (2010) at 268] (I could be wrong on this, and if I am, I apologize, I will go back and reread Gaus; I admit I have not read Gaus (1990); in Appendix to Gaus (1996), he discusses only existing public vs. Global public; ).  But this is simply taking the existing political societies as determinant, and as we all know, there is nothing voluntary about membership in existing political units.  The *only* reason I make a “political claim” on a person from Nowhere, Oregon is because we are connected by the non-voluntary, arbitrary political institutions of the “United States”.

        Why is this important?  One reason could be that it undermines the foundations of the project of “justificatory liberalism”.  This is because Gaus takes intractable moral disagreement as the most pressing question to answer.  But if moral practices ought to be range-limited by some important criteria (as opposed to the simple arbitrary fact of the existence and range of social rules), this could go a long way in assuaging the problem of deep/fundamental moral conflicts.

        • Kevin Vallier

          My point was only that the range for Gaus is not confined to nations. We can extend members of the public to all non-sociopathic humans (those who can engage in affective perspective taking, a la Gaus 1990) and those who conceive of themselves as autarchic.

  • Fernando Teson

    I don’t think Rawls would have approved the use of his name for this theory; and I regard that as one of its virtues.

  • dL

    Even Rawls abandoned any normative basis for his two principles of justice. That’s what his 2nd book, Political Liberalism, addressed: rooting his 2 principles of justice in public reason, or overlapping political consensus.My critique: The Social Justice of a Police State 

    • Kevin Vallier

      Moving to political constructivism is not to abandon a normative basis. Its just a less Kantian basis.

      • dL

        So normative it managed to spit out a Department of Homeland Security…

  • Ryan


    I like your modifications to the liberty principle, but I worry that it still has too much from Rawls.  It is good to demote political liberties, but why point to certain classes of liberties at all (civic, political, religious) as particularly important?  It is wrong for me to coerce you against your will, even if I am not using coercion to burden or remove any of your specifically civic, political, or religious liberties.  In fact, it seems to me that the value of the liberty I am burdening is more or less irrelevant to the wrongness of my coercing you.  

    Relatedly,  I feel like the language of “fully adequate scheme” of liberties is too permissive.  You and I might more or less agree on what counts as fully adequate, but I suspect that many Rawlsians would think that a lot of restrictions on freedom can still leave a “fully adequate scheme” intact.  In general, if A points a gun at B and says “Help me move my bookshelf for next five minutes!” it seems beside the point to me for A to defend this use of force by saying, “Look, I’m only making you do something for me for 5 minutes.  You still have a fully adequate scheme of liberties to develop and exercise your two moral powers (or whatever else you think liberty is for).”  

    My thought: the only really adequate scheme of liberties will be the maximal one, as the younger Rawls believed.

    • 3cantuna

      If coercion is not logically defined but contractually determined, as it is with these public reasoners, then might it result in the bookshelf scenario being legitimized? Is Hayek foreshadowed here, who also made coercion a nebulous phenomenon to be determined by ‘spontaneous order’? Conscription is OK  in Hayek’s book as long as it is done in a predictable way that the subject can plan around. 

      • Hume22

        I dont think so.  Gaus, for example, tends to look at coercion as a purely descriptive concept that fits well with ordinary understandings and the strong connections to the use of force or threats of force (if I remember correctly; I’m sure Kevin can provide a better account).  Also he discusses in many places  a “presumption of freedom”, and any attempt to “coerce” another (even by making moral claims on another, w/out threatening physical force) must be justified *to* that person, and the reasons justifying the actions must be recognizable from that person’s perspective/comprehensive worldview (for example, you cannot justify imprisoning an atheist my reference to a god’s will, you must make reference to other reasons that are recognizable within the coercee’s worldview).

        • 3cantuna

          Thanks! er, uh, David?  haha. Then public reason is incompatible with the Hayekian interpretation of coercion? What does that say about Tomasi’s (and Zwo’s) championing both public reason and Hayek? 

    • Kevin Vallier

      I can’t fill out all the details in a single blog post. Its too long as it stands. But I think the reason to point to certain classes of liberties is because they’re seen as especially bound up with exercising one’s two moral powers.

  • To charge self-ownership with being insufficiently consequence-sensitive would be, in Roderick’s words, double-counting. But we can see that isn’t so. Principles with a consequentialist rationale can still fail to be sufficiently consequence-sensitive. Our considered judgments should lead us to embrace these two principles over the self-ownership principle because distributions should be more directly sensitive to good consequences. In other words, if the consequences of “freed markets” were very bad, then we should condemn freed markets. On Roderick’s view, if freed markets produced bad consequences, we’d be much less justified in rearranging property rules to remedy those consequences. But that’s too absolutist a conception of property rights, even if the ground of self-ownership is partly that when followed it produces good consequences.

    I’m puzzled as to what Kevin means in this passage.  Two interpretations occur to me.

    The first interpretation is that self-ownership is insufficiently consequence-sensitive, despite its consequentialist rationale, because that rationale itself is insufficiently
    consequentialist.  If that’s what Kevin means, then my question is: why is its rationale insufficiently consequentialist?  What’s the defect?  (And it would surely be question-begging to say:  because it doesn’t allow enough additional consequence-sensitivity downstream from itself.)

    The second interpretation is that self-ownership is insufficiently consequence-sensitive, despite having a sufficiently consequentialist rationale.  But in that case I can’t see why the charge of double-counting doesn’t apply.

    What am I missing?

     P.S. – I’m also curious as to Kevin’s answer to this question.

    • Kevin Vallier

      (1) I think the first one holds. But to be honest, I don’t know how to continue the discussion because I don’t know exactly what you think the rationale is or at least what it looks like in broad outlines. Knowing you, I can guess. But you always surprise me. Oh, if only you would turn your LvMI lecture series into a manuscript!

      (2) Regarding the P.S. So you can imagine a world in which no one makes authoritative claims on one another. In that case, you may well be justified in using force to protect yourself in the absence of a system of laws and moral rules. All you wish to do is to make your way through life without asking anyone else to obey your directives on moral grounds. Public reason liberalism is not meant to speak to such a world. Moral theory broadly speaking will help shed light on the general permissibility of coercion. PRL comes into the picture when we’re interested in the authoritative use of coercion. Now, PRLs don’t often distinguish between the permission (the liberty-right) to coercion and the authority (the claim-right) to coerce. I think PRL is primarily concerned with the latter. Though that’s only because I think that its hard to justify the permission without the authority.

      Here’s another way to think about it: for the contract theorists, there’s life in the state of nature and life in the state. Outside of the state, moral relations are stripped bare (to varying extents, depending on the contract theorist). But now drop out state and insert Gausian social-moral rules. We can conceive of a world in which no moral rules existed, that is, no norms widely regarded as authoritative (actually, maybe not, but let’s go with the counterpossible for the moment). In that world, each person is permitted act on her version of the truth with impunity (just as for Locke and Hobbes each person can preserve one’s life and act on her own judgment about the content of natural law). But once we are in the contracted state, we bind our own wills to comply with social morality. In the contract theorists, we bind ourselves by consent. In PRL, we bind our wills via a coherent articulation and harmonization of our rational commitments (at least that’s my interpretation).

      If you’re interested in what I’m after, you can check out the first chapter of The Order of Public Reason and the mini-section on the Imperious Private Conscience.

      • berserkrl

        Moral theory broadly speaking will help shed light on the general permissibility of coercion. PRL comes into the picture when we’re interested in the authoritative use of coercion.
        But if the only difference between defensive coercion and authoritative coercion — i.e., all that the latter adds to the former — is the moral obligation of others to do what the coercer is demanding, then we get two odd results.
        First: my initial worry was that PRL would not allow people to defend themselves against innocently mistaken aggressors; but you said no, it does allow that.  But in that case PRL seems to have the opposite problem: it’s so lax that it doesn’t actually constrain people’s duties (or at least libertarians’ duties) at all.  Previously it seemed as though you were saying “look, non-PRL libertarians are prepared to coerce innocently mistaken people, and they should find that morally problematic.”  But now you seem to be saying that it’s fine for non-PRL libertarians to coerce innocently mistaken people, since that’s just permissible defensive (rather than authoritative) coercion; they just shouldn’t assume that other people have a duty to go along with it.
        Second: if you grant that moral theory “will help shed light on the general permissibility of coercion,” then it’s not clear that there’s anything left for PRL to do.  For if that’s true, moral theory is adequate to determine the permissibility not just of defensive coercion but of authoritative coercion too. 

        For suppose the non-libertarian tries to force the libertarian to do something — pay taxes, serve on a jury, whatever — and the libertarian uses force to resist.  If moral theory addresses “the general permissibility of coercion,” then it is competent to determine not just whether the libertarian is justified in forcible defense but whether the non-libertarian’s (initial and/or continuing) use of force is justified too.  But then it covers both aspects of authoritative coercion, and no further task is left for PRL.

        Of course this result depends on the special fact about libertarianism that the only permissible use of force is to counter other force, so that issues of the permissibility of force will always come pairwise.  Maybe PRL would be needed to justify authoritative uses of coercion that are not also defensive.  But libertarians don’t want to justify authoritative uses of coercion that are not also defensive, because they don’t want to justify any uses of coercion that are not defensive.  So PRL seems like a solution to a problem that only non-libertarians have.

  • Fabian_Wendt

    Excellent post, thanks!

    I assume that when you say “broadly Rawlsian” justification, you mean a (more or less) Gausian justification? So you assume that Gausian “Members of the Public” could agree on exactly the two principles you specified?

    I wonder about one point, then: Gaus emphasizes that the Members of the Public have different conceptions of justice. When they have to agree on principles (or rights or rules or whatever), these principles will probably not be identical with the conception of justice of any one of them. Most, probably all, of the Members will therefore deny that the principles agreed on are giving them (perfect) justice. If this is so, how could we as theorists identify the principles chosen by the Members of the Public with “justice”?

    • Kevin Vallier

      This is a fine question. The Order of Public Reason is about the justification of moral authority. It species a range of justice (see Jerry’s contribution to Cato Unbound for a nice summary). What I have provided I think lies within the Gausian range. But members of the public at the right level of idealization disagree about justice, so the conception of justice I outline may not always prove authoritative. 

      But here’s my view: legitimacy and authority are fixed by the rational commitments of members of the public at a moderate level of idealization (see Jerry’s “respectable amount of reasoning” in OPR). But justice is fixed by the rational commitments of members of the public at a much higher degree of idealization, one that we can argue might lead to agreement.

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  • mchugh_alex

    This is great! I think these considerations really pull out what’s best in Rawl’s philosophy without asking the bleeding heart libertarian to abandon as much of  their commitment to economic freedom as a purely Rawlsian philosophy would. I am a bit worried though.

    Personally, the problem I have with Rawls goes deeper than the difference principle and maximin. His definition of reasonable, as being  determined by public will, strikes me as even more worrisome. Mostly because I think one can be a moral actor, and perhaps even a more moral actor than others, while defying that which is publicly accepted as correct. It seems to me one can and often should be a proponent of viewpoints that one CANNOT reasonably expect others to agree to given factors like dominant paradigms and harmful/dangerous norms. So while the “political liberalism” solution to the slavery question at the start of the United States would very much be what was decided on: deal with it later, I think this is not the standard we should hold ourselves or society to. We should expect more, and I think you only get that with a more robust consideration of the natural rights side of moral philosophy and a clearer primacy of these rights. 

    So I would be worried about adopting the Rawlsian principles, even so adapted, because it seems likely to me that a “reasonable” scheme of “fair distribution” that would develop in a modern society that did not hold private property rights to be absolute,  may not be as palatable as hoped. 

    I assume that what was meant was that such a consideration could be applied using our own conceptions of reasonable rather than Rawls’ but I’m not sure what that would be. Supposedly something more that just a natural rights consideration, but wondering how you define this without using Rawls’ standard which is in my opinion, rather pernicious. 

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  • Wayne_Spencer

    This article stands Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice” on its head. Rawls never mixed civil liberties with economic benefits. He deliberately separated them and made it clear that one could never trade away basic rights for economic benefits. I suggest that the writer either is deliberately distorting Rawls’ words or has never read “A Theory of Justice” at all.

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