John Rawls, Collected Papers (edited by Samuel Freeman), Harvard University Press, 1999.

Review Essay by David A. Reidy, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Tennessee.

Re-Reading Rawls.

 It sounds odd to say that Rawls’s work took the worlds of philosophy and politics by
storm.  Rawls was slow to develop the central ideas of his theory of justice and was always more
the academic philosopher than public intellectual.  He spent the better part of fifteen years
working out the core of A Theory of Justice (1971; hereafter TJ), publishing one idea or argument
here, another there.  Nevertheless, his work did take the worlds of philosophy and politics by
storm, at least once its main outlines were clear.  Today TJ is read in English and various
translations around the world.  It is said that a copy was found in the cloak of one of the arrested
Chinese activists in Tiananmen Square.

 More successfully than any other contemporaneous body of work, Rawls’s work
addressed itself to a, if not the, most serious unmet philosophical and political need in the post-
WWII West: namely to provide a theoretically rich and compelling framework from within
which the reigning liberal democratic settlement (e.g., the New Deal, the Great Society, and their
analogues in Britain, Canada and elsewhere) might be given a general justification as well as
critiqued for needed improvements.  By the mid-1960's, that settlement was increasingly under
attack from illiberal forces both internal and external.  Internally, the United States, Great Britain
and other Western liberal democracies faced a wave of new and often illiberal political
movements from both the right and the left.  Externally, the Cold War drew NATO nations and
the Soviet Bloc perilously close to direct military conflict, raising genuine worries about the long
term prospects of liberal democratic states.

 Those who might have turned to political philosophy in search of the conceptual and
argumentative resources necessary to make an intellectual defense of liberal democratic
intuitions and institutions would have been most disappointed in the early post-war years.  Earlier
twentieth century analytic developments in the philosophy of language and mind had led many
moral and political philosophers to the view that serious normative philosophical inquiry and
argument was always premature prior to a full analysis of the relevant linguistic and conceptual
territory.  Before undertaking to determine whether this or that action or institutional arrangement
was just, it was necessary first to determine the meaning of the term “just”, indeed whether and
how it could “mean” anything at all in the ordinary sense.

 Rawls does not entirely sidestep this analytic and linguistic turn.  Indeed, he sometimes
undertakes his own metaethical inquiries into the logical, metaphysical, and epistemological
status of normative concepts, language or judgments.  But for the most part Rawls insists that
normative moral inquiry and progress need not wait on the resolution of such metaethical
inquiries.  In the early post-war years his was largely a dissenting voice.  When Rawls turned to
normative theories of political morality to justify liberal democratic intuitions and institutions, he
found three familiar traditions of political thought, each more or less frozen in its pre-WWII
form, and each in its own way unsatisfactory as a justification of liberal democracy.

 There was, first, the tradition of philosophical utilitarianism to which Bentham, Mill and
Sidgwick belonged.  But this tradition failed to express adequately, or to justify institutions fully
faithful to, the liberal democratic ideal of free and equal citizens.  There was also, of course, the
perfectionist tradition, exemplified by Plato and Aristotle, and more recently and controversially,
Nietzsche.  But perfectionist theories of political morality – those that hold that a just state is a
state that leads its citizens to the good life – hardly square with liberal democratic intuitions and
institutions.  Finally, there was the family of intuitionist theories, typically pluralist and
rationalist, each drawing on and seeking to balance correctly any number of purportedly self-
evident first principles of political morality.  While some of these theories fit liberal democratic
intuitions and institutions fairly comfortably, none offered a public framework for reasoned
debate over how to balance competing principles.  The relative weight or rankings of competing
principles was to be determined by rational intuition, and when citizens found themselves with
conflicting intuitions, they were left with only the thought that someone must be wrong.

 There were, of course, also libertarian and Marxist traditions.  But neither constituted a
genuine theory of justice.  Through its commitment to more or less absolute property rights
libertarianism simply presupposes rather than articulates and defends a conception of justice.
And Marxism aims at a social world in which the circumstances of justice (relative scarcity,
conflicting claims, etc.) have been finally overcome so that questions of justice no longer arise.
Political philosophy, then, had failed to offer a compelling defense of the justice of prevailing
liberal democratic intuitions and institutions.  And the latter were under serious attack.  It is to
this most dangerous of circumstances that Rawls’s work on justice is a response.  Drawing
primarily on the social contract tradition, exemplified by Locke, Rousseau and Kant, the
liberalism of Mill, and the theory and practice of democratic politics, Rawls’s work constitutes
arguably the single most important contemporary theoretical defense of liberal democratic
intuitions and institutions.

 Rawls undertakes to defend, of course, more than a threatened intellectual consensus or
institutional status quo.  He undertakes to articulate and defend an ideal.  A proper defense of
liberal democratic intuitions and institutions must proceed from normative first principles
expressing what may publicly be shown to be, and thus all may reasonably regard as, the best
available conception of justice.  Assessed against this conception, whatever it turns out to be,
neither the prevailing intellectual consensus nor existing institutional arrangements is likely to
escape serious criticism.

 It is the task of ideal theory to work out the content of the best conception of justice
available to us.  It does not follow, however, that Rawls’s work is an exercise in theoretical
philosophy.  For Rawls, political philosophy is always practical.  There are two practical reasons
for working out the best conception of justice as a matter of ideal theory.  The first is that we
cannot judge correctly what we are to do here and now in political life unless we have an
adequate ideal against which to assess our current situation.  The second is that in the absence of
such an ideal the undeniable injustices of our current situation are likely to breed in us either
apathetic resignation or a dangerous longing for total revolution. The practical aim of political
philosophy is to chart a course of reasonable hope and effective political action between the
Scylla of resignation and the Charybdis of total revolution (which, historically, has a poor

 Those who read Rawls hoping to find a full, final and successful defense of the justice of
liberal democratic institutions and intuitions will be disappointed.  But not those who read Rawls
hoping to find the finest contribution made in the last 50 years to the ongoing debate over liberal
democracy, a debate marked by contributions from Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Mill, as well as
Hegel, Marx and others.  Indeed, Rawls’s contribution to this debate may be the only
contribution made in the last 50 years able to rival those just mentioned, even if the overall range
of his philosophical output is narrower.  His work is thus the natural point of departure for all
those who wish to join and add to this great debate.  But there is no reason to regard it as a final

 John Rawls’s Collected Papers (1999; hereafter CP), edited by Sam Freeman, brings
together in chronological order 26 essays by Rawls.  It begins with Rawls’s first publication,
“Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics” (1951), and concludes with his final published
essay, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (1997), followed by a 1998 interview published in
Commonweal.  As readers of Rawls’s work have come to expect, CP includes a comprehensive
and well-organized 27 page index.  Unhappily, Sam Freeman’s “Editor’s Preface” is far too brief
to be of much value to readers.  This is a loss, because Freeman understands Rawls’s work as
well as anyone.  But Rawls has always been keen simply to publish his work and let it stand or
fall on its own terms.  And Freeman has kept to that spirit.

 Of the 26 essays in CP, roughly two thirds are focused on the arguments and theses
advanced in Rawls’s 1971 classic, A Theory of Justice (hereafter TJ).  About half of these come
from the period leading up to the publication of TJ.  The other half come from the roughly ten
year period, the early 1970's to the early 1980's, during which Rawls responded to critics of TJ.
The remaining essays in CP divide into three classes.  First, there are those from the mid- and
late-1980's in which Rawls worked out some of the central ideas presented in his 1993 book,
Political Liberalism (Revised Paperback Edition, 1996) (hereafter PL).  Second, there are those
essays spanning the full run of Rawls’s career in which Rawls addresses fundamental issues in
normative moral theory.  These include the already mentioned “Outline of a Decision Procedure
for Ethics” (1951) as well as “Two Concepts of Rules” (1955), “The Independence of Moral
Theory” (1975), “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory” (1980) and “Themes in Kant’s Moral
Philosophy” (1989).  Finally, there are two essays focused on issues of international justice: the
original version of “The Law of Peoples”, published as part of a collection of Oxford Amnesty
Lectures on human rights in 1993, and “Fifty Years after Hiroshima”, published in Dissent in
1995.  The primary omission from this collection are the three essays, revised versions of which
constitute Part Three of PL (1996), “The Basic Structure as Subject” (1978), “The Basic Liberties
and Their Priority” (1982), and “Reply to Habermas” (1995).

 CP is just one book in a wave of publishing that finally grants students of Rawls’s work
easy access to nearly all the primary source material they could want.  A revised and updated
edition of TJ was published in 1999.   Also in 1999, an expanded version of “The Law of
Peoples” was published as a monograph under the same title (hereafter LP).  LP frames the
original “The Law of Peoples”as part of a complete political liberalism and ties in material from
the 1995 Dissent essay.   In 2000, Rawls’s Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, edited
by Barbara Herman, was published.  At the center of this book are Rawls’s lectures on Kant’s
moral philosophy.  These are introduced by his lectures on Hume’s and Leibniz’s moral
philosophy, and followed by his lectures on Hegel’s moral philosophy.  Taken together they
constitute a first rate contribution to the history of moral philosophy in the modern period, and
support Rawls’s claim that his own work was fully rooted in a sympathetic yet critical
engagement with the history of moral philosophy.  Finally, 2001 brought publication of the long-
awaited Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, edited by Erin Kelly, (hereafter JFR).  This book
draws together the various detailed and constantly revised lecture notes, covering material from
both TJ and PL, from which Rawls taught his course on political philosophy at Harvard during
the 1980's.  Copies of these notes had been circulating nationally and internationally among
students of Rawls’s work for years in photocopy form.  They are now drawn together in a usable
text of only 200 pages.

 Shortly after attending a conference in 1996 celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of
the publication of TJ, Rawls suffered the first of a series of strokes.  They have left him now
unable to work.  It is unlikely that there will be any further publication of Rawls’s work.  The
time is right, therefore, for those who are serious about political, social and moral philosophy to
begin the task of re-reading Rawls.  And while CP is hardly the best candidate of Rawls’s books
for a first read by those unfamiliar with his work (JFR is probably best for that purpose), it is
arguably the best candidate for readers already familiar with his work and eager to undertake a
serious interpretive engagement.  Here the otherwise clumsy chronological presentation of essays
has benefits.  It permits readers to work out a sort of intellectual history, of course.  But more
importantly, re-reading Rawls’s essays in chronological order forces the reader to take each essay
on its own terms and thereby draws the reader to certain patterns of thought and argument that
are too often overlooked by those already in the habit of reading Rawls against some fixed and
familiar interpretation, usually derived from a single reading of TJ and a handful of

 Isaiah Berlin is famous for distinguishing between the fox and the hedgehog as paradigms
of intellectual disposition or character.  Rawls is undeniably more the latter than the former.  But
to so characterize him misses two central features of his work.  The first is its architectonic
nature.  Like any good philosopher, Rawls makes use of argument.  But most of his work is
aimed not at arguing for, but rather giving coherent structure and thereby birth to, a distinctive
and complex philosophical position.  The second is that while Rawls in many ways endeavors to
articulate one big idea, he does so in a manner that over time brings that idea – both its internal
structure and its relations to other ideas – into ever sharper focus.  The impression one gets is of a
painter who paints the same subject over and over, but never from the same point of view, never
under the same light, never with the same points of emphasis, and never without revealing
something previously hidden.

 Rawls devoted nearly fifty years to articulating and defending a conception of justice he
called “justice as fairness” or “justice as reciprocity.”  At the center of this conception are two
principles of justice.  They apply not to individual social institutions directly (e.g., the market, the
family, etc.), but to the system or network of social institutions that distribute social primary
goods (rights, liberties, opportunities, wealth, income, authority, social bases of self-respect, etc.)
at the most general level.  This system, when taken as a whole, constitutes a society’s basic
structure.  And it is to that structure that the principles of justice apply.

 They require, in lexical order, the institutional realization of a system of equal basic
liberties for all (familiar but nevertheless important liberties such as freedom of speech, religion,
and movement, freedom from bodily or psychological assault, the right to vote, and so on), and
an ordering of any social inequalities within (or generated by) the basic social structure consistent
with both fair equality of opportunity and the greatest advantage of that class least favored by the
institutional (or institutionally generated) inequalities.  The latter two-part requirement is Rawls’s
now famous “difference principle.”  It expresses the conditions under which institutionally
embodied social differences are not unjust.  A basic social structure may justifiably contain (or
produce) inequalities of wealth, income, status or authority only if those inequalities leave
everyone better off than they would be without them and leave those with the least better off than
they would be under any other feasible alternative consistent with the mutual advantage of all.
Basic liberties must be secured, however, prior to meeting the demands of the difference
principle and, save the most extreme cases, must never be sacrificed for the pursuit of other
goods, e.g., corporate goods such as national security, aggregate goods such as GDP, or
perfectionist goods such as a virtuous citizenry or robust national culture.

 Rawls never claims to have gotten these principles just right, and he spent much of his
career working out various revisions.  For example, he eventually acknowledged an assumed but
unstated basic needs principle, itself lexically prior to the basic liberties principle, guaranteeing
for citizens the material conditions necessary to understand and make intelligent use of their
basic liberties (PL, 7; CP, 541).  And he revised the basic liberties principle itself so that it refers
not to the most extensive system of equal basic liberties compatible with a like system for all, but
rather to a system of equal basic liberties fully adequate to the development and exercise of each
citizen’s two fundamental moral powers (the powers to form, revise and pursue a conception of
the good and to propose and honor fair terms of social cooperation with others) (CP, 313, 333).
He also eventually added the proviso that all citizens must be afforded the fair value of their
equal political liberties (a matter not unimportant to campaign finance reform) (CP, 417).   Most
recently he has emphasized the importance of reading these principles to require universal basic
health care, publicly financed elections, and guaranteed state employment as an employment of
last resort (LP, 50).

 Rawls makes clear – in both the Preface to the 1987 French Edition of TJ, which is
included in CP, and the Preface to the 1999 Revised Edition of TJ – that he never intended his
principles of justice as a justification for a bureaucratic welfare state.  Rather, he thought of them
as a justification for either a “property-owning democracy” or “liberal democratic socialist
regime.”  On his view, whether the means of production should be privately or publicly owned is
a matter with respect to which the first principles of justice are neutral.  It is best decided by
history and culture.  In a property-owning democracy, productive assets are privately owned,
consistent with history and culture.  But both they and human capital (education, training, etc.)
are dispersed widely so that great inequalities either do not arise or do not persist for any
extended period of time.  Since all classes of persons share in productive assets and human
capital, the need for massive and widespread transfers of income from one class to another on a
regular basis does not arise.  The essential business of the state is not to write welfare checks
endlessly to correct economic outcomes on the back end, but to insure that capital, education and
training are distributed on the front end so that economic outcomes may largely be left alone.

 This may sound like just another version of capitalism with a human face.  But it is not
necessarily capitalism, at least in one important respect.  In a property-owning democracy there is
no fundamental reason why the state ought always to adopt economic policies aimed at growing
the collective supply of capital.  The state must adopt policies aimed at meeting the demands of
justice, including the demands of just savings for future generations (so that they too can meet
the demands of justice).  But once those demands are met it is up to citizens to decide whether or
not they wish to adopt economic policies aimed at growing their shared supply of capital yet
further.  Cooperating with one another within just social institutions conducive to mutual respect
and the absence of envy, and capable of sustaining a social minimum sufficient to immunize
most if not all to the allure of materialist consumerism, citizens may find themselves with little
reason to adopt such policies.  Rawls expresses sympathy with Mill’s claim that once an
adequate level of material and economic development and just background institutions are
secured, the bourgeois aim of increasing aggregate capital will or at least ought to yield to the
human aim of engaging in the art of living.  In any event, neither exploitation nor alienation are
inevitable features of a property-owning democracy, for within a property-owning democracy
capital is or ought to be fairly distributed over time and not held exclusively by a particular class,
and the economy is or ought to be ultimately subject to the control of the democratic body politic
and not the other way around.

 Rawls’s distinctive approach to issues of justice might be said to begin with his now
famous 1955 essay “Two Concepts of Rules,” an essay still read by students of moral theory and
the philosophy of law.  In it Rawls defends utilitarianism against the common objection that it
must permit such obvious injustices as knowingly punishing the innocent.  As part of his defense,
he suggests that the rules of legal punishment ought properly to be regarded as rules constitutive
of a particular social practice.  His point is that if the rules of legal punishment are so regarded,
then even if they are best justified by an appeal to the principle of utility, it does not follow that
those engaged in the social practice they constitute ought to set them aside whenever doing so
would generate a marginal utility gain.  Those engaged in a social practice the constitutive rules
of which are justified ought simply to follow those rules, whatever the nature of their
justification.  The rules constitutive of a justified social practice, then, are like the rules of a
game.  They are not to be set aside or revised midway through play simply because doing so
might make the game more exciting or aesthetically more pleasing, even if those are the
considerations that best justify the rules as constitutive of the game.   It is this concern with the
moral justification of rules constitutive of distinct social practices that orients Rawls’s thought.

 Rawls regards principles of justice, which govern  the basic social structure, as analogous
to the rules of a great cooperative game (CP, 37, 148, 195).  So long as the rules are fair and
honored, players have no complaint, as a matter of justice, against any particular outcome.  If the
principles of justice either permit or require open and competitive capital and labor markets,
constrained by principles of fair equality of opportunity and limits on the growth of excessive
background inequalities, then individual citizens are entitled only to those economic goods they
are able to secure acting within and through such markets in accordance with their rules.
Furthermore, the rules governing a just basic social structure are not to be set aside or revised
midway through play simply because so doing might generate allocations to particular
individuals that seem more in line with one or another of the considerations that best justify the
rules constitutive of the basic social structure taken as a cooperative game.

 The analogy to games is, of course, only partial.  Games are played voluntarily.  And,
provided persons are antecedently in a position of equality, we presume that those who play them
regard the rules as fair; otherwise why would they play?  We worry only that the rules are
consistently enforced.  But participation in a basic social structure is nonvoluntary.  Each person
is nonvoluntarily cast into one or another basic social structure which will shape his or her
character and fate to a very great degree before there is any opportunity for voluntary exit.  And
those who voluntarily exit the basic social structure into which they were born have, of course,
no choice but to enter another.  No one is free not to play one or another version of the game of
life within a basic social structure.

 It is this nonvoluntary aspect of citizenship that makes justice, rather than fairness (which
applies to voluntary games), the first virtue of basic social structures (CP, 190).  But there is a
twist.  Citizenship and thus submission to political authority may be nonvoluntary.  But the
nature of social and political institutions and authority is, by most modern and even some ancient
lights, conventional.  It must therefore be justified.  But to whom?  To those subject to it.  Under
what assumptions?  Well, by most modern lights at least, under the assumption that (at least
analytically) prior to conventional social and political institutions and authority persons confront
one another, morally speaking, as free equals.  But if the rules governing a basic social structure
must be justifiable to all subject to them as free and equal moral beings, then the analogy with
games is established.  While citizenship is in fact nonvoluntary, when it comes to the justification
of a basic social structure it must be regarded as if it were voluntary.  Since justification is always
directed to others and proceeds from common ground, the rules governing a just basic social
structure are those no citizen would have reason to reject from a point of view shared with fellow
citizens related to one another, morally speaking, as free equals.  They are those constitutive of a
game no citizen, hypothetically speaking, could justifiably decline to play.  Hence, justice as
fairness.  A basic social structure governed by such rules is one that may be nonvoluntarily
imposed on persons, thereby determining in large part their particular fates, without injustice.

 Of course, identifying such rules is itself no easy task.  Both methodologically and
substantively, Rawls’s breakthrough came in his 1958 essay “Justice as Fairness.”  There the seed
of what ultimately flowers into the now familiar “original position/veil of ignorance” argument is
planted.  “A practice is just if it is in accordance with the principles which all who participate in
it might reasonably be expected to propose or to acknowledge before one another when they are
similarly circumstanced and required to make a firm commitment in advance without knowledge
of what will be their peculiar condition....” (CP, 63).   Against this standard, Rawls defends an
initial formulation of his two principles – one requiring a system of equal basic liberties and the
other limiting social inequalities to those compatible with equality of opportunity and mutual
advantage.  It is these principles, of course, that he then spends the next 40 years revising and

 The original position/veil of ignorance argument has been criticized by many on the
grounds that it expresses either an ontological or normative commitment to a disembodied and
unencumbered self prior to its constitutive ends.  But this criticism simply misses the mark.  The
original position/veil of ignorance argument embodies only the moral idea that a person is,
among other things, a being capable of critically assessing and indeed revising any constitutive
ends (but always, of course, from a situated point of view; we cannot bracket all our
commitments at once).  The details of such ends, always given initially by life under one or
another set of social and political institutions, are not then morally relevant reasons in an inquiry
into first principles of justice as between persons qua persons.

 As Rawls emphasizes in his 1971 essay, “Justice as Reciprocity,” there is here a deep
ideal of moral reciprocity.  Just institutions are those that work to the advantage of all citizens not
taken as unequal empirical beings, but rather as moral beings who face one another, morally and
politically speaking, as free equals.  Just institutions therefore embody and express the ideal of
reciprocity between embodied persons taken as ends in themselves.  Under just institutions no
person’s fate will be institutionally determined by the contingent and morally arbitrary facts of
her race or gender, or the social class or family dynamic into which she was born.  Just
institutions will render such differences impotent, at least when it comes to their ability to shape
our fate through the basic social structure.

 Since Rawls’s view seems to aim at making persons equal by eliminating the effects of
morally arbitrary facts tied to luck or chance, it has often been described as and associated with
what is now known as “luck egalitarianism.”  Rawls’s view remains distinctive, however.  It aims
not to correct particular outcomes so as to eliminate the influence of luck within social life (a
massive and endless project since, to cite just one example, no outcome within a market
economy will be free from the influence of morally arbitrary luck), but rather to organize social
institutions (including markets) on the front end so that the unavoidable influence of luck on
particular outcomes is at least compatible with reciprocity and mutual respect among persons as
ends in themselves.  Just as luck may be allowed to influence the outcomes of fair games, so too
may it be allowed to influence the outcomes of social life within a just society.

 Rawls’s next most important breakthrough seems to occur in his 1967 essay,
“Distributive Justice.”  From 1958 to 1967 he argued that a just basic social structure will permit
institutional inequalities of wealth, income, status or authority only if those inequalities leave
everyone better off than they would be under any feasible basic social structure that generated no
such inequalities.  The trouble with this requirement is that more than one basic social structure
may satisfy it.  Thus, a complete or determinate conception of justice must go beyond this
requirement of mutual advantage.  In “Distributive Justice” Rawls argues that this problem is
solved once we notice that “it is natural, given the ethos of a democratic society, to single out the
least advantaged [class] and maximize [its] long-term prospects consistent with the liberties of
equal citizenship [and the demands of equality of opportunity]” (CP, 153).

 This is Rawls’s democratic or egalitarian reading of the difference principle, and it
beautifully expresses at the level of institutional design the idea that a society is to be judged by
how well it treats its least fortunate members.  It has proved, however, to be among the most
controversial aspects of Rawls’s conception of justice.  Rawls’s formal argument for it, drawing
on various assumptions about how agents in an original position would reason under conditions
of uncertainty, has been widely (if not always successfully) criticized.  But his more intuitive
arguments are more difficult to attack.  In his 1968 essay, “Distributive Justice: Some Addenda,”
he emphasized how his democratic or egalitarian reading of the difference principle “corresponds
to a natural meaning of fraternity.”  It treats the distribution of natural talents as a collective asset
to be developed and used by citizens within and through their basic social structure only under
conditions that meet the moral demands of reciprocity.  No basic social structure is to permit any
class of citizens more favored by the natural distribution of talents to gain more from social
cooperation than those classes less favored unless their gaining more would not be vetoed by
those gaining less.  And this means that those gaining less must gain as much as possible.

 Rawls grounds the primary goods (liberties, rights, opportunities, wealth, income, social
or institutional bases of self-respect) distributed through a basic social structure in a general
account of human needs.  The account is not a descriptive account, however.  Nor is it a
philosophical account of rational advantage alone.  Rather, it is a philosophical and moral
account of the needs of persons as free and equal moral beings, at least politically speaking (CP,
417).  Thus, Rawls has emphasized that the list of primary goods may always be expanded or
adjusted if there are compelling moral reasons to do so.

 Rawls’s difference principle, at least in its democratic or egalitarian form, is not too far
removed from Marx’s ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ (CP,
252).  And those who caricature Rawls as the patron saint of an atomistic, acquisitive liberal
individualism would do well to reflect on its moral conception of human needs, and on Rawls’s
more intuitive arguments for it from the value of fraternity.

 Sen and others have criticized Rawls for fetishizing primary goods rather than attending
to the ways in which they enable particular persons to develop and exercise core human
capacities.  Rawls has argued in response that first principles of justice must be framed in such a
manner as to permit a relatively straightforward public assessment of general institutional
compliance, and that principles tied to either a welfarist or Sen’s basic capacity approach will
prove unable to meet this condition.   Moral conceptions of human needs or well-being tied to
individual welfare or to the development of basic capacities are appropriate to the resolution of
justice issues, whether in theory or practice, at lower levels of abstraction.

 Several of the essays in CP serve well to undermine now all too familiar caricatures of
Rawls’s work.  Rawls famously criticizes utilitarianism for combining distinct utility functions
into a single aggregate utility function and thereby failing to take seriously the separateness of
persons.  But he also, albeit less famously, criticizes utilitarianism for being excessively
atomistic and individualistic in that it assumes persons to be free of moral ties to one another
prior to the demands of maximizing aggregate utility (CP, 217).  As early as 1975 Rawls had
taken pains to distance his theory from any doctrine of abstract individualism (CP, 277).
Caricatures notwithstanding, Rawls never claims that all questions of justice are analyzable in
terms of the relations between human individuals as individuals.  “The term ‘person’,” he writes,
“is to be understood in a general way as a subject of claims.  In some cases it means human
individuals, but in others it refers to nations, corporations, churches, teams, and so on. ... [T]he
principles of justice apply to the relations between all these types of persons, and the notion of a
person must be interpreted accordingly” (CP, 75).  Ontologically and methodologically Rawls is
something other than an abstract individualist, pure and simple.

 Indeed, even normatively Rawls is something other than an abstract individualist, pure
and simple.  A just basic social structure enables individuals to advance their own conception of
the good, but only on terms all may regard as fair from an appropriate and shared moral point of
view.  And by so limiting them in their pursuit of their own rational self-interest, a just basic
social structure enables individuals taken together to realize with one another their shared moral
nature, their humanity, as both rational and reasonable beings.  This is a collective good, one
neither divisible into individual shares nor achievable without cooperation.  With it comes
another great collective good:  human freedom – not the sort of freedom individuals may enjoy or
achieve as individuals, so-called negative and positive freedoms and freedom as autonomy, but
rather the sort of freedom that may be enjoyed and achieved by individuals only in and through
their collective association with others.

 Individuals acquire their characters, habits, dispositions and desires through social life.
When their social life is lived within a just basic social structure, they are, as embodied particular
persons, the creation of humanity generally, both because a just basic social structure embodies
and expresses the moral nature humans share, and because it cannot be achieved save through the
willing cooperation of all or nearly all.  There is here, then, a notion of freedom as self-creation,
self-mastery or autonomy that may properly be attributed only to humans collectively (in the
ideal, to the species as a whole).  The primary aim of Rawls’s work in political philosophy is to
articulate and defend a conception of a just society for which it is not unreasonable or unrealistic
to hope.  But there is also a secondary, grander and more speculative aim.  And that is to
articulate and defend a conception of human freedom writ large, the self-creation or self-
realization of humanity, for which it is also not unreasonable or unrealistic to hope.  For those
who find themselves in a world long since abandoned by God, keeping this grand hope alive goes
a long way to redeeming the human condition and human history.  To read Rawls as a normative
individualist, pure and simple, is to miss this important feature of his work.

 This feature is perhaps most evident in “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory”
(1980).  There Rawls presents the original position argument, as found in TJ and related essays,
as an exercise in Kantian moral constructivism.  So conceived, the original position argument
models our fundamental and shared moral conception of ourselves in a manner conducive to the
derivation of substantive, universal and objectively justifiable principles of justice.  Thus, when
we are shaped as particular empirical beings by a basic social structure faithful to such principles,
we make ourselves (in particular) in our own (universal) image.  In a nontrivial sense, we achieve
our divinity, that is, we objectively realize our freedom in and through material existence.  To
read Rawls profitably, it is not enough to read him against only Locke and Kant; Rousseau,
Hegel and Marx are part of the background as well.

 Two points merit mention here.  The first is that Kantian moral constructivism departs
from Kant’s own moral theory in several ways.  As an exercise in Kantian moral constructivism,
the original position argument is something other than an a priori deduction of substantive moral
principles from the bare and formal idea of practical judgment.  Instead, it is a way of modeling
human beings, as empirical beings with both general needs and a certain moral nature, such that
the merits of various substantive principles of justice might be objectively and critically assessed.
There is no deduction, and certainly no a priori deduction from the bare idea of practical agency.
Yet, like Kant’s moral theory, the original position argument, conceived as an exercise in
Kantian moral constructivism, offers an objective justification for universal substantive
principles of justice.  And it does so in a manner consistent with the realization of human
freedom or autonomy.  Like Kant’s moral theory, it depends in no way on our ability to rationally
intuit a mind-independent moral order (to which we must, then, heteronomously submit).  It
depends only on our coming to understand fully the implications of our mind-dependent moral
understanding of ourselves.

 The second point that merits mention here is that to read the original position argument as
an exercise in Kantian moral constructivism is to read it in a manner that is hardly neutral with
respect to the sort of doctrinal moral issues over which reasonable disagreement is ineliminable
in a free and open society.

 The principles governing any realistic utopia must be “stable in the right way” (CP, 233).
That is, once institutionally embodied they must generate their own moral support from and
within citizens so that citizens voluntarily comply with their demands.  In TJ Rawls argued that
once institutionally embodied his two principles would over time lead all citizens to a more or
less Kantian comprehensive moral view, which would in turn lead them voluntarily and
habitually to support and comply with the demands of their just institutions.  By the early 1980's,
Rawls realized that there was a problem with this argument.  His two principles guaranteed a free
and open society, and no doctrinal moral consensus was likely under such conditions.  Human
nature, even when shaped by just institutions, is such that, even among persons of high
intelligence and manifest good will, disagreement over doctrinal moral, religious and
philosophical questions is ineliminable.  This is the fact of reasonable pluralism.  It is, Rawls
insists, rooted in the human condition and thus a permanent fact of any free and open society.
And the articulation and defense of any realistic utopia must reconcile itself to this fact.  Thus, as
a public defense of his two principles of justice, Kantian moral constructivism simply will not
do.  It may express the truth, but that is more or less beside the point.

 In a series of essays  – most centrally “Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical”
(1985), “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus” (1987), and “The Domain of the Political and
Overlapping Consensus” (1989) – Rawls recast the argument for his two principles of justice to
accommodate the fact of reasonable pluralism.  He first reformulated his conception of justice as
a political rather than comprehensive conception of justice limited in the scope of its application
to political institutions and issues and justified solely in terms of political ideals latent within a
shared public political culture (rather than in terms of one or another controversial
comprehensive moral, religious or philosophical doctrine).  His aim was to offer a freestanding
conception of political justice, neutral in its justification with respect to the various doctrinal
issues over which persons inevitably and reasonably disagree, and capable of serving as a public
framework for reasoned deliberation over fundamental issues of political morality.  Toward this
end, Rawls reframed the original position argument as an exercise in political constructivism.

 As an exercise in political constructivism, the original position argument models our
fundamental and shared political conception of ourselves as free and equal citizens engaged in
fair social cooperation within a well-ordered society.  Because its root ideas (persons qua citizens
as free and equal, fair social cooperation, well-ordered society) are latent in our shared public
political culture (that of a constitutional liberal democracy) and its aim is to settle on narrowly
political principles of justice, this recast original position argument may serve adequately for us
as a basis for reasoned public political deliberation even under conditions of reasonable
pluralism.  It does not presuppose any commitment to Kantian moral constructivism and is
likewise neutral with respect to other deep and reasonable doctrinal disagreements in moral
theory.  At least qua citizens, reasonable citizens will have no reason to reject it, or so Rawls

 But citizens are never just citizens.  They are always persons too.  And as such they
affirm various and incompatible, although reasonable, comprehensive moral, religious and
philosophical doctrines.  Thus, to make the case that a society governed by his two principles of
justice is in fact a realistic utopia, Rawls argues that it is not unrealistic to suppose that in such a
society, most if not all citizens, qua persons or believers, will affirm or at least not reject his
principles, and will come reliably and voluntarily to support the institutions that embody them.
An overlapping consensus over principles of political justice, even under conditions of deep
doctrinal pluralism, is not unrealistic to hope for.

 To support this view, Rawls draws on the history of the United States and other liberal
democracies, pointing out that while many began as little more than a modus vivendi among
hostile camps of believers, all are today relatively unified and stable through a genuinely moral
consensus over an admittedly limited but nevertheless important range of political values and
principles.  This consensus is limited in two ways.  It is a “constitutional consensus” largely
limited to the principles and values governing the basic design of government.  And its content is
no particular conception of liberal justice, but rather a “generic liberalism” committed to securing
for all citizens certain familiar basic liberties (the protection of which trumps the pursuit of other
social goods, e.g., aggregate utility or, save in grave emergencies, national defense), the basic
material and social resources necessary to make intelligent and meaningful use of their liberties,
and an economy that works to the mutual advantage of all classes over time.  A constitutional
consensus over generic liberalism is, of course, insufficient to secure full justice.  But, Rawls
insists, there are good reasons to think that such a consensus might deepen, broaden and gain the
necessary focus over time.  Nothing is inevitable.  But Rawls aims simply to keep hope alive.

 A key claim necessary to keeping hope alive is that citizens will find themselves able and
inclined to debate and resolve fundamental political issues without necessary justificatory
appeals to the various comprehensive doctrines over which they are reasonably divided.  Citizens
must find themselves able and inclined to debate and resolve such issues in terms of public
reasons, the justificatory force of which presuppose no particular comprehensive moral, religious
or philosophic doctrine.  A just and stable liberal democracy is possible only if citizens are able
and inclined to debate and resolve fundamental political issues in such a manner. Likewise,
unless citizens undertake to resolve fundamental political issues in the right way, they will fail
collectively to realize fully their freedom.  If  fundamental political issues are collectively
decided through appeal to reasons the justificatory force of which reasonable persons may fully
reject, then the particular human beings shaped by the social institutions embodying those
decisions will be the creation of something other than a shared moral nature.

 Perhaps captured by this idea of a unified and universal body politic giving birth to
particular human beings (thus securing human freedom and reconciling the universal and the
particular), Rawls initially argued, in the 1993 edition of PL, that citizens must refrain from
introducing nonpublic or doctrinal reasons into public political debates over fundamental
political issues, as well as refrain from allowing such reasons to determine their own private
judgments or votes with respect to such issues.  This position was rightly criticized on numerous
fronts, not the least important of which was that it forced the full privatization of religious
conviction, with undeniably profound implications for the psychological unity of many believers
and with arguably unhappy implications for the progressive prospects of political discourse.  By
1996 Rawls had revised his view so that it allowed citizens to introduce nonpublic reasons into
public political deliberations, even to allow themselves to be moved by such reasons in their own
private deliberations or voting, provided that they were prepared also to offer their fellow citizens
what they sincerely regarded as adequate public reasons for their positions or votes.  This so-
called “wide view” of public reason is given its most complete articulation and defense in “The
Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (1997), the final essay included in CP.  Of his later work,
Rawls’s work on public reason has generated the most attention and fruitful discussion with
respect to domestic justice issues.  It has pushed debate over the virtues of citizenship,
democratic deliberation, civic education, civic friendship and judicial reasoning back to center

 Rawls’s turn to political constructivism is sometimes said to mark a decisive break in his
thought, a hermeneutic or even relativist turn.  Political constructivism aims to work out the
demands of justice only for us, the members of a liberal democracy, working only from ideas
latent in our shared public political culture.  It would appear, then, that the principles of justice it
yields have no force beyond those states already liberal and democratic.  Rawls’s willingness in
“The Law of Peoples” to grant illiberal, undemocratic but nevertheless “decent” states full status
in a just international order is thus read by many merely to confirm this development in Rawls’s
thought.  On this view, Rawls no longer regards the principles of justice defended in TJ as
universally applicable criteria for assessing the justice of political institutions.  But if this is
Rawls’s view, it is odd that he never expresses it.  Indeed, even in “The Law of Peoples” he
reaffirms his belief that his two principles of justice express the best available conception of

 Rawls’s “The Law of Peoples” (1993) generated significant controversy as soon as it was
published.  The expanded version, LP, has done little to quiet it.  Rawls’s aim in these works is
to articulate and defend moral principles suitable for critically assessing the foreign policy of a
just liberal democracy.  Readers have been disappointed primarily by the status-quo feel of the
principles arrived at and by Rawls’s rejection of a cosmopolitan individualist liberalism centered
on a robust human rights and global economic justice agenda.

 Rawls’s principles govern the relations between states, or as he put it, peoples.  Peoples,
as Rawls conceives them, are corporate agents necessarily capable of making genuine moral
claims in the international arena.  As agents of this sort, peoples must have an institutional
embodiment.  Thus, all peoples are possessed of a state or something like it.  But not all states are
peoples, for states may lack the cultural unity or reasonable moral nature necessary to make valid
moral claims with respect to international relations.  What liberal peoples need is a set of moral
principles for assessing their relations with other peoples.  The articulation and defense of such
principles, Rawls argues, completes political liberalism.

 The relations between peoples are to be governed by eight principles (CP, 540, 559; LP,
37).  These express roughly the post-WWII settlement in international law.  Most notably, they
limit the right of war to individual or collective self-defense and limit state sovereignty by a
doctrine of basic human rights.   They also contain a principle of assistance, requiring full
members of the society of peoples to help those societies “burdened by unfavorable conditions”
to achieve just or decent institutions and join the society of peoples as full members.  They do not
include a global version of the difference principle.  Nor do they include a global version of the
equal basic liberties principle.  Indeed, for Rawls, basic human rights do not include all rights
enumerated in the U.N. Declaration and (incompletely) made part of international law through
the two Covenants.  They are, instead, a more limited subset of liberal democratic civil rights
limited primarily to the rights to life, physical security, psychological integrity and material
subsistence.  The right to vote in democratic elections, for example, is not a basic human right,
but rather a civil right in liberal democracies and a “liberal aspiration” in the international setting
(CP, 554).  So, a liberal democratic peoples may impose sanctions on or even militarily act
against a state that permits slavery or serious religious persecution.  It may not so act with respect
to a state that merely limits suffrage to males or gives a certain “state religion” institutional
privileges denied other religions.

 The argument for these principles is a modified original position argument that comes in
two parts.  First, an original position is constructed within which only liberal peoples are
represented by agents behind an appropriate veil of ignorance and assigned the task of reaching
agreement over principles to govern their interaction.  Whatever the principles so determined
turn out to be (and Rawls thinks they turn out to be his eight principles), they will express a fully
liberal conception of international morality.  But liberal peoples are committed to the ideal of
reciprocity.  Thus, they ought not coercively enforce such principles against illiberal and
undemocratic states unless and until they are sure that such states could not reasonably reject
them.  Of course, some illiberal and undemocratic states will unreasonably reject these
principles.  For example, outlaw states, aggressive states or states with no internal commitment
to even the most basic human rights, will unreasonably reject them.

 But what of those illiberal and nondemocratic states, or peoples, that are neither
aggressive nor internally in violation of the most basic human rights norms?   These states, or
peoples, Rawls argues, would have no reason to reject the (his) principles of a liberal foreign
policy.  Thus, provided their political procedures are of a “consultative” nature such that the
interests of all groups or classes gain some expression in political discourse and some measure of
dissent is allowed, they are to be admitted as full members in a just society of peoples.  Toward
decent peoples liberal peoples are to act with the full respect appropriate to a full member of the
society of peoples in good standing.  It is inappropriate, therefore, for liberal peoples to condition
economic relations with decent peoples upon the liberalization or democratization of their
internal affairs.  It is not inappropriate for liberal peoples to hope for such liberalization and
democratization, however.  Indeed, Rawls shares this hope and argues that recognizing decent
peoples as full members in good standing of the society of peoples is a necessary condition to
such a hope being realistic.

 But why, many readers have complained, should liberal peoples tolerate, even respect,
decent peoples in this way, especially since decent peoples fail to honor the full range of liberal
democratic rights?  Rawls’s answer is three-fold.  First, he thinks tolerating decent peoples is the
best strategy for encouraging their internal liberalization and democratization.  Second, he simply
has the intuition that such peoples, or their states, are, to a degree minimally sufficient to warrant
toleration, just and legitimate.  That intuition, Rawls maintains, is confirmed in part by the fact
that such peoples, and thus their states, would have no reason to reject the (his) principles of a
liberal foreign policy (even though they reject liberal principles of justice for their domestic
institutions).  But ultimately it is an intuition that readers must either accept or reject.  Finally, it
would be odd, Rawls thinks, were liberal peoples to arrive at principles of foreign policy or
international relations that only they could affirm.  While it is possible that there are no other
reasonable peoples besides liberal democratic peoples, that cannot be assumed as a premise in an
argument for principles of international morality.  Whether a people is reasonable is to be
determined in light of their affirmation and compliance with principles of international morality.
Thus, liberal peoples committed to an ideal of reciprocity cannot avoid the question of whether
illiberal, nondemocratic peoples may be reasonable as peoples in the international setting (even
though they fail to order their internal affairs in a fully reasonable manner).  To assume that no
illiberal, nondemocratic people should be tolerated is to assume that all such peoples are
unreasonable as peoples which is, in turn, to assume that all unreasonably reject reasonable
principles of international morality.  But to make that assumption as part of the argument for
such principles is to beg the question.

 It is noteworthy here that Rawls does not argue that illiberal and undemocratic peoples
must be tolerated within a just international order for roughly the same reasons that illiberal and
undemocratic civic associations must be tolerated within a liberal domestic order.  The reason for
not arguing this way should be obvious.  Individuals belonging to illiberal and undemocratic
civic associations within a liberal domestic order are free to exit those associations.  And if they
exit they remain members of a liberal polity.  Their membership in an illiberal and undemocratic
civic association is, then, voluntary and consistent with, so long as not destabilizing of, the
liberal justice of the larger polity.  But individuals belonging to illiberal and undemocratic
peoples are not free to exit in a similar way.  Even if we assume a human right to exit any
particular body politic to which one might belong, there is, at least on Rawls’s view, no human
right to join or enter any particular polity, let alone any particular liberal polity.  The default
circumstance for those who exit illiberal and undemocratic peoples may therefore be a bus ticket
home, or a bed in a refugee camp somewhere.  Thus, from the liberal point of view the reasons
for tolerating illiberal and undemocratic civic associations within a liberal polity don’t count as
reasons for tolerating illiberal and undemocratic peoples.

 What vexes so many readers here is Rawls’s steadfast unwillingness to make the
reasonableness of a people a function of the reasonableness of its domestic institutions.  Rawls
insists that while the reasonableness of domestic institutions is a function of whether they fairly
protect and advance the interests of individual persons subject to them (so that illiberal and
nondemocratic decent regimes have domestic institutions that are not fully reasonable), the
reasonableness of a people is a function of its foreign policy, of how it is prepared to interact
with other peoples.  Indeed, Rawls maintains that what makes a nonaggressive state in systematic
internal violation of basic human rights unreasonable and thus unworthy of international
toleration is not the harms it inflicts on particular persons within its border but rather that internal
systematic human rights abuses are a threat to the international peace and security reasonable
peoples seek and affirm.  International morality concerns the relations between peoples, not the
relations between individual human persons on a global scale.  The latter is simply morality in
the everyday sense.  The harm to victims is a sufficient reason to condemn systematic human
rights abuses as a matter of everyday morality.  It may even in egregious cases provide liberal or
decent governments with a reason to act in their capacities as agents of the liberal or decent
citizens they serve.  But it is does not by itself, properly speaking, provide a reason for a people
to act as a matter of international morality.

 This aspect of Rawls’s law of peoples should not surprise, however.  Rawls has always
resisted reducing all questions of justice to questions about the relations between individual
persons.  He has insisted on a social ontology capable of taking churches, teams, corporations
and nations as whole corporate persons with their own interests, irreducible to the interests of
their constitutive parts, and thus capable of making claims and raising issues of justice
irreducible to claims made by and justice issues raised between individual persons.  The
fundamental interest of every people is to join the society of peoples as a full member, and that
means honoring the law of peoples.  Both liberal and decent peoples may achieve this, and thus
as a matter of liberal foreign policy there is no reason not to tolerate decent peoples fully.
Outlaw states do not honor the law of peoples, and are not tolerated accordingly.

 Readers troubled by this position might find greater satisfaction in an argument Rawls
suggests but does not develop.  A people must have not only an institutional embodiment, a more
or less unified culture (even if only political culture), and a moral nature; it must also constitute a
genuine scheme of social cooperation (if not fully fair scheme) and it must be well-ordered.
Slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude are incompatible with genuine social
cooperation.  And secret government without any possibility of consultation or dissent and the
absence of the rule of law render a society something other than well-ordered.  Thus, systematic
violations of what Rawls regards as basic human rights prevent a society from satisfying
necessary conditions to its being a people.  And such societies need not be tolerated.  But,
provided other conditions are met (institutional embodiment and so on), societies organized as a
genuine (if not fair) scheme of social cooperation and well-ordered (even if neither liberal nor
democratic) are genuine peoples.  As such, they merit, assuming compliance with the law of
peoples, full membership in the society of peoples.

 Some states fail to honor the law of peoples but for reasons tied to unfavorable material,
economic or historical conditions.  These states are not to be tolerated as full members of the
society of peoples, but they are to be assisted.  Importantly, however, the aim of international
assistance here is simply to enable such peoples to sustain decent or liberal institutions and thus
join the society of peoples.  It is not to achieve the sort of ongoing global redistribution of
resources and wealth advocated by Charles Beitz, Thomas Pogge and others.   Rawls’s
unwillingness to extend his domestic difference principle to the international setting has
befuddled and disappointed many a reader.  Unhappily, Rawls leaves one part of his reasoning
here less than clear, leaving him open to numerous criticisms that need not hit their mark.

 Disappointed readers attack Rawls through a simple analogy to the original position
argument for the domestic case.  Just as in the domestic case, they say, there is at the global level
a cooperative scheme of economic institutions.  Principles of international morality must
articulate the demands of fair cooperation within these institutions.  If we put all peoples behind
an appropriate veil of ignorance and ask them to agree to one or another principle to govern these
cooperative economic institutions, guided by the same considerations that guide individuals in
the domestic original position, they will agree only to the difference principle or something close
to it.  Rawls himself must admit this, they claim, since he acknowledges the existence of global
cooperative economic institutions such as GATT, IMF, the World Bank and the like, and
acknowledges the preservation of a people’s self-respect as one of its fundamental interests.

 What this objection misses is a key disanalogy between the domestic and international
versions of the original position argument, a disanalogy Rawls fails to highlight adequately and
that too many readers overlook.  That is that in the domestic setting individuals are thought to
participate nonvoluntarily in basic economic institutions because no individual is self-sufficient
apart from social cooperation within such institutions.  All persons must cooperate with other
persons economically whether they want to or not, at least if they have any desire to live.  But the
same is not true for peoples.  Peoples enter the international arena, Rawls suggests, already self-
sufficient.  They are, at least in principle, able to provide for themselves adequately apart from
cooperation with other peoples.  Thus, when reasoning about principles of justice to govern
global economic institutions, even when from behind a veil of ignorance, they may regard
participation in such institutions as voluntary.  So regarding their participation, they will agree
only that cooperation should be mutually advantageous.  Not that it should be governed by an
international difference principle.

 Rawls’s position is, then, not quite as ill-conceived as many commentators suggest.  But
that doesn’t mean it’s correct.  Indeed, Rawls’s own recognition of societies unable to achieve
decent or just institutions due to unfavorable conditions, material, historical or otherwise, seems
to undermine his claim that in principle all peoples enter the international arena as fully self-
sufficient actors on a global stage.  Furthermore, Rawls may well be in error about the ability of
any people to immunize itself internally from the effects of global economic institutions.  Indeed,
there is growing evidence that the internal effects of such institutions are such as to make it more
difficult for some peoples to achieve or sustain decent or liberal institutions.

 To some, Rawls’s work may seem anachronistic and thus out of place.  After all, the Cold
War is over and liberal democracies face no serious external threat today of the sort presented by
the Soviet Union.  Moreover, the post-WWII liberal domestic consensus dissolved long ago, not
just in the United States, but in Great Britain and elsewhere.  In the United States, divided
government has been the norm since 1968, and if there is any domestic political consensus
ascendent today, it is the “third way” politics of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, first championed by
Anthony Giddens.  Even George W. Bush has come on board, albeit from the right, in significant
respects.  Constraints on the growth of background inequalities is hardly a hallmark of this
political orientation.  And as a result, such inequalities appear to be spiraling out of control, and
not just in the United States.  Current tendencies in the development of global capitalism seem
likely only to exacerbate these intrastate inequalities and to make them ever more difficult for
individual states to address on their own.  Against these developments it seems almost quaint to
argue that it is not unreasonable to hope for the realization of the difference principle in the
United States or elsewhere.

 Rawls’s work may also seem anachronistic against the background of an increasingly
common postmodern skepticism about any and all accounts of social unity or unified bodies
politic.  Even Rawls’s idea of social unity through an overlapping consensus of diverse but
reasonable doctrines may seem passé to those convinced that social and political life is never
anything other than a dynamic and chaotic anti-system with no center.

 Indeed, Rawls’s own hope seems to have been challenged in recent years.  Throughout
the mid and late 1990's  he increasingly expressed worries about various fundamentalist
tendencies in political life as well as outrage at the United States’s failure both to address in a
serious way the corrupting influence of money on democratic politics and to provide universal
health care, as well as its willingness to dismantle welfare and other safety net programs while
purposefully sustaining a 4% minimum structural unemployment within the economy.  These are
undeniably disturbing but hardly recent developments, and one wonders why Rawls waited so
long in his career to descend from the concern with first principles to address concrete social
issues at a lower level of abstraction.  More troubling is that these are not even the most
disturbing developments in the United States, for they arise against a backdrop of, and thus tend
to further entrench, various and disturbingly resilient forms of structural group based oppression.

 It is perhaps the fact of oppression – not as Rawls understands it, as that which arises
when the power of the state is used to resolve doctrinal disagreements that the free exercise of
reason cannot publicly resolve, but rather as Iris Young understands it, as that which arises when
structural group relations systemically but often subtly generate powerlessness, marginalization,
cultural imperialism, random violence or exploitation – that presents the greatest theoretical
obstacle to sustaining a reasonable hope in a just liberal democracy.  If the game of social
cooperation is to be fair, systemic but subtle inequalities, often in the form of disproportionate
vulnerabilities to various social harms, must be eliminated.  The existence of such inequalites
blocks any inference from the voluntariness of play to the fairness of constitutive rules, since
those antecendently saddled with great vulnerabilities may find it rational to play an unfair game
simply because it’s the only or best way to protect their interests.  Certainly, in the world of
political philosophy post-Rawls, theorizing oppression and its elimination is a central practical

 A second central practical task is evangelical.  While Rawls may have succeeded in
generating or sustaining among intellectuals an allegiance to liberal democracy as a realistic
utopia, his success in public political culture is far less certain, at least in the United States.
There libertarians, right-of-center communitarians, and a growing number of theocrats continue
to challenge liberal democratic principles and values for center stage.  And when it comes to
policy debates matters get only worse.  Save for a few remarks late in his career, Rawls
studiously avoided taking public positions on policy issues, almost always claiming that political
philosophy had no particular expertise to offer in debates over such issues beyond articulating
and defending first principles.  Rawls may be correct about this, but political philosophers, rather
than political philosophy, may have some expertise to offer, simply in the way of clear headed
analysis and argument, something too often absent in policy debates.  Political philosophers
moved by Rawls’s work would do well to carry that work, at the level of both theory and policy,
into the public square earlier and more effectively than did Rawls himself.