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Evaluate Rawls’ Theory of Justice with reference to two of the following three critical responses:

a) Norzick

b) communitarianism

c) Marxism

Rawls' Theory of Justice

Political philosophy relates to the study of politics, property, liberty, law, right, justice and also the enforcement of any law by the authority. There are a number of political ideas which are included in political philosophy. These ideas are more than often, quite contradictory to each other and criticize each other in their different ideologies presented. Amongst the prominent theories in this context is the theory of justice given by John Rawls. His political philosophy attempted to solve the issue of distributive justice by making use of a range of familiar device of social contracts (Gray, 2014).

The theory resulting from this was given the name of “Justice as Fairness”, and from this stems the two principles of justice. These two in unison, dictate that there is a need for the society to be structured in such a manner that the members are given the greatest possible liberty, which is only limited by the idea of liberty of a member should  not infringe on the liberty of another member. The second principle is that inequalities in economic or social construct could only be permitted where the worst would be better off in comparison to their under a system of equal distribution (Corlett, 2016). However, the other political ideas have not been inclined to this very theory and have offered criticism to this theory. The two prominent outlooks in this regard are the Marxist and communitarian critique, which would be focused upon in the following parts.

As touched upon in the introductory segment, Rawls’ Theory of justice has two principles of justice, which are lexically ordered. Rawls has always emphasized upon liberty being given the priority. This is the reason why the first reason is usually known as the greatest equal liberty principle. This is followed by the second principle which is known as the difference principle; and the second half of this second principle, being the final addendum, which is the equal opportunity principle. This theory is based upon the principled reconciliation of equality and liberty and this has to apply over the very basic structure of the well-ordered society. The central theme of this approach is to undertake justice and give a fair choice to the parties where they face such situations, and is aligned with some of the views given by Immanuel Kent. The principles of justice guide the parties’ conduct. The parties have ends which they aim to advance but this is done in a manner where preference is given to advance these through the others’ cooperation which is based on terms which are mutually acceptable (Sen, 2011).

Communitarianism

As per Rawls, a well off society which is stable and reasonable is cooperative venture for the mutual advantage. In addition to the cooperation, a conflict is present amongst its members in the matter of the share of burdens and regarding the benefits of social living. The basic goal of the principles given by Rawls is to make certain that this distribution of burdens and benefits to the society are fair and are just, to all the members. As per him, the very basic institutions of the society have to be constructed in such a manner that a constant distribution of social primary goods is ensured for all of the members in the society in a just or fair way. The social primary goods include the powers, opportunities, income, wealth, rights and liberties. And in his views, the distribution of these goods is fair when it is based on the principles of justice (Rawls, 2009).

The very first principle provides that every person has an indefeasible claim to a completely sufficient scheme of the equalized basic liberties and this scheme is compatible with the very same scheme of liberties for everyone. The second principle is that in order for the economic and social inequalities there is a need to fulfil two conditions. The first one is that these have to be attached to positions and offices which are open for everyone based on conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and the second condition is that these have to be for the greatest benefit for such members of society who are least advantaged. As stated earlier, these principles are based on lexical priority, which mean that the first principle needs to be satisfied fully before the application of the next principle. A key point which has to be noted here is that Rawls makes as assumption that the principles which are being applied on the society, is one which is well off in a reasonable manner and where the basic material have to be provided for (Mandle, 2009).

The key goal priority being given is to give a higher significance to the equal liberties in comparison to the other primary social goods. Rawls, in the basic liberties, included freedom of conscience, though, of person in addition to right to holding personal property, arbitrary arrest and detention, which in other words shows that freedom of rule of law, and the freedom of speech. The fair equality of opportunity of Rawls provides that state has to make certain that in every aspect, a fair equality is provided, which includes education and economic spheres, along with sickness and unemployment benefits. For this, there is a need for welfare state to aid or run the schools, regulate the economy and the like. By the general conception of justice, Rawls means that only such inequalities which are not just, where some members are put as a disadvantage as is the case with utilitarianism (Grcic, 2011).

Marxism

The Rawlsian theory of justice has been criticized from a number of varied perspectives, and amongst the prominent critiques of the theory of justice of Rawls is communitarian critique. This theory basically attacks the universal aspect of the idea of justice given by Rawls. The Rawls theory of justice is established on ideas of justice which includes the original position and the veil of ignorance. The former is basically a hypothetical condition where the assumption is made that the participants of contract would be in same position. A primordial equality would be amongst all of them and these are not influenced by personal identities, influences and beliefs. A universal dimension is given to the Rawlsian position through it. And this very aspect is criticized by communitarians. It is argued in this view that the original position of Rawls covers assumptions which have their base on entirely abstract individuals. The abstracted individuals are the ones who are out of the cultural, social and political context. It is also argued that such abstract individuals cannot make the choices and people in the theory of Rawls merely sign upon the contracts (Walzer, 2008).

A question which has been raised in this regard is that that the view of ignorance which assumes that the individuals are out of their social context, how can the decisions taken by them be applied in actual social contexts covering real life situations. The decisions in real life are taken on the basis of what they deemed as good. The idea of good cannot be shaped based on their individual account and are shaped by the community in which they live, the social practices, and the beliefs and culture. This means that any sort of idea of good, in character, would be communal. The individuals are based on community; for instance, a case based society has justice based on discrimination. Society based on caste has birth as a decisive factor in determining the access to resources, water and land, where purity is decided by birth. Hence, the distribution of goods in any society depends on the specified meaning of the goods, which are embedded and socially constructed in the communities, along with its institutions and practices (Garner, Ferdinand and Lawson, 2016).

This means that an abstract idea of justice is simply not possible and the same can be understood after being explained in the community’s framework. Just society would thus be one where there is no social good which serves or which could serve a mode of domination. This is the reason why it has been argued that instead of conceptualizing the theory of justice based on Universalist conception of personhood, there is a need to think about the pluralist conception of good for imagining just society. A distributive justice is regarding art of differentiation instead of being a science of integration. This is the reason why a singular understanding of justice is not possible. The principles of justice are in pluralist form and any theory of distribution needs to be based on a diversified understanding of the social goods, which are in turn based on the different and diverse cultural and social particulars (Walzer, 2008).

The communitarian theorist criticizes this theory based on the conception off justice being individual right and this is done at the expense of community’s good. The very notion of Rawls has been criticized as unencumbered or disembodied subject or self, as opposing to one where he advances the idea of situated self, which is invariable the community’s member (Pojman, 2016). As per Rawls, the right comes before the good and also that justice is the very first virtue of society. But for Sandel (1982), the community’s common good is given preference over the rights of a single person. The atomistic conception of self has been bemoaned by Charles Taylor, who is a leading communitarian political philosopher. In his views, the individual’s well-being is dependent upon the good of community, which is not less important in comparison to the just distribution of equality rights and freedom of the people.

The Marxist criticism is also prominent against the theory of justice given by Rawls. This criticism is stemmed from the preoccupation of this theory with fair and just distribution in a capitalist system and also in the shortfall in addressing the inherent and the underlying alienating or exploitative inequalities present amidst the workers and the capitalists. The Marxism sets to bring out the idea community society by destroying the system of private ownership of production means, which is envisaged as society where there is no shortfall, no state and also no limitations to the human benevolence (Faiz, 2007).

As the circumstances of justice cover the limited nature of human benevolence and scarcity of social primary goods, there is a presumed shortfall in communist society of making any such principle which is of fair or just distribution, which is particularly irrelevant for the society. In place of such superstructural or juridical distributive principle, the communist, in its higher form, which the communism envisages are functional based on the principle of from each as per their ability and as per their needs. So in a socialist phase, which comes before and initiates the final and higher communist phase, there is prevalence of contribution based or work based principle of distribution (Buchanan, 1982).   

The growth of liberalization in nearly every nation, coupled with the collapse of Soviet communism, having their own inequality patters, have acted in the role of casting doubts over the realism of traditional Marxist’s hope for eliminating the situations of injustice, in addition to the ushering in society where the distributive or social justice is not relevant. The fact is that there has been some departing from the conventional Marxism, where the modern Marxism interprets the surplus extraction value by capitalists from the workers as derived form of injustice which in their view is rested upon a larger and previous injustice in accessing the production means (Faiz, 2007).

In context of the original position adopted in the Rawlsian is the notion of freedom from interference. This view though, overlooks the possibility for the real freedom under Marxism, which is found in a positive manner in the relations with other people. The same, as criticised under communitarian view, can only be found in human community, instead of being in isolation. As the individuals are not regarded as free in reality, who can make reasonable or rational choices, the veil of ignorance as an argument, also isolate each and every party, from the societal situations and history, where they live, for the parties to accept free and equal, there is a need to draw historical situations where the human beings can realize their being and their reasons. As Rawls provides that the parties are disinterested, rational, and equal and free in the original position, than the question remains unsolved on how the rationally selected principles are mutually disinterested and are free hypothetically (Kanatl?, 2015).

It has been argued by Rawls that by adopting the two principles of justice as fairness, a fair society can be constructed as these principles are suggestive of progressive tendency of the transition of equality of freedom and economic equality (Thomas, 2016). Agreed that the arguments put forth by Rawls make an attempt of alleviating the societal economic inequalities, the principles given by him are nothing and simply provide a permanent inequality amidst the varied groups whereby the bourgeoisie class is benefited. Thus, these principles essentially result in emergence of the key flaws of justice as fairness, which shows that the theory of justice given by Rawls actually legitimises injustice. A thing which is more significant here is that the theory given by Rawls is unjust owing to the arguments that the social and economic inequalities are inevitable and are a-priori (Kanatl?, 2015).

The first principle of justice of fairness provides political constitution’s fair design; whilst the second principle is merely a sub-derivation, where the target is to regulate the economic institutions. A careful analysis of this depicts that these principles cannot be realized in a lexical order in a just society. The kind of interpretation of political liberty covered by Rawls, where political liberties are deemed as autonomous economic structure, is actually power-blinded. This is because it is not possible to talk about the political liberties without considering the power matrices (Kanatl?, 2015).   

Conclusion

Thus, from the discussion carried on in the previous parts, it becomes very clear that each of the theories giving the political ideas is quite different from each other, and majorly contradicts each other. Rawls theory of justice is based on justice as fairness where equal opportunity is propagated. He provided that a well ordered society has basic structures of equality and liberty. However, both communitarianism and Marxism approaches contract the points stated by Rawls in context of its impracticality. The key here is that Rawls failed in considering the role of the society and in understanding that things cannot take place in isolation. The practical world was not considered in Rawls approach as the assumptions adopted by Rawls were inherently flawed. This theory puts the emphasis on the rights of the individual at the expense of the good of community, which is neither a correct approach nor practical. There is also a failure in addressing the inherent alienation of inequalities in a capitalist world. Thus, even though the objectives of the Rawls theory of justice were high and mighty, a practical applicability of it along with adherence to the same in society is problematic, if not unrealistic.

References

Buchanan, A. E. (1982) Marx and justice: The radical critique of liberalism (pp. 92-97). London: Methuen.

Corlett, J. A. (Ed.) (2016) Equality and liberty: analyzing Rawls and Nozick. Hampshire: Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd.

Faiz, P. (2007) John Rawls’s Theory of Justice. [Online] PAN MOHAMAD FAIZ. Available from: https://panmohamadfaiz.com/2007/01/31/john-rawlss-theory-of-justice/ [Accessed on: 08/01/17]

Garner, R., Ferdinand, P., and Lawson, S. (2016) Introduction to politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gray, J. (2014) Post-liberalism: Studies in political thought. Oxon: Routledge.

Grcic, J. (2011) Free and Equal: Rawls' Theory of Justice and Political Reform. New York: Algora Publishing.

Kanatl?, M. (2015) Rawlsian Theory of Justice as Fairness: A Marxist Critique. Hitit University Journal of Social Sciences Institute, 8(1), pp. 301-318.

Mandle, J. (2009) Rawls's 'A Theory of Justice': An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pojman, L. P. (Ed.) (2016) Justice: An anthology. Oxon: Routledge.

Rawls, J. (2009) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Sandel, M.J. (1982) Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sen, A. (2011) The idea of justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Thomas, A. (2016) Republic of Equals: Predistribution and Property-Owning Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walzer, M. (2008) Spheres Of Justice: A Defense Of Pluralism And Equality. New York: Basic Books

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