Thursday, October 01, 2020

Review of Katrina Forrester's "In the Shadow of Justice"

At "Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews", Samuel Freeman reviews Katrina Forrester's "In the Shadow of Justice: Postwar Liberalism and the Remaking of Political Philosophy" (Princeton University Press, 2019):

Review of "In the Shadow of Justice"

Excerpts from Freeman's review

"Katrina Forrester's book is an engaging history of John Rawls's intellectual development and the outpouring of work in political philosophy his ideas have engendered.  (....) Forrester does not openly reject the liberal egalitarian principles or institutions Rawls and others advocate, but she sees their theoretical approach as constricting. She contends that Rawls and philosophers of justice influenced by him have been fixated on formulating moral principles and rules, and that the "overwhelming focus" of these norms "was on questions of distribution and ownership." (....) One of the primary conclusions Forrester extracts from her history is that Rawls's theory of justice and the liberal egalitarian philosophy his work stimulated are largely irrelevant today. She says that the "tale of philosophical success" she recounts "is also a ghost story, in which Rawls's theory lives on as a spectral presence long after the conditions it describes were gone." 

"Rawls's critics charge that the difference principle effectively makes welfare state capitalism, with its considerable inequalities, a permanent element of democratic societies. But Rawls argues in his later works that no form of capitalism, even the capitalist welfare state, satisfies his principles of justice, because capitalism puts no restrictions on inequalities or concentrations of wealth, and inevitably results in the vast majority of people having no economic wealth or discretionary powers and prerogatives in their employment. Consequently, the capitalist welfare state undermines the "fair value" of equal political liberties, fair equality of opportunities, fair economic reciprocity, and disadvantaged citizens' sense of self-respect. Rawls already says in "Theory" [of Justice] that the economic system that satisfies his principles of justice is a "property-owning democracy" or liberal socialism. He understands property-owning democracy as a regulated market system in which capitalism's gross inequalities and concentrations of wealth are eliminated, shares of wealth are widely distributed among all society's members, and workers may exercise greater freedom, powers, and responsibilities within firms and their workplace." (....)

"To apply Rawls's principles to contemporary U.S. politics: there is something deeply unjust about a democracy in which concentrated wealth largely controls the political agenda, and political appeals regularly mobilize fabricated facts and racist, sectarian, and self-aggrandizing considerations that undermine the equal rights, liberties, opportunities, and basic needs of citizens, not to mention the rule of law itself. The integrity of democratic institutions has broken down."

See also Brian Kogelmann's review of Katrina Forrester's book here.

1 comment:

unreasonable said...

Samuel Freeman's review tries to defend Rawls, scores some points but loses the match. Indeed Freeman's text is symptomatic of the problem with rawlsianism. When others object that Rawls omits important aspects of moral and political philosophy rawlsians like Freeman dig in and throw out a scattershot of terms, like "natural duties", that are underspecified and underargued for in the rawlsian universe. Ad-hoc fancy words hand waving!