mises.org / David Gordon / July 28, 2017
[Unequivocal Justice. By Christopher Freiman. Routledge, 2017. Ix + 157 pages.]
Christopher Freiman has in this brilliant book uncovered a flaw at the heart of much contemporary political philosophy, especially the sort of ideal theory influenced by John Rawls. Freiman wishes “to examine the version of ideal theory that focuses on institutions. More specifically, I’ll investigate the idealizing assumption that institutions function under conditions that exhibit ‘strict compliance’ with justice: that is, conditions in which everyone accepts and abides by the principles of justice.” (p.5)
The objection that Freiman raises to ideal theory is that its advocates face a dilemma. If everyone behaves with perfect justice, the state has no role to play. People will voluntarily comply with the requirements of justice and no coercive agency is necessary. If, as Rawls and his followers assume, people will in the free market act with at most “limited altruism”, then why do they imagine those who control the state will act with perfect justice? (Objectivists and others would raise difficulties here about the connection between justice and altruism; but I will not pursue these worries here.)
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