Friday, March 30, 2012

Political Liberalism - John Rawls

I read John Rawls for the first time 7 or 8 years ago. At the beginning, I didn't understand a lot, but my professor did a great job bringing Rawls' ideas down to Earth. As time went by, I became familiar with Rawls' philosophy, and I still think that politics would be ideal if the original position and the veil of ignorance were more than thought experiments.

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls designed one of the greatest social contract theories in History and he deserves full credit for that. He was attacked by left and right, and he eventually acommodated his argument to his critics, notably to Nozick's. And that's when things started going downhill for Rawls. Rawls spent the last 20 years of his life trying to address all the critiques to his argument (Nozick, on the contrary, moved to other things).  Rawls' arguments eventually became less powerful and more compromising. His physical appearance changed in the same direction of his argument: a naturally tall person, Rawls developed a haunch and his face became a permanent grimace. Every person who knows Rawls that I've met since I read him for the first time closes his remarks by saying "poor Rawls".

A Theory of Justice is sold in two different editions: the original one, for those who are more Rawlsian than Rawls himself, and the revised edition, which is Rawls' final thoughts. My understanding is that the revised edition is no longer published, while the original one is number 15,000 in Amazon, which is not bad for a political philosophy book...

This post opens a cycle on John Rawls, poor Rawls.

Political Liberalism is one attempt to satisfy people who criticized Rawls for being unable to separate his philosophy into a private and a public spheres -which is like criticizing a fish for being unable to fly: social contract theories like the one deployed in A Theory of Justice, by definition, have to be encompassing. The book tries to identify a political theory that enables people with different political and religious background to find a common ground for political discussions. Rawls suggests that, barring fundamentalists, it is possible to reach some compromise between different believers.

That is what Rawls thought before dying. If you want to know what the original Rawls would have thought about religion, refer to France's laïcité.

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