08 November 2014

Decent Illiberal People

'Fifteen Years Later: Reflections on Realism and Utopia in 'The Law of Peoples' by John Rawls' by Wojciech Sadurski (Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 14/93) comments 
Fifteen years ago, the last important, book-length statement about liberal values and ideals by John Rawls appeared, "The Law of Peoples". It was met with a good deal of surprise and disenchantment by many admirers of the “early Rawls" (the Rawls of "A Theory of Justice"). This essay reflects upon The Law of Peoples, and the grounds of liberal disenchantment with the book. It explores the status of "illiberal decent peoples" in the law of peoples, and connects this issue with the purposes of Rawls’ theory understood as a “realistic utopia", and argues that the inclusion of illiberal, decent peoples must be seen as a matter of moral choice rather than a concession to Realpolitik. This moral choice is supported by Rawls’ methodology in "The Law of Peoples", and in particular, the deliberately emaciated social contract, original position and reflective equilibrium. The key answers to the puzzles raised by these revisions of Rawls’ original liberal theory s are to be found, it is claimed, in the role assigned to the ideal of toleration in "The Law of Peoples". However, the use of this ideal is ill-advised as no link is demonstrated, or even asserted, between toleration and the individuals who belong to the peoples who are to be tolerated.