Global Justice: A Rawlsian Perspective

Author: John Tons

Tons, John, 2018 Global Justice: A Rawlsian Perspective, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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Rawls claimed that the views of political philosophers are shaped by their particular political and social worlds and their circumstances and problems as they saw them. To understand their works then, we must identify those points of view and how they shape the way the writer’s questions are interpreted and discussed. (Rawls 2000 p104)

In 2017 how to achieve global justice is one of the major problems that pre-occupy political philosophers. It may be argued that, with the publication of The Law of Peoples (1999), Rawls had seemingly dealt himself out of this discussion (Martin and Reidy 2006). In this thesis I will argue not only that Rawls’s theory of justice requires a global theory of justice but that a Rawlsian theory of global justice makes a significant contribution to an understanding of the problem of global justice.

The just savings principle is an important, yet neglected, aspect of Rawls’s theory of justice. Initially Rawls introduces it as a problem of intergenerational justice but by the time we come to Political Liberalism (1993) it may more properly regarded as the means whereby the ongoing viability of the basic structure of a society is assured. In this thesis I argue that the idea of just savings should properly be regarded as ensuring that the costs associated with implementing and maintaining the basic structure are incorporated in any considerations regarding the distribution of the burdens and benefits associated with social co-operation.

The idea of just savings is not unique to constitutional democracies. The concept applies to all societies – irrespective of the form of government. All societies need to ensure that there are sufficient resources to maintain the ongoing viability of that society. Rawls argued that his objective was to bring ‘together certain general features of any society that it seems one would, on due reflection, wish to live in and want to shape our interests and character’ (Rawls 1974 p364). In subsequent iterations he modified this to refer to constitutional democracies. This would seem to preclude extending the domestic social contract to cover the globe.

Social contract theory presumes that there is a compelling reason for people to co-operate in order to achieve their goals. Rawls constructed his social contract so that it is stable, efficient and fair (Binmore 2005). I argue that in so doing he provided a template for a social contract that could be applied in any situation where parties need to co-operate. The reality of the Anthropocene provides a compelling reason for all nations to co-operate. Therefore it can be argued that we have a precondition for a global social contract that is stable, efficient and fair.. Consequently, I have modified Rawls’s domestic contract to create a means of addressing the challenges of the Anthropocene.

There are many challenges in developing a model of global justice. Two critical ones are that states are reluctant to surrender their sovereignty and there is a wide divergence of views of what constitutes just terms of association. Given that states are reluctant to surrender their sovereignty any theory of global justice to be acceptable needs to be able to accommodate sovereignty. Similarly at the global level the terms of a global association needs to be described in such a way as not to compromise the capacity of states to make decisions that are in their interests.

Keywords: Global Justice, Rawls, Anthropocene, Ideal Theory

Subject: Politics thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Cassandra Star