Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Distributive Justice and Political Ideologies A Reply to Volacu

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Distributive Justice and Political Ideologies A Reply to Volacu

Article excerpt


Political theory and real-world politics have had a sometimes tenuous relationship. Caught in the web of abstract theorizing, political philosophers chose to withdraw from real world politics and to relate to one another strictly according to philosophical lines. Alternatively, real world politicians are daily confronted with hard political choices to make, compromises to decide upon and power struggles to contend. While these two worlds have gradually moved apart, only few political theorists have attempted engaging with the world of day-to-day politics.

This engagement is necessary since political theory risks losing its relevance if it chooses to withdraw from a dialogue with politics. Aimed to be not just a study of politics, but to generate action-guiding principles of political justice, political theory must take into account the developments occurring in real-world politics if it seeks to remain relevant.

One way in which some political theorists chose to undertake this task is to engage the topic of just institutions in their work. Authors such as O'Neill1, Williamson2, Alperovitz3, Tomasi4 and Penny5 work at lower level of abstraction than the classics of political theory and engage the issue of how principles of justice can translate into institutions. Alternatively, they employed their work and entered into a debate with economists on this topic. The best example is Martin O'Neill's participation in the Crooked Timber seminar discussing Piketty's6 work.

A Romanian example of such work is Alexandru Volacu's7 work on the relation between the concept of distributive justice and several political ideologies. A salutary article, Volacu's paper makes a necessary connection between political science and political theory. Volacu extracts the main characteristics of the normative ideal of distributive justice and compares them to different political ideologies as synthesized in a book edited by Mihaela Miroiu and the platforms of Europarties or American political parties. Volacu establishes three possible relations between the concept of distributive justice and different political ideologies: incompatibility, compatibility and implication. He then proceeds to argue that distributive justice is incompatible with many political ideologies (monist political ideologies, anarchism, conservatism, socialism in its Marxist form) and that it is compatible with anarchism, feminism and cosmopolitanism. Finally, Volacu argues that only social democracy is required by distributive justice and makes his point with a reference to the political platform of the S&D political group in the European Parliament.

This paper aims to critique Volacu's work and to argue three claims: that he 1. misuses the term distributive justice and that 2. Due to this misuse he incorrectly chooses his units of comparison and that 3. He unfairly characterizes the European Left Party's platform as a holist form of communism, owing to his use of common tropes in anti-Marxist literature. It will do so by analyzing Volacu's view on the notion of distributive justice and by distinguishing between distributive justice and theories of distributive justice.

The first section presents an analysis of how Volacu understands the term distributive justice and argues that he is misled by the definition he employs. Moreover, this section also discusses the difference between patterns of distributive justice and principles of justice and argues that Volacu uses the first where he should have used the second. It shows that distributive justice is not a concept, but a field of philosophical investigation and that political ideologies should be compared with individual theories of justice. Then, in the second section, I analyze the difference between the debate on distributive justice and political obligation and argue that Volacu's comparison of distributive justice with anarchism is mistaken as they are simply fish from different ponds. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.