Liberalism beyond Justice

By Mack, Eric | Ideas on Liberty, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Liberalism beyond Justice


Mack, Eric, Ideas on Liberty


liberalism Beyond Justice by John Tomasi

Princeton University Press e 2001 - 163 pages * $15.95 paperback

Reviewed by Eric Mack

The first several chapters of John Tomasi's Liberalism Beyond Justice are devoted to his pledging eager and cloying allegiance to the world of Rawlsian liberalism that dominates political theory and philosophy, especially in the corridor of academic power that stretches from the University of Pennsylvania through Princeton, Columbia, Brown, and Harvard. In his last two chapters, however, Tomasi mildly dissents from some of the most culturally elitist and economically egalitarian policy recommendations of what he calls "High Liberalism."

But in the course of his deferential dissent, Tomasi, who teaches political theory at Brown, avoids any reference whatsoever to the arguments of unfashionable classical-liberal or libertarian theorists. This is particularly striking because the dissenting arguments that Tomasi advances have for some time been advanced much more clearly and powerfully by various classical-liberal or libertarian authors-including authors such as Tibor Machan and David Schmidtz with some of whose works Tomasi must be familiar, since they appear in his bibliography.

To understand the character of Tomasi's venture, one needs a brief sketch of the breathtaking intellectual developments that have issued from Harvard philosopher John Rawls over the last several decades. In his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, Rawls argued that the principles of justice are the norms to which rational people who are unencumbered by any concern about their own specific personal traits, circumstances, or goals would agree. Such rational people would seek out principles that would nullify as much as possible social and natural inequalities. According to Rawls, these people would agree to principles that would mandate equal political liberty and radical income redistribution.

Despite his endorsement of extensive state action, Rawls's position has one virtue from the point of view of genuine liberalism. Once one complies with Rawls's various (and too demanding) principles of justice, one has satisfied all the demands of sound political theory and may live what remains of one's life free from further political surveillance. It is this virtue of Rawls's theory that Tomasi objects to in the first several chapters of Liberalism Beyond Justice.

According to Tomasi, what goes on in one's life beyond one's compliance with justice is also a concern of a proper political liberalism. Tomasi construes even one's self-- development and search for meaning as a civic duty, part of what citizenship demands. Accordingly, Tomasi contends that liberal theory mandates a civic education that "must also prepare each citizen to play her socially constructive role in making her society flourish as the type of society it is. …

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