Reconsidering Rawls and Nozick

The New York Sun published a short and surprisingly fair reassesment of the two most influential Anglo-American philosophers since the 1970s: John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

While they are often portrayed as intellectual antagonists, their only major point of disagreement was Rawls’s idea of the ‘difference principle,’ which stipulates that social and economic inequalities can only be acceptable if they benefit those who are the worst off. Nozick directed his critique against this argument by invoking the Lockean philosophy of minimal government–just enough to ensure individual liberties, not enough to actively pursue distributive justice.

The article concludes that in the end Nozick and Rawls both shared “a constricted view of political philosophy as an enterprise devoted to the production of abstract theories, with little or no regard for the grounding of justice in human nature.” It is fair to claim that both procedural liberalism and libertarianism have a tendency to logically deduct abstract ideas such as justice against which to measure the existing world. It would be interesting to consider how much of this is due to the methodological approach of Anglo-American political theory as opposed to its Franco-German counterpart.

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