Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

PSYCHOLOGY AND ETHICS IN RAWLS (notes - work in progress)


‘a mysterious internal cement which holds all together by holding each down’ – Tony Skillen on morality, “Marxism and Morality”, Radical Philosophy 8, Summer 1974, p. 12.

Rawls’s ethics are not constructed via a discussion of actual people, but nevertheless, it is through actual people that it would have to be realised, were it to become a basis for organising society. For this reason, Rawls is forced, against the essentialist tendencies inherent in his conception of the person, onto the territory of discussions of human psychology and motivation. Here, the implications of Rawls’s theory in terms of his preferred structuring of libidinal economies become clear. The noumenal self realises itself in actuality in the form of a repressive superego which uses reactive emotions to suppress desires which exceed “justice”. It is also here, especially in his discussions of the “stability” of his conception, where Rawls’s empirical assumptions about actual people become clearest and where he is most open to empirical falsification. After all, it is here that Rawls’s opposition to metaphysics is most developed. He denies relying on ‘theological or metaphysical doctrines’ or an image of a compensating other-world, stating that ‘conceptions of justice must be justified by the conditions of our life as we know it or not at all’ (TJ 398). He also denies relying on any ‘particular theory of human motivation’ (TJ 112), though clearly some such theory is implied by his reference to “life as we know it”. How Rawls constructs this “life” is absolutely crucial to establishing his underlying assumptions about human psychology. He is seeking a commitment which is “organic” in the Gramscian sense, since the selection of the two principles of justice is supposed to constitute an announcement that they do not wish that things were different, at least from people in a well-ordered society (see TJ 139). The conception of justice is supposed to be successful in ‘winning allegiance’ (PL 40), and, by doing so, it is assumed to shape both aims and moral sentiments of citizens (TJ 128). To achieve this, he has to find reference-points in human psychology as he takes it to be. Although he states that his principles are reached in a ‘purely deductive’ way, they are also ‘conjectured as a psychological law or probability’ (TJ 104). Although the main context in which he raises psychology is his discussion of the “stability” of justice as fairness (i.e. its ability to reproduce itself in a society over time), he also admits that his first principles themselves incorporate practical concerns (CW 330), suggesting that his account of stability should be taken as central to the internal validity of his entire theory. There are also psychological assumptions underlying the original position (JAFAR 83). It is not surprising that Rawls’s approach leans so heavily, if suspiciously, on psychological claims, because ethics typically gains its social expression through emotional reactions. Furthermore, other key concepts such as “rationality” and “our considered convictions” are implicitly psychological in their reference to a thinking and feeling subject. One could even go so far as to say that, while discourse analysis and psychoanalysis examine the origins and structure of such reactions, traditional moral theory of the kind pursued by Rawls has the function of overcoding or rationalising them.

There is, first of all, a fundamental contradiction in Rawls’s work. He denounces any conception of the good which involves the sole valuation of an overarching final end, yet his own theory depends on justice operating, in practice, as just such an end. This is a handy way of demanding the repression or affect-blocking of every desire, save for the repressive desire which founds Rawls’s theory. For Rawls, it is ‘inhuman’ to pursue a single dominant end, and ‘our considered judgments’ demands that “we” moderate each single desire, other wise one’s view is ‘extreme’ and marked by ‘fanaticism and inhumanity’, as well as ‘irrational, or more likely… mad’, ‘unbalanced’ and leading to the disfiguring of a self which is, according to Rawls, necessarily heterogeneous (TJ 485-8). People in the original position are assumed to have final ends which are ‘always plural in number’ (TJ ?473 or 493 or 475?). Rawls does not simply allow plurality but positively demands that goods be diverse (TJ 393-4). People are assumed to prefer “plans” which include many different goods and desires rather than a few simple ones, because they are assumed to prefer to develop proficiency in skills, especially ones requiring discrimination (TJ 363-4). Yet Rawls’s own view, while trying to invalidate others in this way, also depends on a single overarching desire which overrides all others and is posited unconditionally. As Gerald Doppelt puts it, ‘[t]he references to highest-order interests… [are] tantamount to a conception of the supreme good or value at stake in the liberal order’, a ‘public or political identity which Rawlsian citizens must possess’ (Is Rawls’s Kantian Liberalism… 820-1). His claim that such a value is non-oppressive because it is a condition of possibility for other identities and values (825) ignores its regulative and restrictive roles (even over and against conceptions which meet the two criteria Doppelt sets), roles which become very clear when he emphasises that moral value only arises in ‘moral will and judgement’. One need respect only these in others, and not their ‘appetite’, ‘impulse’ or ‘irrational uncontrollable forces of personality’ (826), clearly a basis for normalist dominance over abnormalised others. Indeed, Clark and Gintis condemn Rawls’s theory on grounds almost identical to those Rawls deploys against Loyola and Aquinas: his unconditional lexical prioritisation of a single ethical virtue (Rawlsian Justice and Economic Systems 317-18). Rawls apparently has not even noticed this overarching desire, perhaps because it occurs as a desire to repress desire. In practice, therefore, Rawls is an “extremist” and “fanatic” of his own kind, pursuing “extreme” and “fanatical” adherence to the liberal state even while denouncing as “extreme” and “fanatical” anything which disrupts this state. While denouncing even the most harmless anti-state unconditionalities as fanatical, Rawls establishes a very insidious statist unconditionality at the core of his theory. (In fact, this “fanaticism” is necessary if Rawls is to support the state, since the state, as a violent and intolerant social force, can only be supported unconditionally or not at all).

Similarly, he denounces Aquinas’s intolerance as being based on ‘dogma’, rather than ‘modes of reason commonly recognized’ (TJ 189). He does not, however, show that this ‘dogma’ was not commonly recognized in Aquinas’s day, nor that the beliefs he culls from common sense are anything but dogmas. One could say that ideas such as “responsibility for ends” involve a core commitment to a specific doctrine or even to a quasi-religion, “statolatry” (NOTE: this term is taken from Gramsci SPN ??). This “religion” is taken to trump all others, and can even be imposed by force. Hence, other religions are not allowed to embody the systematising drive only because this particular one has claimed it already.

Rawls tries to differentiate his theory from those he attacks for having a final end, on the grounds that his principles of duty and obligation ‘do not make [justice as fairness] all controlling’ (TJ 495). However, this claim is problematic, since it sets limits which are in practice absolute. One should have similar scepticism about his admission that people have ‘affections, devotions, and loyalties’ they do not wish to stand apart from and find it ‘unthinkable’ to bracket out (PL 31). This claim would render the insistence on “responsibility for ends” intolerable to the parties in the original position. It would also render it impossible for people to gain an interior commitment to “justice”, which would be experienced as a violent threat to these basic commitments. To take the case of religion, which is central to Rawls’s argument, one could consider a case where adherents of a particular religion view a site as holy. Such people may have an unconditional demand to be allowed to worship at such a site. However, a “public political conception” would render this invalid in public reason. Therefore, there is nothing to stop a state imposing a compulsory occupation order on the site and building a road on top of it. If the worshipers object or resist, they are deemed “unreasonable”; they would be expected instead to “revise their ends” in line with the principle of “responsibility for ends”. Clearly such a position is incompatible with the claim that such people are permitted by political liberalism to have such a religious devotion unconditionally. Rawls’s claim is, therefore, of a superficial kind and is incompatible with his theory. (This is also a problem for Buchanan’s claim – Assessing the Communit. Critique of Liberalism, Ethics 99, July 1989, 852-82, pp. 867-71 – that a Kantian chooser of ends can nevertheless make binding commitments. This is true, so to speak, metaphysically but not politically).

In addition to his contentious claims regarding the distinction between his own theory and “fanaticism”, he also wants to deny that he is reliant on issues of ‘meaning and epistemology, metaphysics and the philosophy of mind’, suggesting that these ‘get in the way’ of political theory and that they ‘contribute very little’ to it. For Rawls, political or ethical theory has ‘its own distinctive problems and subject matter’, what he terms the ‘structure of moral conceptions’, which can be studied independently from these other issues. Therefore, issues such as meaning and psychology need not be resolved prior to establishing the validity of a political theory (CW 286-7). However, as will become clear, his theory depends in a variety of subtle ways on assumptions about the nature of psychology. After all, ethics can only be actual if it operates within the structures of desire of actual desiring-subjects. Therefore, in practice, Rawls can but rely on psychological claims and assumptions. His abortive bid for independence only succeeds in guaranteeing that the psychology involved is naïve and inaccurate.

That Rawls’s theory is, in his own sense, “fanatical” is shown by his attitude to desires and needs. For Rawls, justice is to precede all else in ethics (“the priority of the right over the good”), and in psychological terms, this means that the drive for justice is to override and repress all other drives and desires. There is a similar problem with Rawls’s claim that ‘[t]he notion of radical choice… finds no place in justice as fairness’ (CW 354). If his theory contains a master-signifier, it must also rely to some degree on radical choice.

For Rawls, it is ‘sectarian’ to emphasise anyone’s ‘wants’ or ‘rational preferences’ in ethical theory. Utility and needs can enter his theory, but only in the sense of ‘people’s needs as citizens’, with ‘citizen’ referring to an essential component of the self. The reason for this seems to be that Rawls’s theory is about solving a ‘practical political problem’ (PL 179-80), and this problem is defined, not in terms of voicelessness or needs, but in terms of the pursuit of social order. Furthermore, he declares, on spurious grounds, that desire is inherently insatiable. ‘Now obviously no one can obtain everything he wants; the mere existence of other persons prevents this’ (TJ 103). It is not at all clear why the existence of others should necessarily (as opposed to contingently) render desire insatiable; it is as if solitude is somehow a necessary part of desire. One should also note that this claim implies an assumption that self-other relations are inherently antagonistic prior to specificity. There is no logical link between the existence of others and the satiability or insatiability of desire. (Perhaps, however, there is a psychological link; if “persons” is taken to exclude “mother” and “mother” is viewed as desired object, then the existence of other persons, or specifically the father, could be taken as the reason why the self’s exclusive satisfaction is impossible. Such an Oedipal interpretation seems necessary to make sense of an otherwise absurd statement, although I advance it quite hesitantly).

As a result of this approach, Rawls avoids actually attaching value to desires, wants or even needs, preferring that conceptions of justice be constructed over the heads of these. ‘Desires and wants, however intense, are not by themselves reasons in matters of justice… Combined with an index of primary goods, the principles of justice detach reasons of justice not only from the ebb and flow of fluctuating wants and desires but even from long-standing sentiments and commitments’ (CW 372; c.f. PL 190). ‘When issues of justice are involved, the intensity of desires should not be taken into account’ (TJ 203). The satisfaction of ‘wants and interests’ is ‘no reason at all for having a practice’, and ethical theory should ‘toss out’ desires which exceed it, on the grounds that it ‘makes no sense’ to meet a claim one “can” object to ahead of a claim one “cannot” (TJ 63-4). The ‘fundamental aspect’ and ‘essential unity’ of the self is in effect disembodied, existing above and beyond ‘the capacity for pleasure and pain’ and giving people the right to choose their ‘mode of life’ (TJ 493). In practice, this right to choose is used to insist that people have no right to refuse attempts to restrict desire. In particular, “justice” acts as a valorising force in relation to desire, and ‘interests requiring the violation of justice have no value’ and ‘no merit’ (TJ 28). Rawls denounces ‘the mistaken notion that the satisfaction of desire has value in itself irrespective of the relations between persons as members of a common practice, and irrespective of the claims upon one another which the satisfaction of interests represents’ (CW 70), and ‘the mistaken view that the intensity of desire is a relevant consideration in enacting legislation’ (TJ 202). Justice is, Rawls makes clear, to replace desire as a standard for action. ‘[J]ustice as fairness… is not at the mercy, so to speak, of existing wants and interests. It sets up an Archimedean point for assessing the social system… The long range aim of society is settled in its main lines irrespective of the particular desires and needs of its present members’ (TJ 231). He wants to avoid a situation where ‘the place we start from may always influence the path we follow’, preferring to insist that ‘the two principles of justice are not contingent upon existing desires or present social conditions’ (TJ 232). Via the Archimedean point, Rawls establishes a division within the self he wishes to construct. As Honig puts it, ‘the reliance on the original position establishes a hierarchical divide between an original, pure, prepolitical, non-contingent, introspective position and all other subject positions and positionings’ (PTDP 136). As Mulhall and Swift put it, Rawls imposes a bracketing of nonpolitical concerns on terms which also require that political goods trump nonpolitical goods (Libs and Communits 223-4). The resultant non-conditionality of justice on actual needs and desires is something Rawls portrays as an advantage of his theory, a claim critics have been quick to note (e.g. Holly Smith Goldman, Rawls and Utilitarianism, 369). As Buchanan explicitly puts it, Rawls emphasises procedural justice because this ‘allow[s him] to apply principles of justice without focusing on actual particular persons’ (Marx and Justice 109).

One could add that Rawls tends to conceive any decision lacking an element of bias as “fair” regardless of its effects, thereby constructing this process reactively. Edward F. McClennen implies a critique of this model by criticising Rawls’s labelling of random decisions, such as a lottery for military service, as fair (Justice and the Problem of Stability 30).

The psychological effect of this is presumably that all desires, wants and even needs are to be repressed beneath a rationalistic but highly committed attachment to “justice” and the ordering function it expresses. The demands involved would not only lead to intolerable demands on others, but within the self they would lead to a classical Oedipus formation, with “justice” in the role of the “master-signifier” (and with all the attendant evils as regards returns of the repressed, neuroses, projection and so on). This is combined with the construction of a molar self who is to relate in a petty-minded way to the desires of others, always viewing these in a relational context which amounts to the principle, “What do I get out of this?” (mediated by the operation of rules and practices), while also submitting to an abstraction called “society” which floats above, and crushes down on, actual needs and desires. Claims come after rules, which gives rules de facto primacy over people, constructing a situation of alienation. Further, Rawls explicitly declares public reason to operate in a disciplinary way (CW 444), and in some passages, he tries to turn public rules into a form of “pure proceduralism” which would render all individual claims ‘irrelevant’ by declaring outcomes of a procedure to be just, whatever they happen to be (e.g. TJ 267). Although he endorses a similar model, Christoph Fehige’s language is revealing when he writes of ‘the scythe of justice’ and suggests that, in Rawls’s theory, ‘justice can boss around preferences’ (Justice Beyond Desires? 273).

Whenever he discusses the relationship between ethics and desire, Rawls always assumes that the role of ethics must be to impede and repress desires conceived as external to it. For instance, he wishes for moral theory to operate to inhibit egoist and group-based tendencies (CW 339), to ‘impose restrictions on what are reasonable conceptions of one’s good’ and ‘put limits on which satisfactions have value’. ‘A just social system defines the scope within which individuals must develop their aims’ (TJ 27-8). Further, ‘the priority of right means… that the principles of justice set limits to permissible ways of life’ and on the ‘freedom’ to pursue these; ways of life ‘transgressing those limits have no weight’ (PL 209, CW 449) and ‘no value at all’ (TJ 287). They ‘are ruled out absolutely’ and ‘have no weight at all’ (CW 386). ‘In justice as fairness the priority of right means that the principles of political justice impose limits on permissible ways of life; and hence the claims citizens make to pursue ends that transgress those limits have no weight’ (PL 174). Ends are to occur only within certain limits, and the principles of the reasonable ‘limit absolutely’ the ‘final ends that can be pursued’ (CW 317). ‘There is no value in fulfilling these wants and the social system should discourage them’ (TJ 230). Rawls’s principles come from outside actual life and are imposed in bulldozer fashion upon it. ‘The constraints do not refer to, although they limit, the substantive content of comprehensive conceptions of the good’ (PL 211), and a plan of life is only permissible if it ‘does not violate what justice demands’ (TJ 81). Worse still, ‘[o]ur way of life, whatever our particular circumstances, must always conform to the principles of justice that are arrived at independently’, and how one’s life is actually lived is to have no impact either on the basic structure or on the principles of justice (TJ 394-5). In other words, they limit something to which they do not refer and which they therefore cannot understand. This is invalidatory discourse of an especially obvious type. Rawls also misrepresents his principles in descriptive terms, as something one can recognise as governing one’s conduct (?LN 37). (NOTE: Rawls’s claim that by definition, something unjust cannot be a good (TJ 373) is a definitional sidestep. If something can be desired, it can be a “good” in the sense of being part of a “rational plan”).

It should be clear that Rawls’s hostility to desires does not begin and end with a wish to reject sadistic forms of desire or those which require the subordination of others. It is indeed the case that Rawls specifies such cases as instances where desire is to be given no value (e.g. CW 67), and that his work is strewn with references to intolerant religious sects, slave-owners, misogynists and people who enjoy to watch others suffer. (Rawls in fact misunderstands sadism completely. For instance, he construes “psychopathy” as an extreme form of self-interest - PL 51). However, his argument is not limited to such cases. Rather, desire as such - active or reactive, sadistic or benevolent, humble, noble, special and/or defensive - is to be denied any primacy within people’s psyches. His use of specific or general references to a desire to dominate, or in his terms to the possibility that one may desire ‘the oppression of others as an end in itself’, is in the form of a general argument against valuing desire as such (CW 367). This is of more than analytical significance, since the use of such desires as a stand-in for the category of desire in general tends to metaphorise desire as something destructive and violent. Such a construction of desire as threat is an important part of the psychological basis for denouncing it and imposing an order of internal and external repression to “override” it. The same implication is present in Rawls’s discussions of envy, which Brunner and Peled describe as ‘the destructive impulse which plays the role of evil demon in his framework’ (Respect and Self-Respect 290). In addition to implying that it is destructive, Rawls also downplays the meaningful character of everyday discourse by depicting it as ‘arbitrary features of a plan of life’ (TJ 395). Hence, he reconstructs desire as a threatening Real so as to legitimate its repression. To emphasise the extensive character of the repression Rawls demands, it could be added that Rawls gives ‘no weight’, not only to ‘intensely unjust’ desires, but also to desires ‘that cannot be satisfied except by the violation of just arrangements’ (TJ 230), a formulation which amounts to demanding that one be satisfied with one’s lot. “Justice” is to operate as an overarching block on any and all desires, not only on a limited group of desires Rawls specifies as in some way harmful. The resultant psychological structure is to all intents and purposes ascetic: one is to desire the repression of one’s desire in the service of social order. Rawls denies that his ethics is one of ‘austere command’ (TJ 225), yet the denial of desire he advocates seems to problematise this denial. Further, one is to pursue this project across society and territorialise the world as the exclusive property of “justice”, regardless of what effects (psychological and also material) this has on actual people.

Thus, desires, and also affections, commitments and comprehensive doctrines, are to be subordinated to the “freestanding” conception of justice constructed (supposedly) outside them. So, he refers to different doctrines adapting to the conception of justice (PL 219). People who have a conception of the good which exceeds the principles of justice are supposed to give it up (TJ 27). “Justice” is even supposed to limit objects of one’s affections, and what one is to see as true, beautiful or excellent (CW 334-5). Happiness cannot be the final end of ethics, because common sense requires that it be moderated (TJ 485).

Indeed, Rawls goes a step further. People are not to be given any inherent or self-posited value at all. His attack on utilitarianism denounces the supposed fact that this theory values ‘individuals as individuals’, and that it does not make this valuation dependent on their engaging in ‘moral relations’ or common undertakings. Therefore, Rawls wants desire as such devalued unless it conforms to a prior moral order. Against desires which exceed his conception, Rawls insists that ‘these gains have no weight at all, which requires that they be overridden’ (CW 67). That Rawls uses the language of an intolerant bulldozer which drives across its enemies is no coincidence. Judges and their ilk are to have a carte-blanche opportunity to override any and all actually-existing desires in the name of the essence and the superego for which they stand. Generalities are to trump particularities, and order is to trump active and lived potentialities. The bulldozer also occurs within the psyche, as Honig suggests. ‘With his self-control always at stake, always in doubt, the responsible subject is anxious to distance himself from whatever pushes, pulls, attracts, or impels him from inside or outside’ (PTDP 155). Thus, Honig presents Rawlsian selves as ‘well-ordered subjects who are comfortable in (and not also resistant to) their subscription to practices of self-containment and self-concealment’ (PTDP 127). Wolff suggests that the autonomy of justice from desire may actually be a goal of Rawls’s theory, since it has such a role in Kant (UR 107), and Ed Wingenbach suggests that Rawls perfects social contract theory’s strategy ‘to gain control over the constitution of social reason and then get people to internalize these as the fundamental principles of their own beliefs’, thereby internalising social control through inner self-regulation (Unjust Context 225). Similarly, Thomas McCarthy suggests that Rawls has inherited from Kant an ethical system ‘constructed around self-abnegation’, with Rawls going even further than Kant by requiring that even one’s conscience and convictions be kept in check (Kantian Constructivism and Reconstructivism 52).

The resultant inhumanity is tamed only by Rawls’s pervasive inconsistency both in constructing and in applying his principles. Because he modifies his views to fit with existing “considered convictions” broadly expressive of a liberal tradition which is more influenced by particularity than Rawls likes to admit, the actual effects of his hostility to responsiveness are often blunted. Fehige and Norman Daniels have noted an inconsistency in the original position, because the argument for freedom of conscience rests on intensity of desire as the sole basis for the choice. This argument, if valid in the original position, would lead to a wider concern with responsiveness to intense desires (Justice Beyond Desires? 264-5; Daniels ed., 266). As Daniels puts it, ‘if there is no claim that a special importance attaches to demands of conscience, and all chosen features of life plans can give rise to interests which agents in the original position may feel they have to protect, then the 1st Principle rapidly mushrooms to include far more than we might pick out as “basic” liberties. Freedom springs up wherever the seeds of desire are planted’ (Daniels ed., 266). In other words, the structure (and therefore the potential) of Rawls’s theory is far more oppressive than the actual conclusions he draws, because of the “heterogeneous” influence of factors exterior to the theory itself. On the other hand, certain of Rawls’s views would if extended lead to a theory with a completely different structure.

The a priori construction of primary goods and justice in Rawls’s theory leaves him open to criticisms of unresponsivenesss to specificity. For instance, Robert Ehman says that Rawls does not take the value of any good into account (Rawls and Nozick 314). Instead, he leaves distribution to the morally-arbitrary mechanisms of capitalist markets (315). ‘The “maximin” is not really relevant to any real problem’, and Rawls’s theory is therefore ‘a distraction from the real and specific needs of those who are really badly off, and makes social problems seem simpler than they in fact are’ (318). Those neglected as a result include people with special needs and people whose good includes the pursuit of a particular type of work (321). Holly Smith Goldman states that ‘[a]ny society which assumes a universal scale of relative values in determining what arrangements to make for the worst-off group will not be acting with sufficient sensitivity to human variation’ (Rawls and Utilitarianism 367). Similarly, Habermas says that one cannot simply ignore the specific goods people might value once the veil of ignorance is lifted, as this could cause ‘unpleasant surprises’ the parties could not have anticipated. As a result of this concern, he suggests that a morally just original position would have to be based on a very broad and de facto unachievable knowledge of all the possible social and libidinal changes which might be morally significant (Habermas on Rawls 118). Clark and Gintis echo such concerns when they state that ‘Rawls’s problem is not so much that he places great emphasis on the human reflective capacity… but that he makes it motivationally dominant over all other human capacities and needs’ (Rawlsian Justice and Economic Systems 323). Richard E. Flathman suggests there is a contradiction embedded in Rawls’s attitude to desires. He at once views desires and conceptions of the good as deeply private and inaccessible, and as accessible to the disciplined application and enforcement of the principles of justice (cited Honig PTDP 254). RM Hare also asks of Rawls’s principles ‘whether they can be adequate to the complexities of the actual world’. Since they are based only on general and not particular facts, Hare thinks Rawls’s ‘principles… may, in particular cases, result in flagrant injustice, because the facts of these cases are peculiar’ (in Daniels ed., 91). ‘Some victim of the application… may be found complaining that if the [original position parties] had only known about him and his situation, likes and dislikes, they would have complicated their principles a little to allow them to do justice to him’ (93). Certainly desire and even social production take diverse forms incommensurable with Rawls’s model. How can Rawls conceive, for instance, of Giovanni de Grace, who has no fixed address yet owns an Yves Saint Laurent suit, or to looters who took fine clothes before they took groceries (Hecht and Simone p. 47)? The ways in which cultural symbols are valued and their relationship to self-respect is far more complex than Rawls allows, even before one begins considering cases of special needs, “obsessive” attachments and so on.

It is interesting to note that Okin’s critical use of Rawls’s ideas depends precisely on an interpretation of the original position as requiring a position which is not that of no-one but which is that of everyone, or of each in turn, so that parties would ‘have knowledge of the essential aspects of the lives of persons of all different imaginable types’ (Reason and Feeling… 244). On this reading, Rawls’s theory would become ‘an appreciation and concern for… human differences’ (245) and would be ‘centrally dependent on the capacity of moral persons to… demonstrate care for others, especially others who are most different from themselves’ (247). Okin is right that Rawls’s theory would have to incorporate such an assumption to avoid being impositional (although how she incorporates empathy and the idea that one can come to be any one of the others with an emphasis on difference – 248 – is unclear), but she is wrong to suggest that he in fact incorporates such an assumption. Her evidence for her reading is Rawls’s account of the case for religious toleration (244-5), which is an exception not a rule. If Rawls in fact endorsed Okin’s view, he would have to abandon ideas such as responsibility for ends, primary goods and his account of reciprocity.

George Armstrong Kelly argues that ‘[b]ehind the veil [the parties] have phenomenal doubles whose flesh once seen, whose desires once known, would be corrupting to the discourse or practice of justice’. In other words, the roots of Rawls’s theory are unreal and unrealisable. ‘These noumenal selves have in fact been abstracted from origins which it is not wise to search out’, a history behind the veil which undermines their godlike status. Since ‘memory is not among the rational attributes that Rawls mentions’, history and the structure of desire are displaced into a quasi-religious sphere as something about which one should not seek answers as if it were open to doubt (Veils 363). A more implicit condemnation arises from the sympathetic author Thomas E. Hill. When he dismisses the relevance of the original position to his personal project of extending Rawls’s theory to cover personal ethical dilemmas (Kantian Constructivism… 758-9), he unwittingly indicts the inhumanity of the “justice” Rawls delivers in relation to everyday decisions about issues such as obedience. Iris Young similarly criticises Rawls, along with others, for excluding desire, commitment and feeling from theory. These cannot disappear, and so ‘lurk as inarticulate shadows’ undermining the comprehensiveness of “reason”. A truly dispassionate and impersonal viewpoint, says Young, would lead to zero motivation (JPD 103). ‘One has no motive for making moral judgments and resolving moral dilemmas unless the outcome matters, unless one has a particular and passionate interest in the outcome’ (JPD 104). The ideal of impartiality is misleading because it ‘generates a dichotomy between reason and feeling’ (JPD 10) which cannot be sustained. ‘Only by expelling desire and affectivity from reason can impartiality achieve its unity’ (JPD 100), and this requires also that it ‘denies and represses difference’, imposes homogeneity in feeling and reduces subjectivity to a single standpoint so everyone can be treated alike (100-1). Such strategies do not in fact unify differences, but rather, detach the theorist from particularities in such a way as to exclude these from truth. This results, not in unity, but in a dichotomy between the universal and the “merely” partial (JPD 102-3), a dichotomy which is implicitly oppressive towards whatever is labelled as the latter.

David Gauthier (“Justice and Natural Endowment”) argues that Rawls does not allow a model which would actually produce any kind of egalitarian outcome, even the difference principle. If participants in the original position were rational in the sense meant by rational choice theory, they would choose average utility and not the two principles of justice. The reason average utility is unacceptable to Rawls is its unacceptability to the worst-off in the society it actually produces. In the case of the worst-off in the original position, ‘his ignorance of who he was rendered him unable to make the best choice for himself’ (Gauthier 11). In fact, Rawls wriggles out of this kind of problem mainly because the original position is supplemented with a set of concerns which restore reference to issues this side of the veil of ignorance, via reference to “stability”. Benjamin Barber raises similar problems, because it is difficult to speak of “interests” except in a context of contingent desires. If the parties in the original position completely lack desires, it also seems that they should lack interests, and that they should lack any conception of what it is to have an interest. He suggests that the idea of primary goods is introduced as a variety of particular desire to solve this problem, but that it fails to do so, because it does not handle the problem that interests are by definition particular (in Daniels ed., 295).

In connection with the issue of psychological repression, it is important to notice that Rawls’s primary commitment is to the repression of tendencies towards “injustice” and “strife”, and not to the realisation of internal active and creative potentialities. For instance, he only wants to ensure that the social world contains “enough” worthwhile ways of life (whatever this means), rather than that it take a residually open attitude towards ways of life. Indeed, it is almost a point of principle for Rawls that desires be repressed. Admitting that political decisions (such as the decision to engage in civil disobedience) are always an individual matter, Rawls is nevertheless determined to insist that each act in a reactive way, ‘as the principles of right require him to’, i.e. as if in submission to an external authority, rather than that each can decide ‘at his convenience’ (CW 188). Further, the structure of justice is unresponsive to actual desires and needs, and it is to be final, ‘however difficult it may be in practice for everyone to accept it’ (TJ 393). The use of standards which refer to interior psychological states are to be rejected as insufficiently precise (TJ 488). In conceiving of ethics as a bulldozer which rides over desire, Rawls is an archetypally capitalist thinker. As Guattari puts it, ‘[t[he system programs itself on its own by systematically deforming all singularities, all the things of life, all that which, in appearance, is of no use for anything. Whether you are happy, whether you stutter, whether you are afraid of death or old age - all that counts for nothing! That is modern capitalism: desire, madness, gratuitousness - all this counts for nothing! On the contrary, it inconveniences. It makes too much “noise” in the sense of information theory’ (Guattari Reader p. 137).

Rawls’s consideration of alternatives to his own attitude to desire is limited in its validity by the fact that he only considers other ethical theories which are structurally similar to his own. His critique of hedonism, for instance, relies on the treatment of it as an instrumental and teleological conception which conceives of happiness as a quasi-external goal (see TJ 489-90). As Allen Buchanan puts it, Rawls thinks one should view oneself as outside ‘pleasurable mental states’, treat these as ‘objects of choice’ and assess ‘whether their achievement is choiceworthy’ (Assessing the Communit. Critique of Liberalism 870). Rawls’s standard for rejecting other conceptions is driven by his desire for a standard clear enough to be viable among petty-minded people. For instance, he wishes to avoid appeals to perfectionist ideas of excellence, even when ideas of justice fail, because ideas of perfection are too influenced by personal and group considerations (TJ 291). His entire approach is about securing the smooth functioning of the social system, not about making this system responsive to actual people. Rawls’s conception of “reason” treats it as something which operates autonomously, with no basis in desire. Reason is ‘self-originating and self-authenticating’ (PL 100). This further confirms his commitment to something conceived in alterity which represses desire.

There is a major problem with Rawls’s account. A conception of justice cannot conceivably be constructed prior to, outside, or without reference to desire. In order to posit itself as prior, it must already exist in a structure of desire; hence, the issue is of the repression of many desires by one desire, and not the subordination of all desires to something external. It is literally impossible for “justice” to detach itself from desire in the way Rawls demands. Intensity of desire may be “irrelevant” to “justice” according to Rawls, but it is the only basis for action. The closest approximation to Rawls’s model which could occur is that one part of desire can attach itself from desire in general and become an affect-block or a form of character-armouring, blocking and impeding active emotions and enjoyment. In other words, Rawls is not really separating his theory from desire at all, but rather, is privileging one form of transcendent desire, i.e. the desire which desires its own repression, so that this desire gains an intensity which exceeds that of all the various active desires. Linked to Rawls’s primary concern with constructing a “system of social cooperation” and ensuring its safety from the threat of “strife”, this repressive desire is founded on a drive to systematise. The resultant character-structure is distorted by this desire, but it is not thereby able to avoid being based in contingent desires. Further, the relations to the world which are established by this desire are mostly very vague. The “goods” served by justice either involve fear of social collapse or very long-range postulates, mostly asserted by fiat. This form of desire empties social relations, putting the construction of a “system of cooperation” before all else. As Barber explains, the risk-aversion of original position parties seems to express an underlying reactive concern for security, which outweighs any concern for freedom or creativity (in Daniels ed., 298).

Furthermore, the primacy of this particular form of desire is arbitrary: Rawls nowhere argues a case for it. In particular, he never argues a case for why reactive forms of desire, based on psychological repression and negative emotions such as guilt, should be preferred to active forms of desire based on such concerns as hope, creativity and the economy of the gift. As an anonymous Situationist writer suggests, ‘all genuine revolutionary impulses and activities stem directly from the desires of individuals, not from any ideologically imposed sense of “duty” with its attendant guilt, self-sacrifice, and self-deadening “shoulds”’ (Rev Pleasure… p. 3). This sentiment would be echoed by Nietzsche and Deleuze, and it is incumbent upon the advocates of reactive desire to defend their position and not simply to assume it. It is not enough to assert that ‘any reasonable political view’ entails such limits (PL 210; c.f. TJ 28), since this may simply show the repressive character of all “reasonable political views”. (An argument concentrating on sadistic desires is no answer to this problem, not only because the harm caused by sadistic expressions of desire may well pale into insignificance compared to the harm caused by psychological repression with its resultant projections of aggression, but also because sadistic desire is itself reactive in structure [see Joan Smith; Reich, Character Analysis, Mass Psych. of Fascism]. One can oppose forms of desire which directly require oppression of others without this opposition necessarily taking the form of psychological repression or “limits”). One could also compare Badiou’s analysis of Kantian ethics as reactive in this context. Badiou says Kantianism is reactive because it requires an evil which is prior to good. Right is defined as ‘rights to non-evil’, usually non-interference (c.f. Rawls on freedom), and the rule of law is necessary ‘because it alone authorizes a space for the identification of Evil’. Thus, any positive good is construed as evil, and concrete situations are ignored (Ethics 8-9, 13). For instance, the liberal treatment of medical issues as issues of bureaucracy interferes with the good of medical treatment: ‘if he [i.e. the doctor] is to be prevented from giving treatment because of the State budget, because of death rates or laws governing immigration then let them send for the police! Even so, his strict Hippocratic duty would oblige him to resist them, with force if necessary’ (15). Any ethical content of bureaucratic medicine is ‘quickly overwhelmed by any urgent, singular situation of need’ (15). The lack of responsiveness to others built into the singularity of justice is also a focus of some criticisms. For instance, Tony Couture argues that Rawls’s theory is impractical because it ‘does not address the requirement to be sensitive to the different needs of different social groups’. As a result, it cannot be a basis for social activism or critique (Social Criticism After Rawls 70-1).

Kai Nielsen has provided a cogent expression of a Marxist-inspired critique of the psychological individual of Rawls’s theory. He suggests that ‘this allegedly autonomous individual of bourgeois moral ideology… is conditioned by two often conflicting influences. Whether he be bourgeois or proletarian he must… be inculcated with an ethic of self-sacrifice and a discipline essential for efficient production and the accumulation of capital’, as well as the contradictory urge to be an avid consumer (Marxism, Morality… 168). The internalisation of social pressures displaces the system’s problems onto individuals. ‘Our moral ideology is such that we come to see ourselves as the cause of our own shortcomings’, leading to attempts to normalise oneself into fitness for capitalist society (169). Although Nielsen criticises this Marxist critique, I suspect there is a great deal in it as regards Rawls’s theory. Nielsen claims that ‘there is little talk in Rawls’s account of the re-orientation of individuals, of their being responsible for their conditions or of their need to turn within and set their own houses in order’ (179). This ignores, however, the primacy of justice over desire, the idea of “responsibility for ends”, the assumption that when individuals clash with social goods the latter is normally primary, the fear of individuals built into Rawls’s discussions of rationality and reciprocity, and the self-modifying implications of a moral theory focused on the realisation of an ideal of the person.

It is hard to see how an approach which dismisses the significance of desires and needs for ethical theory could avoid operating oppressively; it is bound to privilege some desires while repressing others. The idea that desires are not reasons is in practice a way of invalidating some desires so as to elevate others. (When Rawls says some desires have no value, I am tempted to ask: value to whom?) This idea is a sledgehammer which is used to crush humanity beneath the weight of rationalistic theory. Obviously to those who feel a desire, it automatically has value, so there must be an asymmetry between rulers and ruled embedded in the idea of limits on which desires have value. In other words, someone who pretends to be something other than a desiring subject is to pass judgement on others’ desires. Further, this does not simply make the repressed desires go away. Even in the case of sadistic desires, it is not at all clear that a simple “no” can actually eliminate them. Rather, there is substantial evidence - and not only from psychoanalysis - for the idea that repressed desires return with force or are strengthened, precisely because they are repressed (e.g. Lemert; Brehm and Brehm). Furthermore, Rawls’s approach necessarily leads to violence against those who will not or cannot develop the required type of neurotic character-structure.

Rawls also assumes, rather strangely, that, by ignoring actual needs and desires, ruling out ‘claims based on wants and aims’ and sticking to “objective” comparisons, one can somehow avoid social conflicts over distribution. The main reason for not including other desires is that this would be ‘socially divisive’ (JAFAR 151). Hence, Rawls’s attack on utilitarianism is based on the idea that this is impractical because it does not offer any ‘common basis for judgment’. Desires are simply too diverse to provide such a basis, so utilitarianism cannot provide a ‘firm foundation for social unity’ (CW 381). Rawls’s theory is only favoured by such comparisons if people are sufficiently committed to reach a conclusion to accept the repression of any desire which happens to fall outside the “objective” schema. Indeed, those whose desires are repressed are likely to reject (unconsciously if not consciously) the scheme of “justice” itself. Rawls’s theory, which means that entire swathes of desires are to be repressed, surfers are to be threatened with starvation, the poor are to accept their “expectations” and “unreasonable” movements are to be suppressed, is not actually likely to reduce “social divisiveness”. The conflicts which are repressed in the Symbolic of “justice” return in the Real of relations between the “reasonable” and the “unreasonable”. Thus, Rawls’s self-proclaimed superiority over utilitarianism amounts only to an attempt to remove from consideration the concerns utilitarianism is to be criticised for being unable effectively to “weigh”. This makes Rawls’s theory less responsive to actual desires than utilitarianism. The only way his assumption of his own theory’s superiority could be accurate is if everyone were obsessed with the measurability of “public” comparisons but neutral on their content, and if the desire to avoid social divisiveness were sufficient to override all other desires. In other words, Rawls does not only demand that desire be structured reactively; he assumes that it already takes this form. It is not hard to show that Rawls wishes to subordinate desiring-production to social production.

In the above account, I have simplified a little, because, while Rawls sometimes claims to be trumping desire in general, at other times he claims that ethics is based on particular kinds of desires (e.g. PL 82-4). In one passage, Rawls sets out how he wishes people’s psychological structure to look:

[A] Kantian view does not deny that we act from some desire. What is of moment is the kind of desires from which we act and how they are ordered; that is, how these desires originate within and are related to the self, and the way their structure and priority are determined by principles of justice connected with the conception of the person we affirm… Given [a] connection [to the conception of the person], the desire to act from the principles of justice, is not a desire on the same footing with natural inclinations; it is an executive and regulative highest-order desire to act from certain principles of justice in view of their connection with a conception of the person as free and equal (CW 320).

Rawls further specifies that this desire is to operate via what one might term an ego-ideal: one is to desire to be a certain kind of person, i.e. to conform to the role of “the person” as depicted in Rawls’s theory (CW 320). Mere object-desires are to be rendered inferior to moral desires, which are distinguished by their reliance on principles and conceptions. The most important desire is the desire to be a particular type of person, for instance, to realise an ideal of citizenship (PL 82-4). For Rawls, people must be able to ‘subordinate their power to reasonable aims’, or else life is meaningless (LN 128). Thus, although Rawls’s theory is to be “stable for the right reasons” and is not to depend purely on coercion, its internal structure is based on psychological repression and self-abasement before an ideal. “Justice” is to exist in its own reified space, floating above actual life, God-like and pristine. It is to be the standpoint of a “better” self, always sitting in judgement, like the “cop in our heads” of Situationist slogans. Desire must show itself to be “just” for a Rawlsian subject to give it value.

It is because he demands that people conform to his model of the person that he refuses to value desires. Hence, strength of desire ‘may enter into explanations of how people in fact behave but it can never enter into how they should behave, or should have behaved, morally speaking. A person with a good will, to use Kant’s term, is someone whose principle-dependent desires have strengths to complete accordance with the force, or priority, of the principles to which they are attached’ (PL 83). In other words, Rawls explicitly privileges and rewards a particular type of person for conforming to his model of the person. This model involves extensive character-armour and affect-blocking, with all their attendant evils. So that individuals have the ‘regulative aims’ Rawls demands, they must also have ‘the good of self-command’ and the virtues of ‘strength, courage, and self-control’ (TJ 390-1). “We” supposedly think that a refusal to develop one’s moral powers shows ‘a lack of self-respect’ and ‘weakness of character’ (PL 76-7). Punishment is not simply to be a scheme to put a price on forms of conduct, but is directed against those who have ‘bad character’ (TJ 276-7). Rawls demands that people develop forms of ‘character’ which are ‘desirable’ for social stability (JAFAR 118), which he seems to elevate into a good over and above all others. Again, the implication is that those who do not conform shall be made to suffer for it - an implication made all the stronger by the psychological effects likely to result from such affect-blocking.

One should note also a mythical narrative in which Rawls attributes the great evils of history to political injustice (in his sense), and in which he attributes this in turn to psychological or characterological traits: ‘cruelty and callousness’. The listed evils include unjust wars, oppression, religious persecution and slavery (LN 126). ( cf. also the remark **** that the triumph of fascism resulted from a lack of hope in democracy - as if fascism had no structure of hope of its own). One might notice that all the listed evils have contestable boundaries (between slavery and state-imposed “duties” of service, between unjust and just wars, between religious persecution and the restriction of religion by legitimate law, between state oppression and legitimate state power) which already imply the validity of Rawls’s theory, an issue of no small importance since the avoidance of such evils is supposed to be the reason for wanting justice.

Further, Rawls’s theory also encourages attempts to use social structures to manipulate people’s character-structures to conform to a particular model. ‘[W]e are to encourage certain traits of character, especially a sense of justice’ (TJ 287), while an absence of such traits is termed ‘weakness of character’ (CW 315). “Justice” is to become an operative part of the psyche: one is to act from, ‘not merely in accordance with’, principles of justice (PL 302). One might add that citizens are not to love, not merely to obey, Big Brother. The desire for justice is itself repressive: ‘the general desire for justice limits the pursuit of other ends’ (TJ 5). This campaign to force actual people into presupposed moulds is apparently fuelled by a prior attachment to these moulds for which Rawls never adequately accounts. He seems to share the reactionary view that some forms of culture (and, presumably, libidinal structures) are simply ‘good in themselves’, so that it is good for individuals and associations to be attached to them (LN 111). He also uses a concept of ‘level of civilisation and culture’ which orders societies hierarchically (TJ 118), presumably to the benefit of the west. To the extent that people retain desires distinct from justice, these tend to become carrots and sticks which the system can use to reward conformity.

In Rawls’s theory, people are to be restructured into the kinds of people Rawls wants, by means of ‘initial bounds’ on moral character and goods. He even intends to limit ‘what kind of persons men should be’ (TJ 28). The social system (usually the state) is to be allowed, despite its “neutrality”, to openly promote certain ‘moral virtues’ and ‘forms of moral character’, such as ‘reasonableness’ (PL 194). Rawls writes of ‘cooperative virtues… embodied in human character and expressed in public life’ (CW 432). Public reason is to discipline deliberations, and to construct a ‘character’ that disciplines deliberations (CW 444). The archaic language in which Rawls expresses his theory of psychology (NOTE: c.f. Rawls’s apparently un-ironic reference to ‘righteous anger’ (TJ 391). Rawls’s vocabulary is an eclectic mix of legalistic, biblical and nineteenth-century pseudo-psychological terms) expresses assumptions similar to those exposed by Reich. Further, the particular model of quasi-authoritarian neurosis which Rawls advocates is to be connected with an extensive project to territorialise the entire world, excluding others. Rawls specifically says that he does not ‘require that stability… depend’ on people in general. The validity of his theory on its own terms depends only on its being stable among people ‘with a certain psychology and system of desires’ (TJ 498). His aim is to encourage (presumably only among such people) the ‘cooperative virtues of political life’: reasonableness, fairness, compromise and willingness to meet others halfway (JAFAR 116). He also refers to impartiality, integrity and the marshalling of arguments as moral skills (TJ 443). (NOTE: Rawls adds in his later work that ‘the moral worth of a person’s character’ overall can only be established by a comprehensive doctrine, though he nevertheless assumes that such doctrines will automatically contain such an idea. He also affirms a more limited idea of moral worth, via the concept of ‘entitlement’, within justice as fairness as a public political conception (JAFAR 73, 78).

Rawls is in favour of the construction of repressive character-armour. Further, this process is to operate through the violent and territorialising impulses of social institutions, which are to manipulate desires so as to generate support for the system and ‘bring about in its members the corresponding sense of justice, or effective desire to act in accordance with its rules for reasons of justice’. They are to be framed so as to encourage the ‘virtue’ of having a sense of justice (TJ 230-1). This virtue is itself desirable, Rawls continues, because it stabilises “social cooperation” (i.e. the social system), and Rawls assumes such stability to be a general good (PL 318). Thus, through the idea of justice, the state surrounds and controls the self, and also enters the self as an internal structure geared to the production of social stability. The “Kantian” account which sometimes accompanies Rawls’s theorising may well be a mystification of his support for character-armour.

Rawls’s exclusive valuation of those with character-armour seems to express a very definite, and exclusionary, attitude towards the importance of what he terms ‘moral identity’. For Rawls, a life without moral identity has ‘no point’ (PL 31). In other words, Rawls mistakes the retrospective reconstruction of desire as valueless for an actual lack of value outside the field of the master-signifier.

The role of an ideal, and the resultant construction of discourses of self-alterity, is a constant issue in Rawls’s work. Rawls claims to have set up ‘an ideal of the person that constrains the pursuit of existing desires’ and to which people are held accountable (TJ 231-2), affirming his commitment to a role-based ethics of self-alterity. This ideal, ‘the ideal of a good citizen of a democratic state’, is to be imposed by the social system, and Rawls explicitly declares it to be ‘a role specified by political institutions’ (PL 194-5). People are to be ‘made aware of and educated to this conception’ so as to obtain an ‘effective desire to be that kind of person’ (CW 340). They are then to develop an image of ‘the kind of person they very much want to be’ (PL 202). In an early essay, Rawls even refers to the ‘office’ of a moral person (CW 39), as if it were a specific role, similar to an official post in a hierarchic institution. For Rawls, the gesture of entering into self-alterity through a role is a basic part of the psyche and is crucial to all ethics: ‘a basic form of moral motivation is the desire to be and to be recognized by others as being a certain kind of person’, so that ‘being a certain sort of person answers to and brings together the various aims and aspirations of the self’. This “enables” people to conform to moral principles (CW 293-4). This ideal is linked to others’ perceptions. The ideal performs a function of normalisation, and its primacy is presumably, therefore, established through repression of “abnormality”. It is therefore an oppressive discourse, constructed in self-alterity and entering actuality in an impositional and invalidatory way. Also, this ideal is sufficiently demeaned by “realism” and rational-choice components as to render it dubious whether it should be valued at all. It does not spur people beyond existing social-systemic limitations, but realises these limitations even while modifying them in minor ways. Furthermore, the role of ideals leaves Rawls open to Marx’s critique of “utopian socialism”, as Buchanan (see Peffer bibliog., 147-8) suggests.

Ideals and roles recur in a variety of specific contexts in Rawls’s theory. In international affairs and politics, for instance, Rawls expresses an obvious admiration for ‘great statesmen such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’, treating such figures as role-models and deriving from them a model for the role of the statesman (PL 420). Statesmen are identified by a string of characteristics including being ‘esteemed’, applying ethics in real cases, seeing ‘deeper and further’ than others, ‘grasp[ing] what needs to be done’, making ‘selfless’ judgements, aiming for a ‘just peace’ during war, resisting ‘revenge and retribution’ and having an ability to ‘get it right, or nearly so, and hold fast to it’ (CW 567-8). The functioning of this ideal may well be to legitimate by default the functioning of a political system which falls short of the ideal, but which at least contains a possibility of realising it. The “well-ordered society” is also an ideal, and it functions in Rawls’s theory in a manner similar to a utopian blueprint (albeit one which claims to deliver only “justice”, not harmony). For Rawls, a good theory should ‘present a description of an ideally just state of affairs’ to generate aspirations to realise such a state. It ‘should be part of an ideal that rational human beings could desire more than anything else’ once they understand it (TJ 417-18).

Rawls appears to place inordinate emphasis on the social role of principles of justice. Brian Barry argues in effect that Rawls mistakes sociological phenomena for characterological ones and that he resultantly exaggerates the significance of the “sense of justice” (The Liberal Theory of Justice 140-2). I shall return to this “sense” later on, but there is certainly a strong implication in Rawls’s theory that his concerns are of far greater importance than evidence suggests.

Rawls’s reliance on a role-based conception of the person is based on a particular confusion of meanings which crops up under the title “goodness as rationality”. This is an objectifying conception of ethics which reduces the meaning of ethical “good” to the status of meaning “fitness for purpose”. The word “good” is supposed to work by ‘assigning to each kind of thing a set of properties by which instances of that kind are to be assessed, namely, the properties which it is rational to want in things of that kind’. This more-or-less operationalist conception of “good” is based on ‘conventional criteria founded upon commercial or other practice’, and involves a definition of “good” as meaning something which has properties one does, or rationally should, want. Rawls thinks such a concept is ‘satisfactory for the purposes of the theory of justice’. Rawls does not seem aware of the problem that, whereas people assess the fitness of a “good table” or even a “good doctor” from the outside, there is no possibility of such a standpoint as regards a “good person”. For Rawls, someone who obeys the principles of justice is a good person because, by doing so, they display properties appropriate for any role they could adopt as a “person”. In his own terms, a good person is someone who shows ‘properties that it is rational for persons to want in one another when they adopt the requisite point of view. These properties are of such a kind that Rawls assumes that everyone wants others to have them (or at least, that everyone would want this, were it not for the pesky irritant that we are not yet in a “well-ordered society”). People who have such characteristics are ‘good’ and have ‘moral worth’. This is, by Rawls’s definition, a descriptive conception of “good”. ‘At no point must we appeal to a special kind of prescriptive or emotive meaning’. Rawls denies that “goodness as rationality” relies on a conception of a role, an a priori principle or the objectification of people. However, his use of the concept would seem to imply this (TJ 350-7, 382-4). Goodness comes to mean usefulness to others, but, given that others are also subject to the same standard, this standard is of no more use to them than to oneself. One simply cannot impose on oneself the same external standard one would impose on an object for use (and even here, objects can have many uses). Rawls does not seem to have a problem with viewing people as “things” for use, in the same way as a “good” watch or table, even when there is no “user” who benefits from this functionalisation. Clearly this is a case of “viewing people as means”, which Rawls explicitly rejects. This reduction of “good” to ledger-book thinking is evidence of a broader tendency towards form-imposition of petty-minded and accountant-like formulations. (The role of ideals in Rawls’s theory is in some tension with such approaches. However, it is important to remember that even the ideals are subject to a repressive reduction to the present, especially as regards the stress on reciprocity). (NOTE: Rawls’s analysis of uses of the word “good” takes into account the problem of a “good thief”, but he does not analyse actual uses of the term, and there is still a problem as regards the use of “good” as an insult. For instance, “do-gooder” is often a term of abuse).

Self-alterity also arises in Rawls’s conception of “natural duties”. These “duties” - most notably, the “duty of mutual respect”, but also the “duty of mutual aid” to the extent that this arises from reciprocity - involve an attempt to construct in alterity, via a set of signifiers, an image that one is valued or wanted (when in fact Rawls constructs people as to all intents and purposes atoms). Since compelled by duty, such signifiers do not actually express a valuation by others of oneself or one’s “good”, so that one can only ever gain mistaken relief from them. Indeed, the idea of “mutual respect” seems to construct people as extremely fragile, requiring constant reaffirmation through ritualised gestures. As regards all forms of “politeness”, there is little reason for viewing these as anything more than meaningless and self-destructive rituals, unless they are in fact voluntary and not imposed by “duty”. It is only if someone has a right to be “rude” that their “politeness” can have meaning. Ritualised “politeness” may well be indirectly destructive through the blocking and concealment of negative emotions, the psychological strain of “keeping up appearances” (which Rawls notes in a different context), and the effects of the exclusion of those who will not or cannot play along. Rawls is putting a case - very poorly - for the operation of phatic discourse, and assuming his own preference for this type of discourse to be universal.

One would expect the idea of “mutual aid” to involve a return of actuality into Rawls’s theory. In fact, his case for mutual aid, again conceived as a self-deadening “duty”, does not rely on anything more subversive than a statist anathema regarding what society would be like without such a duty and a concern that the ‘publicity effects’ arising from such a duty are necessary for people’s fragile sense of self-worth (TJ 298). Rawls’s assumptions regarding self-esteem are problematic, and I shall return to this issue below. Rawls’s conception of mutual aid relies on an oversimplified model of intersubjective relations, since the desirability of a society in which mutual aid occurs does not necessarily engender a need for it to occur through a generic “duty”. Rawls also believes that the family is beneficial for society, but this does not mean that everyone be required to be part of everyone else’s family. In other words, his argument is inadequate to his conclusion. Further, the mutual aid he advocates is not actually mutual aid at all, since it involves reactive structuring which conceals resentment and involves a submission to a sovereign state.

The remainder of desire which is not covered by the various virtues and duties, as well as being demeaned by the cop in our heads, is also frequently subsumed under the concept of “interest”. It is presented as something asked of ethical judges in terms of property or permission (e.g. LN 13). Once “justice” has entered the psyche, everything else becomes something less than it was before. Rawls directly counts repression (regulation, revision) of desire among the aspects of the psyche he counts as moral (PL 186). All “plans” and “conceptions of the good” are reduced to a structurally equivalent status as “interests” of an extended self (TJ 110). Happiness is rendered conditional by the desire to be just, so Rawls can say of people, ‘their just and honorable (and fully autonomous) conduct renders them… worthy of happiness’, sanctifying pleasures and accomplishments (PL 334). Desire is thereby overcoded and rendered conditional on getting permission from the superego, though as I shall show, this overcoding is retrospectively misrepresented as already active in the psyche via “self-esteem”.

Ethics is conceived as operating through a particular set of emotional states. However, these are no ordinary emotions. The moral sentiments (guilt, shame and indignation) through which ethics enters the self cannot be specified through internal or external manifestations, whereas regular emotions such as anger can. There are not any typical kinesthenic or sensational components or ‘characteristic behavioural indications’ of moral sentiments. Rather, it is enough that ‘a person sincerely say that he feels guilty, ashamed or indignant’, with an ‘appropriate explanation’ (TJ 420-1). Guilt is supposed to arise from ‘the defeat of our regulative moral sentiments’ (TJ 503). This applies to the moral feelings more generally. ‘[T]he moral attitudes are not to be identified with characteristic sensations and behavioural manifestations, even if these exist. Moral feelings require certain kinds of explanations’, namely, those in which principles which define virtues ‘are used to account for the corresponding feelings’ (TJ 425). Rawls’s presentation raises serious problems about whether such “sentiments” are in fact emotions at all. Since they are differentiated from other emotions only by how they are explained or rationalised, they would not seem to be distinct emotions, but rather, particular explanations or articulations of emotions which exist more broadly and without “moral” content. It is, after all, political theory which is to ‘explain and find a place for’ such emotions (TJ 425). In any case, the emotional states they involve seem to imply an extreme inter-implication between the emotional state and its rationalisation, such that the two fuse into each other. Thus, it may be suspected that Rawls is concealing the actual emotional base, or that he is mistakenly characterising opinions with which he agrees as distinct emotional states. The moral sentiments are exclusively reactive, and, in an essay entitled “The Sense of Justice”, Rawls portrays such emotions as the ‘price’ of positive emotions such as love and affection. The absence of reactive emotions is treated as disfigurement. In other words, Rawls assumes that active desire is built on a reactive foundation.

This impression tends to be confirmed by Rawls’s discussions of the specific sentiments. The moral feeling of guilt is distinct because its bearer ‘invokes a moral concept and its associated principles’ to explain it. Similar emotions arise in other situations, as for instance when someone feels neurotic “guilt”, fears punishment or feels “guilty” about breaching former (but now rejected) norms, yet Rawls says that these are not actually guilt. Rather, these are unease which resembles guilt, or they involve a mistaken feeling of guilt. One is not authentically guilty unless one feels one’s actions to be a transgression against others, and unless one accepts ‘reproofs and penalties’. A guilty person will expect others to resent and penalise “him” (TJ 422). Thus, whether a feeling is “guilt” (or “shame” or “indignation”) or not cannot apparently be derived extensionally, since ‘the explanation of some moral feelings relies on principles of right that would be chosen in the original position, while the other moral feelings are related to the concept of goodness’ (TJ 422). Nevertheless, the moral feelings have characteristic manifestations also, mainly in terms of ‘psychological disturbances’ (TJ 422). It is significant that Rawls classifies the effect of moral feelings in negative terms, and also that they do not have a distinct psychological character of their own. They appear to be typical reactive and negative emotions, given their “ethical” character through their attachment to a particular conception. This raises the possibility that the “principles of justice” simply rationalise emotional states which arise from elsewhere, and also the possibility that these “principles” help to sustain negative and destructive character-structures by rationalising these.

The moral feeling of “shame” arises when the ‘prized good’ of self-esteem suffers a ‘painful’ loss, and it results in an experience of a ‘diminishment of self’. Shame occurs because of ‘an especially intimate connection with one’s person and others who confirm one’s self-worth’. It especially arises in relation to goods such as imagination, wit, beauty and grace which are ‘goods from everyone’s point of view’, one’s own and that of others. One should feel ashamed if one lacks these, especially if one tries to excel in them. One should also fear shame because of loss of self-control and failures of strength and courage. Such failures of ‘self-command’ are ‘especially likely to subject us to painful feelings of shame’ (TJ 388-90). An ashamed person ‘has fallen short of a standard of excellence, given in to weakness, and shown himself unworthy of association with others who share his ideals’ (TJ 423). “He” is ‘found unworthy of his associates’ and is ‘apprehensive lest they reject him and find him contemptible, an object of ridicule’ (TJ 391). Also, an ashamed person has ‘convicted himself in his own eyes… as weak and untrustworthy’ (TJ 422). Rawls does not seem to have any qualms about relying primarily on such negative psychological states. Furthermore, he wishes to use them to construct ‘self-command’, an apparently contradictory term which in fact means the domination of the noumenal self over the actual self, i.e. of the internalised authority over the self. Rawls also mystifies shame as resulting from ‘blemishes in our person’ (TJ 390), thereby ignoring its primarily social structure.

There are various disturbing features of Rawls’s account of the moral feelings. For instance, he thinks he can read moral states off simplistically from emotional reactions, and this is patently false. Beliefs are refracted in complex ways through human minds, and cannot be read off in this way. For instance, Rawls assumes that one cannot have a sense of justice and also be tempted to break it. If one is tempted, one did not have a sense of justice in the first place (TJ 498). This gives the emotional “sense” no existence distinct from its “behavioural” manifestation. It involves something akin to Mao Zedong’s “unity of intent and effect” (****), which denies any psychological being to people and claims it all for rulers who can ascribe the “objective” meaning of actions. Rawls is demanding something far more deep-rooted than is suggested by his idea that his sole purpose is to increase tolerance between comprehensive doctrines. He is pursuing nothing short of a pervasive restructuring of each person’s psyche to conform to a model generated from the history of philosophy.

Also, he seems to think that shame reflects an inner awareness of the validity of social exclusion. Someone only feels shame if she or he feels unworthy of association with others, suggesting that it requires an exclusionary conception of worth which could also be used to silence others. That Rawls gives a positive value to this emotion shows that he also positively values such a conception of worth. (Someone who falls short of a self-asserted “excellence” without thereby feeling unworthy of association with others would presumably not feel shame as Rawls conceives it). Of course, he does not attempt to turn exclusion and bullying, such as ridiculing those who fail in their activities, into a good as such. Nevertheless, he relies on emotions which in turn rely on such practices. Fear of being excluded for falling short of others’ standards is not at all a “moral” emotion, yet Rawls tries to moralise it, provided the standards are the “right” ones. In other words, there is no significant emotional difference between an authoritarian or bullying structure and a liberal one; it is merely that the liberal structure refines its bullying in line with particular standards. The two are differentiated only by content, not by form. In both cases, people are to constantly sit in judgement over themselves and each other, and are to enforce preferences through social exclusion and punishment.

The vagueness and lack of specificity of “moral feelings” does not prevent Rawls from using them in what amounts to moral blackmail. According to Rawls, ‘the absence of certain moral feelings evidences the absence of certain natural ties’. For instance, if A cares for B, A feels remorse if A causes injustice to B and feels indignant if C treats B unjustly. Assuming that his principles are accepted, Rawls claims that the moral feelings become ‘a part of the natural sentiments’. He also makes the more sweeping assertion that they are ‘a normal feature of human life’ (TJ 426-7). The character of this approach as moral blackmail is shown by its dependence on the principles of justice as the only possible “tie” between people. Rawls’s attempt to treat these reactions as natural and normal is therefore an attempt to naturalise his own theory. For instance, one logical result of his claims would be that, if A did not feel indignant that B’s money was being “wasted” by surfers, A would not care for B. If B (or C) in fact claimed this, it could be used to pressurise A into accepting a political position A might not otherwise support. This appears to be part of a broader problematic whereby Rawls tries to entrap emotions such as love so as to channel these into guilt and obedience. One can see similar patterns with the idea that someone who is authentically guilty accepts punishment. This directs an invalidatory discourse against someone who may well feel she or he did wrong, but who nevertheless opposes punitive discourses on principle or in her or his particular case. Although Rawls is discussing feelings, their expression is so clearly performative as to allow them to be turned into standards of public performance rather than appeals to “moral sentiments”. For instance, one can “prove” one’s guilt by outward manifestations of remorse.

Rawls also simply assumes that the “moral feelings” do and can arise, along with the appropriate rationalisations, across what he terms the “circumstances of justice”. Whether this is the case can be problematised. For instance, Richard W. Miller’s critique concentrates on what he considers to be the impossibility of a unitary sense of justice emerging in capitalist society (because any principle acceptable to workers will be unacceptable to capitalists, and vice-versa) (Daniels ed. 210, 214-15).

Some of the “moral feelings” and “virtues” are misleading, since they are not emotional reactions or personal abilities, but rather, are reified presentations of particular sets of beliefs or a particular way of thinking. Rawls gets out of justifying such beliefs by presenting them in this way. For instance, the ability to argue from the original position is supposed to result from judicial or ‘juridical virtues’ such as ‘impartiality and considerateness’ (TJ 453). Such a claim has little function in Rawls’s argument except implicitly to invalidate those who do not share his opinion as lacking in virtue (rather than as disagreeing with Rawls). The concept of a “sense of justice” is similar. Such concepts are especially problematic since they justify asymmetries; for instance, those who have the ‘judicial virtues’ or ‘moral skill’ to a greater extent than others are to form some kind of social elite (see JAFAR 170, TJ 443). People have equal dignity, but not equal excellence (TJ 289). A cynical reading would suggest that a “sense of justice” is nothing more than a reified term for “agreement with Rawls”, and this would not be far from the truth.

John Deigh has mounted a critique of Rawls’s theory of shame, suggesting that he links shame too closely to self-esteem. Giving examples of cases where one can lose self-esteem without feeling shame and feel shame without losing self-esteem, he suggests that shame is linked to the esteem of others rather than to self-esteem (Shame and Self-Esteem 231-5). Shame is linked to the naturalisation of particular characteristics, and it is the lack of these characteristics, not a loss of self-worth, which causes shame (241). If Deigh is right that shame is an outward-directed and social emotion, Rawls dangerously misrepresents it in such a way as to naturalise social processes as internal effects of psychological dynamics. The problem becomes even worse if shame is linked to subjective destitution as conceived by some psychoanalysts, and/or to phenomena of moods of fatalism and humanism as conceived by Matza.

Furthermore, Rawls implicitly admits that the “moral virtues” are ultimately dependent on the so-called “natural” emotions, and that even in their “highest” forms they depend on concerns, such as affection for specific others, which are heteronomous (PL 425-6). To ‘allay… uncertainties’ about the origins of moral sentiments in authoritarian practices, Rawls’s argument is solely that they are distinguished from authoritarianism by the role of a “sense of justice”, guided by principles which express the noumenal self, ‘unrestricted by fortune and happenstance’ and ‘independent of natural contingencies and accidental social circumstances’. Without the appropriate rationalisations, the moral sentiments are merely ‘neurotic compulsions’ (TJ 451). This suggests that actually, the sentiments Rawls refers to are neurotic compulsions, but they are variants of neurosis which Rawls happens to share, or to value. One could further add that these neuroses in fact arise within the realm of contingency and “accident”, but that their very structure requires that they express themselves as if they were independent of these.

In an early essay, Rawls expresses an even less credible but more straightforward account of “moral feelings”. He simply views these as ‘primitive natural response[s]’ which moral theory has the role of describing. For instance, the “duty of fair play”, or of doing one’s part in fair institutions, is assumed to be natural. ‘Acknowledging these duties in some degree, and so having the elements of morality, is not a matter of choice, or of intuiting moral qualities, or a matter of the expression of feelings or attitudes…; it is simply the possession of one of the forms of conduct in which the recognition of others as persons is manifested’ (CW 62-3). Rawls does not appear to hold onto this view for long, but it haunts his later work. What he here asserts as empirical truth later operates as a fetish: he knows very well that his early claims are false, yet still he keeps arguing as if they were true. There is thus a lurking naturalisation in the background of Rawls’s theory, shown here at its crudest, which may well fuel his later manoeuvres. Indeed, it is still stated directly in A Theory of Justice, when Rawls states that the “sense of justice” may be evolutionary in origin, whereas supererogatory altruism was probably eliminated by evolution (TJ 440-1).

Another theme in Rawls’s work, which identifies it as a case for normality/neurosis against anything more radical, is that he stresses the importance of people having an identity as what Deleuze calls a “molar” self. Donald Beggs suggests that Rawls must have a decentred conception of the self because of his reliance on different “caps” in different social roles (e.g. of the citizen and the doctrinal adherent) (Rawls’s Political Postmodernism, 130, 134). Similarly, the conservative critics Rowland and Rowland suggest that the phenomenon of multiple moral “caps” for different occasions ‘must be destructive of an integrated personality’ (The Political Values… 345). These readings may have revealed a contradiction in Rawls’s approach, the same contradiction Roberto Alejandro has spotted between the autonomous self and its reactive and other-regarding basis in a reliance on reactive emotions and an other-regarding model of self-esteem (Rawls’s Communitarianism 78-9, 82-3), but they ignore the crucial importance of psychological integration for the Rawlsian self. For Rawls’s theory to work, he admits that it is necessary that people’s identities stay fixed and have a ‘connectedness and sense of longer purpose’ (CW 300). Supposedly, ‘we agree’ that ‘persons are mental continuities embodied and expressed in a planned order of conduct through time and space’ (CW 299). ‘Viewing himself as one continuing being over time’ (TJ 571), Rawls’s “person” has no capacity to become other. Rawls writes of people ‘seeing ourselves as one person with a life over time’ (TJ 372; c.f. PL 84). Further, the molar self is repressive. One is ‘above reproach’ if one is ‘responsible to [oneself] as one person over time’. Someone who rejects claims of “his” future self should be opposed for failing to adopt a molar conception of self (TJ 370-1). This clearly involves the imposition of a particular model of psychology. The “we” which agrees is here, as so often, a retrospective construct based on what it is supposed to “agree” to, and the “agreement” is a submission to dogma rather than anything more substantial. Presumably, the “we” excludes the schizoid forms of identity which, according to Deleuze and Guattari, exceed the molar conception of the self. Rawls relies heavily on the assumption that a “doer”, complete with character-traits and ethical worth, is at work behind each “deed”; however, this involves a mythical process, because the only evidence about the status of the “doer” (for instance, her or his “bad character”, the presence or lack of guilt or shame, etc.) are inferred via a reification of the deed. As Derek Parfit (“Later Selves and Moral Principles”, in Alan Montefiore ed., “Philosophy and Personal Relations”, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973; c.f. Norman Daniels, “Moral Theory and the Plasticity of Persons”, p. 267) suggests, an image of a continuous self unchanged by time and events is crucial to the justification of schemas such as punishment. (Daniels challenges this conclusion, but it is certainly valid if, like Rawls, one justifies punishment by reference to “bad character” rather than as a way of maximising utility). Worse, Rawls derives evidence pointing to the existence of an autonomous self from evidence of submissive deeds.

John Deigh explicitly links the idea of self-esteem to the assumption of a molar self, suggesting that it cannot handle wayward, ‘vagabond’ and ‘primitive’ desires and that it demands a cast-iron dividing line between ‘authorship’ of an act and being ‘the instrument of alien forces’. He suggests it links closely to reactive themes including the emergence of a particular aim or ideal which introduces order by constructing ‘primitive’ desires as its other (Shame and Self-Esteem 237-8). (However, Deigh shares the strange belief that emotions are under rational control). Bonnie Honig mounts a strong critique of the role of the molar self in Rawls’s theory, suggesting that ‘[t]he punishment which is directed at bad faith… is part of a daily, intrasubjective, self-ordering process’ (PTDP 251). The molar self is itself constructed, she argues, through the very processes of punishment and interior responsibility which rest on this self for their theoretical justification (PTDP 252-3).

The reactive structure of Rawls’s theory is also suggested by the active role he assigns to mortality within it. The claim that others are of value because the self has no time to realise all its potentialities relies on death as an active principle in ethical theory. On the other hand, positive emotions such as love, hope and care have little role in Rawls’s theory, and sexuality (of any kind) does not arise at all (except for one brief mention when Rawls terms it an instance of social union). The persons in the original position are desexualised (since they are mutually disinterested), the principle of reciprocity constructs others as means, and the list of primary goods assumes that desire is related mainly to material objects, political power and “self-respect” (generated by phatic discourse on Rawls’s account).

On the other hand, Rawls’s conception involves repressing potentialities to “become other” in the Deleuzian sense. According to what Rawls claims that everyone agrees, even psychological conversion ‘implies no change in our public or institutional identity’ (PL 31). This repressive and misleading assumption is important, because it allows the various ahistorical assumptions which underpin the idea of punishment. Indeed, the establishment of “individuals” as single, identifiable objects of surveillance and discipline is crucial to the panoptical and disciplinary regimes of power in contemporary society. Through this assumption, the diversity and creativity of human life is reduced to the heavy mundaneness of a world always reducible to similarity. Lines of flight and creative potentialities play no role in Rawls’s theory. Even the ideal towards which he wants social transformation is constructed so as to be fixed and monolithic.

Rawls also relies extensively on the assumption that, whereas hopes and desires are valueless, “expectations” established within a system of exchange are almost sacred. For instance, the social system should never ‘encourage propensities and aspirations that it is bound to repress and disappoint’ (TJ 474). This is probably a result of his conception of “reciprocity” and the petty-mindedness it assumes and constructs.

Just as “moral” emotions are assumed to exist even if they cannot be defined as distinct emotions, so emotions which are a problem for Rawls’s theory are simply wished away. Because envy is in Rawls’s view to be ‘avoided and feared’, he assumes it should be ignored in the original position. Indeed, he carries out the same gesture, explicitly or implicitly, regarding tendencies to submit or dominate, vanity, rancor, affection, attitudes to risk and abilities falling outside the unspecified “normal” range. The only exception is that he reintroduces such issues at the stage of considerations of the “stability” of his theory. In other words, he reintroduces them, not so as to engage with people who feel them, but so as to guarantee that his desired society will not collapse (and only in relation to those who conform to his model). It is only the case of envy he deals with in any detail. His discussion begins by assuming envy (and “jealousy”, which he sees as distinct) to be destructive of mutual social relations and therefore a vice. He then adds that, in some circumstances, it is an ‘excusable’ vice. His aim is not to eliminate actual envy, but to make sure that a well-ordered society constructed through his theory is not one where people can ‘reasonably’ feel envy or rancor. The way he knows whether envy is “reasonable” is by whether or not it arouses “our” (i.e. his own) sympathy. (If the avoidance of “reasonable” envy is supposed to be a case for Rawls’s theory, it is vulnerable to criticism as circular, since the boundaries of “reasonable” envy are coterminous with those of justice as fairness). He then asserts (with little support) that envy results from low self-esteem, and (with even less support) that justice as fairness tends to raise self-esteem in ways which compensate for inequalities. This “compensation” takes forms such as concealing wealth through the plurality of social associations. Therefore, Rawls claims that his theory passes his test (TJ 465-74; c.f. JAFAR 180, TJ 125, 386). Self-respect is assumed to operate as a necessary condition for any desire; without it, ‘[a]ll desire and any activity becomes empty and vain, and we sink into apathy and cynicism’ due to failure, self-doubt and self-hate (TJ 386). In other words, Rawls assumes the psyche to involve a primary need for self-valuation based on social recognition, and that this is a precondition for all desire and activity. This is a misleading “Oedipal” assumption.

There are at least two major problems with this argument. Firstly, he has not engaged with “envy” as an actual social phenomenon, and his construction of it tends towards a mythical form of discourse. For instance, he only includes envy which refers to “general” social goods, and only when it arises in “understandable” ways (i.e. ways Rawls can understand). Envy over particular goods is supposed to be ‘endemic to human life’ (TJ 471) and so is not an issue of justice. It is hardly surprising that Rawls’s theory does not lead to forms of envy which he finds understandable, but this does not prove its “stability”, let alone anything else. Rawls wrongly thinks that ignoring the “special psychologies” is the same as adopting principles ‘invariant with respect to differences in these inclinations’ (TJ 464). Secondly, his approach relies on ignoring the actuality of the so-called “special psychologies” when the ethical principles are chosen. This suggests a reliance on psychological repression as the main mechanism for dealing with them. However, it is unlikely that psychological repression actually eliminates emotions such as envy. Further, it should be added that Rawls nowhere discusses in detail the problem of different attitudes to risk. This is significant since attitudes to risk would affect the decisions of the parties in the original position in substantial ways. Barry goes as far as to suggest that Rawls must break his own principle and bring in assumptions about attitudes to risk, since otherwise he could not assert that the parties would choose the maximin strategy of reasoning (The Liberal Theory of Justice 106-7). It is also the case that Rawls’s argument as regards envy could not be applied to “desirable” emotions such as affection. Rawls does not consider the idea that affection, or even supererogatory emotions, could be a disruptive force in a “well-ordered society” using the two principles, yet this is clearly the case, because they involve a challenge to the principle of reciprocity. The encouragement of “cooperative virtues”, with their attendant rational-choice instrumentalism and petty-mindedness, may act as a block on other positive emotions such as those associated with the economy of the gift. Rawls does not anywhere justify why reciprocity should be preferred to these emotions if it requires their suppression; his case rests only on the idea that it is more widespread and therefore a better basis for stability. Finally, the assumption that “abnormal” levels of abilities and so-called “moral capacities” can be made to disappear in a “well-ordered” society is implausible.

While “envy” is undesirable according to Rawls, ‘resentment is a moral feeling’ (TJ 467), and therefore implicitly desirable (provided it has good cause). Since, like the other “moral feelings”, it is indistinguishable from envy except in terms of its rationalisation, it appears that Rawls does not eliminate envy at all, but incorporates it into the libidinal basis of his theory by overcoding it through rationalisation. Clements and Hauptmann, articulating Rawls to their own agenda, go even further in the endorsement of resentment, stating that ‘resentment [is] evidence of the capacity for a sense of right’ (C and H 89). Their idea of a “capacity” is, like Rawls’s, a reified expression of their preference for certain kinds of character-armouring.

To the extent that Rawls discusses what the “sense of justice” might involve in emotional terms, he seems to assign it a primarily negative role. In the context of civil disobedience, the sense of justice of the majority (to which the disobedience appeals) is seen, not in words or in self-sacrificing actions, but in an unpreparedness to resort to ‘[r]uthless tactics’ to suppress opposition. It operates to limit the thinkable ‘in ways we are often unaware of’, corroding the will to fight and shaping perceptions. ‘The sentiment of justice will be seen as a more vital political force once the subtle forms in which it exerts its influence are recognised, and in particular its role in rendering certain social positions indefensible’ (TJ 339-40). It should be clear from this account that Rawls advocates the operation of imperatives in an unreflexive and uncritical way, and also that his theory relies primarily on negative emotions. It relies on people feeling too uncomfortable to take particular actions, and on people being driven by a set of unconscious assumptions which are buried deep in the psychological structure through various levels of repression and inculcation. The majority is compelled by civil disobedience, not because of the hope it embodies nor even because of compassion for the oppressed or a dislike of repressive methods, but because of underlying dogmas which are felt rather than thought. Although, as so often, Rawls presents his argument in a quasi-leftist discourse, the more frequent instances of such dogmas are likely to be oppressive. For instance, the same kind of dogma would presumably be the force which dictates that “criminals” be jailed, that surfers be starved and that immigrants be deported. Despite the front Rawls gives it, the emotional structure he advocates is conservative in its politics and destructive in its impact.

In one passage, Rawls claims that a “sense of justice” involves a skill in judging, a desire to act in line with principles of justice and an expectation that others will act in line with them (TJ 41). The reference to “skill” is vague, and insufficiently specific to undermine the idea that a “sense of justice” is a reification of Rawls’s own beliefs. After all, one can only tell if someone has a “skill” through its effective exercise, and the standard for effective exercise in this case does not seem to be independent from Rawls’s conclusions. The second and third suggestions establish that having a “sense of justice” is coterminous with accepting Rawls’s theory. The third reaffirms the point that Rawls assumes that justice involves a repressive attitude towards outsiders. Those who are not the correct kind of “person” are subject to inaccurate (and possibly even “unreasonable”) expectations.

The way Rawls distances himself from the view that ethics is rationalisation is through the transcendent role he assigns to external observers. Though he admits justice can be a ‘mask for envy’ or other ‘rationalizations’, he thinks this problem can be avoided by observers carefully assessing the sincerity with which others hold principles of justice (TJ 473-4). The problem is that the observer is also vulnerable to rationalisations. Who, then, is to observe the observer? If people are assumed to all be checking each others’ uses of the term “justice”, it is still possible that a group, or even “everyone”, might nevertheless be rationalising emotions such as envy, and that no-one, or no-one with sufficient power to be heard, would see this.

In relation to many of the emotions discussed above, Rawls’s theory relies on factual claims about how psychology actually operates, many of which are contentious. Therefore, his claim to avoid psychological and metaphysical groundings is inaccurate. An even better example is his account of “self-respect”. ‘It is clearly rational for men to secure their self-respect’, because this is necessary to pursue and gain fulfilment in one’s conception of the good. (Put in less mystified language, “self-respect” seems to mean “drive to act”). Further, ‘self-respect normally depends upon the respect of others’, without which one would find it difficult to evaluate one’s actions. He also assumes that those with self-respect respect others, and similarly that those with self-contempt hate others (TJ 155-6). Notwithstanding the paradox of somehow putting oneself outside one’s “self-respect” so as to discuss “securing” it via the basic structure, this model of a vulnerable self dependent on the esteem of others is normatively problematic. Since Rawls wishes the self to be autonomous, it is contradictory for him to also suggest that it be so dependent on others’ opinions, and the social effects of such dependence are clearly conservative. If people are actually so passive as to be dependent on others’ views to be able to feel positive emotions, then the so-called “juridical virtues”, and, indeed, any critical activity whatsoever, would be impossible. It is not clear whether “self-respect”, even assuming this psychological state can be specified, depends on the factors or operates in the way in which Rawls suggests. For instance, arrogant people may have a great deal of self-respect yet be contemptuous towards others. A number of empirically-informed studies have questioned Rawls’s approach. For instance, Larry L. Thomas assesses Rawls’s theory in relation to the black consciousness movement, and finds it wanting. He claims that Rawls confuses self-respect and self-esteem, linking self-respect too closely to the esteem of others for one’s conception of the good and to the realisation of rational plans of life. Therefore, he cannot explain why an Uncle Tom would lack self-respect, or why the black consciousness movement, which had no effect on plans of life, could raise it (Black Consc. 1998, esp. p. 304). Similarly, in a case study of Palestinians, José Brunner and Yoav Peled problematise the idea that self-respect depends on the respect of others in general, suggesting that marginalised and excluded groups develop group-specific standards of respect and self-respect (Respect and Self-Respect 288). Rawls is unable to account for the resultant position of groups (301), and tends as a result to misrepresent rebellions such as the intifada as cases of destructive envy (300). Richard C. Sinopoli cites psychological studies to demonstrate that evidence on self-esteem and its expected consequences is mixed and indeterminate (Thick-Skinned Liberalism 619), certainly not sufficient for a “general fact” in Rawls’s schema. Gerald Doppelt suggests that self-respect is more closely linked to economics than Rawls allows. Rawls implicitly identifies the conditions for self-respect with what capitalism can deliver (Rawls’s System of Justice 260). In contrast, empirical evidence such as the studies of American workers by H.E.W. and Kornhauser suggests that workers ‘suffer serious assaults upon their self-respect and opportunity for elementary human satisfaction in work’ (267; c.f. 277). A more accurate reading of self-respect would require a critique of mindless routinised work and of the subordination and coercion of workers by managers (273). There is also a problem I have already raised in my discussion of self-esteem, namely, that to be meaningful, a show of respect by others must be “meant”, and must therefore be based on benevolence rather than “duty”. Another problem is that it is arbitrary to admit “respect” to the original position when envy, affection and so much else are bracketed out. Further, one could add Andrew Levine’s criticism that self-respect has an ambiguous position in Rawls’s theory, occurring simultaneously as a primary good and as a feature of the original position (Levine 62-3).

Doppelt suggests that Rawls’s account of self-respect is ideological because he links it to citizenship instead of production, and does this because he naturalises capitalist limits in the latter sphere (Rawls’s System of Justice 283). It therefore arbitrarily assumes the bourgeois-democratic content it grounds (285). Nagel agrees that meritocracy is likely to be more harmful to the self-respect of the worse-off than Rawls allows (in Daniels ed. 12-13). Nielsen similarly suggests that equal concern and respect is ‘unrealizable’ in an economically unequal society (on MacPherson, 197). Capitalism itself tends to turn wage and wealth inequality into inequality of self-respect via income-related ideas such as worth and merit (Capitalism, Socialism and Justice 235). For as long as capitalism is dominant, self-respect and self-esteem will remain scarce, because linked to scarce consumer goods (to manufacture demand), to demeaning forms of work and to the inevitable phenomenon of welfare “dependency” (74-5, 83). Finally, Kymlicka suggests that Rawls’s attachment to the issue of self-respect is dangerous, because it would lead to governmental interference in families and other groups to ensure that members’ self-respect is maximised (Contemporary Pol Phil 153).

The argument derived from self-respect furthermore depends on Rawls’s principles of justice effectively securing it. They are, he claims, ‘bound to have this effect’. This in turn depends on the idea that these principles reflect mutual respect and that they mean ‘everyone’s good is included in a scheme of mutual endeavours’ (TJ 156). People’s having self-respect depends on their being normal and fully cooperating members of society and having a sense of justice (PL 318-19). This is a problematic assumption given the repressive implications of “reciprocity” and “responsibility for ends”, the unresponsiveness of “justice” to actual desires and needs, and the mutual disinterest and rational-choice individualism modelled into the original position. Rawls also seems to use self-respect or self-esteem as a catch-all excuse to provide a “public” justification for just about anything (e.g. TJ 336 on civil disobedience). Also, if people are really as vulnerable as Rawls maintains, it is clearly intolerable that they be rendered even more vulnerable by the operation of an ideal of the person to which they are held to account. Were people the way Rawls claims here, there would be an imperative need to ensure that all, whatever their characteristics, be guaranteed self-respect, and this would lead to a preference for ethical principles which avoid the use of ideals, guilt, normalisation and the like. In effect, Rawls claims that people need, not only a master-signifier, but the particular master-signifier he provides in order to act at all. I suspect that Rawls is inaccurately generalising a western middle-class conception of self-respect, when actually the relation between self-respect and others could also encompass the “misunderstood genius”, the “martyr”, the “survivor” and many other articulations. Also, Rawls is steering very close to circularity if a theory of justice is derived from a need which already amounts to a need for such a theory. There is also the problem that Rawls assumes that self-respect has no relationship of any kind to the structure of ownership of natural resources and of means of production (JAFAR 114), thereby handily bypassing Marxist and Situationist critiques of capitalism. It is not clear that the system Rawls proposes could generate self-respect, since it would leave people vulnerable to statist intrusions and would also leave people without the ability to articulate specificities in public discourse. Also, any respect people have for others based on Rawls’s theory is respect for the roles to which they conform, not for the actual people, and this also corrodes the possibility of self-respect.

Self-esteem is slightly different from self-respect in Rawls’s use. For Rawls, one can only have self-esteem or to value one’s endeavours unless others appreciate these. People have self-esteem if esteemed by other esteemed people, provided they also have a rational plan which operates according to the Aristotelian Principle (TJ 387). Again, this concept suggests that people require above all a nod from others in order to feel anything positive, suggesting a model of a submissive and conformist self.

Further, Rawls assumes that people submit to existing social structures, forming desires in a tailist, conformist and submissive way. For instance, people are ‘sensible’ in their plans of life and submit to ‘the normal conditions of human experience’ and ‘their present position in society’ (CW 451-2). ‘We assess our prospects in life according to our place in society and we form our ends and purposes in the light of the means and opportunities we can realistically expect’, so the basic structure arouses desires and aspirations (JAFAR 56). He also endorses and naturalises the role of capitalist economies in manipulating desire. For Rawls, ‘economic arrangements have these effects’ of creating and fashioning future desires, ‘and indeed must do so’ (TJ 229). He also suggests that desires are shaped in large part by the basic structure (CW 257). It is society’s moral conception which determines the degree of connectedness people feel to each other (CW 301). In other words, he works on the assumption that people are reactive rather than active in social relations, and he therefore ignores (or domesticates) phenomena such as creativity and hope. Rawls not only asserts that people should repressively reduce aspirations to the present: he also assumes that people already do this. This problematic assumption is crucial for his account of what it is or is not “tolerable” for the basic structure to demand. He also assumes that people are basically conformist. For instance, he thinks that people naturally want their own feelings to be in harmony with the feelings of others (TJ 439), desire so-called “natural law” (CW 442) and feel being part of a greater whole to be a good (PL 204). He also claims that people have a ‘desire to conform’ (JAFAR 194). ‘It is painful for us when our feelings are not in union with those of our fellows’, and it is this conformism which provides ‘a firm basis for the moral sentiments’ (TJ 403). He further thinks that organisations can and do ‘discipline’ and direct the realisation of abilities (JAFAR 57). Since Rawls assumes people to be always-already submissive and conformist, it is no surprise that he has few qualms about demanding that everyone display such traits. By conceiving people as clay for the state, he makes its moulding activities seem less onerous.

There is a contradiction in Rawls’s theory between the malleable and intransigent models of the self involved respectively in his view of the basic structure and his case for economic inequalities. Milton Fisk overstates his case when he says that Rawls cannot have “social union” or community because the principles which are shared are only an expression of the forms which interfere least with self-interest (in Daniels ed. 66). However, he is implicitly referring to a contradiction which is present in Rawls’s theory: people are assumed at once to seek, and to depend psychologically on, social union, and also to be incapable of such union except on terms which give a pound of flesh to a capitalistic petty-minded mentality.

Another claim which is important for Rawls’s theory is the assumption that people try to avoid concealment and are therefore usually sincere. For Rawls, the ‘psychological cost’ of keeping up appearances and taking precautions against getting caught, especially the resultant ‘loss of spontaneity and naturalness’, will tend to make people accept a public conception of justice rather than to manipulate it, at least in a well-ordered society (TJ 499). This ignores the entire history of hidden transcripts (see Scott ****), which are so widespread as to be more-or-less the usual context of discourse for most people. Another problem is that capitalists and state agents regularly flout their own rules, without seeming to come up against any of the emotional boundaries Rawls posits. Further, his claim depends on the idea that a public conception of justice can be fully transparent. Otherwise, all use will be implicitly “manipulative”, in the sense of involving a contestable and group-specific interpretation. However, it is clearly not the case that Rawls’s two principles are transparent. There are important boundary problems regarding issues such as when a demand for incentives under the difference principle becomes an “unreasonable” blackmail of others, when the “regulation” of liberties becomes their intolerable suppression, when “injustice” is great enough to justify lesser-evil injustices on the part of the state, and so on. It is also not at all clear that people in general have a psychological tendency not to transgress or conceal. There may be pleasures and excitements associated with rule-breaking and secrecy, which undermine Rawls’s simplistic presentation.

Although in some respects Rawls encourages individualist and atomised dispositions, in others he encourages an apparently repressive model of ‘the sociability of human beings’, or, as he puts it on one occasion, ‘the social nature of humankind’ (TJ 500), a sociability defined, not in a ‘trivial’ way, but in a binary with instrumental interpersonal relations. For Rawls, ‘the social nature of mankind’, apparently conceived as yet another essence, is ‘best seen’ in ‘shared final ends’, such as valuing institutions as a good in themselves and valuing others for their role in an institutional system. It is here that death gains an active role in Rawls’s theory, for the value of such “goods” arises from the fact that any one individual has no time to realise all of her or his potentialities. For Rawls, people should see themselves as part of a ‘whole scheme… which is consented to and gives pleasure to all’. This ‘social union’ is realised, not only in political society, but in a whole range of relations. ‘Only in a social union is the individual complete’ (TJ 458-60; c.f. PL 320-1). There is a ‘basic psychological law’ that participation in a just association leads to feelings of trust, friendship and confidence (TJ 411). The basic structure of society is a ‘social union of social unions’, and is also a union itself, because ‘when everyone acts justly, all find satisfaction in the very same thing’ (TJ 462). The role of institutions renders this scheme repressive, and Rawls also constructs it in opposition to “fused-group” models of solidarity where people work together due to needs. For Rawls, similar needs produce competition, not cooperation, and only ‘an agreed scheme of conduct’ and ‘a plan acceptable to everyone’ makes people’s goods ‘complementary’ (TJ 461). In other words, direct interpersonal relations do not arise in Rawls, but are always mediated by an alienated sphere of rules and procedures. It is important to realise that liberal theory is not actually about resolving conflicts between people, but rather, is about the imposition of such an overarching sphere.

Further, this sociability has a reactive structure. It is based in a fear that one’s ‘zest and pleasure’ would ‘languish’ without others - a refined variant of separation anxiety - and it does not matter what the end of social interaction is. ‘The essential thing is that there be a shared final end and accepted ways of advancing it’, not what the end is (TJ 461). People are to endorse, and not to want rid of, their sense of dependence on others (TJ 464). Hence, ‘the representative member of a well-ordered society will find he wants others to have the basic virtues, and in particular a sense of justice. His rational plan of life is consistent with the constraints of right, and he will surely want others to acknowledge the same restrictions’ (TJ 383). Rawls also introduces something akin to the Lacanian idea of “constitutive lack”. ‘It is a feature of human sociability that we are ourselves but parts of what we might be’, and the resultant sense of lack is to be filled by the larger community which ‘regulates’ desire, ‘sustains’ efforts and ‘elicits our contribution’. Only in this way do ‘we cease to be mere fragments’ (TJ 464). It is impossible to retain a conviction that one’s plan is worthwhile unless others appreciate it (TJ 387). So, this sociability is fuelled by a sense of inadequacy and dependence; it is a slave morality, and not an opening to others based on the benevolence of someone confident of her or his own importance. People are to be kept weak lest they cause “strife”. It even leads onto an image of people as cogs in one big machine. ‘Everyone’s more private life is so to speak a plan within a plan, this superordinate plan being realized in the public institutions of society’ (TJ 463). By their subsumption in this overarching structure, Rawls thinks individual plans are given a ‘more ample and rich structure’, which means that public institutions are ‘experienced as a good’. In this way, Rawls claims, the ‘regulative excellences’ such as self-control are allowed to develop, and this satisfies the “Aristotelian Principle” (see below) (TJ 463). Thus, while principles of justice only restrict goods, they enable happiness (?TJ 483). Again, Rawls’s theory operates in a repressive way, relying on negative emotions to sustain “sociability”. Rawls’s “persons” are also expected to be constantly concerned with social appearances. This is so fundamental that even the parties in the original position are assumed to want to appear in a certain way (TJ 146, 150). Furthermore, people are not supposed to have conceptions of property except as a result of expectations delivered by social institutions (TJ 10).

When Rawls discusses emotions without the baggage of sociability and without ideals and morally-loaded terminology, his language expresses a veritable fear of feelings. One finds references to people prone to selfishness and negligence, whose bias and anxiety combines with self-fixation (TJ 110). One also finds, echoing the repeated reference to sadistic desires, a concern to check rationally the ‘natural and inevitable’ feelings of vengeance and vindictiveness (CW 570). There is also a constant struggle against the unreasonable, conceived as ‘threat’ (e.g. CW 614), and a constant invocation of fear of civil strife, especially religious war, as the reason for liberalism (e.g. PL xxvi). One finds a similar structure to the idea of the “veil of ignorance”: ethics consists of what rational people would agree to, were it not for irritants such as envy, greed, sadism and threat advantage. Ethics is defined as the whole self minus a string of irrationalised emotional elements. Desire is conceived as a threat because it could lead to “excessive” demands; anything beyond the present system is feared as an “unsatisfactory” way of life; Rawls also seems to fear the possibility of the loss of a master-signifier and therefore of a unified “should”. The fact that Rawls defines destructive emotions and destructive “selfishness” as natural and primary is crucial to understanding his reliance on rationality and “moral” emotions to repress desire. Rawls basically conceives human beings in negative terms, and this is why he finds it both tolerable and necessary to rely on psychological and political repression. His theory expresses a strong need for security which is a result of fear of others. There is therefore more similarity than difference between Rawls and critics such as Samuel Scheffler, whose affirmation of reactive emotions is explicit (Resp., Reactive Attitudes and Liberalism, 301-2, 313-14), and Strawson, who aims to naturalise practices such as resentment and punishment because these are typical of a normal “we” (Freedom and Resentment). This dovetails with Kai Nielsen’s summary of a Marxist-inspired critique. ‘The individual, from the point of view of [bourgeois] moral ideology, is seen as something that morality must control’ (Marxism, Morality… 169). As Tony Skillen puts it, moral ideology blames individuals for the existence of evil in the world, suggesting that there is ‘evil in the world… because there are un-moralized individuals in the world’ (cited Nielsen 169). This leads to a repressive relation to children which constructs character-armouring appropriate for capitalist control: ‘children are held responsible before they are responsible so they can become responsible’ (169).

Rawls also claims that actions are always motivated by desires and that desires and ends ‘can be changed only gradually’. They cannot be altered by someone simply deciding to alter them (TJ 498). Rawls introduces this idea for a reason which is convenient for his theory: it makes viable his claim that one cannot have a sense of justice and suddenly be tempted to break it. It is also, however, inconvenient for other parts of his theory, especially those relating to the “regulative” role of an ideal and the concept of “responsibility for ends”. If desires change only gradually, a demand that one drop a desire or end which suddenly becomes unsustainable is intolerable and ridiculous. In general, the assumption that desires change only gradually (assuming that Rawls means by “desires” the wants which are present on the “surface” of the psyche) is unwarranted in its conservatism, since it ignores the historical fact of revolution as well as the entire history of psychoanalysis. The assumption that they cannot be changed by an act of will is usually accurate. Rawls’s theory, however, requires that this be untrue, even though he explicitly states it to be true. The whole idea of a “regulative ideal” and regulative principles of justice implies that desires are dictated by the conscious mind. Indeed, his entire theory is constructed on the assumption of a “moral person” above and beyond desire. His criticism of utilitarianism revolves around its assumption that people are ‘containers’ for enjoyment, which he finds distasteful and counterposes to his own image of people as “free and equal moral persons” (CW 249, 298). The idea that an argument can have ‘strength’ or ‘force’ (e.g. TJ xiv) also suggests that the conscious mind acts with a force of compulsion upon desire.

In spite of the fact that all the dispositions he encourages are reactive and negative, he nevertheless claims that his theory is ‘rooted not in abnegation but in affirmation of the self’ (TJ 436). In fairness to Rawls, it should be admitted that he thinks ‘our existing moral feelings’ are often ‘too harsh’, ‘punitive and blind’, too submissive to authority, ‘perverse and destructive’ and prone to ‘blunt without reason human spontaneity and enjoyment’. Such ‘arbitrary authority’ and its ‘unreasonable and capricious’ ethics is to be eliminated in a well-ordered society (TJ 429). This can be taken, however, as a standard liberal disclaimer. Liberals distance themselves from authoritarian and populist agendas, and their politics do in fact set them aside from these. This does not, however, prevent them from relying on similar themes in their own ethics, albeit in a more disguised and indirect manner. Liberalism can establish with guilt, shame and “self-deadening shoulds” the same regime of power which populists would establish with violence and terror. (NOTE: he also states (TJ 284) that he has no intent to educate people to simple desires. This claim is rather more plausible than the idea that his theory advocates self-affirmation. So also is his claim that his conception does not require endless economic growth (LN 107, PL 7). The specific contents of the desires arising within conceptions of the good are not specified in Rawls’s conception, provided they conform to his fairly rigid formal stipulations).

As Marx puts it (****), when people are denied activity, inanimate and imagined entities seem to take on a life of their own. This observation is apt regarding Rawls. Not only does he say that ‘doctrines have their own life and history apart from their current members’ (PL 390), he also bases his entire theory on the supposedly active effects of such “spooks” as the “basic structure”, “institutions”, “rules” and “principles”. These operate in a constant asymmetry, with “individuals” subordinated to them. One finds, therefore, in place of the vampire Capital, a vampiric state which, like Capital, flourishes by sucking the life-energy out of the people it subsumes.

It should also be added that Rawls does not see anything wrong with people accepting a conception of the good for no better reason than that one is “raised” to believe it. People ‘are not to be criticised’ for uncritical adherence to such a conception (PL 314). A general ban on discussing conceptions of the good thus leads to a defence of a (restricted) right to dogmatism. Rawls is clearly an advocate of “repressive tolerance”. He also naturalises this advocacy. ‘We expect deep differences of opinion… To hate that fact is to hate human nature’ (CW 479). He also draws advantages from what Gramsci terms the ‘confused and contradictory’ character of “common sense” (SPN ****). This amorphousness is advantageous since it allows people to form an ‘initial allegiance’ to principles of justice which becomes stronger than the rest of their beliefs, and because it enables these to be modified to fit within its limits. The fact that the allegiance was formed in this way makes it less likely to be outweighed by anything else (PL 208-9).

Rawls is rather elusive regarding the status of the claims he makes about human psychology. He admits that it is a way of expressing an ideal and that it does not depend on a ‘science of human nature’ (PL 86-7). This is a dubious claim, since clearly the inferences he draws from his conception depend on its being valid. For instance, the “moral feelings” can only attain a “regulative” role if they in fact operate within people’s minds. The main rhetorical function of Rawls’s attempt to distance himself from psychology is that it means his theory of psychology should, on its own terms, be assessed as part of a “political” conception rather than in terms of its empirical accuracy. Rawls denies the accusation that such an approach is ‘unscientific’ (PL 87). A political conception can therefore select a ‘public criterion of personal identity’ so as to ‘characterize’ and ‘maintain a moral order’ (CW 297). The issue of empirical psychology returns, however, in regard to the question of whether a “political” conception is necessary or valuable in the first place, as well as in regard to how “realistic” Rawls’s theory is. It also returns via the statements such as that, in a well-ordered society, the principles of justice would be experienced as a good (CW 467), which implies that such a society would be successful at winning support from its own members. As a result, Žižek’s claim that, as a good Kantian, Rawls places justice entirely beyond the calculus of pleasures (Enjoy your Symptom 71) is not entirely true (c.f. ?Gauthier’s claim re Rawls and Kant). Rawls also makes claims such as that his principles would mitigate envy and spite, construct an equilibrium including extensive liberty, and express human nature (TJ 450). In any case, Rawls again uses a language of being, rather than an ethical terminology of “should” or “ought”, and the concrete content of what he says seems to consist in truth-claims about psychology, notwithstanding his denials of this. On close inspection, one can find at least two kinds of claims about human psychology in Rawls. Some, such as those discussed above, involve ethical demands disguised as factual claims. These operate as criteria regarding who is sufficiently conformist to qualify as a “citizen”. Others, such as those discussed below, deal with actual human psychology, albeit in a problematic way.

Rawls’s most explicit concerns about psychology arise in the context of the question of whether his theory is “stable” and “realistic”. He starts with the “freestanding” construction of the political theory, and then introduces such issues almost as an afterthought. “Stability” is about whether people acquire a sense of justice and a tendency to comply with social institutions in a society based on a particular conception of justice, and also about whether it can construct a stable overlapping consensus (PL 140-1). Rawls wants a situation in which, ‘when tendencies to injustice arise other forces will be called into play that work to preserve the justice of the whole arrangement’ (TJ 193). A society is more stable the stronger the sense of justice it inculcates and the weaker the tendencies to ‘foster weaker impulses and tendencies to act unjustly’. In a stable society, the sense of justice tends to win over countervailing tendencies. It therefore remains close to a state of equilibrium, departing from this only due to external forces and tending to return to it when departures occur (TJ 398-400). “Stability” means more than simply an ability to avoid futility; Rawls desires that his conception be stable “for the right reasons”, not merely because of issues such as threat-advantage. He does not want his conception assumed in advance in such a firm way that one’s task is ‘to find ways to impose that conception once we are convinced it is sound’. Rather, it must be able to appeal to the ‘reason’ of each citizen (PL 142-3). A conception likely to cause instability would have to be revised (PL 141). On other occasions, he reformulates this by saying that there would be ‘serious problems’ with his theory if it tended to create people who did not meet the ‘duty to civility’ it constructs (PL 252), and that a good theory should construct the psychological basis for obedience to it (TJ 119). A well-ordered society is by definition stable, since it ‘tends to eliminate or at least to control men’s inclinations to injustice’ (TJ 215) and leads to a ‘strong and normally effective desire’ to act justly (TJ 398). He also makes a similar claim regarding conflict: a full overlapping consensus around a political conception would be impossible if it tended to produce ‘deeply conflicting political and economic interests’ (PL 168). A theory is ‘seriously defective’ if it is unstable, because this means it is unable to actually realise itself in people’s psychology (TJ 398). It is only via the idea of stability that questions of human psychology enter Rawls’s theory up front (CW 403), though he is quick to add that this concern ‘is not decisive’ (TJ 399). (He is nevertheless prepared to raise issues of social relevance when attacking other theories, such as libertarianism - see PL 285). This re-admits a concern with actual people, although it clearly does so only indirectly, after the bulk of the theory is constructed, and is often weakened by Rawls’s tendency to simply “assume” whatever is most convenient for his theory and by the unspecified boundary between “normal” and “exceptional” injustice. Nevertheless, Rawls’s discussion of stability is significant, because, if this part of his theory did not involve oppressive forms of discourse, it could stand alone as a justification for major parts of his theory. (I suspect, however, that “stability” only has the importance it does for Rawls because of the centrality of systematising tendencies in his theory as a whole).

The idea of stability readmits the repressed field of infrapolitics and micropower into Rawls’s theory. For instance, intensity of feeling, which ostensibly has nothing to do with justice, can nevertheless ‘set boundaries upon what is politically attainable’ and ‘affect the strategies of enforcement’. ‘But questions of strategy are not to be confused with those of justice’ (TJ 203). The final, decisive closure of politics around the “reasonable” is in fact neither final nor decisive, but must be played out again and again in an administrative practice of discipline and regulation. It is important to stress that stability on the basis of being a beneficiary of social cooperation or on the basis of the argument from the strains of commitment only apply to the in-group. Those who are not represented in the original position are not part of the group whose consent is significant in relation to stability.

On closer inspection, it emerges that, while Rawls’s conception of the moral person does not reflect an account of “human nature” (in the sense, for instance, that it is no “human nature” to be a “normal and fully cooperating member of society”), it requires other conceptions which make it compatible with such an account. Rawls’s view is that people are (within certain limits) a blank slate, bound by “sociability” to be programmable in a variety of ways. ‘Human nature and its natural psychology are permissive’, i.e. they permit the development of a wide variety of ethical conceptions. This does not mean political theorists can say ‘anything we want’, because a valid conception of the person must be ‘practicable’, i.e. realisable in actual people via psychological motivation. The motives used must not be ‘scarce’, but history is ‘full of surprises’ in terms of what can and cannot be realised, ‘there is not much to go on’, and therefore, political theory becomes a kind of trial and error. One posits an ideal and then sees if it can be realised. ‘We strive for the best we can attain within the scope the world allows’ (PL 87-8). Hence, philosophy of mind sets limits on political conceptions, but cannot decide between different conceptions of personal identity because ‘none of the traditional doctrines are affected by these constraints’. All the criteria given by the philosophy of mind are met by all the competing moral conceptions (CW 296). The conception of the person therefore functions as a useful illusion. Rawls’s account depends on an extensive model of human psychology, and this dependence is not at all moderated by the fact that the model he assumes is a “blank slate” model. There is also the entire methodological issue of how one can tell whether a particular conception is unrealisable due to “human nature” or due to contingent constraints (and the related issue of how one knows when an attempt to realise a political conception has decisively failed). This issue is crucial because it occurs on the boundary between two contradictory tendencies in Rawls: a tendency to naturalise existing modes of thought and a tendency to eliminate all empirical issues from political theory. There is, in fact, rather more “to go on” regarding human psychology than Rawls allows, and even if there were not, this is hardly a case for assuming the most convenient possibility (a blank slate) to be the case. It is interesting that Rawls sidesteps from psychology into “philosophy of mind”, since this allows him to evade issues arising both in Anglo-American traditions of psychology and in psychoanalysis which problematise his assumptions.

Rawls’s standard of “fit” with human nature is very loose. If just institutions produce a desire to act justly, their conception of justice is according to Rawls ‘psychologically suited to human inclinations’ (thus ignoring the possibility that such a “fit” is merely a form of indoctrination). He claims, on the basis of this standard, that his theory is ‘more in line with the principles of moral psychology’ than traditional moral theories, though he admits that its psychological basis is ‘rather speculative’. There are two main types of psychological concept in Rawls’s theory: “general facts” and “basic psychological principles” (TJ 399).

Psychological and sociological assumptions often enter Rawls’s decision procedure via the idea of “general facts”. People in the original position are permitted to take into account “general facts”, even though this would seem to undermine the Kantian account of autonomy. (This may well express the oscillation between utopian blueprinting and “realism” in Rawls’s theory, which sees a noumenal self establishing dominance even while hedged in by a string of contingent characteristics). For example, the idea of primary goods depends on the people in the original position knowing ‘the normal circumstances of human life’ (PL 307), and people in the original position are assumed to have access to ‘commonsense knowledge and the theory of human nature’ (PL 315). The “general facts” seem to be naturalised and treated as universally relevant, even though they clearly depend on a particular “regime of truth” and even though many of them are contested today. Another problem is that the “general facts”, assuming they are more-or-less scientific, only exist because of the results of specific research projects (for example, experiments and case studies). Without such evidence, one could not know whether a particular general fact were a fact or a dogma. Removing the conclusions of “science” from the methodologies used to establish it involves more than just a confusion regarding the conditions of possibility for regimes of truth. It involves transmuting the conclusions into naturalised, ahistorical myths.

Indeed, Wolff goes a step further, suggesting that that the idea of “laws of society” is itself a reification (or in his terms a ‘hypostatisation’) of society as a subjective process. The apparent laws arise only because of the prevalence in actual society of particular conceptions of the good which motivate particular actions. Furthermore, only those with particular conceptions accept the “laws” as such (UR 124-5). ‘Social knowledge is historical, self-reflective and constitutive as well as descriptive’ (UR 126), and Rawls is wrong (and biased) to treat it as a simple matter of descriptive fact. The general facts Rawls supports mean that the parties in the original position must be ‘rational, secular, scientific men and women’, and that they must know it (UR 127). They must live, and know they live, in a certain kind of society which constructs the “knowledge” they have – for instance, a society in which intellectual production is constructed as a separate sphere. Just as with sociology, so with psychology Rawls adopts ‘extremely powerful’ and ‘ideologically biased’ assumptions dependent on current theories (UR 129). Rawls’s psychology bears traces of its origin in his own particular subjectivity (UR 131), and he completely ignores the traditions of thought on society and the psyche associated with Marx and Freud (UR 132). In short, he presupposes the modern regime of power-knowledge (as defined by Foucault), and his theory is therefore dependent on a biased and uncritical acceptance of this particular regime. Similar suggestions regarding the falsity and/or the controversial (and therefore “nonpolitical”) character of Rawls’s “general facts” have arisen from other authors. For instance, Adina Schwartz says that Rawls’s hypotheses about society, psychology and morality are as controversial as those he rejects in rival theories. As a result of these controversial assumptions, ‘Rawls’s interpretation of the initial situation favours a particular range of conceptions of the good’ (Moral Neutrality and Primary Goods 297). Indeed, she suggests, ‘any use of “facts” about motivation… would seem to involve a controversial view of human nature’ (Moral Neutrality and Primary Goods 301), assuming, for instance, ‘the immutability of human psychological structures’ (307). Alan H. Goldman adds that ‘[i]t is questionable whether it is so easy to separate general facts from particular preferences and value systems, and whether Rawls has succeeded in doing so’ (Responses to Rawls from the Political Right 449). This problem may also create difficulties for the stability of Rawls’s theory. Plant, Lesser and Taylor-Gooby refer to Rawls’s theory as ‘blind justice without the sword’, because its social effectiveness depends on his claims to knowledge of social “laws” and actual preferences (Pol Phil and Social Welfare 141).

The idea of “general facts” does, however, introduce a possible line of critique. They serve to make actual people relevant to Rawls’s theory through, as it were, the back door. ‘It is, for example, a consideration against a conception of justice that, in view of the laws of moral psychology, men would not acquire a desire to act upon it even when the institutions of their society satisfied it. For in this case there would be a difficulty in securing the stability of social cooperation’ (TJ 119). A conception of justice is ‘seriously defective’ if it is unstable, i.e. if the ‘principles of moral psychology are such that it fails to engender in human beings the requisite desire to act upon it’ (TJ 398). Throughout, one has to ‘assume that the general assumptions on which the principles of justice were chosen are correct’ (TJ 231) for the rest of the theory to hold. These assumptions must be ‘true’ as well as ‘sufficiently general’ (TJ 137). The “general facts” are empirical claims, and to be realistic, Rawls says that his theory ‘must rely on the actual laws of nature and achieve the kind of stability those laws allow’ (LN 12-13). Rawls admits that changes in ‘the relevant general beliefs’ about ‘human nature and how society works’ would also alter the construction of the parties in the original position and therefore the principles they would agree to. However, he feels safe from challenge in this way, saying it is ‘a mere possibility’. ‘It is hard to imagine realistically any new knowledge that would convince us that these ideals are not feasible’ (CW 351-2). This means that he can simply assert that citizens can and will regularly apply his principles and that, therefore, the agreement in the original position ‘is not in vain’ (PL 316), as well as that his model of society is ‘inherently stable’ (TJ 125) and that, since ‘citizens have a reasonable moral psychology’, an overlapping consensus ‘is not utopian’ (PL 86; c.f. CW 444-6). He also assumes that his views are in sync with the “laws of nature” (LN 12-13). Such claims clearly imply that Rawls’s views are in his own terms true, not simply convenient assumptions or ascriptions. He also states that the general facts he refers to should not be in dispute, ‘as they are virtual truisms’ (LN 124-5), though he admits that his political conception of the person depends for its validity on its being compatible with one or more sound psychological or philosophical conceptions of the person (JAFAR 19).

The role of “general facts” is especially problematic in relation to a certain kind of leftist appropriation of Rawls. Peffer, for instance, relies heavily on a distinction between objections to Rawls’s theory on empirical and normative grounds, in order to suggest that Rawls’s theory is normatively adequate despite Rawls’s personal endorsement of false empirical claims (MMSJ e.g. 370, 393, 412-13). This is based on the assumption that Rawls offers a moral theory which is timeless and which one is to apply differently depending on social circumstances (MMSJ 414). This reading ignores the ways in which empirical claims, especially “general facts”, are built into the very foundations of Rawls’s theory. Hence, substantial alterations of the “general facts” would not simply alter the application, but would alter the process of decision-making in the original position and therefore the principles of justice themselves. One cannot, therefore, simply discard inconvenient or incorrect “general facts” while incorporating intact the Rawlsian model of justice. To take an example, Peffer (376) and Allen Buchanan (Marx and Justice 146) both dismiss Miller’s (Rawls and Marxism) argument that the strains of commitment of any possible society would be unbearable for either capitalists or workers, by suggesting that it is ‘preposterous’ to adopt such a stringent criterion. There is ‘an important distinction… between what is morally required of us as free and equal moral beings and what policies and programs a particular population will find acceptable at any particular time’ (Peffer 411). In a sense, this is also Rawls’s view, because he does not apply the “strains of commitment” argument to actual people in actual societies, only to citizens in a well-ordered society (although there is the problem that he also portrays his foundational claims as those of a unitary public culture which very much belongs to “a particular population at a particular time”). This misses the crucial point, however, that, if in fact capitalists and workers have sufficiently different psychologies and motivations that they could not both be represented in the original position and yet still reach an agreement (an implication of Miller’s argument which Peffer and Buchanan do not address), therefore in practice, the persons in the original position must turn out to model either capitalists or workers (or neither), therefore declaring the other group (or both) to be “unreasonable”. The excluded group (or both groups), like all “unreasonable” people, would be unrepresented in the original position and therefore “legitimately” subject to violence and coercion constrained only by the principles accepted by the included group. This suggests that Rawls’s theory cannot operate as a class-neutral theory of justice and that it cannot provide a criterion of justice which is equally binding on workers and capitalists on the basis of principles which both groups share. Given Rawls’s assumptions regarding the necessity of incentives, the importance of stability and the need for markets, he is most likely to opt to exclude workers should Miller’s claim prove to be true in fact. Even if, however, one could claim that it is capitalists who are “unreasonable” (a claim which would have intransigently revolutionary implications), this would only serve to show that the theory of justice is not generally human but presupposes the standpoint of the worker over and against the capitalist. If universality is simply a cover for such a particular claim, it is hard to see how a theory of justice adds anything to a leftist politics which simply chooses to side with workers against capitalists. Furthermore, authors such as Buchanan and Peffer who pursue what amounts to a writerly articulation of Rawls to Marxism also ignore his commitment to social stability within the circumstances of justice, a commitment which all but rules out such conclusions. Branches of Rawls’s theory can only be turned into axes for revolutionaries when they are chopped off the epistemo-pragmatic trunk of the theory itself. Articles by Reimer (****) and Clark and Gintis (1978) involve the same mistake. Clark and Gintis, by reading the first principle outside its context in a naturalisation of common sense and neoclassical economics, suggest that it leads to the conclusion that it requires that one have a right to participate in economic decision-making in some form of revolutionary councilism (Rawlsian Justice… 303, 311-12) – as indeed it does, minus its theoretical basis in Rawls’s theory.

As I have suggested, Rawls often treats his psychological claims as matters of fact. At other times, however, he adopts the approach of saying that it is an open question whether people can actually regulate themselves by his principles of justice and not be swayed by ‘special inclinations and attitudes’ (TJ 127). His psychological assumptions ‘may prove incorrect’ (TJ 230). This rather more humble attitude is preferable to his more dogmatic moments, yet it still fails to explain why one should nevertheless support a theory which, if “incorrect”, could do a great deal of harm.

Of course, this depends on who exactly “we” are. It may well be that Rawls’s dogmas, or those of “common sense”, are sufficiently entrenched that the possibility of critique remains “mere possibility”. Nevertheless, the challenges posed by psychoanalysis, poststructuralism and semiotics to Rawls’s model of psychology, along with evidence from anthropology, sociology, “abnormal” psychology and psychological experiments, already offers a substantial body of knowledge which runs contrary to Rawls’s “general facts”. I have given examples elsewhere. One could add, for instance, that evidence from studies such as those by Cohen, Marsh et al. and Hall (****) problematise the assumptions underlying Rawls’s support for punishment, that the idea of the “return of the repressed” in psychoanalysis problematises Rawls’s model of how an ethical ideal can be realised, and that critiques of common sense such as those by Gramsci and Barthes undermine the assumption that truths can be read off from everyday beliefs. Also, the criticism that Rawls tries to speak for people with whom he has not engaged remains valid, since the role of the “general facts” is only to show whether a conception is “realistic” and “stable”. Perhaps part of the problem is that Rawls takes his own advice and relies on “common sense” principles to deduce psychological facts (e.g. TJ 373, 480). These principles may themselves be inaccurate.

On some occasions, Rawls can be accused of naturalising particular forms of society through the idea of “general facts”. For instance, he assumes that an exchange economy based on exchange-value exists and is known to exist in the original position (PL 308). He also assumes, wrongly, that the only assumptions he can infer from psychology are those he already believes, i.e. the idea of a molar self and the planning model of rationality (CW 296-7). It is also a ‘matter of human psychology’ according to Rawls that affinity is ‘naturally weaker’ as the area and distances involved in a community grows (LN 112), a territorial conception of identity which has implications for his view of nation-states. Other “general facts” include the assumptions that people believe in moderate scarcity, accept pluralism and see “fair” cooperation as beneficial (CW 445). The list of primary goods also depends on “general facts” about wants, abilities, “nurture”, development, social interdependence, the structure of rational plans ‘and much else’, all of which Rawls assumes is ‘clear enough’ (CW 367). There is also the “fact” of the existence of reasonable pluralism (which results in the possibility of overlapping consensus) and the “fact” that liberal democracies do not fight each other (LN 124-5). Through the idea of “general facts”, Rawls treats contingent forms of identity and social structure as if they were natural, and thereby puts them beyond challenge. He does not offer any reason as to why these particular “facts” are “general” whereas others are contingent and therefore behind the veil of ignorance. Also, terms such as “the normal circumstances of human life” (e.g. CW 367, JAFAR 29) are less clear than they seem. The “normal conditions” clearly vary between “societies” located at the core and the periphery of the capitalist system, and there is also a problem that violent states tend to define the de facto normality of their functioning as a permanent situation of “emergency”. The conditions of a particular society, a matter for historical analysis, do not easily render a “norm”, and there is no good reason for assuming (as Rawls seems to) that the relatively benevolent operations of idealised versions of wealthy capitalist “societies” should be taken as in any sense “normal”. “Extreme” situations such as war and even genocide are far more “normal” in history than Rawls assumes. Rawls’s emphasis on “normal” social conditions leaves the door open for suspension-by-exception.

This tendency to naturalisation further expresses itself in Rawls’s replies to Marx. To Marx’s vision of a society beyond justice, he replies that this is impossible due to “general facts”, and to Marx’s claim that the rights Rawls favours are those of capitalist citizens specific to capitalist society, he replies that they are simply rights of citizens per se (JAFAR 177). That Rawls responds to Marxist historicisation of his claims by merely reasserting their universality is indicative of the importance of naturalisation for his theory. Furthermore, Rawlsian “general facts” are contentious in relation to Marxist social-scientific claims. Alan Gilbert suggests that Rawls’s approach involves an ‘unargued preference’ for neoclassical economics (Equality and Social Theory… 96), a model which presupposes an individualist social ontology (114). He also suggests that there is a self-contradiction in Rawls’s work, because he does not fully embrace this ontology. As a result, he slips between two strongly contradictory sets of “general facts” about the class structure of society (101-2). Thus, the “general facts” are neither so “general” nor so “factual” as Rawls assumes.

Rawls frequently wriggles out of psychological issues by simply assuming the most convenient possibility to be the case. For instance, he says: ‘[l]et us assume that each person beyond a certain age and possessed of the requisite intellectual capacity develops a sense of justice under normal social circumstances’ (TJ 41). He gives absolutely no reason for assuming this. Indeed, this claim could be impositional, since the terms “requisite” and “normal” are unspecified. Instances which could falsify the claim may be disallowed from doing so because they are assumed to refer to people who “lack” an unspecified “capacity” or have had an “abnormal” upbringing. If so, the main operative role of the statement is to invalidate those who do not “develop a sense of justice” (i.e. who do not agree with Rawls’s theory) as intellectually subnormal. Rawls also states of his theory that, when it is known to be embedded in the basic structure, those subject to it tend to develop the appropriate sense of justice (TJ 154). This psychological postulate amounts to assuming in advance the stability of his conception. It is also worth noting that, since a well-ordered society is necessarily stable, there is a psychological assumption underlying Rawls’s claim that justice as fairness can lead to a well-ordered society.

Rawls also introduces assumptions about psychology which he does not take into account. For instance, straight after his discussion of what is required by psychology as regards the concept of personal identity, he then adds a number of other psychological claims, such as that people have an ability to develop ‘virtues’ (CW 297) and that disagreements over details are a ‘condition of human life’ (CW 494). Also, since his account of envy is interior to his theory and only shows that people could not “reasonably” feel envy in his well-ordered society, Rawls has not accounted for his view that his principles really do ‘lead to social arrangements in which envy and other destructive feelings are not likely to be strong’ and that it ‘eliminates the conditions that give rise to disruptive attitudes’ (TJ 125). One could also add the implication of Rawls’s (apparently empirical) claim that democratic societies really do respect other “peoples” (LN 35), the appeals to institutional fact as a reason for particular positions, such as the refusal to include the difference principle in a constitution (PL 337) and the claim that Rawls’s principles would, if applied, lead to a ‘persistent tendency for [inequalities] to be levelled down’ (TJ 136-7). That such assumptions might be false is implicit in their formulation as factual statements, but Rawls never accounts for why he believes them to be true. Indeed, some of them seem to contradict evidence, as for instance when Rawls claims that ‘excessive inequalities will not be the rule’ in capitalist societies due to ‘natural assets’ and ‘laws of motivation’ (TJ 137).

Another claim, that there is a ‘psychological law that persons tend to love, cherish, and support whatever affirms their own good’ (TJ 155), simply asserts the truth of the claim on which all Rawls’s theory hinges: that people actually posit the interests Rawls assumes them to have, i.e. that his conception of their “good” is the same as their own. This “law” is crucial because it permits substitutionism: the state can simply act on people’s good (or interests), and they will acquire an ‘inclination to uphold’ it. Another such assertion is involved in Rawls’s claim that a just political society tends to eliminate envy, spite and desires to act unjustly (JAFAR 202). if intended to be more than merely tautological, this is simply an asserted affirmation of the claim that Rawls’s theory is “stable”.

Often, the psychological effects Rawls infers have no basis except wishful thinking. For instance, he claims that ‘the effect of self-government where equal political rights have their fair value is to enhance the self-esteem and the sense of political competence of the average citizen’. This seems to operate via the reassurances of repressive tolerance: each is allowed confidence in her or his opinions and is allowed to enjoy politics as an ‘activity enjoyable in itself’ and develop ‘intellectual and moral faculties’ in the process. At the same time, the ‘education to public spirit’ which results from just principles leads to ‘an affirmative sense of political duty and obligation’ which goes beyond mere submission and in which political rivals become more than mere obstacles (TJ 205-6). This passage involves a string of explicit and implicit psychological claims: that people will enjoy politics, that an ‘affirmative sense of political duty’ will be experienced as a good thing despite its extensive demands on the self, that the idiotic self-sufficiency of repressive tolerance will provide satisfactions, that the resultant foreclosure of truth-claims will not undermine “self-esteem”, and so on. Rawls provides no evidence for this series of claims. He claims that Mill and others ‘show’ that political liberties increase self-worth (TJ 206), but does not specify how they ‘show’ this.

It is also significant that, when Rawls allows psychology into his theory, he does not intend for it to affect his ethics. Rather, he uses accounts of psychology to confirm his theory by showing it to be practicable, and therefore by showing ‘that humankind has a moral nature’ (TJ 508). Therefore, by implication, if it proves to be impracticable, this reflects badly, not on the theory, but on humanity. Further, the criterion that a theory be “stable” to be valid ‘is not decisive’, and Rawls’s theory need only be sufficiently stable, not the most stable possible (TJ 399, 441). If people brought up as liberals tend to become liberals, this means that human nature is ‘good’ (LN 7). These claims require an extra-human standpoint from which human “nature” can be judged. Perhaps a more worthwhile question would be: “how can humankind come to view itself as immoral?”

One also finds Rawls confusing issues of normative theory with sociological issues. Rawls claims that discussions of sociological laws must not be put prior to political theory because whether arrangements are just and well-designed to advance “our” legitimate interests will determine how people view one another and how people respond to leaders (TJ 430-1). It is indeed the case that sociology should take into account the importance of perceived legitimacy, but it is by no means clear that this results from the fact that arrangements are just in the sense meant by Rawls. In particular, a conception of justice deduced without reference to actual people is unlikely to yield a model of whether in practice people (who may or may not fit Rawls’s conception of the person) perceive arrangements as just.

A final, somewhat unusual, “general fact” emerges in Rawls’s discussion of a “well-ordered society”. In this society, it is assumed to be possible to know that others will continue to have a sense of justice and to comply with just institutions (TJ 497). However, this is a claim about the future. Therefore, it is unclear how one can “know” (as opposed to having faith in) it. Presumably, a well-ordered society either has access to time-travel, or (more likely) consists of people who are sufficiently conformist and quasi-robotic that their future actions are predictable enough to be an object of “knowledge”.

Rawls’s discussions of psychology often take the following form. Firstly, he asserts a supposed fact or series of facts, usually in a dogmatic way, without any support. Secondly, he “explains” this “fact” by reference to a “law” which turns out to be a repetition in more general language of the “fact” itself. Usually, the “law” is a technical reformulation of what is in the first instance a “common sense” (though not necessarily accurate) assumption, but which is given a precise meaning in Rawls’s vocabulary. For instance, the idea that X will love Y if Y acts in X’s interests is taken to be a matter of “fact”, yet it is such only if the “interests” are experienced as such by X, which requires that X already have internalised Rawls’s model of psychology. However, he uses this idea to explain the process of subjectification itself, i.e. how children obtain a sense of justice in the first place. The “Aristotelian Principle”, the three kinds of morality and other such models are based on a similar approach. One finds a similar approach in Rawls’s social theory. For instance, he reifies a particular historical fact of the emergence of liberalism into a tendential law (PL 163).

I have already discussed the primarily negative and reactive structure of the emotions Rawls intends to mobilise. One could add that ethics in Rawls seems always to operate through negative imperatives - “duties” and “obligations” either to obey or to refrain from certain acts - rather than positive acts based on commitment and enthusiasm. This is partly a result of the fact that Rawls striates his theory into a number of levels, and deals with the levels associated with institutions first (TJ 294-5). Since there are already principles governing institutions prior to those governing individuals, it is not surprising that the principles for individuals mainly involve (selective) submission and obedience, such as a ‘duty to support just institutions’ and to ‘do [one’s] part as defined by the rules of an institution’, and a duty to fulfil (rather than redefine) roles. After all, institutions only exist in the form of reified expressions of individual actions (as Rawls implicitly recognises), and, if they operate hierarchically, the institutions require a structure of obedience to even exist. (For the institution to live, it needs to perform a vampiric role similar to that which Marx observed vis-à-vis capital). A duty to obey just institutions (though only these) arises very easily in Rawls. They can arise when one benefits from an institution, even if one does not voluntarily accept either the institution or its beneficial character, and may arise from ‘tacit understandings’ as well as formal rules (TJ 93-7). Acceptance of a social system is taken to be acceptance of all its applications. For instance, acceptance of the legal system entails a duty to obey all laws. One can even be put under an obligation to another because of unsolicited help in conditions of vulnerability - for instance, in childhood (CW 118). Acceptance that a practice is fair leads to a duty to comply with the practice (CW 60). One can also be bound to unjust institutions, provided these do not ‘exceed the limits of tolerable injustice’ or are ‘reasonably just in view of the circumstances’ (TJ 96), the limits in question being unspecified.

Of course, there are many cases where one might contest whether one is under such duties, but Rawls seems to have rigged his discussion in favour of the state (besides which, it is in Rawls’s model the state which judges where the limits lie). In practice, Rawls’s model of duty turns might into right: an institution which manages to territorialise a space, forcing others to “benefit” from its rule, can then claim to have a right to obedience. This right has no serious limits in Rawls’s model, save only the limit that it must not be excessively unjust. Rawls constructs social agents as primarily “readerly”, denying any right to engage in “writerly” activities such as creative interpretation of roles. Further, the duty to obey seems to arise from “justice”, regardless of whether specific people who are thereby obliged have any relationship whatsoever to the type of person “justice” recognises. Rawls’s fixation on “duty” massively simplifies the ethical position of individuals, but at the same time leaves people without actually-effective (as opposed to state-originated) rights of any kind. Rawls effectively encourages uncritical acceptance of social systems and an almost endless tolerance of their flaws. He locates ethics in support for abstractions expressed through generalised institutions, and in doing so he removes ethics from direct interpersonal relations. The result is a fetishism of rules and institutions which constructs a Kafkaesque world in which faceless “institutions” always trump actual people and concrete concerns. It is this primacy of obedience in the role of the citizen which is one of the central foci of Habermas’s critique (Habermas on Rawls 728).

It is not entirely clear what psychological state is denoted by being under a duty or obligation entails in Rawls’s work. Although it is supposed to involve a commitment to sustain the existence of a practice (TJ 305), the submission Rawls advocates is in excess of that which would be required for this purpose. Presumably, being under a duty or obligation has some relation to the reactive emotions Rawls also discusses, such as shame, guilt and resentment. Duties and obligations seem to have the role of directing these emotions in particular ways. In general, the pervasiveness of duties and obligations in Rawls’s work tends to construct people very passively. People’s engagement with political issues occurs primarily through conformity to existing institutions or, when necessary, to attempts to construct regimes based on institutions which are then to remain fixed and unchanging.

Rawls’s schema of priorities places “justice” (of the basic structure) and the “law of nations” (between different “peoples”) prior to principles for individuals, and places “obligations” to institutions prior to “natural duties” (which are more directly associated with interpersonal relations). He makes no serious attempt to justify this hierarchy. His emphasis on the importance of the “basic structure” evades the question by failing to justify its existence in the first place. It seems to me that only the “natural duties” express immediate actualities of any kind, with the remainder of the sections being more precise developments of these. In other words, the lowest tier of Rawls’s hierarchy is in fact the only operative one; all the others are either specifications or fictive constructs based on what occurs on this tier.

The concept of “natural duties” is elusive in Rawls’s theory, occurring only in A Theory of Justice, and then only briefly. It is not clear whether these “duties” are assumed to be internally constructed, or whether they have a quasi-juridical status. This lack of clarity is due to Rawls’s tendency to express all ethics in legalistic terms, as a “duty” or “burden” accepted for formalised reasons. One finds the various duties associated with the concept of justice articulated as natural duties; for instance, a duty to comply with just and tolerably unjust institutions, to ‘further just arrangements not yet established’ (TJ 94), to establish just institutions (‘the most important natural duty’) (TJ 293-4), to ‘do what is required of’ one by just institutions (TJ 294) and so on. Most of the operative principles in Rawls’s work (from obeying the law to working) apply to individuals via these various “duties”, which therefore carry into the actual all the elements which arise on the other tiers. However, Rawls admits to abbreviating his argument for these principles, and he does not anywhere give them the attention he gives the principles of justice which specify them.

There are also other “natural duties” in Rawls’s theory, though he only takes them up in a few cases. One of them is the idea of ‘mutual respect’, which turns out to consist mainly of the same as the theory of justice but without reference to institutions. It only applies to relations with others who conform to the model of the person or who could do so, and it entails that one see others’ situation from their own point of view and that one offer reasons for acts which affect others. In other words, it involves a repressive reduction of difference to similarity. It also includes a duty to ‘do small favors and courtesies’, arising from Rawls’s image of people as in need of self-esteem (people ‘need to be assured by the esteem of their associates’), which they demand as a matter of right in the original position. Rawls says ‘everyone benefits’ from such duties at only ‘minor’ cost (TJ 297). As I have already suggested, since what one desires would usually be the actual esteem of others, and since a “duty” can only produce a ritualised external appearance of esteem, this duty is self-defeating. One can never be sure if the esteem is sincere, precisely because it arises from a ritualistic duty. Further, if these duties are to be enshrined in law (which is by no means clear), the result would be a menacing regulation of everyday life. Two other natural duties are also specified: a duty not to cause unnecessary suffering (TJ 98), a vague formulation which clearly leaves huge room for “exceptional” let-outs (especially since whatever is necessary for a just society is supposedly necessary per se), and a duty to improve civilisation up to a certain level (TJ 258). This appears to introduce ethnocentric assumptions, and Rawls neither defines “civilisation” (including what a “level” would mean when applied to one) nor specifies the “certain level” until which it is to be improved. The idea of “mutual respect” seems to be behind Sinopoli’s contention that, whereas classical liberals such as Mill mandate only tolerance, Rawls demands that one actually encourage others’ ways of life. The psychological component of equality therefore complicates Rawls’s theory, introducing intolerance towards ‘impolite’ critique and constructing psychological timidity which impedes one’s capacity to pursue any kind of good life (Thick-Skinned Liberalism 616-17, 619). Alejandro uses the same idea as evidence that there is no room for deviants or dissidents in a Rawlsian society. ‘Why is there no place for individuals who may not need the opinions of others to affirm their own worth?’ (Rawls’s Communit. 98)

It is clear that Rawls does not use the idea of “natural duties” in ways which undermine the reactive structure of his theory. Though he thinks they are ‘fairly obvious’ and that ‘there is little question’ that they would be acknowledged in the original position, ‘their definition and systematic arrangement are untidy’. He also admits to lacking priority rules between natural duties, obligations and supererogatory actions. It is far simpler, as Rawls admits, to discuss the “basic structure” than to get into such issues (TJ 298-9), where actual issues return from the void into which Rawls otherwise casts them. The entire discussion of natural duties takes up only six pages of A Theory of Justice, and I have not found any discussion regarding whether they are part of a political conception or a comprehensive doctrine. Supererogatory actions are even more briefly mentioned, and appear to involve the only type of positive or prefigurative ethics to appear in Rawls’s theory. It certainly seems to be the case that Rawls puts duties to institutions above duties to actual people, since he includes concerns about the beneficial or harmful effects of actions in the category of “utility” which he orders after the “duty of fair play” (CW 128-9). On the whole, Rawls seems to assume that the all the really important ethical issues involve discussions about the content of state “institutions”. Care for others tends to be hijacked by “rules” (in which concern for others is reified) and thereby claimed as the property of the state. After all the various obediences, one is left only with the bare freedom to think that a policy is not quite fully just (see TJ 316). A more extensive discussion of “natural duties” would spill over into the issue of whether “justice” and the “basic structure” are actually the best way to conceive ethics. For instance, an issue would arise whether “general egoism” at the level of the basic structure, combined with more extensive “natural duties”, would be preferable to a “just basic structure”, given that it would eliminate the various dangers posed by the state.

One significant feature of Rawls’s theory is his asserted and unspecified assumption that the various “virtues” and “moral” dispositions are in fact in everyone’s interest. For instance, he claims that ‘a common sense of justice is a great collective asset’ (TJ 340), and that self-realisation through a ‘skillful and devoted exercise of social duties’ is a major ‘human good’ in itself (TJ 73). He also says that ‘virtues’ such as compromise and reasonableness are part of society’s ‘political capital’ (JAFAR 118, PL 157), partly because of their general utility. In a well-ordered society, a sense of justice would also be an individual good, for a whole string of reasons, including to protect valued others, to realise one’s nature as a moral being and to obtain a sense of belonging - provided it is not too stringent (TJ 499-501). The assumption of general benefit seems to arise from the transcendent status Rawls assigns to ordering and state-centric impulses. Rawls tends simply to ignore the “costs” of his model, especially the psychological “costs” and the “costs” in terms of the effects of exclusion and state repression. He thereby ends up with a misleading image that liberalism is a win-win ideology. The reason for this is the carefully constructed silences which inhabit his theory.

Psychological “laws” take a variety of forms in Rawls’s theory, and provide the basis for his claim that there seems to be ‘no doubt… that justice as fairness is a reasonably stable moral conception’ (TJ 436). The reason he gives for believing in its stability is that the sense of justice is compatible with three psychological laws, concerning justice, friendship and familial love. On closer inspection, it emerges that his assumption of “stability” depends on an elaborate and highly contestable theory of moral development, most of which is simply asserted. Rawls introduces issues of moral motivation and development to answer the question, ‘[h]ow is it possible that moral principles can engage our affections?’. His answer, when he asks this question, is threefold. Firstly and secondly, they ‘define agreed ways of advancing human interests’ and ‘are appraised from the standpoint of securing these ends’. Thirdly, it expresses men’s ‘nature as free and equal moral beings’ (TJ 416-17). So basically, moral motivation is possible because it is agreed, it serves self-interest in some way and it expresses men’s nature. The first claim is false, since the principles are only posited as what people “would” agree in an imagined fictive construct. The second depends on the accuracy of Rawls’s idea of “interests”. As I have already noted, the “higher-order interests” he posits are contestable and are defined in an exclusionary or even tautological way. The last claim is straightforward essentialism.

Rawls also makes other claims about motivation. Firstly, he assumes people to be guided by something which he terms the “Aristotelian Principle”. This, is, he claims, ‘a basic principle of motivation’. It consists of a claim that people prefer complex tasks because they enjoy the exercise of abilities better the greater and more complex the process of realisation. Hence, he assumes that people enjoy ‘beautiful’ and ‘fascinating’ things, enjoy self-expression and value variety and novelty of experience. As desires develop, ‘[t]he simpler things… are no longer sufficiently enjoyable or attractive’. One therefore tends to ascend any chain of development one enters, limited only by time and energy. He thinks this principle is the main reason that people want to learn, and that it is ‘relatively strong and not easily counterbalanced’. Although he claims that it is a ‘natural fact’ which one should simply accept, his case for it is reducible to the tendentious claim that it ‘accounts for many of our major desires’, such as desires for play and pleasures in ‘novelty and surprises and… occasions for ingenuity and invention’. It is also supposed to be testable against the content of rational plans, although Rawls never actually attempts this. Institutions which do not incorporate the Aristotelian Principle would make life ‘dull and empty’ and a ‘tiresome routine’, destroying all ‘vitality and zest’ (TJ 374-80). The principle is completely untenable, not only in the light of exceptional cases (Wittgenstein’s preference for westerns over philosophy, Heidegger’s preference for the company of peasants over the company of existentialists) but also in terms of the number of people who never aspire to more than a “simple life” and the mass distribution of simple newspapers, television programmes and so on. Of course, Rawls could claim that these are all examples of it being outweighed, but there must be a point at which the exceptions are sufficiently frequent to falsify the rule. The most worrying thing about the Aristotelian Principle is that, if built into institutions, it could lead to an imposed demand that people constantly strive upwards in an endless labour of Sisyphus. There is also the problem of whether people share Rawls’s perception of what a “higher” aspiration would be. He later adds the qualifier that what matters is that people see justice as a good; it is not necessary that the Aristotelian Principle be true (PL 203). In other words, he displaces his assertion from the theory to the conclusion.

The Aristotelian Principle seems to be Rawls’s way of pinning down ‘natural and free activity’, ‘spontaneous play’ and activities enjoyed ‘for their own sakes’ into a theory which remains rationalistic and formal (TJ 377-9). Through this form-imposition, Rawls evades questions regarding whether creative energies are mobilised or repressed by institutions such as work, school and packaged consumerism, and about the subversive potential of play in relation to systems of balance and “reciprocity”. The Aristotelian Principle is also a naturalisation - ‘this principle characterizes human nature as we know it’ (TJ 379).

Henry Shue sees the Aristotelian Principle as the basic motivational premise of Rawls’s theory. It occurs at the back of A Theory of Justice, but Shue claims that this argument “backwards” to the premises is typically Kantian: Rawls deploys his conclusions prior to his premises, because his psychological interest in the premises derives from his interest in their conclusions (90-1). According to Shue, the Aristotelian Principle is prior to and regulates Rawls’s concept of rationality. He also exposes a number of antinomies in Rawls’s theory as formulated in A Theory of Justice (94-5). If Shue is right about the primacy of the Aristotelian Principle over rationality, there is a problem of self-contradiction: the inner motivation to realise one’s abilities would render the provision of incentives for performance superfluous. People would already have the inner “incentive” to perform which is provided by the Aristotelian Principle. I suspect in fact that Shue is misreading Rawls to some extent, or at least that Rawls later rectifies the problems Shue raises, because Rawls’s conception of the person is by his own admission “ideal” or “normative” rather than descriptive. A more significant criticism comes from Susan Moller Okin, who singles out the Aristotelian Principle as the most obvious case of her broader contention that Rawls’s model of psychology is exclusively male (Justice and Gender 70-1). Brian Barry argues that the Aristotelian Principle is either a grossly inaccurate factual claim or ‘a substantive idea of human excellence’ contradicting the priority of the right and imposing an exclusionary ordering of claims. If it is factual, Barry says that it is true, if at all, only for the middle class, and mainly via enjoyment-in-alterity. It is central to Rawls’s theory because it grounds the list of primary goods, but Rawls hops in a weaselly way between factual and ideal renditions of the principle (The Liberal Theory of Justice 28-30). Certainly, such Rawlsian claims presuppose a specific, exclusionary description and/or ideal of motivation and psychology.

Another important criticism comes from Robert Paul Wolff, who suggests that the Aristotelian Principle implies a version of Marx’s and Aristotle’s view of productive (rather than consumptive) activity as the main goal of life. This puts Rawls in a position of self-contradiction, because he also treats work as a disutility (UR 209). Similarly, William A. Galston suggests that there is a contradiction between Aristotelian, Kantian and rational-choice assumptions in Rawls’s theory (Moral Personality 493).

Rawls’s account of moral development serves to show not only the empirically unfounded and speculative character of his assumptions about psychology, but also that liberalism is a layer of subsequent rationalisation built on top of authoritarian character-armouring. The exact status of this account is unclear. He denies that it involves an account of innate capacities, but nevertheless claims that moral development is something one can ‘describe’ in a unitary way (TJ 434). However, he implicitly restores the idea of innate development when he resurrects the archaic idea of an ‘age of reason’ (JAFAR 44). In Rawls’s view, all moral learning takes a form similar to his own. ‘Some conception of justice surely has a place in explaining moral learning’, even if not a philosophically correct one (TJ 434).

There are for Rawls three layers of morality: authority, association and principles. These roughly correspond to three kinds of oppressive discourse (impositional/invalidatory, mythical and finally liberalism itself, relying on the other layers). This is superficially similar to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, which Rawls mentions briefly. This is one of the reasons for his claim that, although he doesn’t take all the details into account (something he says is ‘impossible’), he thinks his theory is ‘true’ and ‘in line with existing knowledge’ (TJ 404). However, he ignores the crucial facts about Kohlberg’s method: firstly, that his own schema is conceived a priori; secondly, that the highest two of his six stages involve extensive autonomy of a kind which never appears in Rawls’s theory (Rawls himself seems to be at stage three or four); and finally, that few people reach the top two stages, suggesting that, for Kohlberg, most people do not develop their ethical potential. (In my view, Kohlberg is also relying on a layered approach which ignores the fact that autonomous subjectivity can only be constructed in opposition to, not on top of, submission to authority). The few authors who have dealt with Rawls’s account on child development suggest that he actually believes it to be true rather than an ideal to be imposed (e.g. Brenner and Noggle, “Rawls’s Neglected Childhood”, p. 58), and I shall follow this interpretation also.

The morality of authority is the zero level of morality in Rawls’s model, and he believes that it is never fully eliminated. There are situations throughout one’s life where morality consists in uncritical submission to self-appointed bosses. However, he mainly conceives it as the ethics appropriate for children. Authoritarianism is supposed to be excused because ‘the necessity to teach moral attitudes (however simple) to children is one of the conditions of human life’. Since ‘the child’s situation is that he is not in a position to assess the validity of the precepts and injunctions addressed to him by those in authority’, ‘children are at first subject to the legitimate authority of their parents’ or other adults. Rawls does not seem to view this as the imposition of a power-relation of domination. Children are assumed to lack any knowledge or understanding with which to assess injunctions. ‘Therefore, he cannot with reason doubt the propriety of parental injunctions’, even when these are, as Rawls hypothesises, justified. Since the child ‘is not in a position to reject precepts on rational grounds’ and ‘does not have his own standards of criticism’, the child will tend to accept parental injunctions and will strive to ‘be like them’ so as to acquire their ‘superior knowledge and power’ (TJ 404-6). Rawls wants children to be prepared to obey, without reward or punishment, precepts which ‘appear to him largely arbitrary’ and which ‘in no way appeal to his original inclinations’ (TJ 408). (Despite such anti-child views, Rawls claims to operate with no conception of time preference - TJ 259).

This is a classical reactionary discourse on childhood, echoing the “entrapment of desire” discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus and suggesting that Rawls implicitly endorses the violent imposition of a master-signifier as a way of constructing the “moral attitudes” he demands. It also confirms that these attitudes have their libidinal basis in emotions associated with unquestioning submission which are subsequently rationalised. If people are first of all indoctrinated into beliefs through authoritarian relations, their later support for such beliefs is not a form of “coming to understand” but a form of rationalisation. The naturalisation of parental control as a “condition of human life” is not explained, and seems to be a dogma. Again, the implication that children are blank slates ripe for moral engineering arises. Desire is present from birth, and provides some way of engaging with all injunctions; that children’s understanding is not the same as Rawls’s is not evidence that they have no understanding. This assumption is in fact an imposition of voicelessness, disguised as a factual claim. Even more absurd, and sinister, is the idea that the lack of a good reason to oppose an injunction is good enough reason to obey it. If Rawls’s account were accurate, it would be true that children lack good reason to disobey, but also that they lack good reason to obey. Why, then, does Rawls assume that they both do and should obey? This assumption reflects two undeclared positions: firstly, that people are at root submissive, and wish to obey unless there is a good reason not to; and secondly, that it is always reasonable to obey injunctions from authorities unless there is a good reason not to. That this is descriptively inaccurate is shown by studies of children’s discourse by authors such as Marsh et al, Goodman and Ward (****). Children have their own standards of assessment, long before they cease to be subordinated to parental domination. That it is unethical is harder to show, but is suggested in the left-psychoanalytic and schizoanalytic literature. Submissive attributes tend to produce reactive attitudes and slave moralities, as well as reinforcing social authoritarianism and the irrational power of rulers. It is precisely because of this submissiveness, “learned” through entrapment and fear, that the “virtues” Rawls labels “supererogatory” are so rare. The Freudian account of identitication with parents is quite different to Rawls’s, and it is not clear why one should prefer Rawls’s naïve account (especially since, if children do not understand the reasons for injunctions, these are likely to seem irrational and sadistic).

To the extent that he provides a basis for his assumption regarding submissiveness, it is provided in his discussion of love. According to Rawls, love is from the first self-interested. Children come to love and trust parents because parents show love, which children can detect because they already have a sense of ‘rational self-interest’. This happens because parents show unconditional love from which children benefit, so love of parents is a natural extension of self-love. Though it arises in a self-interested way, love is not as a result instrumental; it involves ‘a transformation of [the child’s] original desires’ (TJ 406). Surprisingly, Rawls still terms the resultant attitudes ‘natural’ (TJ 412). This account is incompatible with what went before, since children are now implicitly assumed to have independent standards of assessment. These standards are, further, assumed to be in line with ideas of rational self-interest which Rawls tends to naturalise throughout his theory. There is no evidence that children think in this way, still less that love is an articulation of such self-interest. Further, if children normally experience parental power as benevolence, there would surely be none of the issues surrounding disobedience, “wilfulness”, “truancy”, “vandalism” and suchlike today.

Rawls admits that rebellion occurs, though he does not discuss it much. He assumes that, even when desires ‘exceed the bonds of what is permitted’, so that the bonds are experienced as constraints against which to rebel, parental attitudes are internalised and the rebellion comes to be seen as giving in to temptation. This altered perception seems to occur via the instilling of guilt, which parents are to carry out through emotional blackmail (TJ 407). I say this because Rawls sees guilt arising from love and trust, and he says that the absence of guilt is evidence of the absence of love and trust. This is an overcoding operation, because clearly the phrase “love and trust” has a broader referent than merely guilt. Further, the link between the two concepts is largely arbitrary: one may love and trust another without thereby feeling obliged to obey, especially if the love and trust arise within a broadly libertarian belief-system. (For instance, Rawls does not require that the principle be applied symmetrically, so that parents would feel guilty about refusing to obey the child, or else be insufficiently loving). The link is therefore a discursive construct. It seems to operate impositionally. Since Rawls takes guilt as an indicator of love and trust, presumably its absence could be used to accuse a child of not loving or trusting one; disobedience would therefore be used to induce guilt through an arbitrary association with lack of love. The model Rawls is using reflects forms of parental control and psychological breaking which are common in middle-class families (see Pateman ****). One might better say that it is parents, by using such methods, who are showing a lack of love: they love the social system more than “their” child. London youth paper AGRO puts the same thing from a different angle: ‘When you’re doing anything that you fucking enjoy, THEY’re waiting there to stop you… They are going to make you become THEM. THEM - parents, been good to you all your life… made you what you are… the sacrifices, whether it’s the soft line - “how you can hurt us”, or the hard line…’ (BAMN 217). These angry youths seem to have a rather different take to Rawls on the forms of power they have been targeted under.

Rawls opposes the “hard line” of ‘harsh’ methods, ‘coercive threats and reprisals’, and also demands that parents be worthy of obedience by (for instance) encouraging self-esteem, justifying rules when possible and avoiding hypocrisy. Nevertheless, the “soft line” is to encourage the same kind of psychological breaking and slave morality. In the morality of authority, says Rawls, the main virtues are obedience, humility and fidelity to authority, and the main vices are disobedience, self-will and temerity. Obedience should be unquestioning and should involve an absence of doubt, distrust, suspicion and arrogance (TJ 408-9). Further, the morality of authority is to operate by demanding self-sacrifice, deprecating individuals and associations, and creating an ‘emptiness of the self’ which is to be ‘overcome in the service of larger ends’ (TJ 438) (NOTE: In the passage where Rawls declares this, he denounces the idea of turning the morality of authority into a general social morality for leading to ‘self-hatred’ and other ‘destructive consequences’ (TJ 438)). Such reactionary demands show the kind of person Rawls wishes to construct: people are to be domesticated, controlled and turned into slaves, before they are allowed (from their degraded standpoint) to become “citizens”. It is in this way that Rawls wants to create in the world the kind of submissive and reactive ‘sociability’ he posits in theory. It is wrong to assume that Rawls’s rejection of the (often ineffective) extremes of authoritarianism is somehow a rejection of the process of construction of authoritarian character-armour. All the characteristics of an authoritarian personality, such as identification with authority-figures, repression of desire, effacement of will, submissiveness and unreflexive faith in the powerful are present in Rawls’s “soft line” also. Parental unconditionality is celebrated even while any unconditionality posited by a child becomes a “vice”. Perhaps the “soft line” is adopted because it is merely more effective than the “hard line” at producing the same outcome. In any case, this is a schema for repressive territorialisation and reactive psychological construction.

Lest one believe that liberalism later eliminates this repressive ethics, Rawls specifically states that it is not to be overcome later in life. It simply becomes ‘subordinate to the principles of right and justice’, which reintroduce ways by which the subordinated individual can “account for” her or his submissiveness and in a few cases counter it. Even this subordination is incomplete, for there are other cases where ‘these extreme requirements, or analogous constraints, are justified’, providing a backdoor for repressive policing, militarist discourse and prisons. It is also ‘a necessity’ in the “care” of children (TJ 409). The violence beneath Rawls’s superficial tolerance is clear from the fact that he establishes such a repressive model as the zero-level of ethics. Faced with a choice, Rawls would rather impose ethical conclusions without reasons than permit free development until such a time as “reason” permits the principles to be accepted. As a result, “our considered convictions” are the “convictions” of those whose ability to think for themselves has already been smashed.

Rawls’s account of the “morality of authority” depends in part on his idealisation of families. He assumes that his ideal image of the family actually does apply most of the time. For instance, members of familities ‘willingly… take great chances to help each other’ (TJ 502). Naturalisation of the family arises at intervals in Rawls’s theory. Although he eventually drops the requirement that people in the original position be assumed to have descendants (PL 274; orig. TJ 111), he does not seem to change his view that ‘households’ are the basic economic unit (TJ 244).

It should also be added that Rawls treats obedience as a convenient way of avoiding any direct necessity to consider complex ethical issues, even in his full theory. Obedience to principles ‘protects in a natural and simple way the institutions and persons we care for’ in ways which eliminate the need for ‘dubious and involved’ considerations of which claims to support (TJ 500). This apparent miracle cure “works” only because it is not a cure: the complex consideration of specific claims is eliminated by bulldozer devices such as rendering some groups voiceless and establishing criteria with no reference to actual people. This is an evasion of concern for others, not a “natural and simple” version of it.

The second moral stage, built on top of the “morality of authority”, is the “morality of association”. This is when moral conceptions first emerge, in the form of roles and of empathetic standpoints referring to others’ points of view. Rawls assumes that role-based empathy is easy for adults, but not for children, and that such ‘natural attitudes’ underlie moral feelings. The desire for sameness introduced via the morality of authorities continues here. Rawls thinks citizenship is of this kind. The virtues at this stage are justice, fairness, integrity, impartiality, fidelity and trust, whereas the vices are graspingness, dishonesty, deceit, unfairness, bias and prejudice (TJ 409-13). There is also to be a higher stage, apparently realised in a well-ordered society, when people become attached, not to others, but to principles themselves, and when love, trust, friendship and confidence turn into a sense of being a beneficiary of an enduring just system. This leads to an extension of feelings of guilt, resentment and injustice across a wider range of institutions than in previous stages, including some which are purely imagined. Moral attachments are wholly disconnected from specific people and other such ‘contingencies’ and ‘accidental circumstances’. The only substantial difference with the morality of association is that emotional reactions are rationalised with reference to principles and are connected to a ‘desire to do what is right and just simply because it is right and just’. The moralities of authority and association are given ‘their explanation and justification within the larger scheme’. This stage is the completion of moral development, though Rawls also hints that supererogatory ethics may be higher still. Even this stage, however, is to consist of ‘self-command’ (TJ 414-19). It is quite clear that the self remains in the same relation to everyday life as in the morality of authority: denial of desire goes hand-in-hand with a submissive relation to externalities. The main change as people “rise” through the ethical “stages” is that the externalities become less and less immediate and more and more imaginary. At no stage is the direct and active relation which is smashed by the morality of association re-formed.

It is important for Rawls that supererogatory ethics not return to haunt his theory, so he adds the claim that ‘the sense of justice is continuous with the love of mankind’, even though the latter is supererogatory. Indeed, it is necessary for the latter, since only a sense of justice can resolve conflicts between the different love-objects which make up love of mankind (TJ 417). Further, he insists that supererogatory ethics is ‘not one for ordinary persons’, thereby excusing common sense from ethical critique on the grounds of this kind of ethics. Even supererogatory ethics is mainly reactive, consisting of extreme self-control and selfless benevolence. Though this produces saints and heroes, Rawls insists that even these people be tied down by ‘the norms of right and justice’ (TJ 419). Rawls tends to ignore the tensions between the economy of the gift and the economy of exchange, and he also ignores the ways in which the assumptions of his theory tend to silence or peripheralise “love of mankind”.

Rawls’s entire account of psychology is located in a strange place in his theory. It is never given centrality and its status is unclear, yet it often appears to have a foundational significance. Wolff suggests that Rawls’s ‘extremely elaborate speculative moral psychology’ is actually an afterthought, constructed ‘strictly post hoc’ to provide a basis for the assumption that people can be modelled as non-envious, an assumption which is necessary to produce Rawls’s desired outcome from the quasi-economic reasoning of the original position (UR 29-30). This is certainly a plausible suggestion, although there is clearly also some kind of relationship between Rawls and Kohlberg, and a link to Kant’s speculative approach to the relationship between ethics and desire. In any case, the result is an account which is neither plausible nor progressive.

To conclude, Rawls’s views on psychology reflect a strong and pervasive tendency to misrepresent “normal”, repressed character-structures as natural and morally desirable. He misrecognises present discursive constructs as “human nature”. Also, his theory depends extensively on discourses of self-alterity and the deployment of myths. Many of the statements which appear to be referential turn out on closer inspection to be impositional and invalidatory. Rawls does not recognise human needs or autonomous desires of any kind, suppressing these beneath an overarching conception to which people are to submit. People are also given no role in constructing or even decontesting ethical principles, which are treated as an a priori standard. Despite his claim to have a self-affirming ethics, his ethics requires that people submit constantly to social institutions and to others’ judgements and expectations. When he ventures into empirical terrain, his claims are usually asserted dogmatically, with little or no consideration of evidence. The gaps are filled with naturalisation and speculation. Often, such views are reformulations of claims Rawls makes elsewhere, and he rarely deals seriously with whether a particular emotion of “law” really is universal. He relies exclusively on reactive emotions, and these depend on an endorsement of disciplinary structures of control which belie his supposed commitment to freedom. Actual people are treated with contempt, as prone to create “strife” and “instability”, necessitating an ethical cage. This model of psychology is oppressive, and also counter-productive. It relies so extensively on self-denial and psychological repression as to render returns of the repressed almost inevitable. Therefore, even a well-ordered society could, on a psychological level, only be a “modus vivendi”, sustained through perpetual suffering and psychological repression. In actual social relations, Rawls’s project effectively endorses far more corporeal methods of repression and control.


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