Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

RAWLS NOTES INTRO (notes and work in progress)


I shall now examine its implications in relation to the philosophy of John Rawls. As well as being intended as a contribution to normative political theory, this analysis is intended to demonstrate the analytical and political importance of my critique of oppressive discourse. After all, the ability to “prove” analytically that fascism is oppressive does not really add anything important relative to existing theories or even to “common sense”. On the other hand, Rawls’s theory has numerous adherents and is not widely considered to be oppressive. Therefore, if I can demonstrate that my theory can identify which (if any) aspects of Rawls’s theory contribute to oppression, I can show this theory to have something original to say in the field of political theory.

Why might I think that Rawls’s theory is linked to oppression? Why, in other words, does Rawls’s liberalism not insulate him from such a criticism? If I can show that Rawls’s theory uses oppressive forms of discourse, why does this show Rawls’s theory to be oppressive, rather than falsifying my theory of oppression? The answer is that liberal theory is indirectly connected to liberal political systems, and liberal systems contain practices which could be conceived as oppressive. For instance, Foucault refers to the prison as ‘a certain way of rendering… [people] docile and useful’, ‘both the real capture of the body and its perpetual observation’ (DP 304-5). One finds in liberal-capitalist societies an unprecedented swathe of measures of control, normalisation and repression, exceeded only by the practices of totalitarians. I have in mind not only the prison, but also apparatuses of policing and judgement, the exclusion and persecution of the psychologically different and, at one degree removed from the spaces where liberalism operates, the discourses and practices of colonialism and neo-colonialism. These various practices of control generate the typical experiences which point towards their being oppressive. Matza’s studies of “delinquents” in America reveals the pervasiveness of a sense of being “pushed around”, which Matza treats as a metaphor for feeling dehumanised or stripped of any agency in the world (**). There are also the practices of the economic system, where, according to Marx, ‘[h]e who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as the capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but - a tanning’ (Capital 1, 280). Paul Treanor suggests that the everyday concept of justice arises as a flip-side to injustice, conceived roughly as a synonym for oppression. By reconceiving it on the abstract level of social institutions, liberals effectively abandon the victims of “injustice”, wrongly drawing on the energy of a concept intimately connected with the exploits of rescuers and comic-book heroes (The Politics of John Rawls 10).

It is not, of course, new for radicals to attack capitalism for being oppressive, nor for such critics to denounce liberalism for its links to the capitalist system (FOOTNOTE: eg. Zizek). But it is one thing to assert something and another completely to demonstrate it. It is my claim that, by showing that oppressive forms of discourse operate in the work of a leading liberal theorist, I can show that liberalism supports and/or generates oppressive practices. In other words, I can show that liberalism’s commitment to freedom, equality and other such goals occurs within a framework which constructs asymmetries in such a way as to render particular people voiceless, thereby contradicting its own claims to inclusiveness. To do this comprehensively, I would have to examine a whole range of liberal authors, and also examine liberalism as an “organic ideology”. However, for purposes of indication, I have chosen to concentrate on one particular liberal theorist who will stand in for his tradition for the purposes of this thesis. I have chosen John Rawls, because he is the most influential contemporary liberal theorist. I am not claiming that he is responsible for the operation of liberalism as an organic ideology; indeed, his political and social impact is probably quite limited. But for my purposes it is only necessary that he have some kind of link to “organic” liberalism, whether via “trickledown” (which I doubt), or through his own absorption and rationalisation of widespread beliefs and prejudices (which is more likely). In a sense, I am studying the tip of the iceberg as a way of ascertaining the molecular structure of the iceberg as a whole. This should, at least, be enough to demonstrate the implications of my theory of oppressive discourse in relation to liberal theory. Also, there are certainly some authors who read an emancipatory potential into Rawls’s work (Peffer ****, Callinicos ****, Reiman), and others who have come around to Rawls’s view despite earlier criticisms (Doppelt, Nielsen). Peffer, for instance, states that ‘it is my belief that [Rawls’s] theory is essentially correct and… [that] it will justify the Marxist’s basic normative positions’ (Peffer 364-5), so ‘[i]t is not… necessary for those convinced that socialism is preferable to capitalism to undermine Rawls’s theory’ (Peffer 415). The case of Kai Nielsen is especially strange because he reads Rawls as an anti-foundationalist (How to Proceed… 93), even while admitting that he takes an uncritical approach and that he views deviation from common sense as theoretical extravagance (106-7). Indeed, Rawls’s relativism in his later writings has provided a route for his ideas into critical theory, via ostensible radicals such as Mark S. Cladis who object to explicit foundationalism but not to claims about ‘who we are’ and ‘our traditions’ (Wittgenstein, Rawls and Conservatism 24-5). Plant, Lesser and Taylor-Gooby suggest that the appropriation of Rawls in social analysis is mainly the project of people who wish to remain mainstream but to retain some critical elements such as anti-foundationalism (Pol, Phil and Social Welfare 146-7). His tailing of common sense is also, according to Norman Daniels, a major reason for critical support for Rawls among liberal journalists (see Daniels ed., xxxiv).

There are also other advantages with using discourse analysis, since analytical philosophers who criticise Rawls’s views are often nevertheless drawn into his ambit at crucial points. For instance, Wolff provides an extensive critique of Rawls’s basic ideas, but dismisses opposition to Rawls’s support for “temporary” abrogations of liberty in “emergencies” as ‘absurd’ (UR 88), as indeed it seems viewed in an analytical way (apart from the problem of how such discourse can be used by states to construct ongoing or imaginary “emergencies”). Gerald Dworkin similarly makes the claim that the possibility of misuse is never an argument against a policy (in Daniels ed., 134). This creates a mistaken image of politics as the realisation of prior ideals, as if power and discourse have no actuality outside of the ruminations of theorists. It is therefore important to demonstrate the oppressive implications of Rawls’s ideas to allow critical and radical theory to be reformulated in ways which resist incorporation into oppressive structures and mindsets. It is important to emphasise in this context the distinction between discourse analysis and analytical philosophy, since the former is necessarily concerned with the implications of social and libidinal relations which a discourse constructs and not simply with its operation as an ideal construct. A “moral geometry” which deals with decontextualised and abstract examples may seem simply hypothetical, but it can have serious effects on power-relations when it is used to found political claims. The central issue should not be whether a particular act or institution can be abstractly justified in some conceivable eventuality, but for the effect a discursive articulation or position can have on power-relations, i.e. on who can do or say particular things, and how. In a sense, therefore, I am asking different questions to most Rawls scholars: instead of “if facts X, Y and Z are true, is principle A justified?”, I am asking, “what language-games and social relations could result from the structure and operation of principle A?”.

One thing to realise about liberal theory is that it is, in Deleuze’s terms, highly striated. Different concerns are not compared across a smooth space of equals, but occur within a neatly arranged and tightly regulated hierarchy which attaches primacy to particular concerns and agents in actual cases. For instance, in activist discourse, it is common for the political concerns of dissidents to be compared directly to those of the powerful. An article in SchNews reveals this clearly, when police violence against anti-war road-blockers is seen as moral hypocrisy: the police are more concerned to keep traffic moving than they are with saving lives (8 Nov 2002, Issue 380). Mainstream analysis of political issues rarely takes the form of such a direct comparison between the motives of agents on two sides of a conflict. Rather, it is hierarchically structured through the introduction of elements such as assumptions in favour of “law”, concern for the construction of stability and incessant abasement before a repressive “we”. The effect of this is that particular agents are structurally privileged. So when a police officer discusses protests against Hillgrove farm, dubbed a “cat prison” by its opponents, his concern is not with the issues but with maintaining dominance by his own preferred agents: it would be a ‘bad decision’ to back down and let activists win; ‘[y]ou totally have to take people on’ (True Spies, BBC2, 9-10P.M., 10-11-02). Why it would be a bad thing for this group to lose its dominance is not stated, suggesting the operation of a connotative logic. What the police officer seems to be suggesting is that police dominance must be defended at all costs. Such an interpretation is also suggested by the widespread reliance on exceptional claims by police to a right to use violence against others. The crucial aspect here as regards Rawls is that liberals seem to find themselves consistently on the state’s side about issues of this kind. So, while SchNews portray the law as an ‘occupational hazard’ of no special moral significance (**), Rawls’s work constructs ethical space in such a way that a mediating layer of loyalties to practices always stands between individuals and ethics (CW 32-3). “Justice”, connected directly to the “basic structure” of state and systemic institutions, is to be a primary goal in ethical theory band conduct. Therefore, it is possible that liberals, too, support a logic of state domination. If this is the case, then according to my theory it should express itself through the operation of oppressive forms of discourse within liberal theory. In this way, I can not only express a preference for activist discourse over liberalism in such cases, but give a good reason why one should have such a preference, and why it is Rawls and not myself who is one-sided about such matters. To have a preference the other way, one would, I theorise, have to accept oppressive forms of discourse, performing a sleight-of-hand to portray a system of domination as a system of freedom and equality.

The sleight-of-hand occurs via a division between two levels of discourse which are qualitatively different, and the portrayal of decisions between them as “weighing”. One might find, for instance, a general “need for laws”, constructed on the basis of an abstract and possibly mythical discourse, placed opposite the harmful effects of a particular law. The supposed general necessity of law is in every case insufficient to justify any particular law, and the effects of defiance of any particular law on the law in general is in every case indeterminable. Since there is no basis for comparison, the “weighing” exercise often involves a more-or-less consistent prioritising of the general, abstract level. Thus law(-in-general) as alibi (in the Barthesian sense) becomes an excuse for any particular law, via a short-circuit between universality and singularity. This is, in Barthes’s terms, a “triumph of literature”: an abstract sphere constructed mythically overbears specific issues, with the general effect that rules come to “matter”. People no longer “matter” as much, but the rules can abstractly be justified by reference to people, and therefore portrayed as a system which puts people (or e.g. freedom) first. Liberals are typically reluctant even to demand that every rule have a useful function or cease existing; such a demand would undermine proceduralism.

Indeed, I would suggest that Rawls’s theory involves a great many sidesteps of this kind: the displacement of agency onto the basic structure, the naturalisation of capitalist institutions as ahistorical necessities, the construction of an impositional concern with stability and order which is allowed to silence other voices, and so on. In this way, the cop would come to seem a voice of reason and the protester would seem to be violently imposing preferences. But the asymmetry involved in constructing this view can be revealed by exposing the oppressive forms of discourse operative in the assumptions which construct it.

The formal analysis I am attempting here is of a new kind, but it is prefigured in a number of previous critiques which focus on the political context and implications of Rawls’s project. Jeffrey Paris, for instance, mounts a critique on the basis that Rawls’s theory has constrained philosophical innovation (After Rawls 680) and introduced conservatism through a ‘sublimation of the political into the theoretical, a process that obscures the origins of the thinking’ (680). Rawls engages with contemporary issues, but only ‘at arm’s length’ (688), without direct consideration. The sublimation of contemporary issues into theory, a different time frame or a suitably abstract mode of expression means Rawls’s critique ‘cannot be seen as a determinate critique of the present age’ even when this age is at the root of its concern (693). For instance, Rawls displaces McCarthyism with the medieval Inquisition, civil rights with slavery, and later, when militant black consciousness groups had largely supplanted the civil rights movement, uses civil rights in turn to displace these (682, 683, 687). ‘Existing conditions and discourse are… directly incorporated into a theory that subsequently effaces those very conditions’ (698). This often leads Rawls to support the status quo, as in his writings on foreign policy, which mirror the views of the Defence Department (697). At the very least, this attitude means that ‘there is very little opportunity to directly confront the existing system’ (686). While I agree with Paris’s account, I aim to demonstrate similar conclusions without relying so heavily on a speculative process of joining up contextual dots. If my theory of oppression is valid, I should be able to demonstrate the exclusions Paris discusses by referring directly to the structure of Rawls’s own theory.


In common with most liberals, Rawls does not make himself an easy target for radical critique. He avoids discussion of concrete examples, so it is difficult to link him to any specifiable instance of oppression; in his own terms, he is looking to ‘the indefinite future’, even though he is also concerned (in the abstract) with ‘practical political possibilities’ (CW 447). Often, for instance, he discusses what obligations would obtain in a tolerably just democracy or the benefits of efficiency obtained through market distribution, without directly endorsing either contemporary capitalism or existing western states. Of course, most readers of Rawls will presumably receive the implied reference to existing social relations, but, since Rawls has not stated this reference directly, he has plausible deniability if challenged on the question of the inaccuracy of his analysis of the present. One could end up with the impression that Rawls just happens to provide a theory which justifies social relations which just happen to be similar to the existing social system. At one point, Rawls goes so far as to term his theory ‘an alternative to capitalism’ (JAFAR 135-6), while on other occasions he declares that, by a high standard, democratic peoples do not exist today (* LP ?75 or 25) and hints at the conclusion that America is ‘democratic in form only’ (JAFAR 101). One can also find occasions where he criticises corporate control of politics, present American foreign policy, and so on e.g. PL 407). This is enough to win him praise from some radicals. For instance, Alex Callinicos credits Rawls with ‘a profound challenge to the very existence of capitalism’ (Callinicos on Zizek p. 399; cf. Peffer, Callinicos - Social Theory). But at other times one finds him assuming, for instance, that at least some peoples are well-ordered (LN 89), and the back cover of Political Liberalism clearly refers to ‘modern democratic society’ and ‘our pluralistic society’ as if these were descriptive terms. (A society radically different from the present seems to be unthinkable to Rawls, so crucial aspects of the present slip into the background of his theory).

This makes the situation more complicated than, for instance, analysis of Orientalism, where one can find texts which directly implicate theorists in particular assumptions about actual people (eg. Said O 190-1). As RP Wolff puts it, ‘Rawls says little or nothing about the concrete facts of social, economic, and political reality’; he ‘excludes reality from the pages of his book’ at crucial points (UR 195, 208). Similarly, Barber accuses Rawls of ignoring the materiality of political power and political dilemmas (Daniels ed. 310). This suggests that Rawls is not saying enough about concrete issues to be open to assessment regarding oppression. However, this should not be a problem for an analysis which concentrates on oppressive forms of discourse. Rawls may or may not be part of an oppressive system, but even if he is not, his discourse reproduces the assumptions on which such a system draws. In my view, the practices and acts which could potentially derive from a theoretical discourse are as significant in assessing it as its internal analytical structure, and it is clear that Rawls’s theory could justify oppressive practices, even if it retains some distance from existing systems of oppression. In any case, it is very convenient that Rawls’s model is so similar to contemporary capitalist and statist self-justifications. If Rawls is not providing a case for submission to the status quo, he is at the very least advocating “utopian duplication” of it. He restores the system’s image even while distancing himself from its actuality. I also suspect that he internalises conformist assumptions on a deeper level (eg. through his assumptions about “human nature”), though it is of course necessary to pursue textual analysis to show this. Also, Rawls clearly does not appreciate the depth of the problems with the present, and he reproduces the discourse which produces the problems, even while denouncing the problems themselves. (NOTE: Rawls’s analysis of fascism is a case in point. He does not pursue any discourse-analysis of fascism itself, but makes general assertions based on the assumption that Nazism was an outgrowth of Hitler’s personal preferences. It was apparently a form of ‘demonic madness’ with a ‘perverse’ religious motivation which saw the extermination of Jews as an ‘end in itself’ - LP 20-1. Denying any link between the Nazis and wider patterns in capitalist society is rather more convenient than it is accurate. Another example is Rawls’s assumption that domination does not exist. He does not stress this explicitly, but he suggests that the circumstances of justice render it impossible for any group to dominate others, which means that the assumption that this is impossible is built into any claim to contemporary relevance for Rawls’s theory. See Wolff, UR, 28-9, 36).

Rawls’s definition of his own project varies depending on which section of his work one is reading. At one place, he defines it as in effect a subvariant of statolatry: a ‘defence of reasonable faith in the possibility of a just constitutional regime’ (PL 172). In another place, he defines it solely by reference to its premises: ‘What are the most reasonable principles of political justice for a constitutional democracy whose citizens are conceived as free and equal, reasonable and rational?’ (PL 381). One could list additional instances where he relates it to practical political problems, problems in the history of philosophy, and so on. It is crucial to notice that the liberal character of Rawls’s theory is on the whole a feature of its conclusions rather than its premises, a fact which Rawls himself notes (CW 481). For instance, Rawls’s support for individual rights is deduced from other conclusions; individuals do not posit rights directly in Rawls’s theory. (Ironically, Rawls tends to derive rights and freedom from social concerns and order). My critique is not so much of Rawls’s conclusions as of his assumptions, though it is important to realise that the specification and limitation of his conclusions is a result in large part of the premises from which they are derived. Another important point is that Rawls hardly ever discusses who he is urging to do what. For instance, the “basic structure” is assumed to be a “subject”, yet this abstract concept is not clearly specified. Since it is made up of institutions and rules, it cannot be an agent, but must rely on the agency of contingent individuals who embody it. It seems that the idea of “basic structure as primary subject of justice” requires that justice be alienated (at least in “normal” conditions) to agents of the state, since most of the aspects of the “basic structure” are basically state functions. Therefore, Rawls seems to have enshrined a commitment to a generally submissive and obedient model of subjectivity into the basic questions he asks, incorporating at a definitional level an irrational commitment to asymmetrical power-relations favouring the state which he subsequently rationalises. But, as so often, he does not make this clear.

Rawls, in common with other liberals, insulates himself from the sharper criticisms of authoritarian versions of statism, partly by rejecting their irrationalism and the extremes to which their impositional discourse is stretched. For instance, he finds it ‘hard to understand’ the idea that to oppose Hiroshima is an insult to American troops, and he denounces excuses of the “war is war” type on the grounds that they ‘deny all reasonable distinctions’ (CW 572). For this reason, the oppressive drive in Rawls would seem to be weaker than in, for instance, fascism. This does not preclude his model being oppressive. Similarly, Rawls holds himself at a distance from actually-existing capitalism, even while embracing capitalist assumptions. As CB MacPherson puts it, even Rawls’s permitted version of socialism is an ‘allowable modification’ of capitalism only because ‘it embodies a considerable element of normal capitalist motivations’ (Rawls’s Models of Man and Society 345). However, this commitment occurs beneath an exterior which is superficially non-capitalist and open to any social system which might result from abstract theoretical constructions. Likewise, Joseph Raz suggests that the slippage between ideal theory and discussions of existing liberal democracies suggests that Rawls assumes the latter are already more-or-less just (Facing Diversity 6, 12). This is probably true, but again Rawls’s commitments are not explicitly declared, at least in his early work. In other words, one cannot simply accuse Rawls of complicity with existing power-apparatuses, because he is careful to keep these at arm’s length along with the contemporary problems with which they engage. As Wolff puts it, Rawls’s theory is often ‘prescription masquerading as value-neutral analysis’ (UR 195). RB Talisse suggests that this tendency has a basis in a contradictory desire of liberal theory to stand as the one and only justified social theory and also to stand as the defender of diversity and difference (Rawls on Pluralism and Stability 190).

Rawls may keep himself aloof from actual problems, but this does not at all make his exercise irrelevant to actual instances of oppression. PF Lake, for instance, lists a string of court cases in which Rawls has been cited as a source for decisions. These include authoritarian uses such as a use to undermine the defence used by anti-nuclear protesters and an occasion where Rawls was cited ‘in context of “argument for greater control of individual conduct” for proposition that “even in a near-ideal society some human tendencies can only be influenced by the prospect of certain and unfavourable outcomes upon deviant behaviour”’ (604). Plant et al. discuss appropriations of Rawls in social welfare theory and suggest that Rawls has been used to legitimate a pick-and-choose approach to interpreting respondents’ choices in surveys (Pol, Phil and Social Welfare 146-7). His theory, they add, is convenient for unscrupulous researchers because of its implicit corporatism, its emphasis on order and its legitimation of social planning (147-8). ‘Rawls’s theory is simply ideology’, because as a viewpoint it is unprovable, and it therefore provides a good excuse for planners to rely on their own “thought-experiments” and to avoid actually consulting anyone (151). In management studies, the use of Rawls seems to focus on attempts to reintroduce an awareness of values, without undermining a predominantly rational-choice model (Bartlett and Barber; Clements and Hauptmann). “New Labour” MP James Purnell appropriates several key aspects of Rawls’s theory for political purposes, concentrating on his alleged reconciliation of freedom and responsibility (which in New Labour rhetoric means the subordination of the former to the latter), his justification of inequality and his desire to “help” (policy-speak for “control”) the worst-off (Old Rawls for New Labour 84-5). John Horton also provides a reference suggesting that New Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown endorses the difference principle (Rawls in Britain 154), while Stephen Mulhall links Rawls’s tolerance for impositional education to New Labour’s “citizenship education” programmes (Political Liberalism and Civic Education). Steve Buckler and Stephen P. Dolowitz similarly link Rawls to several key elements in “New Labour” ideology, such as equal moral worth, opportunity, social cooperation, fairness, the naturalisation of market relations and a rhetoric of social inclusion (Theorizing the Third Way 306-8, 310), although this account depends to some respect on a very loose reading of some Rawlsian themes. Marcel Wissenburg suggests that New Labour’s heavy reliance on economic coercion and normalisation (e.g. in the New Deal), the naturalisation of neo-liberalism and the silencing of critique are anti-Rawlsian because they fail to respect people’s plans of life (The “third way”… 233-4). This disagreement demonstrates the difficulties involved in connecting textual exegesis to concrete issues, especially in the case of authors who rarely write in an explicitly context-engaged way. Even when Rawls does not seek concrete relevance, his theory operates as something which can be plugged into oppressive apparatuses at the behest of others (including Rawls’s numerous supporters and sympathisers such as Joshua Cohen, Murphy, Macedo, Larmore and Hoekema, whom I shall discuss when their readings offer insights into the oppressive logics of Rawls’s project). This can, of course, be done with most theories, but the ease with which such appropriations can occur is evidence that the theory itself contains oppressive tendencies even when it is not misread extensively.

As is revealed by a recent survey of the impact of Rawls in Europe, despite some uses by social democrats and neo-Marxists, ‘Rawls’s emphasis on the priority of liberty and on the acceptability of inequality provided ammunition to those “neo-liberals” arguing for welfare cuts and market-based policies in the 1980s’ (Laborde, The Reception of John Rawls in Europe, 140). In the Netherlands in the mid-1970s, Rawls was a major reference-point for politicians, with both the right-wing liberal party and the social democrats subscribing in principle to the difference principle, and using this shared orientation as a basis to attempt to form a coalition government. This attempt failed, however, for revealing reasons: the parties were unable to agree about the level of inequality the principle would justify (Lehning, Rawls in the Netherlands, 202-3). Similarly, in Germany, Rawls has been used across the political spectrum, but with rightsist standing out: ‘the leader of the by now largely libertarian Free Democratic Party has invoked the veil of ignorance to promote globalization on the grounds that it promotes equality of opportunity’ (Müller, Rawls in Germany, 175). In France, Rawls’s reception has mainly been on the right, directed against the idea of the engaged intellectual (Audard, Rawls in France 217). ‘At the political level, Rawls was rapidly recuperated by the right and seen as justifying inequality in the name of “equity”’ (Audard 218). It is also interesting that Rawls only came to seem relevant in Portugal when the country came to perceive itself as a “normal” liberal democracy. He had seemed irrelevant when issues of underdevelopment and transition from dictatorship were more central (Rosas, Rawls in Portugal and Spain 245). To be fair, however, one should also note progressive uses of Rawls. For instance, the Danish Radical Left Party ‘have used veil-of-ignorance arguments to defend the right to protest with face covered’ (187) and ‘to push for better legislation for the disabled’ (192), and Norwegian Labour politicians have used Rawls against neo-liberalism (192; references are to Føllesdal, “Rawls in the Nordic Countries”). The general impression, therefore, is that Rawls has been a reference-point for politicians from a variety of perspectives, but firstly, that his work has appealed more to the right than to the left, and secondly, that his theory lacks elements sufficient to decide conflicts of interpretation or to render difficult appropriations for oppressive purposes.

On a more abstract level, liberalism can be seen as a theoretical expression of oppressive social practices, as when Ronald Bleiker, citing Dean, Hindess and Foucault, describes it as a governmental practice which defends existing political practices and their underlying “form of life” from subversive alternatives (Rawls and the Limits… 39). This is, however, easier to claim than to show, which is why a discourse-analysis of an example of liberal theory is a worthwhile activity. Furthermore, there is certainly a correlation between central elements of Rawls’s theory and those operating in American society in particular. Edward Saïd lists a number of ‘master stories’ or ‘narrathemes’ in the mythology of the American mainstream (pseudo-)consensus, singling out a hostility to history, an identity as a collective “we”, a tendency to blame opposition to America on jealousy or anti-Americanism, and an image of officials as embodiments of moral wisdom (The Other America 4-5). These themes find their echoes in Rawls via the ahistorical device of the original position and various other “simplifications”, the repressive “we” of the reasonable as exclusionary in-group, the dismissal of opponents as “unreasonable” in relation to a deproblematised “democratic public culture”, the centrality of the idea of “envy” and the glorification of “statesmen” (with its implicit correlate of the “idea of public reason”, which turns political discourse into a dispensary of high-minded moral wisdom). Therefore, an analysis of Rawls is hardly irrelevant to the far harder task of analysing everyday oppressive discourse in the west, even while it is important to realise that it does not tell the whole story about the latter.

Another problem in criticising Rawls is that many of his assumptions, in which beliefs I suspect of being oppressive are located, are not explicitly declared. For instance, Rawls’s refusal to criticise common sense is never explicitly declared or explained; it is, rather, manifested through his discussion of “public reason” and in other places. This, and other assumptions Rawls shares with other analytical philosophers, is unlikely to face criticism from within his “tradition”, and therefore usually remains unspecified and uncontested. (Presumably, “blind spots” of this kind also extend into strata of organic intellectuals, such as lawyers, policy advisors and liberal journalists, who use assumptions similar to those found in liberal theory). Rather, Rawls fights a different set of battles, directed mainly against opponents who share the bulk of his theory or who attack it from the right. For instance, he makes social inclusion conditional on having what he terms a “sense of justice”. Rather than defending this exclusionary demand, however, he is preoccupied with showing that it is “enough”, and that a greater than average sense of justice should not justify greater rights (PL 302). One could multiply examples; for instance, the way Rawls is concerned to show that “reasonable” doctrines can coexist, rather than to justify the insularity of the resulting “overlapping consensus”, and when trying to justify the use of violence to make sure children from minority religions do not escape the system of formal schooling, his main concern is the humble point of making sure they know that apostasy is not a crime, rather than his more extensive demand that they be forced to learn to be “economically independent” (i.e. to be coordinated into the existing economic system). It is therefore important to look primarily, not at the issues which Rawls and his closest theoretical neighbours view as the most important issues about his theory, but at the issues on which he has taken a stance without justifying his position.

I shall not explore this theory here, but I shall add briefly that I believe a systematising drive to be operative behind much of Rawls’s work. In other words, the primary goal of his ethics is to coordinate and capture people and desires within a fixed system or framework, in such a way as to enable this framework to operate in an unimpeded way. This has already been suggested to some degree by authors such as Ed Wingenbach (Unjust Context) and Paul Treanor (The Politics of John Rawls), as well as in the revealing remark of E.A. Goerner that ‘[t]he pragmatic bent of Rawlsian political philosophy, ever aimed at getting agreement, abandons all the questioning, wondering, and thus subversive potential that has remained part of the tradition [of philosophy] since it got Socrates killed’ (Rawls’s Apolitical Political Turn 718). Thus, Rawls is not really a theorist of “good” at all, but more a theorist of the alignment known in AD&D terminology as “lawful neutral”. However, this is not easy to demonstrate (or falsify), because, again, this is something which apparently operates implicitly and is not directly asserted. It operates via Rawls’s framing of his project, rather than in the specific principles he declares. However, if it is operative, this drive has effects on the surface of his discourse. Thus, for instance, if he believes (as I think he does) that human beings do not have inherent value and that ethical value should instead be invested in rules, but he wishes to present his theory as more-or-less humanistic, he has to redefine humanity in such a way as to inscribe the primacy of rules within it, as an element of or a limit to the human. (I would also suggest that the role of “rules” in theories of this kind is to displace immediate and actual issues onto a mythical level where the call for obedience will usually “win” in any conflict of alignments).

Another problem is that Rawls’s theory is not as unilinear as it may appear. Often, it operates by means of circularities. For instance, the validity of what Rawls wrongly terms “our considered convictions” is demonstrated by their ability to generate a reasonable conception of justice; but this conception is considered valid only because it incorporates and is compatible with the “convictions”. I shall return to this problem later in my discussion of the “reasonable”. My interpretation of this kind of circularity is to treat it as involving a unitary but undefined concept. If the binary “considered convictions”/”theory of justice” is treated as self-validating, the binary should be treated as a singularity, i.e. a grouping of ethical orientations which can be treated as an undeclared ethical valuation in relation to an unspecified other arising outside of this pairing.

Rawls’s language is often a barrier to effective analysis of his work. He uses a rhetoric which draws heavily on bureaucratic and legal discourse and is sprinkled with neologisms and archaisms. As E.A. Goerner puts it, ‘Rawls’s prose is sometimes almost as opaque as an IRS circular on the amortization of intangibles’ (Rawls’s Apolitical Political Turn 713). The rhetoricl seems precise, but its invocative use often lacks clarifying discussion. As a result, Rawls’s terminology often seems clearer in meaning than it actually is. In particular, he uses very lengthy phrases (such as “society viewed as a fair system of cooperation between free and equal citizens”) which appear to contain a variety of elements but which function in his discourse in the role of an exceedingly long compound noun. The concept involved is usually singular, and is repeated across a variety of instances in identical or near-identical form, but its meaning is often unspecified. In the case of the phrase above, only some of its elements occur independently: “citizen” is reducible to “free” and “equal” (plus “reasonable” and “rational”) and “cooperation” is sometimes differentiated from mere systems of control (as involving “reciprocity”), but the term “viewed as” is never specified, and it is unclear whether “society” treated in this way has any meaning separate from the component elements “free”, “equal”, “citizen” and “reciprocity”. In cases such as this, I am reminded of Marcuse’s remarks about operationalist language in which there is no “give” between the parts of a sentence and in which language therefore loses its critical role (** 1DM). If Rawls is indeed using operationalist concepts, his discourse is already oppressive, prior to the remainder of my discussion. It is also misleading, since it succeeds in connoting clarity even when being anything but clear.

There is also a problem with Rawls’s terminology, because key statements often have a possible double meaning. John Searle draws a distinction between assertive statements, which make claims about a prior reality, and declarative statements, which establish the reality they assert (e.g. “the meeting is now closed”, if said by the chair). (John Searle, Expression and Meaning, Cambridge: CUP 1979). Many of Rawls’s key claims, such as that “all reasonable doctrines affirm democratic institutions” and “persons are regarded as free and equal” are ambiguous between these two types of statement, and have very different meanings depending on which type is used. If they are declarative (as I suspect), they involve exclusionary assumptions and an implicit set of threats. However, they are disguised a little by appearing to be assertive.

Finally, the sheer volume and range of Rawls’s work means that a comprehensive analysis of oppressive forms of discourse operative within his theory would take more space than I am prepared to assign in this thesis. Here, I shall not deal in any detail with the impositional character of Rawls’s commitment to systematisation, his reliance on self-alterity in the fictive construction of the “original position” and elsewhere, his naturalisation of common sense, the deagentification involved in the idea of the “basic structure” as an “agent” or the apparently form-impositional character of his methodology. There being (or not being) instances of oppressive discourse in the sections of Rawls’s theory I examine does not preclude there being (or not being) oppressive forms of these other kinds.

I would also add that, if I can show that Rawls uses oppressive forms of discourse and therefore constructs oppressive experiences, this is not only an extraneous critique but also an internal one. Rawls explicitly declares that his theory is not ‘compatible with some persons being oppressed’ and that he is against the ‘oppressive use of government power’ (TJ 185, JAFAR 21). This may be linked to his conception of the person (see below), but in any case, it seems to be a declaration of intent strong enough to suggest that Rawls would not easily accept the accusations I level against him. My analysis may also undermine his claim that he explicitly declares all the assumptions on which his theory is based (JAFAR 133).


My analysis of Rawls’s work will concentrate on two areas: his conception of the ‘person’ or ‘citizen’, and his conception of the ‘reasonable’. I have selected these areas because they appear to regulate the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in Rawls’s theory. ‘Persons’, and all things ‘reasonable’, are to be included in the well-ordered society of justice as fairness (Rawls’s “realistic utopia”), so the parameters of these concepts are absolutely crucial in determining whether Rawls’s theory operates oppressively. Is Rawls’s project as benevolent as he would have his readers believe, or does it contain implicit logics of oppression, exclusion and domination which reveal it to be something far more sinister?

Rawls certainly claims that his theory is generally inclusive. He refers to the society he wishes to create as a union of unions ‘in which all can freely participate as they so incline’ (TJ 464). He requires of his principles, not only that they avoid inconsistency and incoherence, but also that they avoid discriminating via the use of proper names and rigged definite descriptions (JAFAR 86). He also claims to provide a theory which is impartial (TJ 165), because ‘the veil of ignorance prevents us from shaping our moral view to accord with our own particular interests’, constructing instead a ‘common standpoint’ on society (TJ 453). His idea of “public reason” is supposed to assign ‘each person’ the same position in debate (CW 607 {Footnote: in fact this is not accurate, since public reason is based on “common sense” assumptions. While these may indeed be “shared” by social insiders, they are typically also exclusionary and contestable}). His idea of a social contract is to be a contract between all members of society (PL 258), and he adds that ‘the difference principle expresses… a concern for all members of society’ (JAFAR 71). His principles of justice are to be ‘an undertaking among [cooperating] persons themselves in view of what they regard as their reciprocal advantage’ (PL 97). In the last paragraph of A Theory of Justice, he refers to his theory as bringing ‘all individual perspectives’ together into a scheme ‘that can be affirmed by everyone’ (TJ 514), so that ‘everyone can contribute’ and participate (PL 323), ‘all have the common status of equal citizen (TJ 200), ‘[t]he point of view of civil society includes all citizens’ (PL 383) and ‘everyone’s interests are taken into account’ (TJ 85). He also adds various humanistic sentiments. For instance, he claims to see ‘basic human needs and purposes’ and ‘human life’ as ‘in general good’ (PL 177), and that his theory would lead to ‘a social world that allows free play to human nature’ (CW 492). Further, he repeatedly affirms that he wishes his theory to be acceptable to the worst-off (TJ 255), and his idea of primary goods, he claims, does not distinguish between people (TJ 288). And he portrays his theory as an exercise in reconciliation: ‘justification is argument addressed to those who disagree with us, or to ourselves when we are in two minds’ (TJ 508), and presumably Rawls is trying to justify his view. His theory, he claims, is about ‘willingness to cooperate with others on political terms’ they can accept (PL 162). He claims that his theory involves ‘terms that everyone can publicly accept’ (CW 444). It is ‘clear and perspicuous to our reason, congruent with and unconditionally concerned with our good, and rooted not in abnegation but in affirmation of our person’ (PL 317).

Such claims do not, however, accord well with Rawls’s method, for he does not anywhere engage in dialogue with others, and he is prone to dismiss views he dislikes. This seems to reveal a contradiction between universal and particular aspirations (c.f. Marilyn Friedman, “John Rawls and the Political Coercion…” 17), a contradiction which produces a distinction between “everyone” and “each one” (Michelman in Daniels ed., 333-4). Clearly his method does not involve actually trying to reconcile actually-existing views. Rather, his political conception is to be ‘freestanding’, i.e. something which can be endorsed on its own merit. He specifically insists that it must not come about by balancing or appealing to the diverse beliefs that people actually hold (PL xlvii). Being responsive to people’s actual concerns would make his view ‘political in the wrong way’ (39-40). Indeed, he goes even further than this, portraying irrelevance to actual people as a theoretical advantage (e.g. JAFAR xvi-ii). The idea of the basic structure as subject is valuable because it ‘allows us to abstract from the enormous complexities of the innumerable transactions of daily life and frees us from having to keep track of the changing relative positions of particular individuals’, so that ‘[t]he principles of justice specify the form of background justice apart from all particular historical considerations’ (JAFAR 54). Political principles should already be fixed before one enters political life (LN 102), and any individual citizen can ‘decide’, apparently alone, which ‘constitutional arrangements’ are ‘just for reconciling conflicting opinions’ on matters of justice (TJ 171). His model is in his own terms ‘hypothetical’ and ‘nonhistorical’ - the justice of the outcome of his decision procedure is just regardless of what it is, and regardless of whether his construct, the “original position”, could happen or has happened (JAFAR 16-17). Rawls does not require that one consent to or even benefit from institutions as a reason for being compelled to support them, because the beneficial and just character of the institutions has already been guaranteed at the abstract level of constructing the institutional principles (TJ 295). He believes that the total, closed system which he admits would result from this is nevertheless sufficient for all the main human purposes (PL 40-1).

In other words, Rawls’s theory is an undirected machine which operates by its own logic, regardless of the logic of the lifeworlds into which it intrudes (or would intrude if actualised). When an individual faces an ethical decision, everything is always-already settled in advance. There is no room for discussion, let alone for dialogue in the Bakhtinian sense, whereby “justice” can be modified to include particular people or tested in actual situations. In a conflict over the use of resources, for instance, Rawls appears to be advocating the idea of a prior and external standard which determines the desirable outcome. He is not calling for actual dialogue between the parties in the dispute. By the time ethical or legal rules become actual, i.e. are incorporated in the lifeworlds of actually-existing people, there is no room for contestation; an outcome is to be imposed, in line with what is ostensibly “reasonable”. “Rules” and “basic structures”, which operate as what Deleuze and Guattari term “molar aggregates”, are absolutely dominant. This is almost the direct opposite of a situation where social relations are constructed by actual people in an active and enabling way. Since Rawls’s model would therefore be imposed rather than agreed (even in relation to those who support it, who would accept it as a matter of “duty”), there is little reason to assume that it would avoid leading to substantial social exclusion against anyone who was not in the forefront of the mind of the individual who thought up the principles. Indeed, this model seems to be constructed so as to put hurdles in the way of the assertion of voice, rather than to enable it.

As if this limitation were not enough, there are other barriers which restrict Rawls’s self-professed inclusiveness. One of these is that it has to lead, at Rawls’s insistence, to a single end-point, a set of laws which apply to everyone (TJ 194). Another is that the ‘democratic perfectionism’ of Rawls’s ideals is to be limited by the ‘laws and tendencies’ of ‘our world’ (JAFAR 13). As we shall see, Rawls’s version of these ‘laws and tendencies’ is such as to naturalise existing relations of oppression and exclusion, and his resultant concept of “necessity” allows him to silence claims which challenge or exceed these relations. Also, lest one think that Rawls guarantees anything concrete to actual people, one should keep in mind that he effectively vouches for the inconsistency of his own beliefs. ‘Those who suppose their judgments are always consistent are unreflective or dogmatic; not uncommonly they are ideologues and zealots’ (JAFAR 30). So, while Rawls intends to increase consistency in judgements, he is committed to a view which requires a leeway of tolerance for inconsistent and hypocritical institutions. He also admits that he cannot deliver the clarity he seeks (TJ 176), and he claims that justice is an aim or ideal. So ‘any actual society is more or less unjust - usually gravely so’ (PL 398, 400-1). Further, he metaphorises discursive space as physical space, and uses this as a way to insist that it must of necessity be limited (JAFAR 150). Further, he has a model of argument which requires, not that he argue with others on terms they accept or that he deconstruct others’ arguments so as to persuade opponents towards his own position, but rather, that he establish a shared starting-point and argue from this; ‘justification proceeds from what all parties to the discussion hold in common’ (TJ 508). It is not enough (nor apparently is it necessary) to justify something to particular persons and groups until all are covered. There must for Rawls be something more extensive, a ‘shareable public basis of justification’ (CW 608). One can also add that his conception is supposed to involve a final and total solution to at least some ethical problems, and to apply permanently. ‘There is never a time when we are free from all moral and political principles and restraints’. Rather, these ‘always apply to us fully’ (CW 572).

Rawls does not in fact offer others arguments directed to what they actually believe. Rather, he provides arguments addressed to the reader’s “reason”, which in effect amounts to a set of dogmas, “convictions” and predispositions the reader is assumed to accept or feel. Someone who does not share these views cannot but feel that Rawls is talking past her or him, and that this project, if imposed, would be oppressive. Yet Rawls claims that his project is about including all persons, and furthermore, including them as “free and equal”.

How, then, is Rawls able to square the circle? How can he claim to be including everyone, when he constructs a theory which places prior criteria on inclusion? How can he have listened to everyone and taken everyone into account, when his theory explicitly precludes dialogue, or consideration of what people actually think? It is the manner in which he does this that the exclusionary nature of his theory becomes apparent. Basically, he assumes everyone (or everyone of value) to conform to a particular essence of “the person”, an essence which is constructed in a typically mythical and intensional way, with little or no reference to actual people. Assumed to be a fixed point floating above the “enormous complexities” of everyday life, this myth of “the person” allows Rawls to believe he has bypassed the need to take account of these complexities, because he has the common reference-point he seeks which can resolve all conflicts. (Of course, he sometimes has to limit his dehistoricising claims so as to make his theory seem relevant to actual people: every myth must somewhere plug itself into the actual desiring-flows of actually-existing people). Rawls sets up a model of the original position so as to ensure ‘they will not enter into an agreement they know they cannot keep’ (TJ 126), yet nonetheless, he manages to deduce an agreement they can make, without reference to particularities about them. What he sets up is therefore a schema (and a resulting set of rules) which encode actual people as expressions of a particular model or essence, so that actual people are judged by their conformity to this image.

The schema is constructed by monologue, but it can claim to be inclusive because the assumptions behind the monologue are based on characteristics which anyone worthy to join a dialogue would anyway hold. So “persons” never in fact agree to what Rawls suggests, and have no opportunity to agree or disagree; it is deduced from what they must believe to qualify as persons. Of course, this means that anyone who does not conform to the schema is rendered unfit to be part of the dialogue, a dialogue which, in fact, never occurs in the first place, but is assumed fictively to always-already have occurred. So ‘a person can be required to respect the rights established by principles that he would acknowledge in the original position’ (TJ 192, my emphasis). ‘In justice as fairness… all agree ahead of time upon the principles by which their claims on one another are to be settled’ (TJ 495). As a result of this, freedom and political power, while abstractly invested in “the person”, are in fact alienated, firstly into the purely imagined people in the original position, and secondly into the very real “enforcement” apparatuses which make up a significant part of what Rawls terms “the basic structure”.

Attempting to derive a theory fit for “everyone” from a model of what people in a hypothetical situation “would” decide is a project which puts a massive burden on the explanatory assumptions regarding what people “would” do. There is no room whatsoever for error in the construction of the imaginary people who are to make up this situation, for, if any actual possibility is left out of the founding assumptions, the effect will be the same as if this possibility were invalidated in actual dialogue. Since, however, Rawls does not look at diverse people and beliefs but looks instead for an essence, it is almost inevitable that he will leave something out.

In fact, as Brian Walker puts it, Rawls’s theory is based on ‘the presumption that our natural relation to each other is essential sameness’ (John Rawls, Mikhail Bakhtin… 116). Rawls’s plurality turns out, as Roberto Alejandro argues, to be problematic, because, while goals are to be plural, ‘the individuals who… are behind those attachments and aims, are the same’. Pluralism is limited to aspects of the self Rawls views as external. ‘The self’s core, by contrast, is anything but plural. It conjures up an image of sameness which turns out to be the necessary requirement for the goal of harmony Rawls relentlessly pursues’ (Rawls’s Communit. 86). Rawls’s principles are ‘guardrails to sustain society’ through ‘a deliberate effort to keep contingency at bay’ (What is Political… 8). The ‘red thread’ of Rawls’s theory is ‘the exclusion of contingent traits to preserve contingent institutions conceived in perpetuity’ (12). Hence, ‘the parties or the citizens end up displaying a disturbing sameness’ as ‘uniform embodiments of [settled] ideas and convictions. They are not plural; they are the same’ (12).

Rawls admits that a claim to speak for all persons is ‘too broad, unless we suppose that they are in their nature basically the same’ (CW 608). People are, or can be made, alike: ‘the idea of unanimity among rational persons is implicit throughout the tradition of moral philosophy’ (TJ 233), so presumably, rational people are similar enough to decide in a unitary way. It is vital for Rawls that, in the original position, ‘each is convinced by the same arguments’ (TJ 120). The things which must be true for a society to need justice include the fact that ‘individuals are roughly similar in physical and mental powers’ (TJ 110). ‘The original position is so characterized that unanimity is possible; the deliberations of any one person are typical of all’ (TJ 232), establishing an equivalence which eliminates any need for bargaining between different people or groups (TJ 120-1). This unanimity is also what Rawls means by “well-ordered” in the phrase “well-ordered society” (TJ 233). Also, his image of society is an image of sameness. For instance, each should count for one in calculations (TJ 284). Rawls makes no case for valuing difference. Rather, ‘we appreciate what others do as things we might have done but which others do for us, and what we do is similarly done for them’ (TJ 495). Rawls assumes that people are ‘roughly similar in physical and mental powers’ and are similar in terms of moderate scarcity and vulnerability to attack and sabotage; this similarity is the basis for justice (TJ 110). Justice is a way of constructing people as sufficiently similar to imagine each other as interchangeable: ‘it is a necessary part of the criterion for recognizing another as a person with similar interests and feelings as oneself’ to have a sense of fairness. Further, the original position is based on the assumption that people have ‘similar interests and capacities’, and Rawls seems to think one needs similarity in order to even recognise another as a person (CW 62-3). (NOTE: Deleuze’s Diff. and Repetition is a critique of this kind of approach in general). Difference is only included in the domesticated form of ‘different and complementary talents and skills’ (PL 206), a form of difference which is, furthermore, to be viewed as a common asset (JAFAR 75). Rawls’s attempt to ignore difference helps to explain his preparedness to rely on empathy as a basis for ethical comparisons (e.g. CW 378-80, TJ 393). As Kymlicka puts it regarding Rawls, ‘I must put myself in the shoes of every person in society’ to understand the original position (Contemp. Pol. Phil. 64). Empathy is only possible with others who have a similar structure of desire. In Rawls’s case, this seems to be limited to those who share his primary libidinal commitment to systematisation. In any case, any positive effects of empathy are offset in the kind of cases Rawls discusses by the repressive claims of “balance” (as is clear from real cases in court - even one case where a judge cried while sentencing a young thief, but still issued the sentence). A difference subsumed within sameness is a difference unable to include actual differences. Žižek explains this as follows. ‘When the trial by “veil of ignorance” tells me that, even if I were to occupy the lowest place in the community, I would still accept my ethical choice [in the original position], I still move within my own fantasy frame - what if the other moves within the frame of an absolutely incompatible fantasy?’ (Enjoy your Symptom p. 109).

The sameness constructed in this way is necessarily exclusionary. It involves, says Ed Wingenbach, a ‘tendency towards closure’ (Unjust Context 226). ‘To treat culture as if it were fixed reifies it’, eliding conflicts by making the present structure into an ‘unchanging standard’ for the future (227). This amounts to ‘adopting a particular point in time with limited perspectives and possibilities as the universal standard against which the justice of society will be evaluated forever’ (230). There is an other in Rawls’s theory, but, as Benhabib suggests, this is an ‘other who is just like oneself’ (The Generalised… 85). She adds that the party in the original position appears to be modelled as ‘a narcissist who sees the world in his own image’ (84). ‘Having been thrust… into a world of insecurity by their sibling brothers, these individuals have to re-establish the authority of the father in the image of the law’ (84-5). The other with whom one engages in such a framework is the other treated as the same as the self (89) via a generalised image constructed by establishing what is similar as the basis for moral dignity (87). It is only via such a construction that one can claim to be including “everyone” while constructing a theory on a self- or same-regarding basis.

What Rawls terms his “political conception of the person” is an attempt to establish such an assumption without relying on empirical or theological claims. In Rawls’s model, ‘the prior collective agreement sets up from the first certain fundamental structural features common to everyone’s plan’, features expressing a shared essence as a ‘free and equal moral person’ and ‘the idea of human beings who as members of a social union seek the values of community’ (TJ 495). For Rawls, the concept of the person in everyday language is too vague, and ‘it is essential to devise an approach that disciplines our thought and suitably limits these defects’. Therefore, he defines a ‘role that fixes or limits [the] use’ of the word “person” and other ‘vague and indeterminate’ notions. The original position is to ‘crystalise’ and define sharply the conception of the person (CW 357). Hence, institutions are to respect, not actual people, but ‘a partial ideal of the person’ (TJ 231), and they are to treat people as ‘moral persons’ (PL 273).

Why Rawls thinks this short-cut can somehow bypass the “extraordinary complexity” of everyday life is not clear, since, if the assumption that people are the same were in fact valid, this sameness would also be the outcome of an analysis of actual situations and would not require an ahistorical assumption. How is a single individual, who Rawls admits cannot perceive all the diverse actualities and potentialities of everyday life, nevertheless somehow detect a single thread running through all these instances? The complexity of everyday life surely suggests that the essence does not exist, or, in its own terms, is not realised. The short-cut is dangerous, because it effectively involves an arbitrary selection of particular aspects of everyday beliefs and their elevation into a general standard to silence other aspects. (The individual who constructs the original position will tend to assume that everyone will think like her or himself, and therefore to implicitly do exactly what Rawls is trying to avoid, i.e. privilege a distinct group, a norm of “the person”, to which this particular individual happens to belong). The net result is that, when Rawls says “everyone”, he does not mean “everyone”, but rather, “all those who pass the test of belonging to the essentialised in-group”. (Sometimes, in fact, he uses terms such as “all persons” and “all citizens” which, while they may seem on a casual reading to mean “everyone”, in fact have an explicitly exclusionary implication). To put it in Stirnerian terms, Rawls includes “all persons”, but excludes the “non-person”, and every actual person, or at least an oppressed substratum, contain “non-person” as well as “person” (or in Stirner’s terms, an “un-man”).

To make this clear, one could examine how Rawls sees his theory as fair to the essence, not the actual: it is fair to abstractly-conceived free and equal citizens, not to existing people’s demands or ideas (PL 40). Or, to take another example, Rawls may well say that no claim is to be denied satisfaction except on the grounds of its consequences for another claim (LP 14), but it remains the case that some claims are more equal than others, and that this inequality of claims is regulated by reference to the essence of “the person”. To take another example, in one passage Rawls seems to be offering everyone a right to be taken into account in the formation of government policy, and a right to enough material means to be “independent”. But on closer inspection, it turns out that he only guarantees this to ‘citizens’ (CW 440), who may well be an exclusionary group. The person or citizen can be viewed in isolation from any actual instantiation, and as a result becomes an overarching force bearing down on actual people, legitimating the actual threats and violence which in actuality bear down on actual people. When he says, for instance, that ‘the principles of justice are the principles of willing cooperation’ (TJ 336-7) or that they are principles ‘everyone is able to recognize as just’ (TJ 205), this does not imply any actual willingness or preparedness on the part of actual people. That people are included is taken as the consequence of the claim that they “would” accept Rawls’s principles in the original position.

It follows from this that Rawls’s theory is not, in fact, inclusive. Rather, it relies on the construction of an included inside at the expense of the oppression of an excluded outside. It is, therefore, an agenda for domination and asymmetry. To be more precise, Rawls’s theory involves the glorification of a particular model of psychology, and the elevation of this model into a basis for excluding and oppressing other psychological types. But I am now getting ahead of my argument. Firstly, let us examine the essential or noumenal conception of the “person” or “citizen” which is the basis for Rawls’s structure of inclusion and exclusion.


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