Contractualist Egalitarianism: Whence and Whither

This paper elevates liberal contract theory to the international scene, where it is found that inter-state inequalities are not illegitimate per se. However, while Rawlsian theory may not be applicabel to the world setting, it is nevertheless more consistent than what is often assumed.

ARENA Working Paper 08/1998 (html)

Andreas Føllesdal

The paper argues that liberal contractualism can recognize the normative significance of state borders. While unequal shares of certain goods is unreasonable among citizens, some such inequalities are not objectionable in a system of sovereign states. Domestically, a strong case can be made for requiring equal shares of "social primary goods", understood as legal powers within a state characterized by pluralism. However, global regimes need not maximize the share of the globally worst off. Thus a "Global Difference Principle" is not a condition of legitimacy for regimes regulating states.

The argument shows that claims to equality within liberal contractualism are not robust, as there is no general presumption for equality of condition or of shares of goods. This account thus challenges the received view of liberal contractualism and Justice as Impartiality, which is often thought to justify a general egalitarian baseline for all distributive domains. The paper offers a defense of Rawls' theory of Justice as Fairness, which has been regarded as fundamentally inconsistent in rejecting a Global Difference Principle and in disregarding naturally occuring inequalities. The argument presented defends the consistency of Justice as Fairness, but challenges that theory's relevance for the present world order.

Tags: normative political theory, legitimacy, supranationalism
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM