Pubs & Blogs

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

The Unwritten Theory of Justice: Rawlsian Liberalism Versus Libertarianism


Publication Date: 
November 14, 2011
Book Chapter
Bibliography: Barbara H. Fried, The Unwritten Theory of Justice: Rawlsian Liberalism Versus Libertarianism in The Blackwell Companion to Rawls, Jon Mandle and David Reidy, editors, Blackwell, 2012; Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 1957828 (2011).


When A Theory of Justice was published in 1971, utilitarianism was the game to beat in political philosophy, and Rawls made clear his intention to beat it. The appearance of Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia three years later singlehandedly enshrined libertarianism rather than utilitarianism in the popular imagination as the chief rival to Rawls’s two principles of justice. Ever since, Rawlsian liberalism has had two parallel lives in political theory. The first - the version Rawls wrote - is a response to utilitarian’s failure to take seriously the separateness of persons. The second - the unwritten version ‘received’ by its general audience - is a response to libertarianism’s failure to take seriously our moral obligations to the well-being of our fellow citizens. This article considers how, had he written the second version, Rawls might have dealt with libertarians’ critique of ‘justice as fairness’ as fundamentally illiberal, and how his two principles might have been transformed in the process.