Social Justice, American Style?
The aim of John Tomasi’s excellent new book is to refresh the range of options in recent political philosophy. His goal is to elevate the tradition of classical liberalism, with its emphasis on limited government, to the prominent position hitherto exclusively enjoyed by Nozick’s version of libertarianism. The central idea is deceptively simple: to take the framework of John Rawls’s theory of justice and to make one change to its underlying motivation, and a consequent change to its internal structure. Rawls’s conception of justice as fairness is embedded within a wider approach to legitimacy, political liberalism, according to which no theory of justice can be grounded on an exclusionary appeal to one conception of the good life. In common with other perfectionist liberals, Tomasi disagrees with Rawls on this fundamental point: liberalism isbased on a conception of the good life where a variant of autonomy, self-authorship, is the foundational liberal commitment. Furthermore,...
Thanks to Kathryn Brown, Martin O’Neill, Ben Saunders and an anonymous referee for their comments on this review and to John Tomasi for helpful discussion of the main theses of his book.