chapter  3
27 Pages

The Rousseauvian Dimensions of Justice as Fairness

This chapter investigates Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s influence on the moral and political philosophy of John Rawls. That influence is quite extensive and can be organized into two distinct thematic concerns: (1) the natural psychological need for recognition and for self-respect, both of which are most effectively satisfied by well-designed political and economic institutions and (2) the socializing (or pedagogical) function of principle-guided institutions, which determine which latent human propensities and sentiments emerge in social life. Before introducing these concerns, however, we must confront a series of obvious questions: Why the turn to Rousseau? What do we learn about Rawls’s normative philosophy by excavating its Rousseauvian heritage? In this chapter, I advance the view that justice as fairness is deeply implicated in the politics of recognition. Indeed, the extent to which justice as fairness is motivated by psychological concerns-namely, the need for recognition and for self-respect-has not been fully appreciated by Rawls’s interpreters and critics (Sandel 1982 and 1984, Okin 1989, Baehr 1996, Krause 2005 and Frazier 2007). And Rawls explicitly follows Rousseau’s solution to the lack of recognition-and, concomitantly, of self-respect-by institutionalizing the rights of citizenship in the basic institutional structure of society. In the end, we shall see that Rawls’s constant focus on the background institutional conditions in which social interaction takes place-and on the psychosocial impact this has on the citizens whose rights are protected by those institutions-is better understood in light of his engagement with Rousseau. That the latter is not regarded as an important influence on Rawls is a major oversight in the history of political thought. 1

But more is at stake here than the (mere) addition of a new chapter in the history of political thought: it is my view that when we expose the full extent

of the Rousseauvian heritage of justice as fairness, we get a more complete, nuanced-and, in my view, attractive —image of the moral and political philosophy of Rawls. As we shall see, the claim that Rawls’s thought is best characterized as a form of asocial individualism-so resounding and so frequent in the canon of contemporary political philosophy-is simply not tenable (MacIntyre 1981 and 1989, Sandel 1982, Buchanan 1989 and Taylor 1989). Such a view represents a serious misinterpretation of Rawls’s philosophy. Indeed, citizenship in the Rawlsian milieu is more active and more demanding than generally thought: the practice of citizenship entails active participation in the interpretation, reformulation and application of shared justice principles; here; we are moving beyond the narrow Kantian rendition of reasonableness to my own more demanding account of robust reasonableness. This transition becomes much clearer, I think, when we put Rawls in conversation with Rousseau. And so, Section III raises important questions about the nature of civic virtue, political socialization and stability in a just, well-ordered political regime: here, the chapter highlights the civic republican ethic embedded, though generally overlooked, in Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and in his Political Liberalism. And as we shall see in Chapter 4 , this republican ethos recurs in Rawls’s treatise on international relations, The Law of Peoples.