John Rawls (1921-2002) was a modern philosopher who researched theories of justice. He presented a theory of Justice as Fairness, as well as a deontological theory of Justice. He was influenced by Immanuel Kant, who believed in human dignity, and thus he prioritises liberty.
From the beginning, both man and the state have worked to ensure the security of their freedom. Freedom is a priceless condition without which neither the state nor individuals can progress. We recall how cruelly absolute monarchs ignored liberty claims in England during the ancient and mediaeval periods. Today, liberty is severely restricted in countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan with Taliban takeover, Saudi Arabia, and others.
People do not feel ‘pushed’ to take matters into their own hands when they believe they can freely express their frustrations and petition the government about their grievances. Instead of arming themselves, fleeing to the hills, and waging guerrilla warfare against the central government, disgruntled citizens can take to the airwaves. They can run advertisements and participate in political debate. When governments provide a proper forum for dissenting voices, society as a whole becomes more stable because people and dissenting groups do not feel so disaffected, marginalised, or suppressed that the only way to bring about change is through violent revolution or regime change brought about through military means.
Individual liberties-focused societies, or free societies, frequently produce economic freedom. This leads to improved economies. When a market has more options, there is a tendency for lower prices at higher quality levels for products and services. When individuals’ liberties against government control, monopolisation, and standardisation are protected, they are encouraged to experiment and offer new products and services, which benefits society as a whole because there are more options available. The more options people have, the better the economy will be. The economy benefits from protecting individual businesses from arbitrary government action because there are more solutions and economic diversity.
A critical evaluation
- Proponents of strict equality argue that even if inequalities permitted by the Difference Principle benefit the least advantaged, they are unacceptable.
- The Difference Principle is opposed by Utilitarians because it does not maximise utility. Rawls uses Utilitarianism as the main theory for comparison with his own in A Theory of Justice, so he responds to this Utilitarian objection and argues for his own theory over Utilitarianism.
- Libertarians argue that the Difference Principle violates liberty in unacceptable ways. For example, the Difference Principle may necessitate redistributive taxation to the poor, which Libertarians commonly object to because such taxation involves the immoral taking of just holdings.
- The Difference Principle is also criticised as a primary distributive principle because it largely ignores claims that people deserve certain economic benefits based on their actions.
- Proponents of Desert-Based Principles argue that some people deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contributions, even if their unequal rewards do not also function to improve the position of the least advantaged.
- They also argue that the Difference Principle ignores explanations for how people end up in more or less advantaged groups, when such explanations are relevant to the fairness of these positions.
- The Original Position and the Veil of Ignorance may prevent some morally relevant information from being revealed. In order to promote rationality, the theory excludes and is biassed in favour of rationality.
- Some criticise it for being similar to Utilitarianism in that both principles may allow or demand inequalities and suffering in order to benefit the poorest.
- There is also the issue of putting theory into practise. It is difficult, if not impossible, for people to place themselves in the Original Position under the Veil of Ignorance in order to formulate what behaviour the MAXI MIN Principle would require of them.
- Some question whether people are rational enough to operate under the two principles while wearing the veil of ignorance.
- The theory was developed more to deal with societal problems, and there are challenges in applying the principles to individual decision-making involving specific others.
Political liberties lay important seeds that lift societies on many levels, from increasing economic choices that can lift countries out of poverty to increasing opportunities for cultural expression and artistic excellence. The most important benefit of liberty, however, is entirely personal. Societies can lay the groundwork for people to truly explore and pursue the highest levels of personal, spiritual, and philosophical transcendence if they have the right political, cultural, economic, and social framework based on liberty.