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Liberté, égalité and fraternité in a post-communist and globalised world

September 30, 2010

Rein Mullerson in Eurozine:

An ideal society, like an ideal world, is an impossibility, not only in practice but also in theory: there are as many “ideals” as there are philosophers, politicians or lawyers, not to mention different religions, cultures and civilisations. Schemes of ideal societies, such as John Rawls’ “justice as fairness” society, drawn up by people acting under “the veil of ignorance” (where the participants do not know whether they are men or women, black or white, Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists) or other contract theories of society, are at best suitable for the particular type of society on which the analysis is based, i.e. a western society. Moreover, as Amartya Sen has convincingly shown, only by comparing concrete societies and not building abstract models can we come to tentative conclusions about which society is more just and better responds to the various needs and interests of its members. Rawls’ Transcendental institutionalism, looking for a perfect society using abstract theorising, is not only theoretically weak, its application in practice concentrates attention on building perfect institutions without analysing what is feasible and whether these institutions work in varying contexts. There are no axioms or laws of nature waiting to be discovered from which to start measuring different societies. All the yardsticks human beings use to evaluate dissimilar societies are historical and comparative, even when theoretical. All the attempts at creating abstract axioms, universal in time and space, only reflect the particular preferences of their authors. In practice, all attempts to build an ideal society have led to tyranny. [More]

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