The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Review of Justice, by Michael Sandel

This is the best single book I’ve ever read on morality: About how we should treat each other, especially at the social level. It’s not a good book because Sandel, himself, has much that’s worth saying (though he tries at the end), it is a great book because Sandel is a great teacher of other people’s ideas, able to break them down cleanly, show the logic, and make clear both their problems and their virtues.

Sandel breaks the world’s ethical traditions down into welfare maximization, freedom, and virtue maximization, with a section trailing afterwards dealing with questions of loyalty and particularity. As with all the books I review, I can’t do this full justice, and I urge you to read it yourself, but I’ll sketch out the basics.

Sandel starts with Utilitarianism: This is the principle of the most good for the most people. Utilitarianism is a pared down system: Pleasure is good, pain is bad. We should maximize pleasure, and minimize pain, and nobody’s pain or pleasure is worth more than anyone else’s.

The obvious problem with Utilitarianism is that, in its pure form, it suggests that if a minority needs to suffer so that a majority may know pleasure, that’s acceptable. The most good for the most people even demands it. If I have to kill Fred, even if Fred is innocent, to save two other people’s lives, I do it. If I have to sacrifice an old man’s life to save a young man’s life, I do so. I do so even if they don’t consent.

Utilitarianism shares a problem with the freedom traditions, as well, in that maximization of pleasure doesn’t necessarily discriminate between pleasures. We want to be able to say that taking pleasure from the pain of others is bad: Sandel uses the example of a football player who kept dogs and made them fight himself. The football player took pleasure in this, as a society we certainly allow animals to be mistreated (no, no, don’t pretend), so what, exactly is the problem?

We simply don’t all agree on what is good: We don’t even agree that all pleasure is good. Most people would say sadism is bad; others would say it’s ok if the victim consents; and others would say that self-harm is bad and should be discouraged or forbidden. Even if that includes drinking a lot of pop (definitely self-harm, if not as immediate as suicide).

This leads to Libertarianism, which Sandel uses as his overaching term for the idea that individual freedom is what matters most. So long as what someone is doing harms only them, it is no one else’s business AND society has no business choosing between people. If making ten people better off requires hurting one person, we have no right to do that if that person isn’t actively harming them.

This isn’t an abstract question, it goes to the heart of things like taxation. It asks the question: If a bunch of people are starving, do we have the right to take extra food away from people who aren’t starving–if they don’t consent? It is at the heart of all the libertarians who scream “Taxation is theft!”

There’s a deep vein of truth to liberty, “Mind your own business!” that cannot be denied. The idea that no matter how much someone else thinks they know best, damn it, they should bugger off and leave us alone.  Liberty is the wellspring of individual rights, of minority rights, of “just because the majority or the stronger wants it and thinks it is good, doesn’t mean it’s right.”

But, humans do not live alone, they live in societies, and what they do affects each other. In fact, the reason you happen to have extra food may be the precise reason why those starving people do not have enough (in every famine, there has been enough food if there had been no hoarding). That the law benefits the rich far more than it does the poor may well be why the rich tend to stay rich and the poor tend to stay poor. The rules of the game, which let you keep your stuff stuff, may not be fair. If they are not fair, what right do you have to say “Fuck you Jack, this is mine?”

Even more, your health and your happiness effects everyone else. If you get sick, unless society is willing to let you suffer, everyone pays for it. (This is at the heart of Libertarian objections to universal health care: You can do whatever you want, but no one else should be forced to fix your problems.) If you have a disease, you may spread it. If you are unhappy, you will make those around you unhappy. And while society could just let people suffer, not only is their misery often not their fault, it feels wrong to most humans.

Which brings us to Kant, who rested his defense of human rights not in the idea that we own ourselves, and no one has a right to do anything to us, but in the idea that humans are rational beings worthy of being treated with dignity.

Kant doesn’t like the idea that everything is worthy. A libertarian, similar to a utiltarian, will say that what one person likes is their business. Kant doesn’t see it that way. If you are not acting in a way that everyone could act without negative consequences, and if you are not acting in a way that is rational, then you are not acting morally.

Your personal preferences are a mess: They are contingent on your specific body, your specific culture, your specific time. They cannot be universal, and they cannot be rational except in ends-means terms (if you want A, do B to get it). They can only be worthy of respect if they are universal, that is, usable by everyone in all times and places without negative effects.

Furthermore, to act on your contingent wants and desires is to be a slave to them, not to be free. You love America because you were born in America: That’s not rational. You follow a religion because your parents did, that’s not rational. You love sugar because your body craves it, even though it’s bad for you. That’s not rational. It’s also not freedom.

For Kant, to be free and to be just, one must act in a way that if everyone acting in accordance with your morals, the world would work well. If your actions cannot scale to everyone without bad consequences, they are not moral.

This is a hard, hard philosophy to follow, demanding a great deal of the practitioner. Even less helpfully, Kant never drills down to describe what the rules of his morality would be, giving nothing beyond a couple of suggestions like, “Don’t lie.”

Which leads us to John Rawls. Rawls’ famous thought experiment was as follows: Imagine you are creating the rules of a society without knowing your place in it.

This is reason shorn of interest. You don’t know if you’ll be male or female, black or white, born in Africa or America, in a strong body or weak, smart or stupid, and so on.

Rawls believes that not knowing where you’ll be in society, or even what body you’ll have, and with how well you’ll do being determined, in essence, entirely by genetics and position (a.k.a. who your parents are and the genetic roulette of their DNA), most people will choose a society where those who don’t do well are well taken care of, one with some inequality, but not a great deal. Inequality will be justified only as it makes everyone better off: that is, if it is necessary to pay people more or treat them better to have enough doctors, do so, but otherwise, don’t.

Better treatment for Rawls, is only justified if it makes everyone better off. This is similar to the justification for inequality in libertarianism, but not identical. Libertarians believe that “value creators” deserve all of the value they create. Rawls thinks they should only get enough to be willing to do what they do.

Rawls expects that his contract will include rights, as well, because you don’t know if you might wind up as a minority. For sure, women will be treated equally, because hey, that’s 50 percent of the population and your odds of being one are high. So again, we’d include equality, or at least a guarantee of rights, because you don’t want to take a chance on grabbing the shitty end of the stick.

Rawls’ contract thus comes out to “utility maximazation, with inequality allowed only to the extent that it increases overall utility, and with everyone taken care of to a minimum acceptable standard with basic rights for everyone, including minorities.”

Rawls concludes that his contract comes out to be a basically social liberal democratic state of the post-WWII era (or the current Norwegian kind), or perhaps to some sort of benevolent autocracy which can be challenged. Critics find this “convenient,” I leave it up to you to decide if, behind the veil of ignorance, it’s the society you would choose.

Having discussed Rawls, Sandel then turns to the specific issue of affirmative action. (Hey, he’s an academic at Harvard.) To summarize, the issue comes down to, “What is the mission of the university?” If the mission is social (“to create a better society”), which is, in fact, what the charters of many universities say, then affirmative action makes sense. If it is to create better people through education, then exposure to people who aren’t like you is probably valuable and that argument can be made to justify affirmative action. If the mission is, on the other hand, to further educate the brightest, if it is a competition for limited spaces, then affirmative action is not justified. (Again, more subtleties in the book, read it if this gets you hot and bothered).

And semi-finally, we come to virtue ethics, which Sandel identifies with Aristotle.

People should get what they deserve and society should be run to create virtuous people.

This is most visible in competitions and in war: A medal for bravery should go only to those who have shown bravery. The gold medal should go the person who ran the fastest. The job should go to the person who can do it best.

People should get what they deserve, and by making sure that this is so, we encourage people to do what is required to deserve the rewards of virtue.

This isn’t the same as libertarianism’s “kill what you eat” ethos. Virtues include charity and kindness and so on. Virtue ethics came out of the polis: the city state. Citizens were expected to act in the interests of the city as a whole, as well as their own interests. People wanted to live with other good people: kind, just, charitable, brave, and so on. Virtue ethics says that it is not good to take pleasure in bad things.  If you like lying, treachery, cowardice, the pain of others, and so on, you’re a bad person, and we don’t want a society made up of bad people.

Thus, a well-run society is one that encourages virtue–not just by rewarding it, but by fostering it through laws and education. Good people make good societies, and contra Kant, there are few rules that cover all circumstances. People will have to make judgments throughout their lives regarding the “right thing to do,” and our best chance that they will make the right choices is if they decide as virtuous people.

This, of course, means that we should choose virtuous people as our leaders. (Note that virtue, in this case, includes qualities we would say make one capable, such as being energetic and brave.) But virtuous leaders, alone, are not enough; the mass of the citizenry must be virtuous as well, or the leaders cannot succeed (and won’t be chosen in the first place).

This line of thinking has echoes in Machiavelli, who believed that Republics could only be created and maintained with a virtuous public, and in America’s founders, who believed that eventually Americans would become so lacking in virtue that only an autocrat could rule them.

(I myself would say that virtuous men and women should work for the maximum good, while encouraging virtue and safeguarding individual liberty.)

Having run through these ethical systems, Sandel now comes to his own ideas, which, to my mind the weakest part of the book. He notes our very human desire for particularity–for putting ourselves, our friends, our communities, and our countries first, and he believes that many of these systems do not deal adequately with these needs. Parents do have a duty to put their children first, yes?

I am reminded of a book I read a long time ago, in which an admiral, on finding out his son was in a city he felt he should bomb, bombed it anyway. “I should be a monster indeed if I were willing to kill the loved ones of others, but not my own.”

I think, perhaps, Sandel would have done well to read more Confucian ethics, which deals with the question of family vs. society in some detail. Almost all of us want particularity, we certainly act on it, but our propensity for particularity, in caring for ourselves first, our families second, our friends third, our countries fourth, and everyone else last (and hey, forget animals), is at the heart of many of our problems.

Judge an ethical system by its fruits, insomuch as it is actually followed. We are very aware of the evils of totalizing ideologies, but particularity, with the indifference and tribal warfare it creates, almost certainly has the award for a higher toll of death and suffering.

And yet, you do have to care for your children first.

But, perhaps, not at any cost.

I strongly recommend this book. It will make you think, hard. And that’s the highest recommendation there is.

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  1. He was a great teacher, unfortunately only a good writer. But he could take 300+ students and make them think about things that they had not thought of before.

  2. V. Arnold

    Agree re: Confucian ethics.
    Dunbar’s number (150), also comes to mind.
    Human’s nature, and abysmal educational systems, would seem to make all the philosophical
    arguments somewhat moot.
    Your thread is definitely food for thought…

  3. DMC

    Bertholt Brecht summed up the Rawlsian ideal rather nicely, “First feed the middle, then talk right and wrong.” Get a reasonable standard of meeting basic needs for everybody before you go passing out the champagne and caviar to the opulent few. People who aren’t insecure in their food and housing tend to be a lot more willing to be good social animals.

  4. Tom

    Should have included a link to his lectures.

    Very involving.

  5. V. Arnold

    @ Tom

    Thanks for that link.
    Episode 01 I heard a few years ago.
    Great stuff…

  6. Tom

    Bought the book on Kindle and its good. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

  7. BlizzardOfOz

    Thanks for this Ian – stimulating writeup.

    Rawls (wiki) seems the quintessence of the post-war liberal world order. I’d be curious to read his later works – “Political Liberalism” and “The Law of Peoples” – to see how well he anticipated the cracks that are appearing in its foundations.

    It’s interesting that per Spengler’s notion of civilizational cycles, all of the philosophers mentioned here appear in the “Autumn” or “Winter” phase of their respective cultures (except for Machiavelli). From Decline of the West:

    So long as the man of a Culture that is approaching its fulfillment still
    continues to live straight before him naturally and unquestioningly, his life
    has a settled conduct. This is the instinctive morale, which may disguise itself
    in a thousand controversial forms but which he himself does not controvert,
    because he has it. As soon as Life is fatigued, as soon as a man is put on to the
    artificial soil of great cities – which are intellectual worlds to themselves –
    and needs a theory in which suitably to present Life to himself, morale turns
    into a *problem*. Culture-morale is that which a man has, Civilization-morale
    that which he looks for. The one is too deep to be exhaustible by logical
    means, the other is a function of logic. As late as Plato and as late as Kant
    ethics are still mere dialectics, a game with concepts, or the rounding-off of
    a metaphysical system, something that at bottom would not be thought really
    necessary. The Categorical Imperative is merely an abstract statement of what,
    for Kant, was not in question at all. But with Zeno and with Schopenhauer
    this is no longer so. It had become necessary to discover, to· invent or to
    squeeze into form, as a rule of being, that which was no longer anchored in
    instinct; and at this point therefore begin the civilized ethics that are no longer
    the reflection of Life but the reflection of Knowledge upon Life. One feels that
    there is something artificial, soulless, half-true in all these considered systems
    that fill the first centuries of all the Civilizations. They are not those profound
    and almost unearthly creations that are worthy to rank with the great arts.
    All metaphysic of the high style, all pure intuition, vanishes before the one
    need that has suddenly made itself felt, the need of a practical morale for the
    governance of a Life that can no longer govern itself. Up to Kant, up to Aristotle,
    up to the Yoga and Vedanta doctrines, philosophy had been a sequence of
    grand world-systems in which formal ethics occupied a very modest place. But
    now it became “moral philosophy” with a metaphysic as background. The
    enthusiasm of epistemology had to give way to hard practical needs. Socialism,
    Stoicism and Buddhism are philosophies of this type.

  8. BlizzardOfOz

    My previous comment went to moderation. I think I used some bad markup, sorry.

    Ian, one more comment from your writeup regarding this:

    I am reminded of a book I read a long time ago, in which an admiral, on finding out his son was in a city he felt he should bomb, bombed it anyway. “I should be a monster indeed if I were willing to kill the loved ones of others, but not my own.”

    This strikes me as a kind of self-willed barbarism that only a late-stage civilization could muster. The admiral violated his own conscience, in killing one he loved, in order to satisfy the dictates of a sterile theory. Is there any moral philosopher that would endorse this? Some Buddhist philosopher maybe, as the ultimate proof of detachment from the world? I know you are into Hindu/Buddhist/eastern philosophies, so maybe this is to illustrate the doctrine of nirvana?

    The only analog I can think of are characters from Dostoyevsky, who are obsessed with the idea of committing a meaningless murder, or suicide, as a way to realize a philosophical proposition (Raskolnikov and a character from “The Possessed” respectively). But these are monomaniacal lunatics, not cool-headed rationalists as the admiral is depicted.

    I would say the anecdote points more to the lack of balance in contemporary liberalism, rather than an ancient font of ethical thinking. Contemporary liberalism holds *discrimination* to be the ultimate evil, which trumps all other considerations, including the well-being of those we love. This line of thinking leads, as the anecdote clearly shows, to nihilism, or more exactly to willed self-annihilation.

  9. Ian Welsh

    No, I disagree. If it is right to bomb someone else’s kids, it’s right to bomb your kids. If bombing that city was justified, it was justified no matter who was there. If it wasn’t, it wasn’t.

    This is similiar (though, yes, different in important ways) to the Roman General who killed his own son for disobeying orders, just like he would have any other soldier.

    War is sometimes necessary, killing is sometimes necessary, to do it unless it is your family/children/loved ones who may die is monstrous.

    I am, generally, not a fan of particularity in ethics, while recognizing that there are particular duties.

  10. BlizzardOfOz

    Ok, I guess I see the point now. I shouldn’t be willing to kill people (whether as my own policy or as required by my job), unless it’s just. If I would exempt my own son, then that proves that my policy or actions were unjust, and so I was acting unethically.

    I also see now why you’re always calling world leaders “monsters”. How many I wonder have ever met this standard? Has there been even one head of state scrupulous enough to imagine his son in the position of each adversary, before doing him harm? It does seem like a good rule of thumb, though.

  11. atcooper

    It’s an increadibly difficult thing to subsume ones own needs for the greater good. I’ve certainly found that to be the case when I’ve had to lead. It’s exhausting, and largely thankless.

  12. BlizzardOfOz

    Well, thanks for adding like 5 books to my reading list.

    One other (contemporary) name I’m interested in is Jonathan Haidt. Now, Haidt considers himself a liberal, but I’ve only ever seen him referenced by the alt-right. Haidt’s framework is that there are 6 axes of moral values, and that liberalism overemphasizes some and undervalues others. This dovetails with alt-right and nationalist critiques of the contemporary order.

    Look at the OP from the standpoint of individualist values (care/harm prevention, fairness, liberty) versus collectivist ones (authority, sanctity, loyalty). You can see the emphasis on the former, and the neglect of the latter. I haven’t seen any lefties reference Haidt. I think Mandos glibly dismissed him here once in the comments as being “obsessed with purity”.

  13. Steve

    I am interested, but I find this sentence to be completely meaningless:

    “People should get what they deserve and society should be run to create virtuous people.”

    This is pretty much the central tenet of every political party from the far-left to the far-right. Everybody agrees with this sentiment precisely because it is a meaningless tautology that any ideology can fill with its own signifiers. “I do this in order to deserve that” is close to the fundamental mechanism of the functioning of any hegemonic ideology. “Deserve” is one of the most ideologically loaded words there is. In any system there be those who will be cry out in desperation that they “just wish to be treated fairly!” But if you ask them what the means exactly, everything breaks down.

    The hearings with Martin Shkreli were very instructive for me. Shkreli merely did what everyone else in New York big finance does, he just did it more ostentatiously. His smug insincerity at the hearing was plain to be seen. He was smug (to his own detriment) because he knew he was being made a political scapegoat for Wall Street, and a very convenient one at that. The reality of the ideology that “everyone should get what they deserve”, is “everyone gets what they can take.”

    Did you notice that Shkreli donated to Bernie Sanders’ campaign? Sanders idiotically rejected his donation. He should have acknowledged Shkreli’s role as a scapegoat and gone after the big kingpins on Wall Street, but Sanders took the bait like a dope. If Sanders had been able to clear himself of this unbecoming moralism, he might well be president right now. Shkreli is clever, but he isn’t a genius. Why is it that he has a better grasp of the functioning of the system than Sanders?

  14. Steve


    I am a little surprised that Haidt’s work is popular with alt-right now. When I was in graduate school he was being attacked by the right relentlessly – although admittedly that was the religious right. The religious right interpreted his talk of purity as a criticism of their social conservatism. Haidt’s work is support by rather mild correlations, so I am sure that there must be a better theory yet to be developed.

  15. Ché Pasa

    Maybe because they’re dealing with different frames of reference and different systems.

    Thanks to Tom for the link to the videos. While Sandel is clearly a brilliant man, his lectures demonstrate quite clearly why so many Ivy League educated smaht people are so fucked up and why they’ve fucked the world as badly as they have.

    It’s all a game to them.

    But we knew that.

  16. Rawls made the mistake of thinking war as not economically moved. Large error.

  17. Steve

    @Che Pasa

    Perhaps they are dealing with different frames of reference, but then that is the issue. If you’re running to be the president of the United States, you better have a frame of reference that is stratospherically high, not moralistic and enfeebled. Shkreli just wanted to make money, and never seemed to have aspirations for higher office. So he can go on being an selfish, arrogant prick if he wants – he seems happy enough in that state. The office of the president has no such luxuries.

    And I disagree strongly that they belong to different systems. Wall Street threw Shkreli overboard to offset a public relations nightmare and then Preet Bharara and the Sanders liberal left came to their aid. And that is precisely their role in the system, to shore up Wall Street as a whole that way, even as they disavow that role. And look! Trump is going to keep Bharara on! I wonder if the new Secretary of the Treasury, Seth Mnuchin, had Trump’s ear on that decision! Why mess with a job well done after all?

  18. Tom

    @ BlizzardOfOz

    FDR sent his sons into combat in WW2 even though some would have been classified as 4F and they distinguished themselves in combat.

    James for example led the Makin Raid.

    Elliot flew 89 combat missions on bombers even though his eyesight problems rendered him 4F.

    Jr was in the thick of it and commanded a destroyer and racked up a kill tally of subs, and enemy warplanes.

    John stuck to his guns on the Wasp against the Kamikazes after his father told him taking conscientious objector status was not an option.

    All of these men qualified for 4F status, and all fought.

  19. Hugh

    The problem with utilitarianism is that utility can not be defined in any meaningful, practical way let alone quantified or maximized.

    The problem with libertarianism is that an individual without society would have nothing and quickly perish: no language, no knowledge. The con is that the individual gets all the benefits of society and then acts as if he/she had them from birth and so owes society nothing, or very, very little.

    I take Rawls to be an attempt to update Rousseau. In both you have this fiction of an autonomous “rational” agent or agents whose purpose is to rubberstamp Rawls and Rousseau’s preconceived conclusions.

    I favor Aristotle’s view that we are a ζῷον πολίτικον. We are social beings. We start out embedded in society, some particular society and we get everything that makes us us from it. I like to say that we are all two people, one social, one private. Neither should smother the other. But our social personhood is primary because it gives us the space and possibility of a private life.

  20. Ché Pasa

    Different frames of reference: self-pleasure vs public service. Different systems: games vs real life.

    I think in Shkreli’s world, nothing he does is real except to the extent it gives him pleasure, and only his pleasure is real. His life may be given meaning through other’s suffering, but those he causes to suffer aren’t real to him, they’re merely phantoms dancing across the screen of his imagination.

    I doubt Sanders could imagine, let alone see and comprehend, the system and frame of reference Shkreli was operating from. Shkreli’s is an alien world to someone like Sanders who is so clearly grounded in what he believes is absolute reality. Real people doing real things for comprehensible reasons you can make judgments about. Shkreli was just fucking with him. But I don’t think Sanders could see that. It wouldn’t have entered his mind. So he did what he believed was right in rejecting Shkreli’s contribution.

    You can call it moralism; I call it realism, but maybe there’s not so much difference between them.

    Saving Wall Street from itself is a fundamental duty of public servants. It’s baked into the system. So is saving the public from its worst excesses or at least giving them a “harmless” outlet.

    I think it’s interesting that the most effective president of my lifetime was Lyndon Johnson. Reagan and Baby Bush don’t even come close when it comes to effectiveness in upending the way things were, practically recreating government and setting it on a path toward a defined goodness rather than a considered (and false) neutrality in most things. Whether we consider what Johnson was able to do to be actual “good” is irrelevant. I believe he was certainly wrong to listen to his generals’ lies and follow their advice about Southeast Asia and fighting Communism, but at the same time, he was determined to overcome as much as possible of the national shame of racism, prejudice, and segregation. He was determined to lift people up in every way he could… and he was hated for it. His accomplishments were amazing (luck — of a sort — entered into it, of course), but so were his failures. His accomplishments were undermined from the get, and his failures were highlighted to the extent that he was effectively driven from office. But his legacy is still very much with us, despite all the efforts to undo or sabotage it.

  21. markfromireland

    For those wondering, the term used by Hugh above: ” ζῷον πολίτικον” translates into English as “political animal” and is from Aristotle:

    “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

    It’s been argued by some, not entirely successfully in my opinion, that the words “more than human” in the ffirst part of the Aristotle’s formulation refer to sages whose philosophical insights move the direction in which humanity travels. If you haven’t read Aristotle’s Politics you’ll find it worth your while. There’s a good on-line version here: Aristotle: Politics: Contents (Jowett translation).

  22. markfromireland

    Hugh December 3, 2016

    I take Rawls to be an attempt to update Rousseau. In both you have this fiction of an autonomous “rational” agent or agents whose purpose is to rubberstamp Rawls and Rousseau’s preconceived conclusions.

    I see where you’re coming from on this not least because Rawls himself considered himself to be part of a tradition that included Rousseau, Locke, and Kant. (I’d say he was more Kantian than Rousseaunian myself but that’s a discussion for another time). But do you not think that your criticism of Rawls would be far stronger if instead of dismissing him as a neo-Roussonian you concentrated on the internal weakness of his arguments particularly those in his later work (post 1985) which discussses “political liberalism”? And that the school to which he belongs is far less important than those internal weaknesses for it is they that ensure that Rawls is incapable of providing that which he sets out to provide – a fully moral justification of his conception of justice.

  23. Hugh

    markfromireland, I read Rawls’ work from around 1975 and never revisited. I think that our moral justification for our conception of justice is historical, social, and always developing. I don’t think a purely rationalist approach can capture that without sneaking moral concepts into it, in which case it ceases to be “purely” rational and becomes circular.

  24. markfromireland


    Yes, pretty much, In his later work Rawls tries to offer a non-comprehensive, but nonetheless moral justification in political philosophy. I don’t think he succeeds in large part because of the objection you raise above. I’m far more persuaded by Shklar and her “Liberalism of Fear” and the way in which she eschews both using moral conceptions of personhood and quasi-transcendental presuppositions in favour of historical experience. I also like the way in which Shklar treats her audience as adults capable of adducing further personal reasons in favour of buttressing the liberal state against tyranny even if those reasons are no more than prudential. Unlike Rawls she’s honest enough to admit that any political settlement so legitimated would lack cast-iron defences and that it would require defending afresh as circumstances changed.

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