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Unformatted text preview: THE LAW OF PEOPLES, SOCIAL COOPERATION, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE* By Samuel Freeman I. Introduction My aim in this essay is to discuss, and defend against some frequent objections, John Rawlss rejection of a global principle of distributive justice. As is well known, Rawlss A Theory of Justice argues for a principle of distributive justice, the difference principle, that is to be applied within different societies but not among them. 1 According to A Theory of Justice, each society has the duty to set up its economic and legal institutions in such a way that they make the least advantaged among its own members better off than the least advantaged would be if that society were struc- tured according to any other distribution principle. But each society does not have a duty to structure its system so as to maximize the position of the least advantaged in the world at large. Though it is a universal prin- ciple that is to apply severally, or within every society, the difference prin- ciple is not global in reach, applying jointly to all societies simultaneously. To critics of many political persuasions, this seems a peculiar position. Why should principles of justice be domestically rather than globally applied? Rawlss position in A Theory of Justice becomes even more complicated in Political Liberalism and The Law of Peoples, where he is guided by ques- tions of political legitimacy, and feasibility (or stability) of liberal regimes. 2 In Political Liberalism and later works, 3 Rawls appears to give up on the idea that a well-ordered society of justice as fairness is feasible (such a well-ordered society is one where every rational and reasonable citizen affirms, for moral reasons, justice as fairness, including the difference principle). The best we can expect of this world, he now seems to claim, * I am grateful to K. C. Tan for many helpful discussions and criticisms of this essay. I am also grateful to the other contributors to this volume for their comments, and to Ellen Paul for her many helpful suggestions in preparing the final version of this essay. 1 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971; revised edition, 1999), cited as TJ in the text. References will be made to the 1999 revised edition. 2 John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993; paperback edition, 1996); John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), cited as PL and LP respectively in the text. 3 Here I have in mind particularly Rawlss last paper, The Idea of Public Reason Revis- ited, in John Rawls, Collected Papers, ed. Samuel Freeman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- versity Press, 1999)....
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