Rawls and the New Whigs-5: Who was John Rawls?

Could the ideas and writing of John Rawls (1921-2002) provide a way ahead for progressive thinking?

Rawls was that rare thing- a Harvard Professor and a soldier. His service as the latter in the brutal Pacific theatre of the Second World War privileged him with insights largely unavailable if he had been solely the former. It was in the pitiless environment of the trenches that he first wondered “is there a rational way to construct an environment where things like this can be avoided?” It was the way that he followed up on this speculation that has made him such a crucial figure in western thought ever since.

There is no room here to do more than signpost you to sites which discuss his ideas. [1] [2] These links will afford you some oversight of the man and his works. You may delve deeper if you wish. Yet one central theme stands out. His conviction that any stable society must be based on Justice; curiously, a trope which St Augustine put at the front and centre of his ideas on society. Rawls’ insight was to construct a rational theory of Justice based on something he called the Original Position. Essentially it is this: how would you design a society if you did not know what point you would occupy in its social scale? Most people would want safeguards for the underprivileged, and it is from this that a natural justice flows. [3]

Unlike Marx and the Religionists, Rawls does not claim to provide all of the answers. But he does suggest a way of thinking about what a stable, more peaceful society might look like. And we certainly need more of both of those; very badly.



[3] John Rawls A Theory of Justice Harvard University Press 1971

#john rawls #liberals #progressives #justice #st augustine #original position #liberty #equality

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