The Justice Scam

Stephen Metcalf responds the criticism of his earlier piece regarding Nozick and Libertarianism.

The problem with Metcalf, in the end, is that he is just a bad political philosopher. The actual point he apparently is trying to make is that there needs to be a debate about the justice of markets, but libertarianism has created an extremist narrow filter that excludes justice from any debate. Metcalf blames Nozick.

To give an analogy to illustrate this extremism, Metcalf proposes a bizarro world where Rawls is the philosophical father of a Marxist or St. Simon narrow filter of justice that excludes any debate on market discipline. Metcalf then informs us that “bizarro Metcalf” would make an analogous argument against Rawls.

But Metcalf only demonstrates that “bizarro Metcalf” stinks even more as a political philosopher. While it’s inaccurate to thumb Nozick as the “philosophical father of libertarianism,” it’s even more inaccurate to put Rawls at the head of some St. Simon coalition.

Bizarro Metcalf should prompt one to question what Metcalf exactly means by “justice.” We should recall Rawlsian Justice is a set of guaranteed primary goods(liberties) and a difference principle(maximizing the minimum). Rawlsian Justice is not concerned with perfect equality nor minimizing something like a Gini coefficient. Metcalf tosses around justice and Rawls quite a bit, but is he actually talking about “Rawlsian Justice”?

The silliness of Metcalf as a political philosopher culminates with his winning strategy of pitting justice vs liberty in a democratic vote. Of course, Metcalf is choosing the definition for each option, which is a nice scam if you can manage it. It’s nice to play dictator. However, Metcalf concludes by lamenting the lack of unanimity by the left around his own dictatorial preference of justice, noting, of course, we don’t actually know what his own preference is. Of course, there is no such thing as “justice” as a singular thing to begin with; there are as many definitions/preferences of justice as there are voters.

And we can’t rely on an authorities like Rawls to narrow down the choices. Rawls doesn’t survive the vote. What we find is that voters will opt to impose a set of primary obligations to avoid minimizing the minimum. That’s “bizarro Rawls” in the Metcalf world. You can’t blame that on libertarianism…


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