Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

OWS, Rawls, Milbank, preferential option for the poor

I've mostly seen John Rawls mentioned negatively in religious circles, as in this article by John Milbank. Does Rawls' ideas of justice as fairness offend religious views of hierarchy, and how does it all work with the preferential option for the poor? Today I saw a post at The NYT's philosophy blog about Occupy Wall Street and John Rawls. Here's part of it ....

Rawls on Wall Street
- Steven V. Mazie

[...] Rawls’s boldest claim — that inequality in society is only justified if its least well-off members fare better than they would under any other scheme — could provide a lodestar for the protests. Rawls was no Marxist: this “difference principle” acknowledges that a productive, free society will be home to at least some degree of inequality. But the principle insists that if the rich get richer while wages and social capital of the poor and middle class are stagnant or falling, there is something seriously wrong.

This idea is built on the premise that in a just society, citizens should be understood as free and equal participants in a system of social cooperation. Some individuals may be more motivated and harder working, and thus can legitimately expect greater rewards for their efforts. But everyone deserves the same bundle of individual rights and liberties, and everyone is entitled to “fair equality of opportunity,” including access to a decent education and a genuine chance of success in pursuing one’s life plans ......

Some may question the strategy of concentrating on the plight of the “least advantaged.” No political movement can get off the ground, they will rightly observe, if individuals under the poverty line are its exclusive concern. Though the recent economic downturn has swelled the ranks of these least-fortunate Americans, the proportion is still only 1 in 6, and they neither turn out at the polls in great numbers nor contribute cash to political campaigns.

Yes, merely railing against poverty cannot be Occupy Wall Street’s sole focus. But it does violence to the special problems facing the truly poor to lump everyone in the bottom 99 percent together as if families on food stamps are really on a par with those making $100,000 or more a year. It’s worth distinguishing between the various strata of the 99 percent while highlighting something all layers have in common: a basic structure of society that is geared to advance the interests of only the very wealthiest Americans.

So perhaps Occupy should apply Rawls’s more inclusive formulation of the difference principle, which holds that “inequality is only allowed if there is reason to believe that the institution with the inequality, or permitting it, will work out for the advantage of every person engaged in it.” ......

Here's an article by John Milbank and Phillip Blond in which they mention "justified inequality" - No equality in opportunity


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