Rawls, John (1921–2002)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S091-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

2. Democratic institutions

For Rawls the role of democratic legislation is not to register citizens’ unconstrained preferences and let majority preferences rule, but to advance the interests of all citizens, so that each has the status of equal citizen, is suitably independent and can freely pursue a good consistent with justice. The two principles of justice as fairness designate a common good that provides the end of democratic legislation. Ideally it should not be individual or group interests voting, but citizens and legislators, whose judgments are based on laws that best realize the common good of justice, as defined by the two principles. These principles imply a liberal constitution that specifies basic liberties immune from majority infringement. The first principle also requires maintaining the fair value of each citizen’s political rights, thereby establishing a limit on inequalities in wealth allowable by the difference principle. The second principle, the ‘difference principle’, preserves the ‘fair value’ of the remaining basic liberties. It suggests a criterion for deciding the basic minimum of resources each citizen needs to fairly and effectively exercise the basic liberties: property and economic institutions are to be so designed that those least advantaged have resources exceeding what the worst off would acquire under any alternative economic scheme (consistent with the first principle). This implies (depending on historical conditions) either a property-owning democracy (with widespread private ownership of the means of production) or liberal socialism. In either case, Rawls assumes markets are needed for efficient allocation of factors of production; but use of markets for distribution of output is constrained by the difference principle. Whatever effect redistributions from the market have on allocative efficiency is not a problem for Rawls, since justice has priority over efficiency. The end of justice is not to maximize productive output whatever the distributive effects, any more than it is to maximize aggregate utility (see Justice §5).

Citing this article:
Freeman, Samuel. Democratic institutions. Rawls, John (1921–2002), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S091-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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