Are Decent Non-Liberal Societies Really Non-Liberal? – A Critical Response to John Rawls’s The Law of Peoples

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  【논문】 Are  Decent   Non-Liberal Societies Really Non-Liberal? Chung, Hun 【 Subject Class 】 Political Philosophy, Practical Ethics 【 Keywords 】 Rawls, The Laws of People, Justice as Fairness, Global Justice, International Justice 【 Abstract 】 A notable feature of Rawls’ theory of international justice, which he presented in The Law of Peoples , is his insistence on the toleration of non ‐ liberal states provided that they are decent  . Many political philosophers have criticized Rawls for being too generous towards non ‐ liberal states. These critics feared that Rawls’ theory would safeguard non ‐ liberal states to  perform many forms of domestic injustices. In this paper, I make an entirely opposite objection. I claim that the real problem with Rawls’ theory of international justice is not of its being too generous, but rather of its being too stringent. Specifically, I will argue that when The Law of Peoples  is correctly interpreted, it turns out that “the decent non ‐ liberal societies” that the theory so emphatically proclaims to tolerate are not really non ‐ liberal societies, but rather are only more than sufficiently liberal societies.  논문 202 Ⅰ . Introduction After the publication of John Rawls’  A Theory of Justice in 1971, many political philosophers started to wonder what implications Rawls’ theory of justice (better known as “Justice as Fairness”) would have when applied to the international society. Some people argued that we should extend and apply Rawls’ standard of domestic justice universally throughout the global community. 1)  In 1999 with the publication of The Law of Peoples , Rawls presented his own answers to this question. In The Law of Peoples , Rawls rejects a global extrapolation of his theory of justice. One notable feature of Rawls’ theory of international justice presented in The Law of Peoples  is his insistence on the toleration of non ‐  liberal societies  provided that the non ‐ liberal societies meet a certain level of decency . Here, we need to get clear of what Rawls means by “toleration”. Toleration of non ‐ liberal societies doesn’t merely mean that non ‐ liberal societies should be free from political or economic sanctions; more importantly, it means that non ‐ liberal societies should be properly  respected   and deemed as equal members  of what Rawls calls “the Society of Peoples”. 2)  This polemic claim has generated intense controversy among political  philosophers. The main criticisms have been made by political  philosophers who have cosmopolitan inclinations. For instance,  Nussbaum argued that there is no reason to relax the requirements of human rights and to tolerate certain injustices that are being performed  just because a certain non ‐ liberal group has successfully established an independent state rather than being located within the boundaries of a liberal state. 3)   1)See Beitz (1975), “Justice and International Relations”,  Philosophy & Public Affairs 4 2)Rawls (1999),  The Law of Peoples , Harvard University Press, p. 59   Are Decent   Non-Liberal Societies Really Non-Liberal?  203 However, in this paper, I would like to propose an entirely different criticism: what I think is wrong with Rawls’ theory of international  justice is not that it tolerates too much, but rather, that it tolerates too little. That is, when The Law of Peoples  is correctly interpreted, it will turn out that “the decent non ‐ liberal societies” that the theory so emphatically proclaims to tolerate are not really non ‐ liberal societies, but rather are more than sufficiently liberal societies. And if we strictly apply Rawls’ criteria of “well ‐ ordered societies” (which is comprised of liberal democratic societies and decent non ‐ liberal societies), 4)  not only do all non ‐ liberal societies in our current international order fail to meet this standard and have to be reclassified as “outlaw states”, but also a bulk of liberal (which includes libertarian) societies will fail to meet this standard and will have to be reclassified as “outlaw states” as well. And since, according to Rawls, outlaw states should not be tolerated and should be subject to political sanctions and even military intervention, the practical result will be that liberal societies must interfere with other society’s  politics far more often than it currently does. Ⅱ . What Feature Distinguishes a Non ‐ liberal Society from a Liberal Society? As I have briefly explained, in The Law of People , Rawls contends that the international society should accept even non ‐ liberal societies as bona  fide members. However, Rawls is not recognizing just any kind of non ‐ 3)See, Nussbaum (2004), “Women and theories of global justice” contained in The  Ethics of Assistance , Cambridge University Press4)The five types of domestic societies which Rawls distinguishes are: (1) reasonable liberal peoples, (2) decent peoples, (3) outlaw states, (4) societies burdened by unfavorable conditions, and (5) benevolent absolutisms. (Ibid., p. 4, 63)  논문 204 liberal society as a bona fide  member of the Society of Peoples. There are certain conditions that a non ‐ liberal society has to meet in order for it to  be properly regarded as a genuine member of the international society. So, what kind of non ‐ liberal societies is Rawls considering when he claims that those societies should be regarded as legitimate members of the international society? According to Rawls, the international society should acknowledge two types of well  ‐  ordered societies  as genuine members: one is the liberal democratic society , and the other is the decent non ‐  liberal society . Rawls often calls the decent non ‐ liberal society as “decent hierarchical peoples” (or just “decent peoples” for short) and identifies the basic political structure of this type of non ‐ liberal society as a “decent consultation hierarchy”.Here, we must note the adjective ‘hierarchical’ that is being used in “decent hierarchical peoples”; it is contrasted with the adjective ‘liberal democratic’ which implies that hierarchy  is the essential feature that distinguishes a non ‐ liberal society from a liberal society. However, we should not be carried away with what the term implies.The term ‘hierarchical’ can be misleading in two ways. First of all, when anybody hears the expression “hierarchical” it is very easy for the  person to imagine a rigid caste system similar to that of traditional India, where the life prospects of individuals are totally determined by the contingent fact of being born into a certain social class, and that it is this kind of society that Rawls is urging us to recognize as genuine members of the international society when he claims that the Society of Peoples should tolerate non ‐ liberal peoples and include them, along with liberal  peoples, as genuine members. However, it is far from true that Rawls is acknowledging these kinds of rigid caste societies as genuine members of the international community. Rawls is suggesting a set of strict   Are Decent   Non-Liberal Societies Really Non-Liberal?  205 conditions that must be met in advance in order for a hierarchical society to be regarded as a genuine member of the Society of Peoples. So, it is important to remember that Rawls is not acknowledging hierarchical societies  per se , but only decent   hierarchical societies; that is, the term ‘decent’ is important. However, the expression ‘decent’ is not usually strong enough to alleviate the negative connotations that are naturally associated with the word ‘hierarchical’. It is very easy for people to  bypass the adjective ‘decent’ in ‘decent hierarchical peoples.’Second, the expression ‘hierarchical’, by being contrasted with ‘liberal democratic’, gives a false impression that liberal societies in general are free from hierarchical social structuring. However, this is obviously false. Almost all societal groups that are organized and maintained under a liberal democratic regime are hierarchical in their organizational structure; including several government bodies, the military, private corporations, the universities, etc. And in all types of these societal groups, individuals who assume the role of a higher ranking position have certain prerogatives and privileges that enable them to conduct certain activities which the individuals assuming lower ranking positions cannot.  Not only are there hierarchies within societal groups but there are also hierarchies among different societal groups in relation to one another as well. However, societies displaying these features of hierarchical structuring can still be perfectly regarded as liberal societies as long as they meet other kinds of standards that define what it is to be a liberal society. So, it is not the existence of hierarchy itself that distinguishes a non ‐ liberal society from a liberal society. But the term ‘hierarchical’, in ‘decent hierarchical peoples’, misleads the reader to think that it is. Then, what exactly is the distinguishing feature of non ‐ liberal societies that make it different from liberal societies? Rawls seems to have two
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