The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" / Edition 1

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Overview

This book consists of two parts: the essay "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited," first published in 1997, and "The Law of Peoples," a major reworking of a much shorter article by the same name published in 1993. Taken together, they are the culmination of more than fifty years of reflection on liberalism and on some of the most pressing problems of our times by John Rawls.

"The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" explains why the constraints of public reason, a concept first discussed in Political Liberalism (1993), are ones that holders of both religious and non-religious comprehensive views can reasonably endorse. It is Rawls's most detailed account of how a modern constitutional democracy, based on a liberal political conception, could and would be viewed as legitimate by reasonable citizens who on religious, philosophical, or moral grounds do not themselves accept a liberal comprehensive doctrine--such as that of Kant, or Mill, or Rawls's own "Justice as Fairness," presented in A Theory of Justice (1971).

The Law of Peoples extends the idea of a social contract to the Society of Peoples and lays out the general principles that can and should be accepted by both liberal and non-liberal societies as the standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. In particular, it draws a crucial distinction between basic human rights and the rights of each citizen of a liberal constitutional democracy. It explores the terms under which such a society may appropriately wage war against an "outlaw society," and discusses the moral grounds for rendering assistance to non-liberal societies burdened by unfavorable political and economic conditions.

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Editorial Reviews

New Republic

[These essays are] some of [Rawls's] strongest published expressions of feeling...These are the final products of a remarkably pure and concentrated career...The writings of John Rawls, whom it is now safe to describe as the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century...owe their influence to the fact that their depth and their insight repay the close attention that their uncompromising theoretical weight and erudition demand.
— Thomas Nagel

Times Literary Supplement

Rawls offers us the appealing vision of a social order that every citizen finds legitimate despite large differences in their personal values. In The Law of Peoples, he attempts a parallel feat for global society. He tries to spell out a Law of Peoples that both liberal and non-liberal peoples can agree upon to govern their international relations. This involves steering a judicious mid-course between liberalism's imperialist and isolationist tendencies...I should say straight away that this is the most engaging and accessible book Rawls has written. Although some of the daunting conceptual apparatus from Political Liberalism appears from time to time, for the most part Rawls lays out his argument in a straightforward way, and refers extensively to historical and contemporary episodes to illustrate it.
— David Miller

The Economist
John Rawls is one of the great political philosophers of the 20th century...His ideas have not only sparked a lively debate among philosophers, which continues to this day, but they have also been taken up by economists, sociologists and others. So The Law of Peoples, Mr. Rawls's latest work and probably his last significant effort, deserves to be read with interest, and some respect.
Civilization

Now, in an effort to turn realpolitik on its big, bald head, Rawls in The Law of Peoples proposes to extend his historicist, pragmatic notions of justice to the larger world of 'peoples'—the term he prefers to 'nations.' He lays out a series of general principles—among them, that peoples are free and independent, should honor human rights, and should observe a duty of nonintervention—that can and should be accepted as a standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. Without the slightest hint of millenarian fever, he goes so far as to assert that we stand on the brink of a 'realistic utopia'...The Law of Peoples seems likely to reframe the debate about what is possible in the international realm. In contrast to the chastened, inward gaze of most 20th-century thought, Rawls's book is one of those rare works of philosophy that directs its energies outward. It has the potential to send shockingly optimistic reverberations through the world at large, and maybe even jolt those somber-suited realists right out of the realpolitik.
— Will Blythe

The Mises Review
Why should we care whether Rawls has modified his difference principle so that it avoids unpopular outcomes? In the course of doing so, he advances some excellent arguments.
New Republic - Thomas Nagel
[These essays are] some of [Rawls's] strongest published expressions of feeling...These are the final products of a remarkably pure and concentrated career...The writings of John Rawls, whom it is now safe to describe as the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century...owe their influence to the fact that their depth and their insight repay the close attention that their uncompromising theoretical weight and erudition demand.
Times Literary Supplement - David Miller
Rawls offers us the appealing vision of a social order that every citizen finds legitimate despite large differences in their personal values. In The Law of Peoples, he attempts a parallel feat for global society. He tries to spell out a Law of Peoples that both liberal and non-liberal peoples can agree upon to govern their international relations. This involves steering a judicious mid-course between liberalism's imperialist and isolationist tendencies...I should say straight away that this is the most engaging and accessible book Rawls has written. Although some of the daunting conceptual apparatus from Political Liberalism appears from time to time, for the most part Rawls lays out his argument in a straightforward way, and refers extensively to historical and contemporary episodes to illustrate it.
Civilization - Will Blythe
Now, in an effort to turn realpolitik on its big, bald head, Rawls in The Law of Peoples proposes to extend his historicist, pragmatic notions of justice to the larger world of 'peoples'--the term he prefers to 'nations.' He lays out a series of general principles--among them, that peoples are free and independent, should honor human rights, and should observe a duty of nonintervention--that can and should be accepted as a standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. Without the slightest hint of millenarian fever, he goes so far as to assert that we stand on the brink of a 'realistic utopia'...The Law of Peoples seems likely to reframe the debate about what is possible in the international realm. In contrast to the chastened, inward gaze of most 20th-century thought, Rawls's book is one of those rare works of philosophy that directs its energies outward. It has the potential to send shockingly optimistic reverberations through the world at large, and maybe even jolt those somber-suited realists right out of the realpolitik.
Civilization
Now, in an effort to turn realpolitik on its big, bald head, Rawls in The Law of Peoples proposes to extend his historicist, pragmatic notions of justice to the larger world of 'peoples'--the term he prefers to 'nations.' He lays out a series of general principles--among them, that peoples are free and independent, should honor human rights, and should observe a duty of nonintervention--that can and should be accepted as a standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. Without the slightest hint of millenarian fever, he goes so far as to assert that we stand on the brink of a 'realistic utopia'...The Law of Peoples seems likely to reframe the debate about what is possible in the international realm. In contrast to the chastened, inward gaze of most 20th-century thought, Rawls's book is one of those rare works of philosophy that directs its energies outward. It has the potential to send shockingly optimistic reverberations through the world at large, and maybe even jolt those somber-suited realists right out of the realpolitik.
— Will Blythe
New Republic
[These essays are] some of [Rawls's] strongest published expressions of feeling...These are the final products of a remarkably pure and concentrated career...The writings of John Rawls, whom it is now safe to describe as the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century...owe their influence to the fact that their depth and their insight repay the close attention that their uncompromising theoretical weight and erudition demand.
— Thomas Nagel
Times Literary Supplement
Rawls offers us the appealing vision of a social order that every citizen finds legitimate despite large differences in their personal values. In The Law of Peoples, he attempts a parallel feat for global society. He tries to spell out a Law of Peoples that both liberal and non-liberal peoples can agree upon to govern their international relations. This involves steering a judicious mid-course between liberalism's imperialist and isolationist tendencies...I should say straight away that this is the most engaging and accessible book Rawls has written. Although some of the daunting conceptual apparatus from Political Liberalism appears from time to time, for the most part Rawls lays out his argument in a straightforward way, and refers extensively to historical and contemporary episodes to illustrate it.
— David Miller
Library Journal
About one-quarter of this book is a reprint of Rawls's 1997 essay, "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited," in which he sets out the principles of a well-ordered constitutional democratic society. The rest of the book is much revised version of his 1993 essay, "The Law of Peoples," which integrates those principles into an account of how decent societies should behave toward one another. The first two-thirds of this part is an ideal theory of peoples' interactions under a liberal conception of justice such as advanced in Rawls's A Theory of Justice. The last third concerns nonideal theory, i.e., how to prosecute the ideals, and discusses foreign policy, just war doctrine, disadvantaged societies, guidelines for assisting those societies, pluralism, tolerance, etc. A profound and absorbing book.--Robert Hoffman, York Coll. of CUNY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Miller
[T]his is the most engaging and accessible book Rawls has written...[Rawls] could hardly have found a better way to ensure that his work continues to hold centre stage in debates withing political philosophy.
Times Literary Supplement
Thomas Nagel
The writings of John Rawls, whom it is now safe to describe as the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century, are very different. They owe their influence to the fact that their depth and their insight repay the close attention that their uncompromising theoretical weight and erudition demand.

The New Republic

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674005426
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 401,921
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University. He was recipient of the 1999 National Humanities Medal.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

The First Part of Ideal Theory

The Law of Peoples as Realistic Utopia

Why Peoples and Not States?

Two Original Positions

The Principles of the Law of Peoples

Democratic Peace and Its Stability

Society of Liberal Peoples: Its Public Reason

The Second Part of Ideal Theory

Toleration of Nonliberal Peoples

Extension to Decent Hierarchical Peoples

Decent Consultation Hierarchy

Human Rights

Comments on Procedure of the Law of Peoples

Concluding Observations

Nonideal Theory

Just War Doctrine: The Right to War

Just War Doctrine: Conduct of War

Burdened Societies

On Distributive Justice among Peoples

Conclusion

Public Reason and the Law of Peoples

Reconcilation to Our Social World

THE IDEA OF PUBLIC REASON REVISITED

The Idea of Public Reason

The Content of Public Reason

Religion and Public Reason in Democracy

The Wide View of Public Political Culture

On the Family as Part of the Basic Structure

Questions about Public Reason

Conclusion

Index

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