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Justice as Politics History of Political Thought Spring 2006 Central Claim Reaching agreement on basic principles of justice is a political rather than a philosophical act.

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justice as politics

Justice as Politics

History of Political Thought

Spring 2006

central claim
Central Claim
  • Reaching agreement on basic principles of justice is a political rather than a philosophical act.
  • Nonetheless, it is always better to count heads than to break them, so it’s worthwhile to try to reach peaceful resolution of our disputes.
justice as politics overview
Justice as Politics: Overview
  • 1. Three Levels of Political Discourse
  • 2. Politics of Justice
  • 3. Justice as Politics
i 3 levels of political debate
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level 1

Provides answers to “Deep” questions concerning the basics of political life:

For example:

  • What is justice?
  • Do rights exist?
i 3 levels of political debate5
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level 2

Supplies the content to the concepts agreed upon in Level One

For example:

If rights exist, what rights do we possess?

i 3 levels of political debate6
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level 3

Identifies the specific applications of the content agreed to in Level 2

For example:If we have right to practice any religion we choose, can I open the First Church of the Holy Herb?

i 3 levels of political debate7
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level

Three

Level Two

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate8
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level

Three

Level Two

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate9
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level

Three

Level Two

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate10
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Level

Three

Which raises the question …

Level Two

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate11
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

How do

we

reach

agreement

at each

of

these

levels?

Level

Three

Level Two

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate12
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Persuasion?

Level

Three

Occassionally that can be successful

Level Two

For example:

Slavery?

American independence?

Level One

i 3 levels of political debate13
I. 3 Levels of Political Debate

Persuasion?

Coercion!

Level

Three

Level Two

Level One

ii politics of justice
II. Politics of Justice
  • Which view eventually triumphs will be a function of political might rather than of philosophical rigor.
  • Political “might” or “coercion” need not rest entirely on physical force
  • Other sources of coercion?
ii politics of justice15
II. Politics of Justice
  • Political Power has a variety of components:
    • Physical power
    • Economic power
    • Psychological power
ii politics of justice16
II. Politics of Justice
  • In a domestic political context, psychological power is likely the most important and most powerful
  • But in an international context, it is the least powerful
  • Psychological power rests on agreements at Level One and Level Two
ii politics of justice17
II. Politics of Justice
  • In our search for international justice, economic and military power become the main tools to coerce compliance to a given standard of justice
    • For example: Turkey and the E.U.

Iran & WMD

ii politics of justice18
II. Politics of Justice
  • Survey different political systems at different historical periods we see different theories of justice at work
ii politics of justice19
II. Politics of Justice
  • If justice had an objective basis – that is, if our understanding of justice could be separated from a political context – we should by now see similar conceptions of justice adopted and applied
ii politics of justice20
II. Politics of Justice
  • Whatever international norms that may exist, owe their existence to political might
    • United Nations?
    • International Law?
    • Human Rights?
ii politics of justice21
II. Politics of Justice
  • For Example: Al-Qaeda vs. The U.S.
    • Each group articulates a coherent theory of justice
    • Each theory of justice is at odds with the other
    • Resolution of the dispute…
ii politics of justice24
II. Politics of Justice
  • Bush and bin-Laden did not debate the virtues of American liberalism vs. those of Islamic fundamentalism
ii politics of justice25
II. Politics of Justice
  • They could not debate because they did not share a common political language
  • In the absence of that shared vocabulary, politics takes precedence over rhetoric or rationality
iii justice as politics
III. Justice as Politics
  • What implications follow from this understanding of justice?
  • That is, if justice is a function of politics, does that mean that justice as such no longer exists or loses its power?
  • Can we no longer condemn acts that violate our understanding of justice?
iii justice as politics27
III. Justice as Politics
  • Short answer, no
  • Our failure to arrive at an objective standard for our normative claims – to settle Level One and Level Two issues – is not necessarily catastrophic
iii justice as politics28
III. Justice as Politics
  • We need to appreciate justice – the rules of our political life – the same way we appreciate the rules of baseball
iii justice as politics29
III. Justice as Politics
  • Politics and our political institutions function like the baseball establishment:
    • That is, they provide the rules by which the game should be played and they have the power to enforce compliance
iii justice as politics30
III. Justice as Politics
  • When groups seek to challenge our political rules – whether they be criminals, terrorists, or other governments, we may use the political resources we have to enforce and defend those rules …
iv conclusion
IV. Conclusion
  • In The Politics, Aristotle defines the human species as the zoon politikon or the political animal
  • Too often we focus on the noun and forget the adjective
iv conclusion33
IV. Conclusion
  • We are political animals.
  • While we may lack a transcendent basis for our moral and political beliefs, we do have a forum for defining those beliefs and the institutions for enforcing deviation and defection from those beliefs
iv conclusion34
IV. Conclusion
  • We may condemn from a variety of moral perspectives those social and political practices we find objectionable,

But…

iv conclusion35
IV. Conclusion
  • Those practices won’t change unless and until our condemnations inspire political action