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Justice as Politics

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  1. Justice as Politics History of Political Thought Spring 2006

  2. 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.

  3. Justice as Politics: Overview • 1. Three Levels of Political Discourse • 2. Politics of Justice • 3. Justice as Politics

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

  7. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Level Three Level Two Level One

  8. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Level Three Level Two Level One

  9. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Level Three Level Two Level One

  10. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Level Three Which raises the question … Level Two Level One

  11. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate How do we reach agreement at each of these levels? Level Three Level Two Level One

  12. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Persuasion? Level Three Occassionally that can be successful Level Two For example: Slavery? American independence? Level One

  13. I. 3 Levels of Political Debate Persuasion? Coercion! Level Three Level Two Level One

  14. 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?

  15. II. Politics of Justice • Political Power has a variety of components: • Physical power • Economic power • Psychological power

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. II. Politics of Justice • Survey different political systems at different historical periods we see different theories of justice at work

  19. 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

  20. II. Politics of Justice • Whatever international norms that may exist, owe their existence to political might • United Nations? • International Law? • Human Rights?

  21. 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…

  22. II. Politics of Justice

  23. II. Politics of Justice

  24. II. Politics of Justice • Bush and bin-Laden did not debate the virtues of American liberalism vs. those of Islamic fundamentalism

  25. 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

  26. 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?

  27. 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

  28. III. Justice as Politics • We need to appreciate justice – the rules of our political life – the same way we appreciate the rules of baseball

  29. 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

  30. 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 …

  31. III. Justice as Politics

  32. 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

  33. 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

  34. IV. Conclusion • We may condemn from a variety of moral perspectives those social and political practices we find objectionable, But…

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