The Freedom of PeoplesJohn Rawls' Duty of Assistance and the Idea of State Capability

Authors Organisations

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • The European Social Fund
Award date03 Jun 2009
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John Rawls has been the most influential figure in Anglo-American political philosophy since publishing A Theory of Justice in 1971. The focus of this thesis is his later work, The Law of Peoples, which sets out his ideas on the issues of international justice. Published in its definitive form in 1999, the book represents an application of Rawls’ view of justice in A Theory of Justice to a hypothetical ‘Society of Peoples’. His realistically utopian vision prescribes traditional principles for International Society, based on equality and respect among liberal and decent peoples, as well as more contemporary ideas about defending and promoting human rights and international co-operation. The reception of his ideas has been mixed, with more radical thinkers being especially critical of Rawls’ advocacy of nonliberal societies and his rejection of the concept of international redistribution. In respect to these ideas, his critics argue that he has reneged on the liberal egalitarianism of his earlier work. This thesis attempts to defend The Law of Peoples as a progressive and critical work. It argues that the text has much to tell us about contemporary issues of International Politics, in particular, global poverty. Rather than performing a libertarian turn and renouncing his values, it is the argument of this thesis that Rawls’ international outlook is both radical and consistent with his domestic approach. The first part outlines The Law of Peoples, its critics, and how it can be viewed as a consistent development of Rawls’ liberal egalitarianism. The second part involves an elaboration of a key principle, the duty of assistance, as a robust and far-reaching approach to assisting the world’s poor. The final part evaluates how such a radical recapitulation of this duty sits with the broader aims of Rawls’ work.