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Editorial Reviews


[Free Market Fairness's] aim is to question opposed modes of thought and find a way between them. Saying that his book was written for 'ideologically uncommitted readers,' Mr. Tomasi invites them and others to join him in exploring the ideas he has outlined. It is an invitation well worth accepting, especially in an election year. (Adam Wolfson Wall Street Journal)

An extremely interesting and important project. (Ethics)

Tomasi is a useful corrective to both Rawls and Hayek. (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)

In many respects, [Tomasi] is a classical liberal, but he also retains a strong commitment to the worst off in society. He is a supporter of both free-market capitalism and of safety nets. His goal is to combine economic liberty and social justice. In attempting to transcend the standard positions, he should be commended. (Daniel Ben-Ami Spiked Review of Books)

Brilliant. . . . The heart of Tomasi's book entails serious engagement with John Rawls and his liberal theory of justice as fairness. (Ryan T. Anderson Weekly Standard)

Tomasi takes a significant step beyond classical and some types of social democratic liberalism in an attempt to find common ground. . . . Tomasi's 'market democracy' contributes important insight to the continuing political-economic debate. (Choice)

One could hardly imagine John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness coming along at a more opportune time. Stump-speech rhetoric seems to have turned its attention (at least nominally) towards the concept of fairness. . . . The proper role of government is up for debate again. . . . Tomasi offers a clear-headed exploration of these and other issues during a moment of noticeable obtuseness and obfuscation in American politics [as] an accident of timing, incidental to his larger project, which is both ambitious and deeply needed. (Robert Herritt Policy Review)

Free Market Fairness is both an excellent book and an important one. What makes a work of philosophy valuable is not that it arrives at all the right conclusions, but that it asks the right questions, makes us think, and causes us to re-examine our assumptions. Free Market Fairness does all of those things. For this reason, it is appropriate to describe the book as seminal. (John Hasnas Regulation)

John Tomasi has written a spirited, accessible book that successfully argues the classical liberal tradition . . . of private economic liberty as a necessary and equal partner with social and political liberties in a free and just democratic society. This integrated, constructive approach . . . also recognizes the importance of social justice, a high liberal concept that he redefines by employing the principles of classical liberal thought. . . . Tomasi has provided the intellectual and justificatory framework for classical liberal adherents to robustly explore opportunities in a market-democracy research program. (Thomas A. Hemphill Journal of Markets and Morality)

Free Market Fairness is a fine book that merits promotion, a merit raise, a cohort of graduate students, a fine reputation, and all the other benefits of academic life. The book is well written and well researched. The arguments are clearly stated and well defended. Political thinkers of all stripes will benefit from Tomasi's discussion of classical liberalism and libertarianism. (Mark A. Graber Review of Politics)

From the Back Cover

"This book provides an original defense of classical liberalism. Tomasi argues that the high liberal conception of free and equal moral persons requires robust economic liberties as a condition of individual independence and self-authorship, while also justifying social supports for the less advantaged. Free Market Fairness is an important contribution to liberal thought."--Samuel Freeman, University of Pennsylvania

"Tomasi's 'market democracy' is a fresh, important research program."--Elizabeth Anderson, University of Michigan

"The great political power of free market ideas in recent decades has been unmatched by philosophical and moral defenses. John Tomasi's fresh exploration of market liberty will challenge orthodoxies left and right. An important and timely book."--Stephen Macedo, Princeton University

"This is one of the very best philosophical treatments of libertarian thought, ever. John Tomasi cements his position as one of America's leading social and political philosophers."--Tyler Cowen, author of Creative Destruction

"This book represents the most ambitious recent effort by a political philosopher to square the circle: free markets and fairness. Even readers who disagree with Tomasi's conclusions will find insight and clarity on every page."--Richard Epstein, New York University

"Tomasi's elegant book resembles a long and friendly conversation between Friedrich Hayek and John Rawls--a conversation which, astonishingly, reaches agreement."--Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Dignity and The Bourgeois Virtues

"Tomasi is sympathetic to, and captures much of the point of, positions to the right of his, and positions to the left. The result is disarming and genuine. Readers will find themselves turning the pages, hoping not so much to spot the flaw as simply to learn something, and they will not be disappointed."--David Schmidtz, University of Arizona

"This book makes a case that needed making and that will have a large impact on contemporary thinking about social justice."--Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame

"Hayekian freedom and Rawlsian social justice both evoke attractive visions of how human beings might live together--something seldom acknowledged in our polarized political world. John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness treats both traditions with depth, nuance, and unremitting fair-mindedness, and then points us toward a synthesis. Social democrats and libertarians equally need to read this book."--Charles Murray, American Enterprise Institute

"Political philosophers are apt to dig in to carefully constructed ideological bunkers from which they lob argumentative mortar shells at their opponents. John Tomasi prefers instead to build bridges. Well-crafted and provocative, Free Market Fairness will surely stimulate much conversation--and perhaps a few mortar rounds in response."--Loren Lomasky, University of Virginia

"This is a terrific book--lively, stimulating, novel, and important. Written with clarity and lightness, it is appealingly wide-ranging, spanning political philosophy, intellectual history, and more. It will be widely read and cited."--Jacob T. Levy, McGill University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (May 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691158142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691158143
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Tomasi is Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Brown University, where he has twice been awarded University prizes for excellence in undergraduate teaching. He is the founding director of The Political Theory Project, an independent research center at Brown that supports scholarship and encourages political dialogue on campus.
Tomasi did his graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Arizona (M.A.) and Oxford University (B.Phil., D.Phil.). He has held positions at The University Center for Human Values at Princeton, the Department of Philosophy at Stanford, the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, and the Freedom Center at the University of Arizona.
In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Tomasi is the author of Liberalism Beyond Justice: Citizens, Society and the Boundaries of Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2001) and Free Market Fairness (Princeton University Press, 2012).

Customer Reviews

Nevertheless, the book is worth a read by anyone interested in liberty or justice.
Shawn Klein
The book is long and somewhat boring and simply repackages a lot of failed economic policies of government interference into the free market.
Tim Evans
Readers will differ over whether Tomasi has done this successfully, but his arguments are at least thoughtful and informative.
Samuel J. Sharp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ira E. Stoll VINE VOICE on March 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a work of political philosophy that attempts to bridge the divide between what the author defines as the "classical liberalism" of F.A. Hayek, Richard Epstein, Adam Smith, and Milton Friedman with the "high liberalism" of John Rawls. First the author briefly describes the two camps, the main difference being that "classical liberalism" includes a robust set of economic freedoms as among the fundamental rights. Then the author outlines his own concept -- not fully developed, but more of a "research program" -- of "free market fairness" or "market democracy," which would include classical liberalism's full set of economic rights using high liberalism's justificatory framework of social justice. Because economic freedom is essential to what the author calls "self-authorship" -- the ability to control your own destiny -- it benefits the working poor and therefore meets the definition of "social justice."

The book is dense (though short) and written for the most part at a high level of abstraction (though the flashes of specificity, as when the author defines rent-seeking by talking about a domestic light-bulb manufacturing firm lobbying for a tariff on imports, are lively and welcome when they arise). As a reader whose politics come closer to the classical liberal side of it, I wasn't entirely persuaded by the author's (or Rawls') framework for judging fairness or justice in terms of how something most helps the poor. But I learned a lot about various concepts of fairness and justice from this book, and it also made me examine my own thinking about these things.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Sharp on June 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In "Free Market Fairness" Tomasi discusses two opposing philosophical camps, high liberals and classical liberals/libertarians, and seeks to formulate a political philosophy that honors the social justice commitments of one camp with the economic methods of the other. Readers will differ over whether Tomasi has done this successfully, but his arguments are at least thoughtful and informative. By staking out a middle ground, he remains very polite to both camps and thus readers with particular ideological leanings will not find his tone unappealing or unfair.

Stylistically, the book is a work of philosophy aimed towards fellow academics and political thinkers. This means the general reader will not always be able to follow Tomasi's arguments and may grow frustrated with the number of questions that are posed but not answered. A high degree of familiarity with previous works in the field (Rawls, Hayek, Nozick) will be very helpful in understanding how Tomasi constructs his system. I would not recommend this book to anyone who has not previously encountered those authors.

Tomasi proceeds cautiously and repeatedly professes to be presenting a mere "research program" which is aimed to stimulate a discussion rather than Tomasi himself laying out specific, forceful arguments for his own conclusions. A reader seeking a definitive philosophical statement from this book will instead find discussions, suggestions, and qualified proposals. That being said, the book does have high points and in Chapter 8 when Tomasi focuses in on free market fairness was full the clarity and conviction that the beginning of the book lacked. This book deserves 3.5 stars because it brings an impressive amount of background knowledge to bear on important subject.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Big Bad John on July 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tomasi is a liberal Democrat who has obviously read widely and thought deeply about his field of political philosophy. In this important book, he first presents a history of liberal thought, then traces developments over the past century that have led us into opposing and dysfunctional camps. The extremes he charts are Left Liberalism (the folks who refer to themselves as "Progressives") and Right Liberalism (often calling themselves "Libertarians"). The difference he highlights is the importance given to property rights. In his view, which he amply supports, the Right overvalues property rights while the Left undervalues them. Tomasi places heavy emphasis on a social justice perspective in which society is moral only if it most benefits those who are least fortunate. After a thorough analysis of the reasons why neither of the current popular extremes is very moral according to this test, he sets out his own model in which property rights are accorded the same value as other fundamental liberties. He attempts to establish that such a regime is potentially superior to those currently advocated by leftist and rightist ideologues. In my view, he succeeds admirably, and this book should be required reading to get your license to vote. Regrettably, his approach is so scholarly and his prose so dense that most people who need his viewpoint will be unable to get through the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shawn Klein on June 11, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When Tomasi’s book first came in 2012, it got a lot of attention in libertarian circles. He challenged a lot of preconceived notions about libertarianism, fairness, and justice. Tomasi sets out in this book to create a kind of hybrid between the commitments typically associated with libertarians (and/or classical liberalism, market liberalism, etc.) and the commitments normally tied to what he calls High Liberalism (welfare liberalism, modern liberalism, egalitarian liberalism, etc.).

A more provocative way to put what Tomasi gives us in this book is a Rawlsian libertarianism. I over simply here, but Tomasi essentially takes the core premises of Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness and uses it to defend a kind of libertarianism. Or rather, he argues that a proper understanding of what is required by justice as fairness and the moral premises behind it is best realized in a regime that thoroughly protects economic liberty (alongside—and for similar reasons—political liberty). Further, the demands of social justice are best met under such a system as well.

Whatever you might ultimately think about the overall argument (and I remain skeptical though sympathetic), you have to give Tomasi credit for engaging in this huge revisionary project. At worst, it is an engaging and enlightening exercise to see what might happen if you accept Rawlsian starting points but add to it the moral importance of economic liberty. It’s an interesting way to learn about and further one’s understanding of Rawls (as well as economic liberty). At best, Tomasi has put forward a program the reunites the divided liberal house and sets it a more solid moral foundation.

Ultimately, I don’t think Tomasi’s project is successful on the latter account.
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