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The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" Revised ed. Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674005426
ISBN-10: 0674005422
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.ARobert Hoffman, York Coll. of CUNY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

[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 New Republic)

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 Times Literary Supplement)

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. (The Economist)

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 Civilization)

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. (The Mises Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (March 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674005422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674005426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
John Rawls is indisputably the most honorable spokesman of political liberalism of the past twenty-five years. His theoretical committment to and devlopment of liberalism is an inspiring attempt to reconcile the difficulties inherent in a heterogenous society in which different conceptions of the good life and varied value systems, beliefs, and principles can coexist and yet affirm the political conception of a constitutional regime. How can a nation entreat its inhabitants to carve out their conception of the good life and their own value systems and yet achieve agreement on a set of principles that all citizens may abide by? It is the answer to this question that Rawls's works have sought to answer. The Law of Peoples is no less concerned with this question. Rawls's attempts to extend a social contractarian approach to human existence on the international level is thorough and nuanced. Liberal peoples, he argues, have three basic features. They possess a reasonably just constitutional democractic government that serves their fundamental interests; they are united by common sympathies; and above all, they have a morally mature nature. Critics who claim that Rawls's brand of liberalism invites a form of moral agnosticism had better think twice. Moral maturity and its genetic antecedent--human moral nature, are the preconditions that underly the moral basis of liberalism in general: deep respect for human beings and the necessity of treating them as ends in themselves. Rawls's development of a Just War Doctrine should force us to re-think traditional concepts of sovereignty and undermines the claims to legitimacy that outlaw states seek to impose on moral communities in the name of cultural authenticity.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
John Rawls believes that we can achieve something akin to a utopia. Although precious few utopian thinkers have escaped the disreputable taint of astonishing naiveté, Rawls has thought hard about the moral, religious, cultural, and historical nuances that so often make utopic claims tragically optimistic. His own vision of a realistic political utopia rests in his faith in the idea of a social contract; the essays collected in these volumes present Rawls' lifework as a consistent project of extending and radicalizing this venerable idea.
Earlier Rawls articulated several general principles--for example, "justice as fairness," and "public reason"--that he thinks justify political relations between members of constitutional democracy. In this book he presents an even more general principle, "the law of peoples," that he thinks would extends the social contract to include members of certain illiberal societies.
Readers interested in Rawls' latest views about the real-world prospects of his realistic utopia will welcome this short book. In addition to presenting a long essay about his most general political principle, that of the "law of peoples," this book also includes a shorter new essay on Rawls' influential conception of "public reason" within liberal democracy. In both, Rawls is very much concerned with showing how his lifelong project-to bring into fruitful synthesis our deepest communal insights about reasonableness and justice-justify his faith in a realistic utopia. Rawls' congenial prose style makes his dazzling vision accessible to all conscientious readers.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My 'phenom' daughter recommended this book to me. She read it as a poli-sci/pre-med undergrad at UC Berkeley, and having noticed my growing cynicism regarding the direction our country has been headed, this was her 'philosophical lifesaver'. What Prof. Rawls offers is nothing less than a roadmap of hope, not only for our country but for the world. And that's a mouthful of praise, coming from a cynical Vietnam-vet.
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Format: Paperback
This concise book consists of 2 essays, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited and The Law of Peoples. While The Idea... essay is second in the book, I would read it first because it is a good review of a crucial concept in Rawls' thought and very useful for grasping the argument in The Law of Peoples. The Idea... explicates Rawls emphasis on mutual justification and the somewhat separate nature of political conduct in formulating the basis of polities.

Some of Rawls' last work, The Law of Peoples is an attempt to extend Rawls contractarian approach to international relations. Rawls uses the same approach here used in prior work proposing a reasonable basis for political organization of individual polities. In international relations, Rawls proposes a contract between Peoples (or their representatives) who meet on equal terms behind an analogue of his famous "veil of ignorance" to guarantee a free and equal status. This leads to rational (promotion of self interest) and reasonable (mutually and publicly justifiable) formulation of standards for international conduct. These include many standard tenets of international law such as war only for self-defense. Rawls includes both liberal societies (essentially all forms of functioning modern democracies) and what he terms decent peoples. The latter will not meet all the criteria for a liberal state but will respect human rights and have some measures for broad political participation. Something like the type of state envisioned by 18th century theorists like Montesquieu or a state with an state religion and tolerance of other faiths would be decent societies.
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