Arnon Grunberg



On imperfection – Daniel A. Bell in TLS:

‘For me, it was a transformative experience, not just because of the theory, but also because of the man. Rawls had an otherworldly gentleness and he seemed almost entirely free from ego. I lost the motivation to pursue my studies in communitarianism, not to mention criticism of Rawls himself. I moved to Asia and devoted my academic career to the study of Chinese political theory.
A Theory of Justice sold well, but I don’t think it had the same transformative experience for most of its readers outside academia. One reason is that Rawls’s next book, Political Liberalism (1993), rejected the theme of political soulcraft that had featured in Part III of A Theory of Justice. In the later book, he instead defended the more modest goal that people should live up to the political ideal of what it means to be a just citizen and dropped discussion of the more comprehensive ethical ideal of what it means to be a liberal person. Rawls argued that what he termed “justice as fairness” – a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights and co-operating in an economic system that benefits the least advantaged – is a virtue meant to inform a public sphere marked by a diversity of world views rather than the way we think about the self. Another reason, frankly, that the book had less impact outside academia is that Rawls’s writing style is so awful. A Theory of Justice reads, the joke goes, as if it were machine translated from philosophical German into English.’ (…)

‘He recognizes that most of us are imperfect liberals, who implicitly or explicitly adhere to liberal ideals of freedom, fairness and reciprocity while violating them in practice. Worse, our political institutions often encourage deviations from liberal justice. Rather than helping us to realize the ideal of fairness as a distribution of valued goods that benefit the least advantaged members of society, governments often provide tax incentives that benefit the rich and powerful.’


‘For one thing, how many of us are really Rawlsian liberals, deep-down? Do “we” endorse the claim that “for us, the right is our good” as opposed to, say, family, work and religion? Do we agree with Rawls that our personal talents and the advantages they lead to should be viewed as belonging to the community, along with the implication there should be a more expansive welfare state? If the “water we swim in” is less liberal than Lefebvre suggests, it will be difficult to motivate people to stick to the moral obligations generated by “spiritual exercises” when they go against self-interest. As a practical matter, Xunzi – China’s greatest political theorist – provides more insight with his theory that social rituals can help to moderate selfish tendencies and make us care for the needy.’


‘Can liberal selves survive and thrive with diluted liberal institutions? It is, as the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai allegedly said when Henry Kissinger asked him what he thought of the French Revolution, too early to tell.’

Read the article here.

We are not only imperfect liberals; we are imperfect human beings. Instead of emphasizing the imperfectness we could also try to figure how to live with these imperfections.

It’s hard to agree that your talents belong to the community, but it’s equally absurd to believe that they are yours. On the other hand, if you win in the casino you own the money.

How can we make the world a bit less like a casino, a rigged casino for that matter.

In what kind of society would we want to live if we didn’t know our sex, our gender, our religion et cetera.

Still, an important question, but fair enough, quite a few people would answer: I know my gender, my class, my religion, and for that reason I know the enemy.

Justice is a hobby of leftists. I decide what justice is. The question is whether the institutions can survive this rightwing, populist approach. Too early to tell indeed.

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