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The Law of Peoples: with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" [Paperback]

John Rawls
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 1 2001

This book consists of two parts: the essay "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited," first published in 1997, and "The Law of Peoples," a major reworking of a much shorter article by the same name published in 1993. Taken together, they are the culmination of more than fifty years of reflection on liberalism and on some of the most pressing problems of our times by John Rawls.

"The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" explains why the constraints of public reason, a concept first discussed in Political Liberalism (1993), are ones that holders of both religious and non-religious comprehensive views can reasonably endorse. It is Rawls's most detailed account of how a modern constitutional democracy, based on a liberal political conception, could and would be viewed as legitimate by reasonable citizens who on religious, philosophical, or moral grounds do not themselves accept a liberal comprehensive doctrine--such as that of Kant, or Mill, or Rawls's own "Justice as Fairness," presented in A Theory of Justice (1971).

The Law of Peoples extends the idea of a social contract to the Society of Peoples and lays out the general principles that can and should be accepted by both liberal and non-liberal societies as the standard for regulating their behavior toward one another. In particular, it draws a crucial distinction between basic human rights and the rights of each citizen of a liberal constitutional democracy. It explores the terms under which such a society may appropriately wage war against an "outlaw society," and discusses the moral grounds for rendering assistance to non-liberal societies burdened by unfavorable political and economic conditions.


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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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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars An unfortunate book Nov. 9 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
First, some disclosure regarding my opinion of Rawls (may he rest in peace). I am no fan of Rawls' work, be it this work or his others. As such, my own views will no doubt influence my opinion, so keep that in mind as you read on.
This book is divided into two parts, the first dedicated to the "Law of Peoples," the second to public reason. In the interests of space, I will only concentrate on the first portion.
The Law of Peoples is Rawls' attempt to bring his notions of justice as fairness and the like into the international scene. Using a modified "original position," Rawls discusses the way the international scene would run, not only with liberal societies, but also "decent" and "outlaw" states (among others). Fine and good.
The problem lies (as it does with "Theory of Justice" and "Political Liberalism") in the acceptance of what the "original position" would result in. The original position requires that "comprehensive doctrines" be left to the side (read "Theory" for more on that). In other words, your (or a people's) worldview (or deep notion of the good) must be cast aside. This is problematic enough, but it gets worse. Rawls wants a "political, not metaphysical" notion of justice to prevail. By happy chance, that "political" notion just happends to be liberal, of a moderate left variety. Rawls would deny that he is slipping in his "comprehensive doctrine" into the works, but it does make things difficult.
So, say a people decides that they prefer their own comprehensive doctrine (a religion, an ideology of one type or another, etc.) to the "political" version of Rawls.
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Format:Hardcover
John Rawl's "Law of People" is divided into two parts: "The Law of Peoples" (a paper based on Rawl's article by the same name published in 1993), and "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" (1997).
First of all, don't make the same mistake as I did by thinking that this short book (200+ pages) would be "a quick summer reading" - because it's not.
John Rawl's book is on a very high reading level. The amount of research that went into "Law of peoples" is quite evident from both its extensive endnotes, and the general wordiness.
I find the topic itself interesting, but I found the reading of this book as achingly dry as the Sahara desert at high noon. This is certainly not the book to bring for your weekend trip.
Still, "Law of peoples" contains much interesting stuff, and I imagine it would be a valuable read for the hard-core student of political liberalism/liberal democracy/related topics...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extending the social contract even further May 4 2000
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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5.0 out of 5 stars The Morality of Liberalism March 7 2000
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
58 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Morality of Liberalism March 7 2000
By Dr. Jason D. Hill - Published on Amazon.com
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. In this respect Rawls' work is indispensible to young liberal scholar's such as myself. In fact I have depended on his theoretical approach to ground much of my highly controversial and hotly contested book, "Becoming a Cosmopolitan: What It Means To be a Human Being in the New Millennium." I argue, however, for a more pugnacious form of liberalism by rejecting outright, as conceptions of the good, all forms of tribal (racial/ethnic and national)identities and argue for the obliteration of all cultural practices that undermine human rights. For those who believe that moral progress is possible and who wish to further advance the idea that liberal democracies represent a superior and more evolved form of social and political living, The Law of Peoples is a detailed and rigorous application of this idea.
32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extending the social contract even further May 4 2000
By Andrew N. Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hope for our future. Dec 3 2007
By Frank-ti N. Neff - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Interesting Rawls Work Jan. 15 2008
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
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. Rawls basic point is that the values upheld by liberal or decent societies extend logically via the mechanisms he proposes to a reasonable ideal formulation of international relations. Rawls does propose this as an assembly of Peoples, rather than states. This distinction is not perfectly clear but may be that state for Rawls implied too much about the powers of the entity and may not satisfy the veil of ignorance criteria.

After formulating and justifying his ideal theory, Rawls discuses some non-ideal issues, such as conduct of war and the obligations favored states have towards less fortunate states.

Like much of Rawls work, this work is rigorously formulated and written very carefully. Rawls is never a sparking stylist but this work is perhaps more easily read than some of this work. Rawls feels this work is realistically utopian, the purpose of which is to define some of the bounds of what might be possible in international relations by systematic exercise of reason and good faith. In this case, this is actually realistic. Rawls is on firm ground in the sense that some of the foundations for developing his system, like the existence of democractic pluralistic societies and absence of war between democracies, are real phenomena.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great ! May 12 2014
By ~C.Sanchez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well, I needed this book for my Theories of Justice college level course, this is the book I need, It was in mint condition, One little crease on the cover page but no matter, the content is and will be amazing, I suggest you read Rawl's original "Theory of Justice" , then "Political Liberalism" before indulging yourself in this book. There are many references to the previous two books that I just mentioned. You will be lost otherwise.

~C.Sanchez
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