It occurred to me, on the occasion of re-reading, of all things, one of The Economist’s blogs on President Obama’s State of the Union Message (and the blog is well worth reading) that Rawls is an unknown quantity to most Americans. This is not unexpected as so many in the US are under the spell of the credible, but inconsistent (blame Bertand Russell for that) John Locke. Many, if not most, in the US are repelled by the name Machiavelli, but hold as the source of their highest moral authority the concept that they own themselves. Me. Me, of course, leads to Mine. And as the high priest of acquisition, Locke insists that More is a moral imperative.
A major focus of the campaigns against Obama was based on a deliberate effort to misconstrue and misrepresent the President’s speech in which he pointed out that what private business does is based on public infrastructure. The result was the “we built that” flag waving and the accompanying entrepreneurial chest beating that the country endured. What appeared to most Americans as either shallow campaign drivel or at most a principled disagreement on the nature of the welfare state vs personal liberty (though few of those engaging in such discussion really understood those concepts), also offered a third level.
Rawls argues for a collective ownership. You may own property, but your ownership of that property is not absolute in that you could not have obtained it without the assistance of the collective, assistance that from the perspective of the Lockean is at best a beneficial externality if considered at all. Hence, in claiming that “I built that” the Lockean’s unstated claim that he built that on his own, the American entrepreneur is engaging in a deception that Rawls would lay bare.
In suggesting a “just” society, Rawls is doing in a broader sense what we have legislated in the narrower sense with regard to the numbers racket. And as the anarcho-capitalism of the Mafia is arguably the love-child of Austrian economics, Rawls just state offers equality, a value that Locke would have us waive.
So how would that sit with those worshiping at Locke’s altar of Dominionism? They are of course outraged that their authority is not absolute, and just as you would expect from any child confronted with some limitation as to their behavior, they stomp their feet and issue juvenile challenge we all know so well…….