Reading John Rawls in Shanghai

5 min read
John Rawls

John Rawls

I got to know the work of John Rawls when Salvatore Veca, professor of Political Philosophy during my university years, introduced it to Italy by promoting the first translation of the classic “A theory of justice” published by the American philosopher in 1971.

Veca between the 70s and 90s of the last century represented a singularity of European philosophy.

From a progressive area, but far from Marxism, Veca presented John Rawls’s revolutionary theory of justice to the most communist European country in the West.

Without wishing to be exhaustive in the summary, Rawls developed a new concept of “social contract”, which found its legitimacy by offering the less well-off access to their own personal growth in society, finally arguing that it was the search for a common “consensus ” the method and the title that could legitimize different opinions and interests.

Rawls’s intuition was not to establish the primacy of one economic system rather than another, but to affirm that a model to be fair must be based on free agreement.

The American philosopher used brilliant logical creations to better explain his thinking.

For example, he brought down a veil of ignorance on the socio-economic condition of a citizen to make him free to choose for the best and for the right, an intuition that made man free from particular interests and selfishness.

Freedom and mediation and the recognition of merit are the foundations of Rawls’s thought, which did not promote the primacy of the capitalist model over the socialist one, but the primacy of justice.

Returning to Rawls’s thought is all the more necessary after attending a few days ago an online seminar at the Tsinghua University of Beijing on redistributive justice, because the theme of social justice and one’s own legitimacy has found ample space in China in recent months. .

The question appears increasingly relevant given the recent change of direction made by the leadership of Xi Jinping, or the neo-socialist turning point, which led the Chinese Communist Party to hit the country’s major capitalists after years of relative economic freedom.

If in these forty years China has adhered to the capitalist model, today Xi Jinping recalls that growth must be directed in favor of the community and corporate profit drained by undermining non-strategic private investments in the party.

The defect is clear. The harmony, forgive the idea and oxymoron, of the Chinese model does not mediate the interests of individuals and groups that contract their relationship, but it is the party that establishes the rules and the merit of redistribution.

Applying Rawls’s model we could affirm that in China the first implicit postulate of the American philosopher fails. If the freedom to bargain is denied, the company loses representative legitimacy and system efficiency.

Salvatore Veca could have recalled that the Marxist perspective is by its very nature “incompatible with the idea that the plurality of different and divergent individuals, groups, identities that characterize a modernized society has value.

Different and divergent conceptions of the good make the unity of social cohesion, society as a whole, inconsistent. Conflict excludes cooperation; and the reverse is true. If there is consent, there can be no conflict; and the reverse is true “, where the idea that there is a common good, an Idea of ​​life and a higher order is implicit.

It is the implicit denial of Rousseau’s principle on the social bond – that is, what can be found in common between those with different interests – that makes the Chinese model fragile, as well as unfair, because it is subject to the limits of the party which by its very nature it is invasive in every aspect of social and economic life, declaring itself the bearer of a design for a perfect society.

The search for justice has the implicit ability to correct itself, but not the Communist Party, a perverse derivation of the idea of ​​a Hegelian ethical state, the bearer of truth and certainty.

Let’s not forget the same etymology of party, it derives from the past participle of partiri – to divide in Latin and hence pars or part. How could he who divides and has a partisan vision be the bearer of harmony?

On the merits it is a contradiction in terms, which could show in Popperian terms the folly of a part that wants to be everything and be καλόν, in the Platonic perspective, that is, right.

The prospect of Rawls’s reflections resulting all the more dangerous that a battery of intercontinental missiles to the single Chinese thought, had an answer in the article “Theory of Justice: A Naturalistic Evaluation” by the philosopher Ho Mun Chan, who questions the rationality of Rawls’ construction arguing that ethics does not have a global horizon: “Rawls’s theory of justice fails to maintain a reflective balance of the moral intuitions held by people of different cultures”.

Ho Mun Chan in support of his thesis brings studies on three different Chinese cities at that time divided by history, Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing. “In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls argued that people under the veil of ignorance would choose the principle that could maximize the income of the most disadvantaged (the difference principle).

As in similar experiments conducted in other parts of the world, the results of the present study do not support the Rawlsian position. The Difference Principle was the least popular choice among Chinese subjects. No experiment so far has been able to demonstrate Rawls’s idea that people are likely to opt for the Difference Principle under conditions of impartial reasoning.

“The thesis of the Hong Kong professor is that “Justice is a product of impartial reasoning, but impartiality itself does not produce substance … The substantial conception of justice originates from the point of view of a specific historical place and time. Investigations into the problem of justice are inevitably naturalistic and require structured observations, listening to what people say in their daily life, reading canons, studying their history and so on. “

The philosophy of Rawls and his popularizer Veca does not have a predictive function of the time to come and Rawls himself did not have time to know the China of the third millennium, but the analysis of the American philosopher allows us to have a key to understanding.

It is reasonable to state that the intrinsic rigidity of the Chinese regime will be subject to growing social and economic fibrillations, in spite of the naturalistic approach of Professor Ho Mun Chan, who would like to liquidate in about ten pages the epistemological foundations of Western philosophy on an ethnographic basis.

John Rawls, father of the modern contractualism, was one of the greatest political philosophers of the 20th century. During his life he studied and taught in the major universities of the West from Princeton to Oxford, Cornell, MIT, up to Harvard, where he taught for almost 40 years.

Ho Mun Chan organic at the single thought Han passed unscathed under the new Hong Kong national security law, where he has been teaching for over twenty years

One last thought goes to Salvatore Veca who left us on 7 October this year at the age of 78.

The article was originally published on the Italian language site

Tony Simon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *