The Good Society 11.2 (2002) 91-97
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Revisiting Democratic Justice:
A response to critics
I should start by thanking my critics, not least because for the most part I have been carefully and appreciatively read. In a couple of instances where my views have been misconstrued, as by Fishkin on Apartheid and inequality of opportunity and by Shiffrin on loyal opposition, this does not require much of a response since both acknowledge my actual views later in their commentaries than in the offending passages. Accordingly, I will not dwell on these issues except to reiterate that Apartheid ran afoul of several of my presumptions against hierarchy (it was avoidable, ossified, and created massive externalities and exit costs for those on whom it was imposed); that systematic inequality of opportunity of the kind invoked by Bernard Williams's warrior society violates my injunction against non-self-liquidating hierarchies at least; and that with respect to loyal opposition my argument is that unless there are opportunities for loyal opposition, disloyal opposition will be both forthcoming and legitimate. As I put it on p. 48 of Democratic Justice: "the more democratically those who win in battles over collective decisions conduct themselves in victory, the stronger is the obligation on the defeated to ensure that their opposition be loyal rather than disloyal—and vice versa."
Next, there are criticisms concerning sins of omission that I will not take up at length because I think they are partly right. Rosenblum on my relative inattention to public institutions and Fishkin on inequality (as distinct from his comments about inequality of opportunity) are cases in point. Part of the answer here is that DJ is the first of three books, its principal concern being the promotion of justice within civil institutions. The second volume, now in preparation, deals with the distribution of income and wealth. Inter alia, it takes up matters concerning the relation between reductions of absolute and relative inequalities and different mechanisms for responding to inherited inequalities raised in Fishkin's comment. The third volume will deal centrally with public institutions. There the focus will be on representative arrangements, a fuller account of judicial review than my discussion in chapter 3 of DJ, and on the relations among governmental institutions.
That having been said, aspects of the criticisms do merit a response on the basis of the argument developed in DJ. With respect to Rosenblum's complaint, although I do not engage in the kind of systematic analysis of American public institutions that I do of the civil institutions structuring the life cycle, I have a good deal to say about public institutions, both in developing the general argument for democratic justice and in the course of my applications through the life cycle. Generally I am skeptical of what appears to be Rosenblum's libertarian (or perhaps Shklarian?) impulse to focus on governments as the primary, if not exclusive source of domination in the world. Governments may have been the most consequential agents of domination in the totalitarian states that prevailed in Europe during Shklar's formative years, or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Taliban's Afghanistan in our time. But in non-totalitarian systems of the kind explored in DJ governments are not typically the main source of domination in people's lives, and often they can be instrumental in its amelioration.
This is not to deny that governments can foster domination in capitalist democracies. Indeed, many of my particular arguments about institutional redesign in DJ are intended to forestall this possibility. For instance, in my discussion of population policy, I argued that, although governments may legitimately aspire to limit population growth to numbers whose basic interests they can reasonably expect to be able to underwrite, they may not legitimately adopt policies in pursuit of this goal that involve state domination of women—such as forced sterilization or abortion (DJ pp. 94-96). Other examples include the limits on governmental power built into my divided authority regime over children (particularly with respect to power asymmetries between parents and public officials discussed...