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The Good Society 11.2 (2002) 86-90

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Children and Ian Shapiro's Democratic Justice

George Warnke

Ian Shapiro's Democratic Justice takes up the challenge of reconciling justice and democracy. 1 It does so by articulating a conception of justice that is meant to afford a central place to democratizing social life and a conception of democracy that is meant to promote justice. The account of justice that Shapiro offers diverges from the liberal path John Rawls takes as well as from the communitarian path that Michael Walzer pursues. While Rawls attempts to define justice by calculating the unanimous rational choice of parties to an original position, Shapiro begins with the premise that no consensus on what justice requires exists. And while Walzer defines justice in terms of the discrete meanings of different social goods, Shapiro asks who decides what these meanings are. If we do not possess a consensus on what justice is and if we ought not simply accept one theorist's interpretation of it, then we should recognize the place of democracy in determining what justice requires.

So, what is democracy? For Shapiro, it is a subordinate good within the set of ongoing activities in which we already participate. Shapiro does not require that we conceive of participation in democratic processes as the best form of activity or the ultimate purpose of all our other practices and activities. Nor does he begin, as Rawls does, outside our ongoing activities with an original position prior to our knowledge of them. Instead, like Walzer, he begins with the practices and activities in which we are already engaged: The point of democracy, as Shapiro sees it, is to further the collective projects we already possess in ways that work against forms of arbitrary domination. Democratic justice is thus a semi-contextual affair. 2 Its content varies with the activities of which it is a part, yet it is constant across activities in its opposition to arbitrary domination.

In order to identify the content of arbitrary domination, Shapiro specifies two procedural principles. First, "everyone affected by the operation of a particular domain of civil society should be presumed to have a say in its governance." 3 This principle dictates what Shapiro calls inclusive participation but does not, he claims, require that all those affected have the same say. Nor does it mean that the presumption is not defeasible in some instances. The related principle of subsidiarity claims that those whose interests are most vitally affected have the most say under most circumstances, but even this presumption can be overthrown; Shapiro gives the example of white flight from the public school system, which "undermines democracy in local educational provision." 4 Shapiro's second principle is one that he calls the principle of loyal opposition: whatever decision is made about a policy or norm governing an activity, it must leave room for both the effective expression of dissent and the possibility of change. 5 Yet because political groups in a democracy have unequal access to information and organizational resources, the principle of loyal opposition needs further explanation, which Shapiro provides in the suspicion of hierarchies. If we are concerned with democratic justice, we need always to ask whether an existing hierarchy is necessary to a given activity and, if it is, whether the activity itself is justified. Hierarchies may be necessary to the institution of slavery, for example, but if they are, then we need to ask whether that institution should continue to exist. Hierarchies of authority may also be necessary in the relations of adults and children, but if we ask whether the institution of the family should continue to exist, we might be inclined to say yes. At the same time, Shapiro insists that such hierarchies must serve the interests of those in the subordinate position. Moreover, all such hierarchies must be fluid and symmetrical. Children, for instance, grow into an authority of their own and often have authority over their parents as they age.

Shapiro's analysis differs in interesting ways from accounts of justice that focus on consensus: In J&uuml...


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