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10.1146/annurev.polisci.6.121901.085715

Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2003. 6:25774


doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.6.121901.085715
c 2003 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved
Copyright
First published online as a Review in Advance on Mar. 6, 2003

RAWLS AND HABERMAS ON PUBLIC REASON:


Human Rights and Global Justice

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J. Donald Moon
Department of Government, Wesleyan University, 238 Church Street, Middletown,
Connecticut 06459; email: dmoon@wesleyan.edu

Key Words political liberalism, international justice, rights, common-good


conceptions of justice, agency
Abstract Many have argued that Rawlss and Habermass accounts of public
reason have converged in their latest writings, as both support the basic structure of
the modern, constitutional, democratic state. But an analysis of their views of global
justice reveals deep differences in their views of public reason. For Rawls, public
reason is a substantive set of principles to be used to answer fundamental questions,
whose content varies with the context in which these questions arise. Habermas, on the
other hand, endorses the public use of reason, which provides criteria determining the
universal validity of moral norms, though it does not itself ground substantive norms.
Ironically, at the global level Rawlss substantive principles of public reason are more
inclusive than Habermass formalist account, which rules out moral and legal systems
that Rawlss theory would accommodate.

1. INTRODUCTION
Despite their indebtedness to Kant, Rawls and Habermas are in many ways heirs
to contrasting theoretical traditions. Rawlss work grows out of liberalism, and he
self-consciously presented his Theory of Justice as a development of the social
contract tradition of political theory (1999c, p. xviii). Habermass work, on the
other hand, grows out of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, and he sought,
in the words of a sympathetic observer, to provide conceptual and normative
foundations for a reconstructed Marxist social theory that provides a critical analysis of modernity (Seidman 1989, p. 1). In recent years, however, their work
has converged in many respects, motivating a number of efforts to examine both
their similarities and the remaining differences. Most notable, perhaps, is the exchange between Rawls (1995) and Habermas (1995) themselves, though the issues
they addressed have been examined by many others. McCarthy (1994) has placed
Rawls and Habermas in Dialogue, and Baynes (2001, p. 1) has suggested that
their accounts of public reason, when carefully examined, do not differ significantly. In one of the strongest statements of this view, McMahon (2002, p. 111), in
an article entitled Why There Is No Issue between Habermas and Rawls, argues
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that their procedures of moral thinking are not in competition with each other,
as Rawls can make use of Habermass procedure, and Habermas could employ a
theoretical device that plays the role of Rawlss original position.
Most of these discussions focus on Rawlss political liberalism, which seeks
to identify the correct principles of justice for a modern pluralistic democracy
(McMahon 2002, p. 111). If we restrict our attention in that way, the positions
of Rawls and Habermas appear similar in many important respects. But a shift
to the political context of international affairs reveals deep differences between
them, involving such fundamental matters as the basic human rights that should be
universally respected and realized, and their ideals of world order. Although both
advance a universalist account of human rights, Rawlss account affirms only a
restricted class of rights that does not include claims rooted in distributive justice
(such as equality of opportunity and the difference principle) nor even rights of
civic and political equality and freedom of conscience and thought. And Rawlss
vision of international society is that of a society of peoples, whereas Habermas
calls for a global political order, though not a world government. Some of the
differences between Rawls and Habermas regarding global justice reflect different
beliefs about the political and economic forces shaping the world today, but at a
deeper level their views reflect their different accounts of public reason.
In this paper I do not try to resolve the differences but to locate their sources.
Section 2 presents Rawlss account of international justice. Section 3 sets out elements of Habermass account, and in the final section I show that their differences
are ultimately rooted in contrasting conceptions of public reason.

2. RAWLS ON INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE


Although Rawls is most often associated with a neo-Kantian turn in political theory
and philosophy, a turn that explains some of the convergence between him and
Habermas, there are important non-Kantian roots to his theory, roots that I will call
Humean (or neo-Humean, since I do not wish to make strong claims about their
connection to Humes own work). As is well known, Rawls signals the Humean
side of his theory in discussing the circumstances of justice. Following Hume, he
argues that the question of distributive justice arises in part because we exist under
conditions of moderate scarcity and have conflicting interests rooted in different
ends and purposes, which lead us to take no interest in one anothers interests
(Rawls 1999c, p. 127). The need for justice is a response to the twin problems
of organizing social cooperation and resolving social conflict. Living in a society
in which our actions are coordinated with others, we produce far more resources
than we could otherwise produce. But because we have different plans of life
or conceptions of the good, we come into conflict over the distribution of the
advantages of social coordination.
But this Humean moment goes deeper than Rawlss own account suggests, or
at least deeper than most critics realize. For Rawlss general account of justice
is thoroughly conventional and tied to a particular society or people. Thus, his

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theory is based on the assumption of a society conceived for the time being
as a closed system isolated from other societies (Rawls 1999c, p. 7), and his
account of political liberalism is intended for societies, including the United States,
Canada, and many European countries, that share traditions of democratic rule
and commitments to ideals of freedom and equality. Rawlss political liberalism
may best be thought of as a species of a general account of justice as social
cooperation. The principles of justice are seen as regulating (or serving as critical
principles for) those who actually share a set of social and political institutions
that have pervasive effects on the life chances of individuals. These institutions
produce the set of social advantages whose distribution is contested.

2.1 Common-Good Conceptions of Justice


The idea of justice as social cooperation contrasts with a more common view, in
which a specific conception of justice is rooted in some overarching moral and
political theory. What Rawls calls common good conceptions of justice are radically different from the political liberal conception he champions. He does not
explain fully what he means by a common-good conception of justice, so it is
necessary to interpret his schematic comments in light of his other writings. We
should begin by noting that both the conception of justice as social cooperation
and common-good conceptions of justice see society as a system of social cooperation, and not merely the site of socially coordinated activityfor example,
activity coordinated by orders issued by an absolute central authority (Rawls 2001,
p. 6). Social life is impossible without coordination; cooperation is coordination
realized through rules or procedures that participants accept as appropriate to
regulate their conduct, in part because these rules enable them to realize their
own good in ways they regard as fair. As Rawls puts it (2001, p. 6),
Fair terms of cooperation specify an idea of reciprocity, or mutuality: all who
do their part as the recognized rules require are to benefit as specified by a
public and agreed-upon standard.
Reciprocity or mutuality does not necessarily mean that people benefit equally;
whether equality is required depends on publicly accepted standards. A wellordered society is a fair system of social cooperation over time from one generation to the next (Rawls 2001, p. 5), in which the role of the principles of
justice . . . is to specify the fair terms of social cooperation (p. 7).
But where do those standards or principles of justice come from? One source is
Rawlss own account of justice as social cooperation, but he also acknowledges another source, which he calls common-good conceptions of justice. Such accounts
appear to view social justice as applied moral philosophy, that is, as an application
of a general (or, as Rawls puts it, comprehensive) moral, religious, or philosophical
doctrine to the issue of how the advantages of socially coordinated activity should
be distributed, and in general what principles should govern the political and other
key institutions of society. Comprehensive doctrines offer a vision of human life

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and well-being from which flows an account of how society should be structured
in order to allow its members to flourish and to cultivate human excellence. As
in Platos Republic, justice requires each person to play his or her proper role in
realizing this vision, and these roles define the claims people can make on each
other. Desert often figures prominently in this kind of account, for ones contribution to realizing the shared vision of human life and well-being, and ones
instantiation of the virtues that vision requires, provide the necessary grounds for
judging that one deserves some honor or recognition, some privilege or advantage.
The warrior hero in MacIntyres (1984, ch. 10) heroic society deserves recognition
and honor. On the other hand, the monk who exemplifies humility and piety may
be deserving, but his desert would not take the form of dominion over others.
In common-good conceptions of justice, the rights and obligations of individuals are typically derived from the role they play in a society unified around a
particular view of the common good, or at least around an account of socially
shared priorities (which appear to be a rather loosely articulated comprehensive
doctrine) (Rawls 1999b, p. 77). Because individuals occupying different social
positions may play very different roles in the realization of the common good,
their basic rights may well be unequal. Because the society is organized around a
specific comprehensive doctrine or special priorities, there is often not even a
presumption of equal standing in public life for other doctrines. There may even be
some restrictions on religious liberty or liberty of thought, thoughfor reasons I
address belowthese restrictions must not be so onerous as to constitute persecution or repression of minority religions (Rawls 1999b, p. 74). Needless to say, rights
of political participation may also be unequal. Whether or not a society based on a
common-good conception of justice accepts such structured inequalities depends
on its specific conception of the common good; even if most actually existing societies that approximate this idea have been hierarchical, some theoretical visions
based on civic humanist, socialist, or communitarian ideals have been strongly
egalitarian.

2.2 Political Liberal Conceptions of Justice


Common-good conceptions of justice are obviously problematic in democratic
societies characterized by moral pluralism, that is, by a diversity of comprehensive moral, philosophical, and religious doctrines, each supported by a significant
number of adherents. In democratic societies, different visions of human life lead
to conflicting moral claims. Those who subscribe to natural-law-inspired ideals
have rather different views about just deserts from those who accept a socialist
conception of human solidarity and positive freedom, though they no doubt share
a certain repugnance for what utilitarians have to say.
Rawlss political liberalism offers an account of social justice that is a response
to moral pluralism, and the resulting disagreements about questions of justice. As
long as the requirements of justice are rooted in comprehensive moral doctrines,
this conflict will continue, and the likely outcome will be either (a) a structure of

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domination, in which the adherents of some particular account (or a coalition of


groups) gain enough power to impose their views on the rest, or (b) some uneasy
compromise reflecting a balance of power among factions. Such a society cannot
be well ordered; it is not based on a common understanding and acceptance of the
principles of justice, which are effectively realized in its practices and institutions,
and which guide the settlement of major disputes about the division of social
advantages that arise within it. And when people have good reasons to persist in
their own particular beliefs, but they suffer the imposition of other values, there is
an obvious sense in which their society is unjust, for it is based on domination and
held together by force.
If there were some way to find the truth, we could resolve these disagreements,
but Rawls views that as unlikely because of what he calls the burdens of judgment. Reasonable disagreement about our fundamental commitments, he writes,
is disagreement among reasonable persons, who share a common human reason, similar powers of thought and judgment: they can draw inferences, weigh
evidence, and balance competing considerations (Rawls 1996, p. 55). Disagreement among reasonable persons is possible, he argues, because the grounds on
which we make judgments (both theoretical and practical) are often inadequate.
The evidence may be conflicting and thus hard to assess, or people may disagree
about the weight to be assigned to different considerations, or different normative
considerations may be found on each side of an issue. Although it is possible to
resolve many issues, others cannot be settled, and reasonable people may continue to hold different views even after sincere consideration of the arguments and
evidence that others have offered.
Thus, a different approach is required. The essence of the problem and the form
of the solution were stated long ago by Rousseau (1997 [1762], p. 66):
All justice comes from God, he alone is its source; but if we were capable of
receiving it from so high, we would need neither government nor laws. No
doubt there is a universal justice emanating from reason alone; but this justice,
to be admitted among us, must be reciprocal.
Rawlss political liberalism can be thought of as spelling out this requirement
of reciprocity in the presence of moral plurality. Reciprocity is expressed in the
commitment to living cooperatively with others, which requires that one be ready
to propose principles and standards as fair terms of cooperation and to abide by
them willingly, given the assurance that others will likewise do so (Rawls 1996,
p. 49). One must be prepared, as Scanlon (1982, p. 116) puts it, to justify ones
actions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject. By being prepared to
justify ones actions to others, one expresses the commitment to live cooperatively
with them, rather than seeking to dominate them.
Because people differ in their comprehensive moral, religious, and philosophical commitments, justification cannot take the form of reaching full agreement on
the truth or correctness of these principles. If one acknowledges that those who
do not share ones beliefs are reasonable in the sense that they have defensible

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(though not persuasive) grounds for holding their views, then one cannot simply
dismiss others views as irrational or dogmatic. In response to this situation, political liberalism conceives of the principles of justice as the object of reasonable
agreement among citizens who seek to live cooperatively while acknowledging
reasonable disagreement on comprehensive moral, religious, and philosophical
doctrines. Political liberalism therefore seeks principles that all citizens have reason to accept as a basis for governing the basic institutions of their society and
for adjudicating their claims regarding the distribution of the advantages of social
cooperation. There is no attempt to ground these principles in some overarching
account that vindicates them as, in some sense, true. It is not that political liberalism denies the truth of its principles, but it seeks to avoid the question of truth and
to substitute for it the idea of reasonable agreement. It offers principles that can
be accepted despite moral, philosophical, and religious differences. Rawlss own
theory of justice as fairness is one of a family of such conceptions (see 2001,
pp. 3942, and passim).
These reasonable political conceptions of justice specify the content of what
Rawls calls the idea of public reason for a democratic society (1999a, pp. 132
33). In his account, public reason specifies at the deepest level the basic moral
and political values that are to determine a constitutional democratic governments
relation to its citizens and their relation to one another (Rawls 1999a, p. 132).
Public reason, then, is substantive, comprising the principles and values that citizens and public officials should employ in determining the basic principles of
justice and the constitutional essentials of a particular society.
In passing, Rawls remarks that a liberal society also has a common-good conception of justice in that its members share the common good of achieving political justice for all its citizens over time and preserving the free culture that justice
allows (1999b, p. 71, fn. 10). Although his comment appears to be somewhat
ironic, the point is important. The common good of political liberalism is, above
all, the commitment to living cooperatively in the special sense defined above.
This means that the principles on which society is organized are based on a subset
of ones fundamental commitments, and thus may on occasion come into conflict
with other values or norms one holds, but that one is in general willing to let the
more narrow, political or shared values prevail in the face of such conflicts. This
means our social lives are necessarily alienated inasmuch as the structure of our
society does not reflect, and may sometimes conflict with, some of our deepest
beliefs and aspirations. To value this particular conception of social cooperation
to this extent is no trivial thing.

2.3 Basic Human Rights and the Idea


of a Well-Ordered Society
Common-good and political liberal conceptions of justice both represent ways
in which a society may be well ordered, that is, constitute a system of social
cooperation rather than one of mere social coordination. For a society to be a

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system of social cooperation, its members must accept rules that they view as
appropriate to regulate their conduct and that specify the claims of its members
according to a public and agreed-upon standard (Rawls 2001, p. 6). Although
Rawls does not spell out the connection between social cooperation and human
rights, it would appear that any society that can be characterized as cooperative will,
by definition, respect certain basic rights, because they are necessary to protect
the minimal capacities of agency that one must have if ones actions are to be
described as following from ones own will or reflecting ones own choices or
affirmations. Without the protections these rights provide, conformity to the basic
rules of a society would not in any sense reflect the willing cooperation of its
members. Although protecting such vital interests as subsistence need not take the
form or employ the language of rights, without the protection of basic interests,
the social practices of the society would not be mutually beneficial, and the social
order would involve command by force, a slave system, and no cooperation of
any kind (Rawls 1999b, p. 68).
That is not to say that force is always present in noncooperative social orders, and
not only because the dominated know that resistance is futile. As Berlin suggests,
the victim may prefer to have no responsibility; the slave may be happier in his
slavery (2002, p. 28). But only when ones basic agency is protected does the
notion of willing acceptance make any sense. Even if the victim prefers not to
have any responsibility, the point is that the victims preferences are beside the
point. Victims have no say. And slaves, as Rawls points out (2001, p. 24, following
Patterson 1984), suffer social death.
Because social cooperation is possible only if people are able to exercise some
basic capacities of agency, even a society founded on a common-good conception of
justice must have what Rawls calls a consultation hierarchy in which its members
have some degree of representation in the process of political decision making,
albeit perhaps less than the rights of full democratic participation (1999b, p. 71
75). Rawls does not explain precisely why a consultation hierarchy is necessary,
but it seems to be based on the idea of a society organized in accordance with a
common-good account of justice. Although the view of justice accepted in such
a society may limit the terms within which political discussion may proceed,
there will always be the possibility of disagreement about the implications of
that framework (and other relevant considerations) for particular issues of policy.
Because such differences are inevitable, rulers can demonstrate their adherence to
a particular conception of justice only by being prepared both to acknowledge such
disagreements and to explain their decisions in terms of that conception. Without an
institutional process through which dissent is encountered and decisions explained,
it would be impossible for authorities to show that their actions are based on their
understanding of the requirements of justice, and so to give their subjects reason
to acknowledge an obligation to conform to their decisions. Thus, a well-ordered
society must acknowledge the principle that rulership is rule over people with the
capacity of agency, who have voices, and is legitimate only when those voices
have opportunities to be heard.

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As Beitz (2000, p. 686) has argued, Rawls does not specify with any care the
basic rights that all societies must respect, nor does he explain their basis. Rawls
lists the right to life (including the means of subsistence and security), the right to
liberty (including freedom from slavery, serfdom, and forced occupation, and to
a sufficient measure of liberty of conscience to ensure freedom of religion and
thought), the right to personal property, and the right to formal equality (in the
sense that similar cases be treated similarly) (1999b, p. 65). We can add to this
list a right to emigrate (Rawls 1999b, p. 74) and a right to participate in a political
process in which those who exercise power must justify their use of power in
terms of the societys public conception of justice. I would suggest that what
unifies this list is the idea of agency. These rights in some form are necessary
to protect the minimal capacities of agency that are presupposed by the idea of
social cooperation, or willing participation in the social order. So long as most
members accept a particular substantive idea of the common good, or a specific
comprehensive doctrine, these rights do not have to be equal, nor do they have to
be extensive, so long as they provide space and resources sufficient for individuals
to dissent if they are unable to identify with socially enforced expectations and
objectives. Rawls refers to societies that are based on a common-good conception
of justice and that meet this standard as decent peoples, and he allows that they
may be full members of an international society of peoples.
Critics fault Rawls for distinguishing between liberal and decent peoples on
the one hand and all other societies on the other, holding that the distinction is
arbitrary, or at least its basis unclear. I have argued that the distinction is not
arbitrary but reflects an ideal of society as a system of social cooperation, which
is therefore based on some conception of justice. I have argued that any form of
social cooperation must protect basic capacities for agency and so must provide
the protections and resources necessary to effectively realize certain basic rights.
The standard of protecting agency is not as demanding a standard as the liberal
ideal of autonomy, for it does not require that individuals have the capacities
(and dispositions) to engage in critical reflection on their choices and the social
expectations to which they are subject, but it does provide a minimal set of human
rights that limits the range of societies that can be full members of an international
society of peoples. Because these rights are necessary to any system of social
cooperation, they are universal rights.

2.4 The Boundaries of a People


Beyond the universal but quite limited set of basic rights, different societies may
construct different systems of rights and obligations binding their members. The
boundaries of these societies in Rawlss theory are defined both in objective
terms and in terms of the identifications and orientations of their members, giving
rise to a certain ambiguity in Rawlss theory. On the one hand, he sometimes
writes as if a people presupposes a cultural nation, a group sharing a set of
particularistic identities or common sympathies, so that they see themselves as

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a people. But he acknowledges that (at least in the case of a democratic society) a
people may not be united by a common language and shared historical memories
(1999b, p. 25). What is crucial is not that they share a pre-existing identity but that
they share a basic structure that has a pervasive impact on the life chances of all.
Thus, the limits to social justice are not particularistic.
In Rawlss account, contrary to various nationalists and communitarians, my
claims against my fellow citizens are not based on our valuing our common membership for noninstrumental reasons, thus giving rise to special rights and obligations (though I may have such reasons as well). Rather, they are based on the fact
that we share a basic structure, which is (or should be) regulated by principles
of justice. This basic structure consists of institutions constituted by rules and procedures that give rise to rights and obligations and that bring about a distribution
of benefits. Because the basic structure defines rights and obligations, and because
of its pervasive impact on individuals life chances, it necessarily gives rise to
questions about the justice of the rights it defines and the distribution of benefits
and burdens it imposes. Thus, the limits of the claims of social justice reflect the
limits of social cooperation organized through a basic structure.
This conclusion is similar to one advanced by Miller (1998), who distinguishes
between comparative and noncomparative principles of justice. Comparative
principles . . . assess the justice of a mode of treatment or of a resulting distribution
by comparing how each member of the relevant group fares when compared with
everyone else, whereas noncomparative principles assert that certain forms of
treatment are inherently just regardless of what is happening to others (Miller
1998, p. 169). Rawlss basic rights are noncomparative: They assert that individuals
should be protected in certain ways, have access to certain goods and services,
and enjoy certain liberties; determining whether these conditions are met does
not require comparing one persons condition to anothers. Most principles of
distributive or social justice, such as equality or Rawlss difference principle, by
contrast, are comparative. Miller argues that principles of international justice
must be noncomparative because comparative judgments . . . have force only
if they apply to persons who are connected together in some way, for instance
by belonging to the same community or association (1998, p. 171). But Miller
does not explain why the relevant group within which comparative judgments
are to be made should be a community or association. If the relevant group is
the whole of humanity, there is no reason why comparative principles would not
be applicable. For Rawls, what determines the relevant group is that its members
share a basic structure, and what makes it relevant is the fact that the basic structure
largely determines the production and distribution of the social advantages whose
distribution is to be regulated by principles of justice. Thus, the reason that one set
of strangers (fellow citizens) have different claims on each other than another set
(foreigners) is that they, unlike foreigners, share a basic structure. Sharing a basic
structure, they are subject to claims of reciprocity with one another that do not
extend to outsiders. Thus, Rawlss argument does not rest on the idea that there
is some moral priority to be given to compatriots, simply by virtue of their being

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compatriots (cf. Beitz 1999, p. 215). There may be a variety of reasons why people
who see themselves as joined in a certain way are more likely to be able to create
a ( just) basic structure, butagain contrary to the claims of various nationalists
and communitariansthe causal relationship may go in the opposite direction:
Being linked in a basic structure (sometimes even an unjust one) creates the sense
of being joined with others.

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2.5 International Society and the Law of Peoples


Rawls assumes that the world is made up of different peoples, each of whom
shares a basic structure of social and political institutions, which has a pervasive
impact on the life chances of its members. In his view, transnational social and
economic forces have only a limited impact on a societys well-being, since the
primary determinants of economic prosperity are internal to the society (a matter
I take up in Section 4). Thus, the problem of justice at the global level becomes a
problem of defining norms that can be accepted by these peoples to regulate their
relationships. Rawlss solution to this problem involves an extension of his idea of
the original position, in which those who deliberate on the principles of justice
for the international society of peoples are conceived as representatives of separate
peoples rather than of individuals. This argument (which I do not detail here)
involves a two-stage procedure. First, representatives of liberal peoplesthose
sharing liberal principles of justicearticulate a set of norms governing their
relationships and agree to such basic principles as the freedom and independence
of peoples, nonintervention, the prohibition of the use of force as an instrument
of foreign policy, and the requirement to honor human rights. At a second stage,
the representatives of decent peoples deliberate on the norms governing their
relationships, and they come to accept the same set of principles. These principles,
then, constitute the public reason in terms of which fundamental issues arising
within the society of peoples should be decided. Thus, the principles of global
justice govern the relationships of both liberal and decent societies, as both
have similar basic interests andbeing well orderedhave reason to observe
similar constraints in the conduct of foreign policy. Needless to say, these principles
are radically different from the principles governing democratic societies, they
apply to different questions, and they govern people acting in different roles and
capacities.

3. HABERMAS ON GLOBAL JUSTICE AND


UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS
My account of Rawls has focused on two views of justice, namely his own political
liberalism and common-good conceptions that rest on more or less comprehensive moral visions, but Habermass view of justice fits neither of these models.
Habermas distinguishes morality from ethics, arguing that [m]oral commands
are categorical or unconditional imperatives that express valid norms (Habermas

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1993, p. 8) whereas ethical statements tell us that it is good for you to act in
this way in the long run, all things considered and are based on some account
of the highest good of a self-sufficient form of life that has its value in itself
(Habermas 1993, pp. 5). Unlike common-good conceptions of justice, Habermas
views justice as part of morality, not ethics, for the requirements of justice are
not rooted in a particular understanding of a good life nor in some comprehensive religious, cultural, or philosophical worldview. But unlike Rawlss political
liberalism, Habermas seeks principles of justice that are valid or in some sense
true, not merely something that people can reasonably accept.
In Habermass theory, moral norms are invoked in what he calls communicative action, in which people coordinate their actions on the basis of mutual understanding (Baynes 1992, p. 84). That is to say, in acting communicatively, I
try to achieve my goals not by manipulating or coercing others but by (perhaps
implicitly) invoking a norm that I expect others will accept as valid, leading them
to respond accordingly. To take a trivial example, when I stop a stranger to ask
for directions, I implicitly invoke a social norm to the effect that one ought to give
truthful answers when asked for directions. In this case, I expect to get the correct
directions not because I am able to coerce, bribe, or manipulate a passer-by, but
because she will accept an obligation to give me truthful directions if she can, and
my action implicitly invokes our common understanding of that norm. Of course,
I may be mistaken when I invoke a norm. Expecting my interlocuter to accept its
validity, I may find that she contests it. When that happens, I must be prepared to
offer reasons why I think the norm is valid. As Habermas puts it, the possibility of
a common understanding of valid norms invoked in communicative action must
be based on the speakers guarantee that he will, if necessary, make efforts to
redeem the claim that a norm is valid by adducing reasons and, more generally,
engaging in practical discourses (1990, pp. 5859). But, according to Habermas,
what it means to discuss hypothetically whether norms of action ought to be
adopted (1990, p. 92) amounts to implicitly acknowledging the principle of
universalization, (1990, p. 63) which holds that a valid norm must fulfill the following condition:
All affected can accept the consequences and the side effects its general observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of everyones interests
(and these consequences are preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation). (Habermas 1990, p. 65).
According to Habermas, the principle of universalization is implicit in the idea
of moral argumentation itself. Thus, principles of justice cannot be based on a
conception of the common good, since any such conception is necessarily rooted
in a particular way of life and set of cultural self-understandings and therefore
will fail the test of universalization. On the other hand, the principles that meet
this test are not merely reasonable but are genuinely valid or true. They are
not restricted to particular contexts; their scope is universal, applying not only
to specific societies, but globally. Thus, Habermas rejects fundamental aspects of

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Rawlss account of global justicethe idea that the objects of a global account
of justice are peoples rather than individuals and the idea that some societies may
reject the claims of human freedom and equality.
Not surprisingly, then, Habermass account of human rights is deeply at variance
with Rawlss. Habermas contrasts liberal and republican understandings of rights.
The liberal understanding assigns priority to the rights of private individuals, rights
that protect their interests as natural persons, including the right to own property,
freedom from harm and arbitrary treatment by political authorities, freedom of
conscience and belief, and privacy. The republican account assigns priority to
the rights of political participation, the right to engage in the processes through
which rights are themselves defined. Habermas considers both positions mistaken,
for these rights are cofoundational: private and public autonomy reciprocally
presuppose one another (2001, p. 118). As Habermas explains,
on the one hand, citizens can make appropriate use of their public autonomy
only if, on the basis of their equally protected private autonomy, they are
sufficiently independent; on the other hand, they can realize equality in the
enjoyment of their private autonomy only if they make appropriate use of their
political autonomy as citizens. Consequently, liberal and political basic rights
are inseparable. (Habermas 2001, p. 118)
To be sure, any specific polity will be rooted in particular collective identities,
but the universality of rights rests on the solidarity of world citizens, which
generates a kind of cosmopolitan cohesion in the first instance through feelings
of indignation over the violations of rights, i.e., over repression and injuries to
human rights committed by states (Habermas 2001, p. 108).
In Habermass view, world citizenship will not be realized through a world
state, but the key point is that it presupposes a world of democratic states, and a
political process that realizes the democratic legitimation of decisions beyond the
schema of the nation-state (Habermas 2001, p. 110). In contrast to Rawls, then,
Habermas rejects both the idea of a pluralist world containing domestic regimes
based on nondemocratic conceptions of justice, and the idea of international society as consisting essentially of a society of peoples, governed by norms that
are not democratically legitimated but rather are the objects of agreement among
representatives of peoples. Rather, policy making at the international level should
conform to the requirements of democracy, though not through the standard mechanisms of elections and political representation but through devices that ensure the
general accessibility of a deliberative process whose structure grounds an expectation of rationally acceptable results (Habermas 2001, p. 110). Habermas does
not explicitly spell out the characteristics of such a deliberative process. He does,
however, call for a functioning public sphere that allows for serious discussion
of global issues and that is widely accessible. To be sure, discursive structures of
opinion- and will-formation . . . could never entirely replace conventional procedures for decision-making and political representation, but he insists that they
do tip the balance (Habermas 2001, pp. 11011). Concretely, these democratized

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processes of global governance could take a variety of forms, perhaps including the institutionalized participation of non-governmental organizations in the
deliberations of international negotiating systems and empowering international
organizations to demand that member states carry out referendums on important issues (2001, p. 111). Although falling short of the procedures of domestic
democratic systems, such innovations could extend the democratic legitimation
of decisions beyond the schema of the nation-state (2001, p. 110).
Both Habermas and Rawls draw inspiration from Kants vision of perpetual
peace, but the different ways in which they appropriate Kants ideas reveal the
deep differences between them. Habermas argues that an examination of Kants
ideal in light of the two centuries that have passed since he first articulated it shows
the need for revisions in three fundamental areas. In the first place, he rejects Kants
notion of a federation of nations that respects the sovereignty of each country,
insisting that the community of peoples must be able to ensure that its members
act at least in conformity with the law through the threat of sanctions, thereby
transforming the external character of international relations between states into
a domestic relationship between the members of a common organization based on
a legal code or a constitution (Habermas 1998, p. 179). Second, he views Kant as
inconsistent in imagining the cosmopolitan community as a federation of states,
not of world citizens, since every legal order derives from the original right
that attaches to every person qua human being (Habermas 1998, p. 180). Because every individual has a right to equal liberties under universal law, it follows
that the autonomy of citizens may not be preempted even by the sovereignty
of their states (Habermas 1998, pp. 18081). Finally, Habermas finds that Kants
notion of world peace as the absence of war must be altered in light of the growing
interdependence of all parts of the world owing to globalization and increasing ecological imbalances. Instead, peace must be understood as a process which unfolds
in a nonviolent manner aiming to satisfy the real preconditions for a peaceful
coexistence of groups and peoples, and which requires strategies of nonviolent intervention designed to promote processes of democratization, including
appropriate economic and environmental policies (Habermas 1998, p. 185).
In Habermass vision, what is required is a transformation of the institutions
of international society (notably the United Nations) from a congress of states
to incorporate features of a cosmopolitan democracy, and the institutionalization
of democracy within each of the individual units (states) of the world system. In
some ways, his appropriation of Kant is closer to Kants vision than is Rawlss
idealin particular, in insisting that the subunits of international society consist
of democratic states, a natural extension of Kants view that each of the peoples
of world society would have a republican constitution. In other ways, Habermas
goes beyond Kant in calling for structures of international governance in which
individuals and not just states have a central role, structures whose jurisdiction
extends to social, economic, and environmental issues. By contrast, Rawls allows
for a plurality of political forms in international society and envisions much more
restricted forms of international organization.

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4. THE TASKS AND POSSIBILITIES OF THEORY


The differences between Rawls and Habermas regarding international justice are
rooted partly in their different views of the tasks of philosophyin particular in
their conceptions of public reasonand partly in disagreements about important
empirical issues. Their empirical differences are obvious. Key to Rawlss argument
is the idea that there is no global structure. Addressing the terrible inequalities and
deprivation that we see in the world, Rawls argues that there is a duty of assistance:
Rich countries must aid burdened societies. But, as I have indicated, he insists that
the primary causes of a countrys poverty are internal to that country, specifically,
its political cultureits members political and civic virtues (Rawls 1999b,
p. 117). Although he does not spell his argument out fully, he appears to claim
that, with the right political and cultural traditions, these societies will be able
to acquire the human capital and know-how and the material and technological
resources needed to be well-ordered (Rawls 1999b, p. 106). What these societies
need, then, is not material aid so much as help in rectifying basic political and
social injustices through an emphasis on human rights, particularly the rights
of women (Rawls 1999b, pp. 10810).
By contrast, for Habermas, the forces of globalization clearly undermine the
relative independence of national economies. Globalization destroys the capacity
even of wealthy countries to fulfill the requirements of social justice for their own
citizens, and it creates the need for a new global order and global domestic policy.
If current trends continue, the progressive undermining of national sovereignty
will necessitate the founding and expansion of political institutions on the
supranational level, a process whose beginnings can already be observed.
(Habermas 1998, pp. 1067)
The great danger we face, in Habermass view, is the abdication of politics,
the abandonment of the effort to control and direct economic forces to realize the
requirements of justice. Unfortunately, with the decline of national economies,
governments have less and less power to control economic forces at the national
level, including in particular the power to levy taxes for redistributive purposes.
We thus see growing levels of unemployment and the dismantling of the welfare
state, problems that can only be tackled in new political venues.
Without trying to resolve the disagreement between Rawls and Habermas here, I
would suggest that both positions are exaggerated. Contrary to Habermass claims,
states apparently still have considerable freedom from international constraints in
the design of social policies. Among OECD countries, there is a wide variation in both the content of policies and the associated institutional frameworks
(Quiggin 2001, p. 71) in the areas of education, health, and taxes and transfers.
The countries most exposed to international economic forcessmall, relatively
open economieshave the largest and most redistributive social welfare programs,
which could hardly be the case if international constraints were so powerful. Significantly, levels of taxation in OECD nations rose (from 42% to 44% of gross

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domestic product) during the 1990s, and the growth was greater in the smaller
economies (presumably more subject to global economic forces) than in the larger,
G7 countries (Crook 2001, p. 14). In short, frequently repeated claims that nationstates are losing the capacity to manage their economies and maintain social programs appear to be exaggerated.
Similarly, Rawlss claim that the principal causes of a countrys poverty are internal to that country, in particular its political culture, is one-sided. It neglects the
structure of the international political-economic regime and fails to develop principles of justice that apply in this area. For example, the World Trade Organization
requires that countries respect intellectual property rights (by adopting and enforcing laws that define intellectual property according to international standards).
Under this policy, countries such as India and South Africa have been blocked
from producing pharmaceuticals covered by foreign patents, which has increased
morbidity and mortality as well as health care costs in those countries. The bestknown example, no doubt, is the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort on the part of
drug companies to block the production and use of patented AIDS medications in
Africa and other third-world countries. Similarly, other cases raise serious issues
of justice, e.g., the Multifiber Agreement, which blocks access to rich-country
markets for the textile and clothing exports of poor countries, or U.S. opposition
to special treatment for poor countries under the Kyoto Accord.
As important (and problematic) as these empirical claims might be in illuminating the differences between Habermas and Rawls on international morality, the
deeper differences are conceptual and philosophical, and reflect their views about
the tasks of philosophy and political theory. For Habermas, philosophy aims to
show that our moral judgments can be rationally grounded, or to provide a characterization of the moral point of view suitable for all moral reasoning (McMahon
2002, p. 111). Although in his political writings he advances substantive positions,
he insists that it is incumbent on moral theory to explain and ground the moral
point of view. What moral theory can do and should be trusted to do is to clarify
the universal core of our moral intuitions and thereby to refute value skepticism,
but what [moral theory] cannot do is make any kind of substantive contribution
(Habermas 1990, p. 211). Nonetheless, as I pointed out above, the moral point of
view itself rules out common-good conceptions of justice and supports a strong
and universal set of human rights, even if it does not specify their content. Just
as there is a certain irony in Rawlss observation that political liberalism is committed to a common good (of social cooperation), so it is ironic that, despite
Habermass insistence on the purely formal character of his account, his theory
delegitimates more types of social and political arrangements than does Rawlss
more substantive account.
In contrast to Habermas, Rawls (2001, pp. 15) sees philosophy as having four
tasks: the practical task of clarifying and resolving conflicts, the task of orienting
and reconciling us to our political life, and the task of projecting a realistic utopia.
Each of these tasks shows his central preoccupation with the reasonable as
opposed to the true, that is, with finding principles that participants in political

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discourse and conflict have reason to accept, while side-stepping the question of
whether they are true or valid. The practical concern of political philosophy is
to see whether, despite appearances, some underlying basis of philosophical and
moral agreement can be uncovered so as to resolve or at least narrow the divisive
political differences that divide people in a particular society (Rawls 2001, p. 2)
or that divide societies from each other. The orienting task of political philosophy,
closely related to the reconciling task, involves providing a unified account of how
we may think about our political and social institutions as a whole and how we
collectively share basic aims and purposes as a society with a history, so that we
may see how our various ends can cohere within a well-articulated conception
of a just and reasonable society (Rawls 2001, pp. 23). In this way political
philosophy helps reconcile us to our way of life by enabling us to see the way
in which [our] institutions, when properly understood from a philosophical point
of view, are rational, and developed over time as they did to attain their present,
rational form (Rawls 2001, p. 3). But philosophy apparently cannot perform the
work of reconciliation by itself. For we can be reconciled to our world only if, by
acting on the belief that the social world allows at least a decent [in the ordinary
sense of this word, not the special sense used above] political order, we can probe
the limits of practicable possibility to project an image of a just order that can
be attained under reasonably favorable but still possible historical conditions,
conditions allowed by the laws and tendencies of the social world (Rawls 2001,
p. 4). Thus, for Rawls the task of philosophy is substantive, rooted in the exigencies
and conflicts of a particular setting.
These different views of the tasks of theory are nowhere more evident than
in Rawlss willingness to accept nonliberal, hierarchical regimes as full members
of the society of nations, in contrast to Habermass (implicit) rejection of such
regimes as violating fundamental and well-grounded moral norms. Both Rawls
and Habermas agree that international morality is subject to the test of public reason, but they have different conceptions of public reason and its powers. Habermas
revealingly speaks not of public reason but of the public use of reason, a form of
practical reason accessible to all, giving rise to the criteria determining the validity
of moral norms. But Rawls insists that, in explicating the idea of public reason, at
no point are we deducing the principles of right and justice, or decency, or the principles of rationality, from a conception of practical reason (1999b, p. 86). Rather,
public reason is substantive, consisting of the normative ideas, the principles and
values, that may properly be invoked in answering fundamental questions. And its
content varies with the context in which it is employedwhether it applies to the
constitutional essentials and basic principles of justice of a democratic society, or
to the principles governing international relations or what Rawls calls the society
of peoples. An account of public reason (such as the one Rawls offers) is not deductively unified but worked out for each particular case, and though there can be
no guarantee, the hope is that when laid out properly, the resulting principles and
standards of right and justice will hang together and will be affirmed by us on due
reflection (Rawls 1999b, p. 87). Indeed, Rawls criticizes Habermas in part on the

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grounds that his position is a comprehensive doctrine offering a general account


of meaning, reference, and truth or validity both for theoretical reason and for the
several forms of practical reason (Rawls 1995, p. 135), and is metaphysical in
the sense that it presents an account of what there is (p. 137).
Rawls does not, of course, reject Habermass view as incorrect in any way.
Rather, he argues that some citizens have reasonable grounds to reject it, and
so it is necessary to develop a different account of public reason if society is to
be organized as a fair system of cooperation. The centrality of the value of
fair cooperation to Rawlss thinking may reflect the origins of his theory in
the social contract tradition, the idea of society as based on an agreement of free
and equal people on the terms of their ongoing social life. On the other hand,
Habermass rejection of the reasonable in favor of the true may reflect the
roots of his thinking in the tradition of critical theory, and the aspiration for a fully
rational society in which the free development of each is the condition for the
free development of all.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank Arash Abizadeh and Stephen White for their helpful comments
on an earlier version of this article.
The Annual Review of Political Science is online at
http://polisci.annualreviews.org

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Volume 6, 2003

CONTENTS
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RICHARD E. NEUSTADT: PUBLIC SERVANT AS SCHOLAR,


Charles O. Jones

GOVERNMENT TERMINATION, Michael Laver


POLITICAL SCIENCE ON THE PERIPHERY: SWEDEN, Olof Ruin
FOLIE RE PUBLICAINE, Robert E. Goodin
THE COLD WAR AS HISTORY, Jonathan Haslam
ROBERT A. DAHLS PHILOSOPHY OF DEMOCRACY, EXHIBITED IN
HIS ESSAYS, Michael Bailey and David Braybrooke
BRINGING ROBERT A. DAHLS THEORY OF DEMOCRACY TO EUROPE,
Sergio Fabbrini

1
23
41
55
77
99
119

THE MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: BEYOND MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES,


Doris Graber

THE SUPREME COURT IN AMERICAN POLITICS, Lawrence Baum


WHY THE UNITED STATES FOUGHT IN VIETNAM, Larry Berman and
Stephen R. Routh

What Is Third World Security? Raju G.C. Thomas


Electoral Fraud: Causes, Types, and Consequences, Fabrice Lehoucq
RAWLS AND HABERMAS ON PUBLIC REASON: HUMAN RIGHTS AND
GLOBAL JUSTICE, J. Donald Moon
DEMOCRATIC INDIVIDUALISM AND ITS CRITICS, George Kateb
DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRATIC THEORY, Simone Chambers
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF HEALTH IN THE UNITED STATES,
John D. Wilkerson

ANCIENT EMPIRES, MODERN STATES, AND THE STUDY OF


GOVERNMENT, George E. Von der Muhll
TRADE, FOREIGN INVESTMENT, AND SECURITY, Richard Rosecrance and
Peter Thompson

CURRENT CONTROVERSIES IN FEMINIST THEORY, Mary G. Dietz


HERBERT A. SIMON: POLITICAL SCIENTIST, Jonathan Bendor

139
161
181
205
233
257
275
307
327
345
377
399
433

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TERRORIST DECISION MAKING, Gordon H. McCormick


What Role Does Prejudice Play in Ethnic Conflict? Donald P. Green and
Rachel L. Seher

473
509

INDEXES

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Subject Index
Cumulative Index of Contributing Authors, Volumes 26
Cumulative Index of Chapter Titles, Volumes 26

ERRATA
An online log of corrections to Annual Review of Political Science
chapters (if any have yet been occasioned, 1998 to the present) may be
found at http://polisci.annualreviews.org/

533
553
555