Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rawls and the New Equality - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Rawls and the New Equality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Rawls and the New Equality
“Equality and Social Theory in Rawls's Theory of Justice.” The Occasional Review 8 (Autumn 1978): 95–117.
For John Rawls a defensible justice means “justice as fairness.” But Rawls's Theory of Justice presents equality of result or of condition as the benchmark of “fairness.” Consequently, many have viewed Rawls's work as providing the intellectual underpinnings for the “New Equality.” Rawls's theory, however, is undermined by his failure to seriously investigate social theory and history.
Rawls's principles of justice emerge from social contract deliberations conducted in an “original position.” In the original position all parties have been stripped of any knowledge that might bias their choice of principles of justice. Rawls also imputes general knowledge about human nature and society to the parties to aid their deliberations. Rawls stipulates that in the original position the parties must choose principles of justice that will be workable in circumstances of moderate scarcity.
This requirement of practicability leads to Rawls's confusion. Rawls unwittingly uses two incompatible models of social structure, each with its own moral arguments against inequality.
The first model represents society as competitive and without class distinctions. In this model, equality results from the unequal distribution of natural talents in society. Here Rawls's argument against allowing such differences to generate inequality follows the arbitrariness of the “natural lottery.” Given this model we might expect the (naturally) most advantaged to feel entitled to greater benefits from their efforts than they are allowed by Rawls's “difference principle” (which allows inequality only if it serves the greatest benefit of the least advantaged). Moreover, those of superior talent would seem to be in a strong bargaining position because they could impoverish the least advantaged by withholding their cooperation.
Rawls's second model depicts society as composed not of well or poorly circumstanced individuals, but of individuals that interact as classes. In this model, Rawls thinks that great social and economic inequalities will distort even a formally equal political structure in favor of the rich. In a class dominated society, inequality is a form of oppression rather than a manifestation of nature's arbitrariness. This model “drives his (Rawls's) principles, nationally, and internationally, in a radical or even Marxian direction. . . .” But Rawls's failure to explore this briefly sketched model theoretically and historically, obscures whether his principles of justice could function in such a society.
In sum, Rawls's criterion of practicability and his failure to examine social theory and actual history make it doubtful that the parties in the original position would choose his principles of justice.