The Significance of Rawls’s Law of Peoples

Alec D. Walen

Rutgers School of Law, Camden

December 27, 2000

International Legal Theory, Vol. 6, pp. 51-57, 2000

I defend John Rawls’s Law of Peoples against Lea Brilmayer’s criticism that it is not worth reading. The core of Lea Brilmayer’ s criticism of Rawls’s is that his approach is indefensibly “statist.” Rawls’s view is statist in the sense that it proscribes liberal states using coercive force to try to change the behavior of certain illiberal states, those that count as "decent," even if they are systematically disrespectful of certain human rights of their residents, rights that would be central to any liberal regime. I defend this statism by analogy with the thought that a liberal state would want to respect certain illiberal families by allowing them to decide how to serve the interest of their members without interference, as long as they do not go too far in doing so. I further shore up this analogy by considering the different groups of people in an illiberal society that might object to the government’s policies, and the different reasons that factor into deciding whether to use coercive force to try to change such a society. I argue that these factors show that logical space for liberal states to respect “decent” states or “peoples” is very plausible. I also defend the fact that Rawls does not extend the difference principle to international law, and acknowledge that in other ways his project is incomplete: if fails to deal with federalism and other non-state actors that are relevant to international law. But I contend that these shortcomings do not undermine the plausibility and overall value of the project.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 7

Keywords: Rawls, Law of Peoples, Statism, Liberalism, International Law

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Date posted: August 11, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Walen, Alec D., The Significance of Rawls’s Law of Peoples (December 27, 2000). International Legal Theory, Vol. 6, pp. 51-57, 2000. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1657188

Contact Information

Alec D. Walen (Contact Author)
Rutgers School of Law, Camden ( email )
217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
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