Communitarian Criticism of Liberal Contractualism: An Account and a Defense
MEMORY, HISTORY AND CRITIQUE: EUROPEAN IDENTITY AT THE MILLENIUM, F. Brinkhuis and Sasha Talmor, eds., MIT Press, 1998
8 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2010
Date Written: 1998
The normative significance of Europe and its member states is shifting. This paper considers and rebuts several communitarian objections against contractualist theories of global distributive justice, which can be brought to bear on the issues. Communitarian theories must draw on contractualist or similar traditions in order to illuminate the normative aspects of Europeanisation. The communitarian approaches, focussing on shared practices, constitutive identities and embedded loyalties, are ill equipped to assess the alternatives and agenda currently facing Europe.Communitarians stress that we have special duties, "obligations of membership," towards our own community or society, partly because it helps constitute our common life, which is an important good. It is said that contractualism cannot account for these important features of our moral life in the proper way. It fails to acknowledge our "embedded" nature, with loyalties we are born into and instead assumes that we are "atomistic" individuals, and community is not recognized as a good. Moreover, contractualism is criticized because such theories impose external standards, alien to the existing culture, which do not permit cultural variations.These criticisms fail to hold against some contractualist theories, which recognize that our common life - the institutions, practices and roles that surround us - is an important good. Moreover, I argue that John Rawls' theory of Justice as Fairness, a central contribution of liberal contractualism, is itself communitarian, if only in the particular sense that it is exclusively concerned with the important internal goods of communities and social institutions.
Keywords: liberal contractualism, Europe, distributive justice, communitarian theories, Rawls, justice
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