The Rawlsian Law of Peoples and the Cosmopolitist Critique

16 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2011  

Wagner Artur Cabral

Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) - Faculdade de Direito

Date Written: October 15, 2011


In 2001 John Rawls published a little book called The Law of Peoples, that was originally supposed to be a chapter for Justice as Fairness: a Restatement, a revision and re-organization of his theory. Although it was expected in vivid anticipation, the book has generated controversy. While that may not seem surprising to Mr. Rawls – most of his theories were subject of intense debate, that being one of the reasons why they are so relevant to the Academy – the international part of the Justice as Fairness theory was received with astonishment by both his students and his “loyal opposition”. Rawlsian Law of Peoples works under a different Original Position, with restricted principles of justice and several other traits that simply seemed a completely modified setting than that of Justice as Fairness, as it were designed to reduce differences in a national legal context of basic institutions and goods. This paper tries to summarize the main criticisms that the Law of Peoples has received, specifically from a series of scholars that could be considered as defenders of Cosmopolitanism, given their commitment to the idea of an order of global justice. And hearing those voices of dissent, it tries to address the claim that this new theory of International Law is actually contradictory to Rawls’ Theory of Justice itself. At last, it will try to give suggestions of how the Law of Peoples should be different, for it to follow the principles of egalitarianism displayed throughout Justice as Fairness as a whole.

Keywords: Rawls, Law of Peoples, International Law, Human Rights, Cosmopolitanism

Suggested Citation

Cabral, Wagner Artur, The Rawlsian Law of Peoples and the Cosmopolitist Critique (October 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Wagner Artur Oliveira Cabral (Contact Author)

Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) - Faculdade de Direito ( email )

Av. João Pinheiro, 100
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais 30130-180

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