Defending a Law of Peoples: Political Liberalism and Decent Peoples

Journal of Ethics 11 (1):87-124 (2007)

In this paper I reconstruct and defend John Rawls' The Law of Peoples, including the distinction between liberal and decent peoples. A “decent people” is defined as a people who possesses a comprehensive doctrine and uses that doctrine as the ground of political legitimacy, while liberal peoples do not possess a comprehensive doctrine. I argue that liberal and decent peoples are bound by the same normative requirements with the qualification that decent peoples accept the same normative demands when they are reasonably interpreted and from their comprehensive doctrine, not from political liberalism. Normative standards for peoples appear in a law of peoples in two places: as internal constraints carried forward from political liberalism which regulate domestic affairs and as principles derived from a second original position that provide the normative ground for a society of peoples. This first source of normative standards was unfortunately obscured in Rawls' account. I use this model to defeat the claim that Rawls has accommodated decent peoples without sufficient warrant and to argue that all reasonable citizens of both liberal and decent peoples would accept the political authority of the state as legitimate. Although my reconstruction differs from Rawls on key points, such as modifying the idea of decency and rejecting a place for decent peoples within a second original position, overall I defend the theoretical completeness of political liberalism and show how a law of peoples provides reasonable principles of international justice.
Keywords decent peoples  human rights  international law  John Rawls  law of peoples  political liberalism
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-006-9009-9
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Liberal Foreign Policy and the Ideal of Fair Social Cooperation.Blain Neufeld - 2013 - Journal of Social Philosophy 44 (3):291-308.
Toleration, Decency and Self-Determination in The Law of Peoples.Pietro Maffettone - 2015 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 41 (6):537-556.

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