Rawls and the outlaws

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 1 (3):307-323 (2002)
Perhaps because John Rawls attempts to separate ideal theory and non-ideal theory too sharply from each other, The Law of Peoples formulates principles to govern cooperative international relations only among the ideal states that Rawls labels `peoples'. An important and presumably numerous category of non-peoples are those he calls `outlaw states'. To guide international relations between peoples and outlaw states Rawls offers only principles of just war. Either Rawls is assuming in a kind of Hobbesian pessimism that large numbers of actual states are in a permanent state of war with each other, or he has neglected to formulate principles to govern non-hostile international relations between peoples and outlaw states. This article explores whether, within Rawls's own categories, it might be possible to specify a minimal content for a form of international public reason in accord with which some peoples and some outlaw states could avoid war with each other and treat each other with reciprocity. It is essential to incorporate the fact, which Rawls acknowledges but generally ignores, that not all internally repressive states are externally aggressive. It may be possible for peoples to coexist peacefully with the subset of outlaw states that are non-aggressive. One great danger, however, is that reciprocally acceptable terms for international relations would need to leave unchallenged too much violation of human rights within the repressive states. Key Words: international justice • war • John Rawls • Law of Peoples • public reason.
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DOI 10.1177/1470594X02001003002
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