Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Finest Post Ever

From what might just be Miss Self-Important's finest post ever:
There was recently on this earth a man named John Rawls, who wrote a book called A Theory of Justice, which enflamed the subdued, analytical passions of tens of political theorists, many of whom are now in the Gov department at Harvard. What they do is called "contemporary democratic theory," and because it has the word "contemporary" in its name, it is the sine qua non of "relevance" in the discipline. As a result, those of us not studying Rawls in political theory must frame our research in terms of its contribution to Rawlsian problems in order to appear "relevant."

Research directly on Rawlsian problems tends adhere to the following general framework: A paper is written about some contemporary democratic problem--rights, exclusion, justice (justice is big), etc.--indirectly or insufficiently addressed by the great Rawls himself. These papers must include 1) bullet points, 2) absurd hypothetical scenarios*, and 3) discussion and dismissal of "competing views" on the question at hand, which always consist of The Libertarian View of Robert Nozick and The Socialist View of GA Cohen. Arguments falling outside these competing view camps are like the unexplored areas on faux medieval maps of the world one sees in novelty stores--"Here be dragons." (Oddly, more than half of our particular democracy apparently lives in the dragon regions, but this appears to be an insubstantial objection.) Finally, the hypothetical flaw in the hypothetical Rawlsian society is hypothetically corrected by the hypothetical solution proposed in the paper, and we are hypothetically that much closer to justice! Alternately, the paper is about deliberative democracy, and the central point is that we need to refine the hypothetical conditions of hypothetical deliberation so that we can come hypothetically closer to democracy! Followed by coffee and cookies.

I still can't believe MSI hadn't heard of Rawls or Nozick before grad school.


Miss Self-Important said...

Rawls was not relevant to mah interests at the time. Also, I'd like to think my finest post is yet to come.

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

It seems like Miss Self-Important is conflating a few different tendencies together: e.g. the tendency of Rawlsian political theory to look more like philosophy, etc. Mostly, though, she seems to be assuming the bankruptcy of Rawlsian liberalism by judging some (by no means the best) of his followers. See Michael Walzer and John Tomasi for some more imaginative contributions not possible without Rawls.

(I'm also prepared to defend Rawls as a pretty subtle and interesting thinker, but that's another argument for another time)

For the record, I am in no way a Rawlsian and also did not read him until grad school.

arethusa said...

Uh, I hadn't heard of Rawls and Nozick until...now.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Rawls is the most boring writer in the English language. He may be the most boring writer in any language, but I can only read three so I can not make a comprehensive judgement on the matter. He is certainly more boring than the ingredient lists on food that I read while eating. So I think we can say he is more boring than any writer in Russian as well. I tried reading him once and got to page 50 before I passed out. I then a few days later tried to continue and got only 10 pages before I passed out from boredom.

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't assume Rawls is bankrupt; I'm just relaying my observations about what I have seen this semester.

Also, I think Turgenev is a pretty boring Russian writer, but since I haven't read Rawls, I can't really make a comparative judgment.

The Maximum Leader said...

I was very lucky to have had a prof (undergrad) who suggested that I read Rawls and Nozick for a class and write my final paper on what I learned. I was happy he did.

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

Rawls is not, let's say, a big instant-gratification guy (as perhaps Nietzsche and Rousseau are), unless you happen to dig the difference principle. He does, however, have a way of sticking with you for a long time. I'm not sure I entirely understood him until I taught him, at which point it becomes clear that: 1. he's anticipated many of the easy objections to his system and 2. it's all quite sophisticated.

The same general principle is true of Nozick. I've long had the theory that everyone feels so let down by Anarchy, State and Utopia because they think it will be 'the libertarian answer to Rawls' written in the style of Rawls. Nozick says in his preface, of course, that he won't be doing that, but, of course, no one listens, and they get mad at him for not doing what they think he should do.

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