THE SPHERES OF JUSTICE: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality by Michael Walzer

THE SPHERES OF JUSTICE: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

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Domination, says Institute for Advanced Studies professor Walzer, is the real enemy of freedom, and domination takes many forms. Against John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and other contemporary political philosophers, Walzer argues that no single principle of equality can justifiably address all these forms. Rather, he maintains that different areas of social life--education, kinship and love, political office, moneymaking and spending--require different principles. Because someone is more beautiful than others, or smarter, does not entitle that person to a greater share of wealth or political power. Similarly, the wealthy person is not entitled to a lion's share of public recognition. What Walzer is really after is not equality but equalities: in different cultures these ""spheres"" will be ordered differently, according to different values. Walzer therefore opposes strict equality. Relative material wealth is not a problem for him, as long as its effects are confined to material things. He would like to recapture the Greek idea that citizens may be unequal economically but equal politically, and receive honors on the basis of virtues other than wealth. This worked for a time in Athens and, in a different form, in the Indian caste system (where caste, hot wealth, determined prestige). But Walzer's argument, even though it engages current issues like affirmative action and school busing, has an unreal aspect: the fact that political office is bought, that justice is bought, is simply ignored. Walzer can't avoid the economic problem by confining himself to a sphere of stereos and cars. His argument may make us think about the way we think about equality, but his hope that we can evolve a society in which citizens rule in some spheres and are ruled in others--his modernization of Aristotle's dictum that the citizen is one who is capable of ruling and being ruled--is left stranded on an island of logic, surrounded by the here-and-now.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1983
Publisher: Basic Books