The question above is based on the theory of egalitarianism,
the idea ‘that each human being is an equal subject of moral concern’. Distributive
egalitarianism calls for the eradication of inequality in a number of
significant areas of distribution of good, such as income. Egalitarianism is
influenced by 20th century American philosopher John Rawls’ theories
on social justice. Philosophers such as Thomas
Pogge have taken these principles further to advance an argument for ‘global distributive
egalitarianism’. They view all individuals as deserving of the same treatment
in a just society; the world as it stands is thus unjust. The extension of
justice beyond national borders requires an understanding of society and
justice in global terms. This paper focuses on the belief that egalitarian principles
should be extended in this way to the international system. On the basis of the
convincing arguments made by Rawls, Pogge and Beitz, as well as other
philosophers I aim to discuss why egalitarianism should be implemented globally.
Rawls – A Theory of Justice
disagreed with the traditional arguments advanced for justice. He believed it
was human ‘intuition’ to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, according to
Rawls we all knew what justice ought to look like. Philosophers such as
Utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham alternatively argued for a different type of justice
where happiness had a numerical value; ‘greatest happiness for the greatest
number that is the measure of right and wrong’.1 It is possible to make the links between this way of thinking and the
tyranny that will likely arise in such a scenario. Whereas, Rawls argued that
human beings are part of a social contract, from which, we acquire our concepts of
justice. The characteristics of justice are 1) ‘an equal right to the most
extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of
liberties for others.’2 This is the concept of the widest
possible liberty consistent with a like liberty for all or more simply,
equality of condition. 2)
Inequalities should be arranged to everyone’s advantage meaning that no
individual should be blocked from occupying any position. For example,
‘equality of opportunity’ creates inequalities which would ideally be accepted
as they counter greater inequalities in society. The influence that Rawls’
theory has had in modern social justice theories is evident, however, Rawls also
does not identify a ‘just society’ which is the main argument advanced by many
Society is the primary subject of justice
and ‘justice’ can be equated to ‘fairness’ within a society’s institutions.
Rawls identified a ‘hypothetical original position’. This is a state where
people would not know what position in society they would occupy. Given this
scenario, all people would essentially be unbiased to any concepts that are
formed within a social contract. Rawls believed if all humans were hidden
behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ where everyone could choose a just society without
knowing what position he/she would occupy within the chosen society; every
individual would prefer a society in which they benefit regardless of their
position. This is a logical argument. Furthermore, it means that we cannot know
what a just society would look like. We are currently influenced. We are not
hidden behind a veil, we are very aware of the difference between us. Race,
gender, class – these are all factors that influence our social position. Thus,
contributing to inequality as people naturally prefer laws that work in their
favor as opposed to ‘fair’ laws. So, Rawls argues, there is no feasible method
of deciding what a just society should look like.
Caney – Cosmopolitanism and Justice
Cosmopolitanism is the belief that we are all citizens of
the world and there should be a sense of global justice. The concept of global justice
has traditionally focused on ‘principles of non-intervention and just war
theory’, as opposed to distributive egalitarianism.4 In
this sense, Caney is correct that most modern societies perceive justice to
exclude unjust wars and include government or institutional intervention in
order to create equality. This is the most common way in which equality is
created in the global community. However, cosmopolitan philosopher advance that
these methods of justice need to be taken further. Enlightenment philosophers
such as Jeremy Bentham and Kant espoused ideas that can be classified as
cosmopolitan.5 Contemporary theories of
cosmopolitanism can be classified into three main categories; juridical,
ethical and political. Juridical
cosmopolitanism is a ‘set of claims about the right’. Ethical
cosmopolitanism is a ‘set of claims about the good’. Political cosmopolitanism
focuses on global political institutions, ‘supra-state institutions’.6
Discussion & Analysis
order to make a successful case for egalitarianism, I must first address some
of the objections known collectively as the ‘asymmetry argument’. Blake,
Nagel and Sangiovanni present three variations of the ‘asymmetry argument’. The
argument is simply that equality is only required within a state because states
possess specific characteristics that connect the people within its borders. These
characteristics are absent on a global scale which these philosophers believe
means equality is not required. Both Blake and Nagel argue that states are
coercive, therefore people within states are bound by the same institutions –
people are not coerced in the same way on a global scale. Nagel writes ‘society
makes us responsible for its acts, which are taken in our name’. 7 No such responsibility can be found between states.
Essentially, his argument separates the role that people who belong to a
society play from those ‘outside’.8
So, what he describes as ‘positive justice’ happens because we are citizens of
the same ‘political society’ and if we are not, merely ‘negative justice’ is
‘Universal obligation is exclusive to matters such as humanitarian concerns.10
response to this I would like to further explain the basis of the
aforementioned theories in greater detail. The concept of equality of
opportunity is crucial to egalitarianism. Every individual born on this earth
is entitled to the same rights and there is no logical argument to justify
otherwise if we are to consider the veil of ignorance to be true. Before making
his objection, Miller explains ‘…those who are at the same level of talent and
ability, and have the same willingness to use them, should have the same prospects
of success regardless of their initial place in the social system, that is,
irrespective of the income class into which they are born.’11 Regardless
of their position in society, an individual will ideally receive as much as
they put into the world. It is a fair argument that people who work hard should
receive the rewards of their hard work. In Thomas Pogge’s ‘An Egalitarian Law
of Peoples’, he begins by highlighting Rawl’s ‘theory of justice’ and
identifying the three main principles: ‘institutions maintain the fair value of
the political liberties’; ‘institutions maintain fair equality of opportunity’;
‘social institutions are designed to the maximum benefit of people at the
bottom.’12 The present
structure of the world fails to provide equality in various areas including, wealth,
education, healthcare and so on.13 Pogge
goes a step further than Rawls by demonstrating egalitarian principles in
practice through the ‘Global Resource Tax’. A tax on individuals within
national borders for the resources they choose to extract that goes towards the
global poor, in the present and the future. A method of redistribution that
provides global justice by raising the cost of consumption without necessarily
placing limits on consumption. Pogge sets the tax rate at 1% of global GDP
($270 billion at the time).
Miller continues ‘it matters a great deal
whether one is born a Mexican or a U.S citizen, and so we need to justify to a
Mexican why we should be entitled to life prospects that are so much superior
to hers merely because we were born on the other side of some line.’14 I
strongly agree that there is no justifiable reason why an individual in one
nation should be considerably better off than an individual in another, at no
fault of their own. Birth is like lottery, you do not choose when or where to
be born and in what conditions. By chance, you happen to be born in a
particular country to parents who may be of any social origin. Fabre supports
this argument when he questions whether individuals are responsible for
residing in a country or for the disadvantage that may arise from living in
Asserting the position that individuals’ luck at birth may have more to do with
other factors than nationality, Fabre instead claims individuals ‘reside in a
country which, for various reasons, is bad at creating and distributing
wealth.’ People who just happen to be born in such countries are then subjected
to a life of hardship. This creates a strong case for why the influence that
such factors have on social justice is flawed. We cannot live in a society
where people are punished or rewarded for the efforts made by those before
them, especially when the differences are so vast. Justice should be based on
fairer grounds. We cannot logically argue that any human being is entitled to
more or less, therefore, equality of opportunity allows for there to be greater
miller – National Responsibility and Global Justice
agrees with many of the arguments made about the inarguable injustice witnessed
in the world, however, he disagrees with egalitarianism as an effective
solution. In ‘Global Egalitarianism’, he objects to egalitarianism. He supports
that wealthy countries are rich at the cost of exploitation of poorer
countries. Therefore, poverty is in many ways at the fault of wealthy countries.16 Yet
continues ‘the only kind of equality that justice always requires is formal
equality: equality between people who are in all relevant respects the same.’17
his theory, Miller identifies two major problems, the metric problem and the dynamic
response to policies such as, Pogge’s proposed Global Resource Tax, Miller
states ‘they do not seek to equalize access to natural resources.’19
Because these solutions require some form of inequality he argues that they do
not actually facilitate an egalitarian society. The solutions identified thus stray
from the issues they are intended to solve. These methods are ‘inappropriate as
a way of defining equality of resources at global level’ because not all
countries exist under the same cultural ideals. The theories advanced tend to
favor ‘western liberal’ ideas of equality.20 Cultural
understandings determine our measure of equality of opportunity.
Miller uses the football pitch vs. Tennis
court analogy to highlight this. In one sense, a country that has one and a
country that has the other are unequal because they possess different sporting
facilities. On the other hand, these countries can be seen to be equal if a
football pitch and tennis court are generalized and can be seen as
we cannot rely on a set of cultural values, therefore what is true equality?22 If you look at the ‘quality of education’, two
nations may offer education but how can we judge the quality across cultures.
The ‘…meaning of education, and the way in which it relates to, or contrasts
with, other goods will vary from place to place.’ Should some metric values be
merged into more general ones? How is this decided & by who? Miller asserts
that ‘it is essentially the problem of saying what equality of opportunity
means in a culturally plural world in which different societies will construct
goods in different ways and also rank them in different ways.’23
Miller summarizes his argument with three
key objections.24 1) When
privileged more wealthy countries interact with poorer countries to provide
justice – they are at an advantage – who is to decide that their form of
justice is correct? 2) ‘Gross inequality between nations makes it difficult if
not impossible for those at the bottom end of the inequality to enjoy an
adequate measure of self-determination’ 3) Inequalities in wealth make
cooperation difficult. For example, the US’ failure to sign the Kyoto agreement.
Standing by the belief that the existence of inequalities de-legitimize this
process of equality, he adds ‘…since we cannot place the parties behind a veil
of ignorance, procedural fairness in practice requires that they should stand
to gain or lose roughly the same amount when cooperation succeeds or fails, and
large inequalities make this condition impossible to satisfy.’25
Global distributive Justice as a Solution
We cannot discredit global egalitarianism completely on the
grounds that we do not operate behind a veil of ignorance and will be unbiased
in administering justice. Egalitarianism, even to the lesser degree is required
in the international system. We currently operate in a world where many of the
effects of inequalities are a matter of life or death. Can you tell a person
living in absolute poverty that we as privileged nations cannot restore the
injustices they face such as unemployment or deadly disease because it may
create some slight inequalities? would
people in wealthy country have to give up that
much in order to increase the quality of life of a poor person living in a
third world country? From a logical perspective, we cannot deny that a
solution does need to be found. More importantly, egalitarianism as a concept
only functions if it takes global distributive justice into account, as, is
argued by Cecile Fabre.26
You cannot have true equality if it only applies within borders. As mentioned
earlier in this paper, national borders are not significant grounds to enable
suffering beyond them. We live in an increasingly globalized, cosmopolitan
society therefore we cannot deny the urgency.
I strongly agree that luck of birth should not entirely dictate
our quality of life. Equality ensures that everyone is entitled to – at a
minimum – the basic human needs. However, in a society where people have far
more than basic needs, in fact many have in excess, it is important to ensure
that all individuals are at least guaranteed a fair start in life. Equality of
opportunity ensures this by enabling people from all backgrounds to succeed as
a reflection of their efforts. Therefore, egalitarianism is in theory the moral
option. This is generally agreed upon within most nations. However, I agree
with the theories discussed in this essay on the necessity for global
egalitarianism. Whilst, I also agree with the criticisms of its complexity, I
view the necessity for egalitarianism in global society to hold a greater value
than the criticisms. I do not believe that the relevant criticisms are strong
enough to make a valid point. Ultimately, egalitarian principles should apply
1 J. Bentham. 1843. The Commonplace Book. p142.
2 J. Rawls. 2005. A Theory of Justice. Harvard University
Press. Reissue Edition. p40.
3 J. Rawls. 2005. A Theory of Justice. Harvard University
Press. Reissue Edition.
4 S. Caney. 2009. Cosmopolitanism and Justice. p388.
5 S. Caney. 2009. Cosmopolitanism and Justice. p389.
6 S. Caney. 2009. Cosmopolitanism and Justice. p389.
7 T. Nagel. 2005. The Problem of Global Justice. p129.
8 T. Nagel. 2005. The Problem of Global Justice. p119.
9 T. Nagel. 2005. The Problem of Global Justice. p127.
10 T. Nagel. 2005. The Problem of Global Justice. p130.
11 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
12 T. W. Pogge. 1994. An Egalitarian Law of Peoples. p195-196.
13 T. W. Pogge. 1994. An Egalitarian Law of Peoples. p196.
14 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
15 C. Fabre. 2007. Global Distributive Justice: An Egalitarian
16 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
17 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
18 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
19 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
20 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
21 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
22 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
23 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
24 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
25 D. Miller. 2007. National Responsibility and Global Justice.
26 C. Fabre. 2007. Global Distributive Justice: An Egalitarian