Spheres of Justice by Michael Walzer (Summary)

May 14, 2012

spheres of justice

Walzer, Republic and Minorities

With each election comes the issue of the integration of minorities. Conservative parties favor the unity of the nation, while the progressive parties formulate a liberal integration, based on the free membership of minorities in the political community.

Returning to clarify the debate on a text by the American Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice, a major work of political philosophy in which he criticized the liberal positions on minorities.

Nation-state and communitarianism

Since the emergence of the model of nation-state, the diversity of cultures has proved as a fact incompressible and irreducible. Contemporary democratic societies are confronted with the coexistence of several cultures, which calls into question the political model inherited from the Enlightenment. A minority in the political sense, may be defined as part of the population of a community that brings together a number of individuals less than a majority of people around ideas and lifestyle specific to a given community. The issue of minority returns to the rights, which overlaps itself the notions of freedom and equality. Thus, individuals living in pluralist democracies can ask the question of minorities in the following way: how can we live together, both free and equal, and both similar and different? Walzer, moderate communitarian, proposed an answer to this problem in its main structure, Spheres of Justice. We analyze the solution he proposes, and try to include it in the broader debate that pits liberals and communitarians to outline a method of passing the same debate.

Walzer himself defines his project as the development of an egalitarian model of society, “a society free of domination.” In our context, the question that arises is: how does he think multiculturalism?

According to him, a corporation is nothing but a community distribution of social goods. Walzer distinguishes in this respect the simple equality of complex equality. The first, which follows from egalitarianism, based on the absence of monopolies of social goods. All spheres must also distribute the property constituting the sphere. For example, money in the sphere of the market, or knowledge in that of education. Walzer defends a complex equality, which she rejects the dominance, not the monopoly which, as we shall see, will raise difficulties. The predominance is the export of goods in another sphere than his own, as financially powerful individuals who will acquire, by the mere fact of his wealth, political power, or privileged access to education. Thus, a corporation is freed from the domination property if a sphere remain in their order within the meaning of Pascal, in short they can not be a currency conversion between the spheres. Thus, for Walzer, “good fences make good companies.”

The complex equality, in addition to autonomy of the spheres, based on cultural pluralism property. According to Walzer, the latter can not be universal in scope, they are “local and particular”, inserted in a given space-time, precisely because the shared meanings are fluid in time and space. There would therefore incommensurable goods, which can lead us to strongly affirm the relativistic model walzerien, for what he is opposed to liberalism, which, ancestry Kantian universalist aims.

What equality among citizens?

Finally, complex equality is built on the principles of pluralism distribution of social goods. Each sphere must reflect a certain principle: merit, for example, is a satisfactory criterion for the recruitment of bureaucratic jobs. The same need, because of its relativity, including historical, may be a criterion for allocating certain property. Access to care in the health sphere, for example, must be governed by the principle of need, not creditworthiness. Thus, no principle can not be, according to Walzer, provide a basis for general distribution, governing the distribution of total assets. So it is a general principle, opposed by Walzer, who was at work in liberal theory.

These foundation laid, we can follow Walzer in his definition of political community. He conceives it as the meeting of individuals around a shared understanding (“shared understanding”), how should be distributed social goods they inherit from their history and culture. In the wake of the Romantic tradition, he describes the individual as always already in society a priority of “us” on the constitution of the self, specifically a member of a community. The individual may, on behalf of the requirement of realism according to Walzer, thought to be out of context membership. The thinking in the abstract would render meaningless the subject. Follows the overthrow posed by liberalism and the priority of right over the good that we will see, is fundamental. Thus, a company is initially structured by a substantial conception of the good, and only then it determines what will be the manner of distribution of social goods, that is to say, distributive justice. Therefore, a political community is defined as the congruence of a moral community, which identifies a set of individuals referring to a similar design of the property and a legal community, designating an entity over which authority is exercised public policy. Here arises the problem of multiculturalism itself. Indeed, how to think, from this definition of political community, the coexistence of several cultures, as a fact of modern politics? Walzer refers in Spheres of Justice, the case of a binational state. In his view, a mere cohabitation, not distributive justice can take place between two communities living on the same political entity:

“[...] In a binational state, where members are, in fact, strangers to each other. What is required between them is that they accommodate themselves to each other, and no justice in any positive sense.

This statement, which follows directly from its definition of the political community seems risky, even dangerous in its practical implications. Indeed, as shown by the example of Canada, communities of Indians are asking, including administrative procedures, their testimony is equal respect for their culture, including their language. United States, it would be unlikely to require written documents in their original language. So, do not consider themselves as outsiders, but rather as full members of the polity, this respect for culture should make a positive justice, not just a convenience. These issues can be resolved by the mores or customs, but must be subject to institutional regulations, that the state should protect all cultures represented in its territory. Thus, Walzer thinks the relationship between cultures, within the framework of a binational state, about how the mere juxtaposition, and not in terms of cooperation. But the case of a binational state remain outstanding, we must look at examples of countries where many cultures meet. What happens there, indeed, when one culture is dominant, that is to say to which belong and recognize a majority of subjects? Walzer considering he protection of minorities, that a culture whose members do not identify with the majority shared understanding?

Using the example of Canada’s Indians. If access to care is excluded from the shared intuitions of the majority culture unlike that of the Indians of Canada, which of the two concepts should prevail? In other words, who gets to decide which principle should prevail distribution for this cultural community? The definition of the political community, as the identity of the moral and the legal community, seems to leave only one alternative: either the minority community operates a schism to form his own political community around shared his views, or it waives decide their political destiny and assimilates, engulfed in the cultural majority. Thus the path is left as possible, at best, a conflict leading to the secession of the multicultural state, and at worst a cultural oppression of the majority over minorities. But in both cases, as otherness is denied, whether or rejected, or the equivalent. This difficulty thinking minority cultural safety involves several elements, which blend into one. First, think the shared meanings are the majority and not unanimity. Indeed, if the latter founded the moral community, the oppression of minorities seem to be made impossible, since the community is monolithic, devoid of plurality in regard to conceptions of the good. Then, the definition of the political community Walzer seems to function as within traditional nation-state. However, this model no longer corresponds to multicultural societies, where moral community have dissociated and legal community:

Sometimes the political and historical communities do not coincide, and it may well be there in the world today a growing number of states whose insights and sensibilities are not easily shared

Thus, if decoupling Walzer envisions a moral and legal communities, it seems that his theory is not able to think this cultural difference, and therefore, think modern politics. The draft Walzer, who claimed to make it impossible to control, is problematic in its implementation. By providing virtually the oppression of one community on one (or) other (s), Walzer destroyed the pluralism he wanted to protect. The foundation that governs his whole theory and is, indeed, the origin of the difficulties we have raised, is the primacy of good over the right of a substantial character on the right: a political community is of first be defined by his conceptions, and only then can determine the principles of justice that will resolve the division of property. This rule, which is the principal point of cleavage between communitarianism and liberalism, is to explain more precisely.

Indeed, liberalism has asked the primacy of right over the good because of the contradiction that leads prégnant communitarianism. The pluralism of conceptions of the good, if it is placed before the principles of justice, is destroyed as others, leading his life project as a design quite different from mine, can not help on behalf of his life project to realize my own ideas of right. Hierarchical superiority of good over the just ended including no respect for the culture of others, it may be that our conceptions of the good are contradictory, even antagonistic. Communitarianism walzerien hardly responds to the question we posed above, “can we live together free and equal, that we are both similar and different? . Thus, from the thwarting of the rule of the righteous course, the question of minorities can be formulated as: how to ensure cultural safety? By state intervention? Through the allocation of collective or individual rights?

 

Walzer and Rawls’s liberalism

J. Rawls has confronted this issue. He said three principles prohibit the state to meet the demands of cultural minorities: first the principle of state neutrality toward particular conceptions of the good prevents the allocation of collective cultural rights. To remain neutral, the state must withdraw from the field of culture, as if involved, is at the expense of liberal depravity of his nature. Second, the principle of moral individualism. The state can not enact any value as a cultural and moral. Only the individual, his life plan, may be the source of axiological choice, the State can not therefore discharge this responsibility. Finally, the principle of fairness forbids any attribution of collective cultural rights. The state institution is an equal respect to its members: access to requests and always be a minority at the expense of other citizens. In short, any government intervention would lead to change, according to Rawls, the state-interventionist liberal state, even patronizing. However, this position, if it has the undeniable advantage of making possible the cultural pluralism can not, like communitarianism, to provide cultural security to individuals. Because individual choice within a culture is allowed to “free market of ideas and cultures”: it is certainly protected from oppression, but no guarantee of survival since the demand of a crop may be non-existent, providing a culture does not demand its own: the Rawlsian theory would admit the possibility for a minority culture to disappear.

The principle of state neutrality makes it impossible for both the protection of minority cultures? The solution proposed by S. Measurement and A. Renaut this question is an internal critique that is a self-transformation to liberalism. Their position is designed to integrate into the basic structure of institutions, individual rights, identity, or more precisely to clarify the rights of individuals in terms of identity. Indeed, only the assignment of such rights would not allow open competition between the community and the individual would induce the eventual institutionalization of collective rights. The deepening of the traditional individual rights seems the only way of solving the problem of cultural minorities, to end “this great oppression of the Other by the Same has nourished the mythology of a society without conflict or division” , myth whose traces are found both within the liberal communitarian theory. This right to identity is available in two basins, one philosophical, the other political. The philosophy of Locke posited as fundamental natural liberty, which would be retranslated in the context of modernity as the right choice for the community, which includes the right to leave just as freely. And politically, this right of choice and respect must be last of institutionalization. The identity in this context, contrary to Walzer’s theory, no longer appears then as a self-discovery, but as an invention of self, a product of freedom: not a receipt, but a construction. Justice they defend then proceed to an “ethnocultural justice,” which places the individual political subject as the sole support of cultural rights, only able to make his choice in the identity inalienable dignity and respected by all.

Walzer claims to provide only internal critique of liberalism. But the inability to base his theory of distributive justice that does not harm anyone, not even to make possible the peaceful coexistence of cultures in one society, driven by the priority of good over there just ask, is a critique of his critique of liberalism itself outside. Communitarianism, even when it claims to moderate as Walzer does, is another as being permanently alter, not as an alter ego, and this can be regarded as the reverse, the negative of the political horizon and philosophical liberalism.

Imagined political community by Walzer ignores otherness in that its practical implications imagine what would have to leave dangerous a monolithic society, a political community composed solely of ego strictly similar. In this, Walzer fails to think modern politics, below the figure of an alter ego, and perhaps even any policy if it is assumed that all complex societies are characterized by cultural pluralism. Walzer‘s theory produces precisely what she intended to make possible: assimilation, oppression and all forms of cultural alienation. In this communitarian, the report uniting the political community and cultural minorities is expressed in the form of exclusion, of the inconsistency. The cultural difference reduced to virtually nothing, should be thought of as a priority and urgency to political thought. That is why our criticism has also focused on showing what can be the solutions of the aporia practice that leads Walzer. In the liberal perspective, state neutrality is fundamental development need is to reformulate the rights, not collective terms, that is to say, grant rights to cultural communities, but in terms of a right of individual subject to freely choose their political affiliation. It seems that he, at the cost of such an arrangement, such a reformulation of liberalism that pluralistic societies can meet the challenge of multiculturalism, equality found a modern, democratic brief say.