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Alternative Political Conceptions

Recall Rawls’s political conception of the person as having a fundamental interest in exercising two moral powers. What happens if we add additional interests that come into view when we take seriously the point of view of people immersed in, and who understand themselves as charged with, caregiving?15 These are the interests in receiving caregiving when it is needed to survive and thrive (whether fully cooperating or not),16 and being able to provide or procure the caregiving one’s dependents need (so long as one is willing and otherwise able). We end up with the idea that, from a political point of view, persons are to be regarded as:

  • 1. needing caregiving to survive and thrive, on occasion, for longer periods, and sometimes over life’s entirety;
  • 2. capable of providing or procuring the caregiving their dependents need;17
  • 3. capable of a degree of species-typical functioning, ranging from (1) perception and desire to (2) having, revising, and rationally pursuing a conception of the good, and (3) understanding, applying, and acting from principles specifying terms of association that are in everyone’s interest.

From this political conception of the person we derive an expanded list of primary social goods. To Rawls’s list laid out earlier we add:

  • 1. Receipt of caregiving needed to survive and thrive.18
  • 2. The ability to provide or procure caregiving for one’s dependents (if one is willing and otherwise able).19

And we put the aim of the basic structure this way:

The aim of the basic structure of a modern constitutional democracy is to produce (the expanded list of) primary social goods, and to do so as a scheme of cooperative and non-cooperative arrangements that is to everyone’s benefit.

Recall Rawls’s approach is to draw on political conceptions of society and the person that are “implicit in the public political culture of a democratic society” (2005, 13). I noted earlier that that culture is replete with ideas that reflect the point of view of traditional heads of household. But these ideas don’t exhaust what can be found there. The political conceptions of society and the person just presented are also implicit in the public political culture.20 Consider that the United States’ Declaration of Independence suggests “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the aims of the basic institutional structure of a constitutional democracy. Surely the “pursuit of happiness” is commonly understood to mean (among other things) the ability to see to the caregiving needs of one’s dependents and for society’s members (fully cooperating and not) to receive the caregiving they need to survive and thrive.21 There is disagreement concerning who should provide hands-on caregiving and who should shoulder its cost. Some hold that individual families should both shoulder the cost of caregiving for their dependents and provide needed hands-on caregiving. Some hold a gendered view: husbands should earn money to provide financial support for wives to provide hands-on caregiving at home. Some hold that society generally should shoulder some, or even all, of the cost of satisfying society’s caregiving needs and that needed hands-on caregiving should be provided in the variety of ways recommended by families’ comprehensive doctrines. But the fact that there is disagreement about what arrangements are preferable for the satisfaction of society’s caregiving needs is consistent with the idea, implicit in the public political culture, that one aim of society’s basic structure is to make it possible for them to be satisfied.

With our alternative political conceptions of society and the person in hand, we can work up an initial choice situation. Following Rawls, we stipulate that parties in an initial situation are aware of the facts of reasonable pluralism and moderate scarcity. But we add two facts Rawls does not include.22 First, we add the fact of human dependency.23 Recall that by “the fact of human dependency” we mean that to survive and thrive, each of us needs constant and loving caregiving for more than a decade as infants and children; and many of us need intermittent, and some of us constant, caregiving after that. We mean also that those who provide caregiving often become dependent on others because providing caregiving can reduce one’s ability to see to their own basic needs. The addition of this fact affects parties’ appreciation of both pluralism and moderate scarcity. For example, parties now appreciate that caregiving is among the primary social goods that are moderately scarce; that how caregiving is provided and procured will be inflected by individuals’ comprehensive doctrines; and that providing or procuring caregiving for dependents could be a source of scarcity of material means and opportunities, as well as threaten the fair value of the political liberties.

The second fact we add is the fact of past group-based injustice.24 This is the fact that the distribution of primary social goods in any constitutional democracy has been shaped by past group-based injustice and that, in any such society, past group-based injustice can exert ongoing influence. As Erin Kelly suggests, “Rawls doesn’t really reckon” with the fact of past injustice (Kelly 2017, 76; see also 77). This leaves us with the impression that Rawls conceives of a just society as either one with no unjust past at all or - as Charles Mills puts it - one with “an unjust history that has now been completely corrected for” and thus has lost the power to influence the distribution of primary social goods (Mills 2017, 140; italics in the original). Still, adding the fact of past group- based injustice is not entirely out of keeping with Rawls’s framework.25 First, note that Rawls intends to present what he calls a “realistic utopia” (2001,4). By “realistic,” Rawls means possible for us; he means a society we may reasonably hope for.26 Obviously, we can’t reasonably hope for a society with no unjust past - because our society has one. Also, attentive as we are to the lessons of history and social science, we appreciate the power the past generally exercises over the present. It is extremely unlikely that we could manage a true break with the past through which past patterns of group-based injustice cease, once and for all, to have the power to influence the distribution of primary social goods. So it isn’t reasonable for us to hope that we could. Adding the fact of past group- based injustice is a way to acknowledge that one of the fundamental problems of justice is how to manage the fact that the past generally has this power. What is reasonable is not the hope that we can eradicate the power of our unjust past once and for all but rather the hope that we can recognize it and address it when it threatens.

A second reason for why adding the fact of past group-based injustice is not out of keeping with Rawls’s framework is that the influence of past injustice is not unlike the influence of other contingencies to which Rawls draws our attention. Rawls points to three forces with the potential to influence the distribution of primary social goods, even in a just society. These are the social class “into which [individuals] are born and develop,” “native endowments,” and “good or bad luck” (2001,55). In a just society, these contingencies can influence the distribution of primary social goods; so, Rawls explains, they are addressed continually - not in a one-off way fashion - by “regulations necessary to preserve background justice” (56). This suggests that Rawls does not conceive of a just society as a static one in which the influence of class, native endowments, and luck has been eradicated once and for all. Rawls’s just society is, rather, a dynamic one, characterized by basic institutions and arrangements that meet and counter these forces where and when they arise (2005, 267). Take, for example, Rawls’s fair equality of opportunity and fair value of the political liberties principles. These principles call for mechanisms that address the way, in any real society, greater economic resources can afford individuals greater opportunities and political power.27 To add the fact of past group-based injustice is merely to highlight another potential source of distributive injustice any real society must be concerned to address in an ongoing way.28

Addition of the fact of past group-based injustice informs parties’ appreciation of the facts of pluralism, moderate scarcity, and dependency. For example, parties are aware that - in societies like the one they’ll emerge into - one’s membership in a particular social group can affect one’s share of material means and opportunities, as well as the value of the political liberties. Parties are aware that one’s group membership can affect how much caregiving one receives, as well as one’s ability to provide or procure the caregiving one’s dependents need. And parties appreciate that one way unjust distributive patterns are perpetuated is through the voluntary actions of individuals - for example, those enjoying offices and positions of authority and responsibility - in accordance with psychological tendencies and systems of value that direct social goods like opportunities, material resources, and the social bases of self-respect, to members of favored groups.29

Following Rawls, we situate parties behind a veil of ignorance. In doing so, we model how persons would reason if they were as the political conception of the person presented earlier describes them. Behind this veil, parties do not know what sort of caregiving the person they represent needs to survive and thrive, and whether that person is fully cooperating. They do not know which particular others’ interest in receipt of caregiving will be not neatly distinguishable from the interests of the person they represent; nor do they know how much caregiving that person’s dependents need and whether those dependents are fully cooperating. In addition, they do not know how the person they represent, or the person(s) in whose caregiving the person they represent takes an interest, is situated vis-a-vis group-based injustice.

Parties in this initial situation will insist that:

  • 1. each person receive caregiving needed to survive and thrive, scaled to the species-typical functioning to which they are capable;
  • 2. each person be able to provide or procure the caregiving their dependents need to survive and thrive (should they choose to do so and otherwise be able);
  • 3. inequalities (in primary social goods) not track caregiver status;
  • 4. inequalities - including those with respect to receipt of and ability to provide or procure caregiving - not track historical patterns of injustice;
  • 5. caregiving arrangements be voluntary, that no one be forced to provide or procure caregiving for particular others, including that no one be socialized to the discrete social role of caregiver.50
 
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