Last night I learned a new word: “Rawlsekian”. Apparently Rawlsekian is a thing that you can now be.
I don’t know exactly what others mean by this word, although this morning I made a start by reading this, by Will Wilkinson. But, I have long believed in at least one notion that could well be described as Rawlsekian, that is to say, combining a John Rawls idea which I consider to be good with all the good ideas of persons such as Friedrich Hayek.
The Rawls idea that strikes me as good is the veil of ignorance idea. This (commenters will please correct me if I have it wrong) says that a very good way to judge the relative merit of two contrasting societies is to say to oneself: Which would I rather be a citizen of, if I have to take my chances as to whereabouts I land up in each society? Choosing either society is a lottery. You could be a duke or a dustman, a government apparatchnik or a concentration camp inmate, a plutocrat or a pauper, or anything in between. The question is: Which society offers you your best chance of a good life? The “ignorance” bit being that whereas you do know quite a lot about the contending societies, you do not know where you might land in whichever one you decide to pick.
I think that this is a very good way to judge the relative merits of different societies. It is not the only way, by any means, but it is a very good way.
So far so Rawlsian. What puts the -ekian on the end of Rawls, when it comes to describing me and my opinions, is that if my understanding of Rawls’s many other and far worse ideas is even approximately right, I believe that Hayek World scores much better, by the Rawls veil of ignorance test, than does Rawls World. Rawls is not just wrong by the standards of other and wiser persons. He is wrong by his own standard, at any rate by this particular standard.
Follow that veil of ignorance link (that’s it again) and you will find that Rawls talked about “justice” rather than the more general idea of a good life. But it is my further understanding that Rawls did not mean by justice what I mean by justice. For me justice is a particular aspect of a society. A society can be hideously unpleasant, but quite just, or quite pleasant but hideously unjust. For Rawls “justice” was the entire deal, including such things as the government imposing a high degree of equality of economic outcome. So what he calls “justice” is what I prefer to call, in a deliberately rather vague way, “a good life”.
(I consider equality of economic outcome to be, among many other wrong things, very unjust.)