Few books in the history of political theory have made so strong an impression as A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls. Rawls’s book, published in 1971, is an effort to deal with a question of enormous importance: how will a just society distribute wealth and income, liberties, opportunities, and positions of authority? In trying to answer this question, Rawls draws upon several disciplines and a variety of philosophical traditions. The final product is a rich, difficult, and complicated book that has rightly been described as the most important contribution to Anglo-American political philosophy since World War II. And it is arguably the most radical: at any rate, conservatives have treated A Theory of Justice as a revolutionary document, dangerously egalitarian in its implications. Writing in Commentary in 1972, Irving Kristol summarized Rawls’s position: “a social order is just and legitimate only to the degree that it is directed to the redress of inequality.” “To the best of my knowledge,” Kristol added, “no serious political philosopher has even offered such a proposition before. ” John Cobbs, in an essay in Business Week, described Rawls as one of the principal “gurus” of the new movement for equality. According to Cobbs, Rawls had committed himself not just to equal rights of equal opportunity, but also to equality of condition: “Equal opportunity is a delusion unles...
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