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62 Working Paper

Ideal Worlds

1995 Stanley Hoffmann

Abstract

This essay has two purposes. First, it presents a critical analysis of John Rawls' attempt, in a text called The Law of Peoples, to extend to international affairs the conception of justice and politics he developed in his earlier books. In his new work, he derives a number of principles for the state behavior from a contract among representatives of "peoples" behind a "veil of ignorance" - the same method he had used in the Theory of Justice for representatives of individuals within a state. This essay tries to show that Rawls' new "ideal theory" is flawed, because of the many unsolved questions raised by the notion of "peoples", and because of serious shortcomings in his conception of human rights and of consensus. A second purpose of the essay is to situate Rawls' attempt at an ideal moral-philosophical theory for world politics, amidst other such efforts, especially Michael Walzer's communitarianism (in his recent book Thick and Thin) and Judith Shklar's essay on the Liberalism of Fear. One of the conclusions reached here is that in international affairs the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory is untenable.

 
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