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Egalitarian Liberalism by John Rawls

Introduction

A just and person-centered society is based on ideological pluralism (acceptance of everyone as he/she is), the rule of law and social justice, and the priority of human capital development. In this essay, the principles that contribute to the creation of such a society and which are characteristic of the theoretical views of the American political philosopher John Rawls are briefly touched. John Rawls’ model of pluralistic and egalitarian liberalism can become a good ideological and theoretical model in political, socio-economic development for post-Soviet countries and societies, where liberalism can be perceived as a forerunner of an egoistic anti-human and immoral model.

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Perceptions of Liberalism in the Post-Soviet Space

Stereotypes about Liberalism

Misunderstandings and stereotypes about liberalism in the post-Soviet space are quite common. Firstly, liberalism appears as the embodiment of anarchy, lawlessness. Secondly, liberalism is seen as the ideology of hedonism, consumerism, and immorality (Rosenblatt, 2018). Thirdly, liberalism is presented as the ideology of man-hated capitalism, an unregulated market, the main factor of social cataclysms, and the gap between various social groups (Gel’man, 2017). Disappointment with liberalism in post-Soviet countries and the parallel growth of stereotypes occurred due to the systemic crisis caused by the so-called “liberal” reforms, which were actually “marketization” or “market” reforms carried out in a legal vacuum.

Different Models of Liberalism

Secondly, liberalism is not homogeneous; there are many models of liberalism, i.e., there are different liberalisms or different types of liberalism. It should be distinguished between liberalism, as a system of political ideas, and neoliberalism, a direction in political economy (Leykin, 2019). Therefore, it is worth distinguishing between liberalism, or rather “neoliberalism,” as a model of an unregulated market (which was preached by M. Thatcher and R. Reagan) and “egalitarian and socially oriented” liberalism, rooted in the Scandinavian countries (Ban, 2020). This explains the negative perception of liberalism in the post-Soviet states due to the fact that liberalism, incorrectly, is often associated with neoliberalism.

Collapse of USSR

As you know, after the collapse of the USSR, many post-Soviet states made a rapid transition to a market economy, following the postulates of neoliberal economic theory, which implied minimal state intervention in private business, privatization, free trade, and a reduction in government spending, which in turn led to socio-economic cataclysms in the nineties of the last century (Yilamu, 2018). But it should be admitted that critics of liberalism took full advantage of the opportunity to blame for all the troubles, not only the neoliberal policies of individual governments but the very ideology of liberalism as a whole.

Summarizing the above, we can say that in Western political science, liberalism appears as a political idea to build a society in which people strive to “be someone,” that is, the idea of ​​self-realization, self-development, but in no way someone’s selfish interests, not the idea of creating a bunch of people trying to get something (usually by illegal means), with which, unfortunately, liberalism has become associated in most post-Soviet countries.

Rawls’ Basic Ideas of Political Liberalism

General Overview of Rawls’ Liberalism

Overall, Rawls prioritizes “ideological pluralism,” “rights and freedoms,” “justice,” including social justice and the achievement of general prosperity, and “fairness,” which are seen as essential qualities of state institutions, not just citizens. Rawls changed the trajectory of the development of the entire liberal idea from utilitarianism towards building a “pluralistic and just” society (Doughty, 2019). John Rawls, in his landmark book Political Liberalism, offers a form of liberalism that does not conflict with other ideologies or religions by creating only a political superstructure to ensure pluralism in society (Thompson, 2018). That is, any religion or ideology has the right to exist in a pluralistic society, where there is a consensus on the basic values, and the existing disagreements between followers of different ideologies and worldviews are resolved through dialogue within the legal framework.

John Rawls criticizes comprehensive liberalism as an ideology that not only does not create a political superstructure for an ideologically pluralistic society but also seeks to establish its philosophical understanding of the “good life,” which may run counter to the traditions of a certain part of society. That is, political liberalism does not exclude the coexistence of other understandings of the “good life” (for example, arising from religions), and the liberal idea does not contradict the values ​​that exist in religions.

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Liberalism for Everyone

Rawls’ political liberalism allows for the coexistence of different “concepts of a dignified life,” meaning that different groups in society do not need to change their understanding of dignified life, which is contrary to pluralism, but an agreement of these groups on certain principles is necessary to maintain peace and justice (Smith, 2017). Coercion is possible only in cases of direct danger to the foundations of society. In general, Rawls’ political liberalism can be an attractive model for conservative people, as it supports the model of a neutral state that maintains justice without interference in tradition and religion.

Conclusion

To conclude, Rawls showed that the welfare state as an economic model and political liberalism are not contradictory concepts and that the welfare state as a correction of the market economy and liberalism as a political ideal and a pluralistic worldview are two sides of the same coin. Rawls’ concepts such as “principles of justice,” “starting position,” “cover of ignorance,” “principle of difference” are very important methodologies for developing a political theory of building a just society. In general, John Rawls’ model of pluralistic and egalitarian-fair political liberalism can become a good ideological and theoretical model in political, socio-economic development for post-Soviet countries and societies.

References

Ban, C., 2020. Scandinavian Social-Democracy and The Economics of Reformism (1890-1940). Revista Transilvania, (5).

Doughty, H.A., 2019. John Rawls and the Evolution of Liberalism. The Innovation Journal, 24(3), pp.1-29.

Gel’man, V., 2017. Political foundations of bad governance in post-Soviet Eurasia: towards a research agenda. East European Politics, 33(4), pp.496-516.

Leykin, I., 2019. The history and afterlife of Soviet demography: the socialist roots of post-Soviet neoliberalism. Slavic Review, 78(1), pp.149-172.

Rosenblatt, H., 2018. The Lost History of Liberalism. Princeton University Press.

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Thompson, D.F., 2018. John Rawls, Political Liberalism. Oxford Handbooks Online.

Yilamu, W., 2018. The Influence of Neoliberalism on Economic Liberalization in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In Neoliberalism and Post-Soviet Transition (pp. 81-113). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Smith, T., 2017. Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism (pp. 335-352). Brill.

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