Rawls trivia: new edition of Political Liberalism

by Micah on October 13, 2004

It looks like Columbia University Press is bringing out a new edition of Political Liberalism. All things considered, I wish they wouldn’t. For the Rawls obsessed, more below the line.

First, it has a terrible cover. Why the darkness? Second, the book doesn’t need a foreword by Martha Nussbaum—or anyone else for that matter. (I suppose Rawls could have requested that she do it? Has anyone seen the foreword? That’s the only reason I can think of that might justify it.) Otherwise, the introduction to the paperback edition does the job. Last point: the new edition apparently includes “The Ideal of Public Reason Revisited.” I do seem to remember Rawls writing something about wanting to republish PL with that essay included. So maybe Columbia is following through on his wishes. And that would be noble of them. But that essay is already published in no less than three other locations: the University of Chicago Law Review, The Law of Peoples, and, most appropriately, in Rawls’s Collected Papers. Do we really a need another version of PL just to bring the two together? On the principle of “if it ain’t broke,” I think the publisher should leave the book well enough alone.

But—and this is the only reason (or excuse) I can think of for bringing out a new edition—the current version is broken. Or at least, the book has a tendency to fall apart after the first reading or so. I used to think that maybe I was just hard on PL. But after consulting with others, I’m convinced Columbia just produced a terribly bound volume. (Is this true of other Columbia books?) It cracks easily, the glue comes apart, pages fall out. I’ve been through at least three copies of the book—one hard bound, two paper, and none of them survived very long. And it’s not that I’m treating this book more harshly than others. I’m sure my copies of TJ, Anarchy State, Spheres of Justice, Sandel and the other usual suspects get just as much wear. PL is justy a poorly manufactured book. Whatever you think of the book’s contents, surely the publisher could do better. So there is a good reason for a new version, although not, I think, for a new edition.

Does anyone know why Rawls published the book with Columbia? I’ve wondered about that in the past. TJ was published with Harvard, and so were the Collected Papers, if I’m not mistaken. Just another question of Rawls trivia.



lemuel pitkin 10.13.04 at 8:45 pm

Wow. This is the least interesting CT post I’ve ever read.


Jacob T. Levy 10.13.04 at 9:01 pm

The CUP page is behind the times. There will be no Nussbaum introduction. (As far as I know the rest of the information is correct.)

My PL is hardcover– came out at the end of my senior year of college, and was my first-ever hot-off-the-press-gotta-have-it-now hardcover academic monograph purchase– and it’s held up fine, but obviously I don’t know about the pb.

I think the republication with “Public Reason” is justified; it intellectually belongs in PL, not in LP. And, insofar as lots of people are going to buy PL but not Collected Papers (which really is for the Rawls-obsessed among us), there’s only benefit in their getting his final judgment on some of PL’s central questions.

(No idea about why Columbia rather than Harvard.)


Anderson 10.13.04 at 9:41 pm

Yes, my Kristeva Reader did the same thing, as well as some other CUP books I can’t recall the titles of. Physically lousy books.


Dave B. 10.13.04 at 9:42 pm

My guess–and I think it’s a damn good one–is that Political Liberalism is published by Columbia for the same reason that Quine’s Ontological Relativity, Putnam’s Three-fold Cord, and Dummett’s Truth & the Past are all also published by Columbia, even though none of these authors typically use that press: a good chunk of each book consists of the Dewey Lectures given at Columbia by each of the authors. There’s probably, then, some deal where you give the Dewey Lectures and Columbia gets to publish them (and some other stuff, since each of the above books contains more than just the Dewey Lectures.)


micah 10.13.04 at 9:50 pm

I think you’re right, Dave. Mystery solved.


bob mcmanus 10.13.04 at 10:30 pm

Digitize them all. Encrypt them, make them available for download. Update online as in software. Waste of trees and old shirts.

I suppose y’all will think me a sick puppy, but I hate books. I am as I write staring at the same wall-to-ceiling shelves of brightly-colored fine volumes I was staring at ten years ago. Literally thousands. They are fragile, massive, unwieldy to use in combination. Our civilization has obviously moved past the point of caring if these artifacts as artifacts last centuries. And eternal ideas deserve better containers. Digitize them all.


Steve Carr 10.13.04 at 10:36 pm

“Foreword,” not “forward.”


PG 10.14.04 at 2:55 am

:-) My paperbacks of Theory of Justice (Harvard), Political Liberalism (CUP) and Anarchy, State and Utopia (Basic Books) are all in good shape, but that may be what happens when you read books twice, at most.

BTW, is there a reason why Nozick didn’t publish with a university press while Rawls did? (Other than the former’s preference for the private sector… Harvard and Columbia are private schools, at least.)


Joel Turnipseed 10.14.04 at 5:33 pm

re: Why Nozick publish w/private sector?

Probably because Nozick was a much funnier, and better, writer. Rawls is a GIANT, (and seeing that list of Rawls, Nozick, Walzer makes me wonder: w/that trio, why haven’t liberals stomped ass on those whose background is, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Irving Kristol?) unquestionably, but not a great writer. I don’t know what their respective sales figures are, but my guess is that Nozick simply sold better because he was more engaging & so could go to commercial presses (tho’ wasn’t SoJ published by commercial press, too)?

Also: I’ve been away: anyone post on the Fodor piece in LRB?


harry 10.14.04 at 10:07 pm

I’d be surprised if ASU has sold better, because TJ has sold astonishingly well. But NO-ONE EXPECTED IT TO. I’m sure that Harvard expected a standard 1000 or so sales, maybe a few more given Rawls’s reach into the profession. But a long, poorly written and complex book in a moribund field…

Look further down joel and you’ll see that chris b has something on it.


Matt 10.14.04 at 10:46 pm

Spheres of Justice is published by Basic, the same publisher as ASU. I think they tend to publish a fair number of books like this- not too technical, fairly quick reading philosophy books written w/ the hopes of reaching more than just the academic market. (I think Dennett Published something w/ them a while ago.) I can see why they would want to publish Walzer, though, since he was already established in a wide audience by academic standards w/ Just and Unjust Wars several years before.


Jack 10.17.04 at 9:35 am

Come on. Really. How could you possibly go through three copies of any book, no matter how shoddily made it is. Do you suggest that, in the last nine years, assuming that you bought the book upon its immediate release, you read and reread PL so many times that you destroyed three copies?!!!! First, how many reads does it take you to comprehend Rawls’ thesis. Its relatively straightforward, and has undergone only slight revision since TJ. This is not the Critique of Pure Reason. Second, why on earth would anyone read, or purport to read, PL that many times? Are you looking for the Straussian sub-text that lies beneath the mere superficial exterior meaning?

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