The latest New Left Review has a piece by Perry Anderson on the thinking of Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio on global order and justice. Since I’m busy teaching Rawls’s Law of Peoples at the moment, I thought I’d give it a read. The article has all the classic Anderson hallmarks—the arrogant pronouncement of judgement from on high, the frequent lapses into Latin, a will to the most unsympathetic reading possible. Typically, Anderson is incapable of reading his targets in any other way that as providing pragmatic cover for the American hegemon. On the one hand he seems to adopt the stance of high principle against the unwitting tools of US power whose every argument is accounted for in terms of their personal history and psychology, but on the other it seems hard to know where the critical principles can be coming from since it is hard to see how, on Anderson’s world-view, principles can ever be anything other than the residue of power politics as false consciousness.
The central charge against Rawls and Habermas is that of providing left philosophical cover for Western intervention in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. In Rawls’s case, this is because Rawls argues in general terms that “outlaw states” which violate human rights and threaten their neighbours cannot claim immunity from intervention from liberal states. Does Anderson advance a counter-argument to the effect that the state sovereignty of such regimes is inviolable, or that considerations such as those adduced by Rawls are insufficiently weighty to over-ride such considerations? No, of course not. Anderson wouldn’t stoop to construct such an argument: for him, all that counts is the interest of powers.
Two examples which especially annoyed me of Anderson misresepresenting Rawls to his readers are below the fold, no doubt others could be found.
Anderson summarizing Rawls:
The fire-bombing of Hamburg was justified in the Second World War, if not that of Dresden.
Were there times during World War II when Britain could properly have held that civilians’ strict status was suspended, and thus could have bombed Hamburg or Berlin? Possibly, but only if it was sure that the bombing would have done some substantial good: such action cannot be justified by a doubtful marginal gain. When Britain was alone and had no other means to break Germany’s superior power, the bombing of German cities was arguably justifiable. This period extended, at the least, from the fall of France in June 1940 until Russia had clearly beaten off the first German assault in the summer and fall of 1941 and showed that it would be about the fight Germany until the end. It could be argued that this period extended further until the summer and fall of 1942 or even through the Battle of Stalingrad. (LoP 98-9).
Operation Gomorrah—the firebombing of Hamburg—took place on the night of 27 July 1943. The Battle of Stalingrad ended in February 1943.
It had been an error of A Theory of Justice , he explained, to suggest that a capitalist welfare state could be a just social order.
Rawls in Justice as Fairness (p. 134):
One reason for discussing these difficult matters is to bring out the distinction between a property-owning democracy, which realizes all the main political values expressed by the two principles of justice, and a capitalist welfare state, which does not. [Rawls continued in a footnote: “This distinction is not sufficiently noted in Theory ….”]