This chapter introduces the basic elements of John Rawls's theory as they were presented in A Theory of Justice, for it is here that Rawls gives the most sustained treatment of equality of opportunity. In the widespread disagreement over which the principles of justice should govern our major institutions, Rawls draws upon the social contract tradition in order to develop a method which he hopes can secure agreement on a particular conception of justice. Rawls begins his discussion of equality of opportunity by endorsing the idea that careers should be open to talents in the sense that everyone should have 'the same legal rights of access to all advantaged social positions'. Rawls develops his argument for the priority of liberty in a way that might seem to promise an explanation of why he thinks the principle of fair equality of opportunity should take priority over the difference principle.
The city is pictured as an arena where diverse social groups or networks may co-exist in an atmosphere of mutual toleration, while the community is seen as a cohesive unit where conformity is fostered at the expense of diversity, thereby breeding intolerance. This chapter aims to assess whether the picture of city life and community, and their relative merits, can be sustained. In Iris Young's view, city life provides a much more attractive social and political ideal than community, for it can allow difference to be truly respected. Young argues that the privileging of face-to-face relations inherent in the ideal of community serves to devalue non-communal encounters and divert our attention away from their importance. In Young's view, city life potentially incorporates the ideal of 'openness to unassimilated otherness'.
All political argument employs political concepts. They provide the building blocks needed to construct a case for or against a given political position. Justifications of oppression in the name of liberty are no mere products of the liberal imagination, for there are notorious historical examples of their endorsement by authoritarian political leaders. This book explores two approaches to rights: the interest-based (IB) approach, and the obligation-based or Kantian view. Both are shown to offer coherent justifications that can avoid turning all political concerns into a matter of rights. The concept of social justice emerged in both at the start of the twentieth century, and justified institutions for the democratic modification for market outcomes, on utilitarian, maximin or common good grounds. The book explores whether people do in fact have good and justifiable reasons for complying with laws that go beyond mere fear of punishment, and, if so, whether they are bound or obligated by those reasons to comply. It discusses national ties and how they are supposed to act as glue that holds the state together in the eyes of its citizens. The book also explores the link between the weakening of states and this change in criminal policies, and outlines their implications for individual rights. Theorists have used the idea of social exclusion to advocate an approach to social justice that sees increased labour-market participation as the key to equal to citizenship. The contemporary understandings of the public-private distinction and feminist critiques of these are also examined.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book introduces students to some of the main interpretations, pointing out their various strengths and weaknesses. Older texts on political concepts are sought to offer neutral definitions that should be accepted by everyone, regardless of their political commitments and values. The book considers the theoretical presuppositions of policies that are guided by a particular understanding of a concept. It compares how different conceptual underpinnings might generate different policy recommendations. The book includes a broad range of the main concepts employed in contemporary debates among both political theorists and ordinary citizens. It looks beyond the state to the issues of global concern and relations between states. The book describes the principal concepts employed to justify any policy or institution.