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Alternative Approaches to Rawls's Theory of Justice
For a time, John Rawls's thinking on how wealth should be distributed appeared like the most probable means of ensuring social justice. However, the entry of Robert Nozick in the picture began to depict the weaknesses in Rawls's thinking. Robert Nozick was greatly opposed to the idea of using a central power to distribute the wealth that an individual had gathered through hard work. Rawls had argued that the government's taxation should provide health and education to the poor in the society. On his part, Nozick argues that the state should be minimal and not extensive as proposed by Rawls. As stated by Nozick, any attempt by the government to tax the wealthy to benefit the poor is unjust as it interferes with the rights of the taxed individuals. By continually taxing an individual who has worked hard in order to benefit a certain cadre of the society, the government ends up subjecting the taxed individuals into hard labor. This according to Nozick is unjust as it ends up putting those at the higher spectrum at a disadvantage. Nozick states that people should be allowed to enjoy their wealth as long as they have gotten it in just means. Unlike Rawls, Nozick states that whoever acquires wealth through hard work is morally entitled to it and the government does not have the power to take away such rights. Nozick therefore gives the alternative that instead of using the government to allocate wealth to a certain group of people, each person should be allowed to generate wealth by their efforts. Since opportunities are offered to each person, there is an equal opportunity for each person to rise from the bottom cadre of the society to the top without the government's interference (Kymlicka 22).
While the view by Nozick might appear as a perfect alternative to Rawls's proposition, it is not without controversy. One of the things that make Nozick's theory controversial is that it could justify some unequal distributions of property that might not honor what people deserve, nor what they require, nor give any kind of thought to people who are disadvantaged. The thinking by Nozick is challenged by Rawls who points out that a large section of what people hold is the result of their position in the society, which are both morally illogical. While Rawls states that people do not have an absolute right to the earnings that they get out of their gifts, Nozick points out that such rights are absolute. According to Nozick, any attempt to redistribute forcibly, the resources that people have gotten from their talents is failing to respect their independence. The critics of Nozick's theory also point out that even though people own themselves; this does not necessarily give them the liberty to do as they please with their property as demanded by Nozick (Zha).
The final objection to the alternative offered by Nozick comes from his denial that the distribution of property is unjust. Historically, the acquisition of property was not justified as it was based on corruption, serfdom, and colonization. If such property was acquired by such means, it would therefore be wrong for anyone to transfer such wealth. By all indications, Nozick's theory fails to take into consideration past injustices in as far as the acquisition of property was concerned and for that reason his theory is not adequate in addressing the distribution of resources (Zha).
A better alternative to Rawls and Nozick's theories of justice is communitarianism. This theory recommends the adoption of shared values and responsibilities and encourages people to adopt theories of the good that are consistent with the way of life in any community. Instead of leaving the government to determine how wealth is distributed, communitarianism encourages the wealthy to see it as their social responsibility to take care of the poor within their borders. In most places, the rich see it as their responsibility to take care of the poor. This has seen the rich coming up with charitable organizations that they use to help the poor in their society. Under communitarianism, the society and the attitudes it has largely determine what constitutes as justice and injustice. Unlike Rawls and Nozick's theories, the communitarianism thinking seeks to create an atmosphere where each person in the society sees themselves as having a role to play in addressing the injustices affecting their society. This seems as a better alternative to Nozick and Rawls theories since it takes the burden of wealth distribution from the government and places it on the people (Sterba 92).
Evaluation of Rawls Theory of Justice in Addressing Inequalities
Despite the accolades, that Rawls's theory of justice as a means of addressing inequalities is concerned, such a theory is highly skewed especially when it is applied in a society with low income. The reason why such theory is inapplicable is because the government is unable to collect large amounts of wealth through taxation from the rich people. This makes it hard for such a government to compensate the disadvantaged and poor people in its borders. If the Rawlsian liberal system of wealth distribution is to be applied in most of the poor countries, the poor would end up not having essential services, as there would be no resources to distribute to them.
Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2002. 20-52. Print.
Sterba, James. Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives. Routledge, London, 2001. 90-98. Print.
Zha, Wen. The Difference Principle: Inconsistency in Rawlsian Theory? E-International Relations Students, 2012.
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Law student at a Canadian University.