Property-Owning Democracy and the Demands of Justice
Thad Williamson
University of Richmond | Jepson School of Leadership Studies |
Martin O’Neill
University of Manchester | Manchester Centre for olitical !heory |"
First published: September 2009
Most recent version available at
John Rawls is ar#ua$ly the most important political philosopher
of the past century. %is theory of &ustice has set the a#enda for
de$ate in mainstream political philosophy for the past forty
years' and has had an important influence in economics' law'
sociolo#y' and other disciplines. %owever' despite the
importance and popularity of Rawls(s wor"' there is )rather
surprisin#ly* no clear picture of what a society that met Rawls(s
principles of &ustice would actually loo" li"e.
Much of the confusion arises from the fre+uent description of
Rawls as a proponent of a redistri$utive welfare state re#ime.
,hile Rawls(s principles of &ustice do provide philosophical
support for the redress of e-istin# ine+ualities and for the
su$stantial redistri$ution of resources' it is incorrect to say that
he favoured welfare state re#imes in anythin# resem$lin# their
current form. .n fact' Rawls was a stron# critic of what he
termed /welfare state capitalism0 and an advocate of an
institutional alternative which he termed /property1ownin#
democracy.0 2iscussion of /property1ownin# democracy0
occupied only a very small part of his seminal A Theory of
Justice )3943*' and was passed over entirely in Political
Liberalism )3995*. 6ut in his final statement of his view of
social &ustice )Justice as Fairness' 7883* Rawls provided
pointed and e-plicit )al$eit rather $rief* discussion of the
essential contrasts $etween welfare state capitalism and
property1ownin# democracy' and e-plained why he $elieved that
the welfare state could not in fact reali9e his two principles of
:onetheless' the concept of property1ownin# democracy is not
well understood' and is still only rarely treated as inte#ral to
Rawls(s theory of &ustice. !he aim of this review article is
threefold. ;irst' we review how Rawls and his leadin#
interpreters have descri$ed the concept of property1ownin#
democracy. Second' we e-amine how the notion of /property1
ownin# democracy0 has recently $een appropriated $y non1
Rawlsian political philosophers wor"in# in the repu$lican
tradition' who have developed ar#uments from non1Rawlsian
premises which also favour the widespread dispersion of
property ownership. !hird' we $riefly review recent wor"
attemptin# to translate the #eneral notion of a property1ownin#
democracy into concrete institutional and policy proposals that
mi#ht $e adopted $y advanced industriali9ed nations.
!heor" o# $ustice and Property-Owning
!he hu#ely am$itious aim of Rawls(s A Theory of Justice is to
specify a pu$lic understandin# of &ustice appropriate to societies
committed to $oth individual freedom and democratic e+uality.
Rawls develops his theory of &ustice e-plicitly in opposition to
utilitarianism' understood as a pu$lic philosophy which e+uates
$oth #oodness and &ustice with the ma-imi9ation of a##re#ate
human welfare. Rawls $elieved that utilitarianism provided an
inade+uate philosophical #roundin# for an array of ri#hts
commonly associated with li$eral democracies )such as freedom
of speech and other civil li$erties* and also failed to ta"e
individuals sufficiently seriously as important in their own ri#ht<
a strictly utilitarian understandin# of &ustice' for instance' could
not preclude in advance deprivin# a minority of citi9ens of their
li$erties or denyin# them $asic resources in order to advance the
interests of the ma&ority. =s Rawls famously put it'
/utilitarianism does not ta"e seriously the distinction $etween
Rawls also reco#ni9ed' and was concerned to counteract' the
force of traditional o$&ections to the very idea of &ustice'
e-emplified $y Mar- and other s"eptics datin# $ac" to the
character !hrasymachus in lato(s Republic. .n this view'
/&ustice0 refers simply to the norms and rules #overnin# a
particular society>norms and rules which inevita$ly have the
purpose and effect of &ustifyin# the status quo and $enefittin#
the rulin# class of a #iven society. ;or instance' in Mar-(s view'
under capitalism' there is no injustice' as such' involved in a
la$orer sellin# their la$or time to a capitalist' who then e-ploits
the la$orer $y appropriatin# the product of that la$or and sellin#
it for a profit. Under capitalist conceptions of &ustice' this is
simply a voluntary transaction' even if the la$ourer(s only other
choice was livin# in e-treme penury' or starvin# to death. ?n
this view' conceptions of &ustice can only $e internal to a #iven
society' and cannot provide an independent standard for &ud#in#
a society(s institutions. !hose who are in char#e set the rules and
then they also #et to call it &ustice.
Similarly' our day1to1day &ud#ments a$out what is &ust and fair
can often $e shaped and distorted $y our own #ender' race' and
class position. %i#hly educated colle#e #raduates may $e more
li"ely to $elieve that those who have the $est education should
$e #iven more money and power. Men may $e more li"ely to
3 Rawls )3943< 7@*. a#e citations to A Theory of Justice in this article
refer to the 3999 revised edition.
7 ,hether Mar- was as hostile to the idea of &ustice as some of his more
dismissive comments su##est is a disputed +uestion' and one Rawls
e-amines at some len#th in his Lectures on the History of Political
Philosophy. Rawls ta"es the view )drawin# on the wor" of A.=.Cohen*
that Mar- does have a normative conception of &ustice underlyin# his
analysis of capitalism' al$eit one that is not e-plicitly e-pressed. See
Rawls )7884*< 55B1543. See also A.=. Cohen )39C9*.
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! /
$elieve that the disproportionate num$ers of men in positions of
power are a result either of men(s inherent superior fitness for
such roles or the result of choices made $y individual women
not to pursue such positions. Middle1class people may $e more
li"ely to $elieve that the poor are lar#ely to $lame for their own
condition' and mana#ers at capitalist firms may $e more li"ely
to $elieve that they should have the ri#ht to issue orders to
Rawls(s theory of &ustice aims $oth to provide an alternative to
utilitarianism and an answer to s"eptics who $elieve that
impartial &ustice is impossi$le or that &ustice is at $ottom a sort
of disin#enuous Dcode lan#ua#e(' desi#ned to uphold the status
quo. !he principal mechanism Rawls invo"es to develop his
conception of &ustice is the idea of the ?ri#inal osition )?*. .n
the ?ri#inal osition' independent individuals come to#ether for
the purpose of selectin# principles of &ustice that will #overn
their entire society. .n the ?' every individual will $e under a
/veil of i#norance0 with respect to their individual identity<
individuals will not have any information a$out their race'
#ender' class position' educational attainment' reli#ious $eliefs'
and so on. !hey will "now that they wish to live a self1directed
life and to form and pursue a rational life plan' and they will
"now that they need certain resources )what Rawls calls
/primary #oods0* to pursue those plansE they will also $e aware
of certain $asic principles of psycholo#y' sociolo#y' and
economics re#ardin# the nature of human societies and how they
operate )i.e.' the notion that people(s $ehaviour is influenced $y
material incentives.* =t the outset of A Theory of Justice' Rawls
ar#ues that the #overnin# principles that would $e chosen in this
initial position should $e re#arded as &ust.
Rawls ar#ues that two principles of &ustice would $e selected<
rou#hly spea"in#' a principle of li$erty and a principle of
e+uality. !he li$erty principle calls for providin# each citi9en
with /a fully ade+uate scheme of e+ual li$erties' which scheme
is compati$le with the same scheme of li$erties for all.0
Rawls has in mind here principally are civil li$erties and not )as
in li$ertarian conceptions* the untrammelled ri#ht of individuals
to profit from property holdin# or to enter into e-chan#es of any
"ind. !he e+uality principle is twofold< all citi9ens are to have
an e+ual opportunity to aspire to positions' offices and )more
#enerally* social advancement )the /principle of fair e+uality of
opportunity0*E and ine+ualities $etween citi9ens are to $e limited
to those which ma-imally help the least well off #roup in society
)the /difference principle0*. Rawls accords a$solute or /le-ical0
priority to the li$erty principle and' within the e+uality principle'
to the #uarantee of fair e+uality of opportunity over the
enactment of the difference principle. !hus' su$&ect to the
satisfaction of the li$erty principle and the other part of the
e+uality principle' political1economic arran#ements must $e
or#ani9ed so as to maximize the position of the least well off
relative to any other possi$le arran#ement.
5 Rawls )3943*< 38139. .t is important to reco#ni9e' however' that Rawls
does not re#ard the ? as static. .f it can $e shown that in the ? the
a#ents will reach principles of &ustice conflictin# with our considered
&ud#ments' then the description of the ? is to $e revised so as to yield a
different result. .n effect' the ? functions as a mechanism for testin#
intuitions a$out &ust principles. ;or useful discussion' see Fymlic"a
)7887*< G5148.
@ Rawls )7883*< @7. ,e +uote here from the revised statement of the two
principles presented in Justice as Fairness.
B =s Samuel ;reeman puts it' the difference principle calls for selectin#
that political1economic system which tends over time to ma-imi9e the
position of the least well offE and it calls for ma-imi9in# the actual
position of the least well off within that chosen system. So the difference
!he /difference principle0 therefore can $e seen as havin# a dual
function. ?n the one hand' it sets a limit )however va#uely* on
the scope of accepta$le ine+ualities. ?n the other hand' #iven
plausi$le assumptions a$out the role of incentives in stimulatin#
productivity' it effectively mandates ine+ualities' so lon# as such
ine+ualities ma-imally $enefit those at the $ottom of society.
Rawls' in effect' endorses an affluent society with ine+uality and
a hi#h standard of livin# for the worst off as superior to a poorer
society with little ine+uality. %ere Rawls accepts the standard
economist(s view that there is a trade1off $etween strict e+uality
and efficiency' and that material ine+ualities provide incentives
for spurrin# the effort of economic producers' potentially to the
$enefit of all. :ota$ly' Rawls also re&ects the notion that
ine+uality in itself is an overridin# moral $adE
what is $ad are
ine+ualities which cement the superior position of the most well1
off' or which #enerate social harms' such as the domination of
one part of society $y another' or the loss of self1respect amon#
the $adly off.
Aiven this set of principles' the tas" for Rawls is to specify a
political economy that would $e consistent with $asic individual
li$erties )such as the li$erty to choose one(s employment and
important li$erties of political participation*E that would provide
su$stantially e+ual opportunities to all citi9ensE and that would
limit runaway ine+ualities that create permanent classes or that
undermine the notion that society is a &oint system of
cooperation aimed at a common end. 6y the time of writin# A
Theory of JusticeH Rawls had already ruled out centrali9ed state
socialism as a plausi$le vehicle for reali9in# these principlesE
state socialism )amon# its other pro$lems* systematically
violated $asic li$erties )such as freedom of employment and
political li$erties*. Rawls thus assumed that a &ust society must'
in some sense' $e a mar"et society. 6ut in A Theory of Justice'
)and even more e-plicitly in Justice as Fairness' to which we
will turn later in this discussion* Rawls left open the +uestion as
to whether the &ust society would $e either capitalist or socialist
in character. = just society $ased on the private control of
capital' however' should ta"e a different form than traditional or
/really e-istin#0 capitalist societies< instead of the control of
capital $ein# hi#hly concentrated amon# a narrow $and of
citi9ens' it should $e dispersed as widely as possi$le. !hat idea
represents the core "ernel of /property1ownin# democracy.0
principle re#ulates $oth the $road choice of institutional arran#ements
and the selection of specific policies )i.e.' ta-es' transfers' la$or laws*
within a #iven arran#ement. .mportantly' Rawls does not e+uate
ma-imi9in# the position of the least well1off with ma-imi9in# their
incomes and wealth' $ut rather ma-imi9in# an inde- of the $roader
$undle of primary #oods that affect one(s sense of self1respect and
overall life chances. See ;reeman )7884a*< 3871389 and ;reeman
)7884$*< 333133B.
G 2ere" arfit )3993* #ives the la$el /!elic e#alitarianism0 to the view
that ine+uality is in itself $ad. ?n the re&ection of /!elic e#alitarianism0
and for discussion of Rawls(s views re#ardin# the $adness of ine+uality'
see Martin ?(:eill' /,hat Should I#alitarians 6elieveJ0 )788Ca*. A.=.
Cohen critici9es Rawls(s theory of &ustice on a closely related issue'
re#ardin# Rawls(s attitude to ine+uality )Cohen' 788C*. .n Cohen(s view'
the ine+ualities permitted $y the difference principle may $e sensible'
$ut should not $e re#arded as just. Cohen ar#ues in effect that Rawls
wron#ly elides &ustice as such with more pra#matic concerns in
developin# his account of social &ustice. Iven if Cohen(s criti+ue is
accepted' that does not ma"e Rawls(s ideas a$out property1ownin#
democracy any less interestin# or importantE it simply means )to ta"e
Cohen(s view* that we should re#ard it as an effort to specify what a
real1world political economy that $alanced &ustice a#ainst other
important considerations loo"s li"e.
4 See Rawls )7883*' pp. 35817. See also Scanlon' )399G*E ?(:eill
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! "
Rawls on the nstitutional !ramewor" of a Just #conomy
Rawls did not claim to have wor"ed out the details of a political1
economic re#ime correspondin# to the idea of a property1
ownin# democracyE his aim was simply to indicate the #eneral
outlines of the sort of political economy that mi#ht $e fully
consistent with the principles of &ustice as fairness. Moreover'
this outline is pitched at the level of ideal1type re#ime analysis
in Rawls(s writin#s' and it there$y self1consciously passes over
detailed +uestions of /political sociolo#y0 re#ardin# how such a
re#ime will function in practice.
.n the $roadest possi$le terms' a property1ownin# democracy
will $e a mar"et economy in which holdin#s of capital are
widely dispersed across the population. !he view is that fair
e+uality of opportunity and limited ine+uality can $e $etter
achieved throu#h a more $road1$ased distri$ution of initial
holdin#s rather than $y relyin# on the mechanism of /after1the1
fact0 redistri$utive ta-ation. = property1ownin# democracy
would $e a /re#ime in which land and capital are widely thou#h
not presuma$ly e+ually held'0 in which /KsLociety is not so
divided that one fairly small sector controls the preponderance
of productive resources'0 and which is a$le to /prevent
concentrations of power detrimental to the fair value of political
li$erty and fair e+uality of opportunity.0
.n many respects' the institutional structure Rawls proposes in A
Theory of Justice for a property1ownin# democracy is familiar to
citi9ens livin# under welfare state capitalism. Rawls assumes
that there will $e a political constitution providin# $asic
li$erties' a pu$lic sector that provides pu$lic #oods )includin# an
educational system that will provide /e+ual chances of education
and culture for persons similarly endowed and motivated0*' and
a mar"et and price system with a suita$le system of re#ulation.
Rawls #oes on to specify five separate $ranches of #overnment
oversi#ht' dealin# with re#ulation of mar"ets' macro1economic
policy' social transfers )with each citi9en #uaranteed a social
minimum*' the distri$ution of property' and the provision of
non1essential pu$lic #oods. !he overall picture is of a mi-ed
economy with a &udicious $lend of mar"et mechanisms and
#overnment oversi#ht' em$edded within a system of $asic
li$erties )such as freedom of career choice*.
,hat' then' ma"es property1ownin# democracy distinct from
welfare state capitalismJ !he distinction is to $e found in the
relative wei#ht accorded in importance to /after1the1fact0 social
C !he most sustained discussion of property1ownin# democracy offered
$y Rawls can found in Chapter M' of A Theory of Justice )3943*'
especially section @5' and a#ain in the reface to the ;rench edition of A
Theory of Justice )reproduced as the preface to the revised edition of !J'
see especially at pp. -iv1-vi*. !he most systematic discussion comes in
pa#es 35B13@8 of Justice as Fairness A Restatement )7883*! )!he idea
is #iven no attention at all in Political Liberalism K3995L.* Aiven this
paucity of discussion in Rawls(s formal pu$lished writin#s' the
discussion here is particularly informed $y four further sources. !hese
include a pair of articles in 39CG and 39C4 $y Frouse and Mcherson
that pay attention to Rawls(s notion of a ?2 and try to draw out some
of its implications )Frouse and Mcherson' 39CG' 39C4*E various
pu$lications $y the 6ritish economist James Meade in the 39G8s and
3948s descri$in# a /property1ownin# democracy0' from which Rawls
e-plicitly ta"es the name for his preferred socioeconomic re#ime
)Meade' 39GBa' 39GB$' 394B' 3995*E wor" $y one of Rawls(s prominent
students' Joshua Cohen' specifyin# the pro$lematic relationship $etween
capitalism and democracy )especially Cohen' 39C9*E and finally' Rawls(s
own recently pu$lished lectures on Farl Mar- hi#hli#htin# the contrast
$etween Rawls( conception of a &ust society or#ani9ed as a property1
ownin# democracy and Mar-(s ideal of communism )Rawls' 7884*.
9 Rawls )3943*< 7@4' 7@B.
38 Rawls )3943*< 7@717B3E +uotation on education at 7@5.
transfers relative to alterations in the distri$ution of property in
achievin# a relatively e#alitarian economy. ,elfare state
capitalism aims at providin# an economic $aseline as well as
certain pu$lic #oods )education' health care' housin#* to all
citi9ensE this is achieved primarily throu#h redistri$utive
ta-ation )what Rawls terms transfers*. roperty1ownin#
democracy also aims to provide an economic $aseline to the
/least well off'0 $ut it has a further #oal as well< preventin# lar#e
concentrations of wealth and dispersin# ownership of property
as widely as possi$le. ?ne mi#ht say that welfare state
capitalism simply wants to provide a social $aseline at the
$ottom' whereas property1ownin# democracy also wants to put
limits on accumulation at the top' there$y narrowin# overall
ine+uality from $oth directions )top and $ottom*. Moreover'
property1ownin# democracy is also concerned to en#a#e in
redistri$ution in additional dimensions< i.e.' not &ust the
redistri$ution of income characteristic of welfare state
capitalism' $ut also the redistri$ution of wealth and capital
assets )as well as ensurin# a more e+uita$le distri$ution of
human capital*.
.n terms of how such #oals mi#ht $e reali9ed' Rawls points to
inheritance ta-es as the $est mechanism for distri$utin# property
more widely and preventin# lar#e estates from $ein# transferred
in whole from one #eneration to another. %ere Rawls cites
proposals for ta-ation on inter#enerational transfers developed
$y economist James MeadeE persons receivin# such transfers
would owe pro#ressively hi#her ta-es on these #ifts accordin# to
how many such #ifts they had received over their lifetime.
Rawls does not stipulate that each person must receive an
inheritance' and re&ects the idea that there is an inherent in&ustice
in some persons receivin# more #ifts than another )so lon# as
this ta"es place within the framewor" of an overall system that
is &ust*.
;or Rawls' inheritance ta-es have a more limited'
thou#h vital function< preventin# lar#e concentrations of wealth
from $ein# transmitted inter1#enerationally. !his aim in turn
corresponds to a social ideal in which there is no permanent
class of politically privile#ed holders of wealth and capital
sufficiently powerful to e-tract #ains for itself that do not
function to $enefit the least well off.
$eft %riti&ues of !heor" o# $ustice
=s noted a$ove' Rawls(s remar"s descri$in# his favoured
socioeconomic re#ime in A Theory of Justice are rather sparseE
Rawls devotes &ust 9 of the B3@ pa#es of the $oo" to discussion
of /property1ownin# democracy'0 and only mentions the term in
the main te-t twice. erhaps as a result of the lac" of detail on
this issue' a num$er of left1win# critics too" Rawls to $e
advocatin# welfare state policies which would ena$le capitalist
processes to produce as much as wealth as possi$le' while
redistri$utive processes located in the state assured that the
/least well off0 received as much in the way of )compensatory*
economic resources as economically feasi$le.
!he notion of a
capitalist welfare state that could in fact ma-imi9e the position
of the least well off immediately struc" many critics on the left
as implausi$le. .n one of the $est1developed early criti+ues of
Rawls' 6arry Clar" and %er$ert Aintis ar#ued that Rawls relied
33 =s su$se+uent commentators have noted' such e+uali9ation of wealth
and assets also has implications for how wor" is to $e or#ani9ed. See
%sieh )7889*.
37 Rawls )3943*< 7@B.
35 .n Justice as Fairness' Rawls admits that the distinction $etween
welfare state capitalism and property1ownin# democracy /is not
sufficiently noted in Theory.0 Rawls )7883*< 35B n7.
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! 0
on citi9ens holdin# an implausi$ly e-pansive sense of social
&ustice' in order to facilitate the redistri$ution re+uired to
/correct0 the ine+ualities #enerated $y capitalism' so as to meet
the re+uirements of the difference principle.
.n a related
criti+ue' Aerald 2oppelt ar#ued that Rawls failed to appreciate
the impact of relative economic position' particularly in the
production process' on the #eneration of self1respect.
Conse+uently' 2oppelt su##ested that the different ways in
which Rawls treated the cases of' on the one hand' civil and
personal li$erties )which are to $e distri$uted e+ually' as a
matter of assurin# the conditions of self1respect for all* and' on
the other hand' positions and power in the production process
)which can $e distri$uted une+ually without underminin#
fundamental self1respect*' was normatively un&ustifia$le when
one considered the effects of ine+uality on status and self1
Li"ewise' 2avid Schweic"art ar#ued that the lo#ic of
Rawls(s theory of &ustice should have led him to em$race
democratic socialism as the social system most capa$le of
reali9in# his favoured principles.
.n an important response to these early criti+ues' =rthur
2iNuattro defended Rawls a#ainst the char#e that he is a
supporter of traditional capitalism or of a system of social
classes )understood in the Mar-ist sense of the term*. .n
particular' 2iNuattro ar#ued that Rawls did not envisa#e a
society divided $etween owners and non1owners of capitalE in
short' Rawls did not endorse capitalism' and did not assume that
the allowances made for socioeconomic ine+uality under the
second principle of &ustice necessitated a capitalist or#ani9ation
of production. .n defendin# Rawls from these challen#es from
the left' 2iNuattro +uite properly called attention to the crucial
distinction Rawls made $etween property1ownin# democracy
and capitalism.
Shortly thereafter' Richard Frouse and Michael Mcherson
offered the first sustained effort in the literature to en#a#e with
what Rawls meant $y property1ownin# democracy.
on $oth Rawls(s writin#s and James Meade(s efforts to descri$e
a property1ownin# democracy' Frouse and Mcherson show
how $oth a concern for the fair value of the political li$erties
and the difference principle point in the direction of a re#ime
that $roadens property ownership directly' rather than a welfare
state dependent on lar#e1scale ex post redistri$utions to limit
ine+uality. ,hile some redistri$ution via ta-ation will $e
necessary even in a property1ownin# democracy' the
fundamental mechanism for achievin# an e#alitarian society
must $e to /KlimitL the concentration of property over time.0
Frouse and Mcherson then went on to pose four critical
+uestions' +uoted ver$atim $elow<
3. ,hat institutional means are re+uired to preserve KanL
e#alitarian distri$ution Kof propertyL over time )should it at some
time $e achieved*' and indeed can ade+uate means $e descri$edJ
7. ,hat would life in a property1ownin# democracy $e li"eJ
,ould the com$ination of )relatively* e#alitarian property
ownership and competitive mar"ets produce a society that was
accepta$ly Dwell1ordered(' harmonious' and sta$leJ
3@ Clar" and Aintis )394C*
3B 2oppelt )39C3*
3G Schweic"art )3949*
34 2iNuattro )39C5*
3C Frouse and Mcherson )39CG' 39C4*
5. Can a theory of &ustice illuminate the choice $etween the $est
private property re#ime>property1ownin# democracy>and the
$est socialist arran#ements for providin# &usticeJ
@. %ow can this characteri9ation of the ideal property1ownin#
democracy help to #uide the process of reform in e-istin#'
nonideal' private property societiesJ
$ustice as Fairness on Property-Owning Democracy
,ell1developed answers to each of the +uestions posed $y
Frouse and Mcherson are still lac"in# in the literature.

.ndeed' in the 3998s' most critical de$ate a$out Rawls(s system
of &ustice followed the a#enda set $y his own Political
Liberalism )3995*' e-aminin# the +uestion of whether a li$eral
e#alitarian account of &ustice should aspire to $ein#
/comprehensive0 as opposed to merely /political.0 Rawls
ar#ued that li$eral principles of &ustice can in fact $e endorsed
$y persons with widely varyin# comprehensive reli#ious and
philosophical doctrines' and with varyin# conceptions of the
#ood life' and need not )and' indeed' must not* involve one
dominant social #roup imposin# its own particular value
commitments or comprehensive philosophical doctrine on
=ccordin#ly' attention to +uestions of distri$utive &ustice and the
idea of property1ownin# democracy faded to the $ac"#round of
the de$ate a$out political li$eralism. .ndeed' some o$servers
have noted an internal connection $etween Rawls(s
ar#umentation for political li$eralism and the reduced
prominence of distri$utive &ustice in his writin#s< a #eneration of
de$ate amon# political theorists in the wa"e of A Theory of
Justice' as well as the stron# ri#htward turn in politics in $oth
the United States and the UF in the 39C8s' made it a$undantly
clear that the strin#ently e#alitarian re+uirements of the
difference principle were unli"ely ever to command universal
assent amon# philosophers' let alone amon# the $roader
!hat political fact in turn calls into dou$t the $roader
pro&ect of developin# principles of &ustice that $oth have /real
teeth0 and that could also $e widely accepted within hi#hly
diverse modern societies.
Rawls himself at times seemed to down#rade the standin# of the
difference principle within his account of &ustice in Political
;or instance' Rawls ar#ued that firm principles of
distri$utive &ustice need not )and ou#ht not* $e written into the
political constitutions of &ust societies' and that application of
distri$utive principles should $e left to le#islators. !his aspect of
Rawls(s view can $e e-plained $y his understanda$le reluctance
to see comple- social policy +uestions settled in the courts' $ut
nevertheless his proposed solution could $e seen as #ivin# the
reali9ation of distri$utive &ustice a status that is contin#ent on
the decisions and preferences of le#islators )who Rawls assumes
39 Frouse and Mcherson )39CC*< 991388.
78 = forthcomin# volume edited $y ?(:eill and ,illiamson )7838* is
intended to redress that #ap.
73 Cham$ers )788G*
77 !hus Simone Cham$ers ar#ues that while /the difference principle
lives on as Rawls(s favored interpretation of economic &ustice'0 in
Political Liberalism he no lon#er insists that /it is the only possi$le
candidate for a fair principle.0 ;urther' Cham$ers o$serves' /.n addition
to demotin# its status within the theory' there is a more su$tle fadin#
away of the topic. Social &ustice is no lon#er front and center. %is
#rowin# concern to find a view of &ustice that would $e compati$le with
pluralism came to overshadow his deep commitment to e#alitarianism.0
Cham$ers )788G*< CG.
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! 1
will accept and see" to implement the difference principle*.

Aiven that really1e-istin# democratic politics is rarely' if ever'
characteri9ed $y consensus on fundamental principles of &ustice'
especially in the conte-t of countries li"e the United States'
leavin# the difference principle(s fate in the hands of democratic
politics has struc" some commentators as tantamount to
a$andonin# it.
!hat note of am$i#uity in turn si#nalled a
$roader tension within Rawls(s theory< whether Rawls intended
his theory of &ustice to reflect the self1understandin# of e-istin#
democratic societies )an interpretation lent support $y his
en#a#ement with the tradition of =merican constitutional law in
Political Liberalism* or whether he intended the theory to $e
critical of e-istin# institutional practices as well as ine#alitarian
social views. ?ne can also see this tension as em$odyin# a
$roader tension $etween some of the different roles that Rawls
identifies for political philosophy< for e-ample' $etween the
fundamentally pro#ressive enterprise of identifyin# a /realistic
utopia0' as a#ainst the less radical' %e#elian tas" of offerin# a
/reconciliation0 to our e-istin# social world.
.t is thus a stri"in# fact than in his final sustained statement
a$out &ustice' Justice as Fairness A Restatement )7883*' Rawls
Dlays down his cards( so to spea"< more than in any previous
$oo"' he ma"es it clear that he $elieves that contemporary
capitalist societies' especially the United States' have veered far
away from reali9in# li$eral principles of &ustice. .t is here as
well that we find the most detailed contrast $etween' on the one
hand' welfare state capitalism' which Rawls re&ects' and' on the
other hand' property1ownin# democracy and li$eral socialism'
$oth of which he is prepared to endorse. Rawls ar#ues that either
property1ownin# democracy or li$eral socialism could in theory
reali9e principles of &ustice' and ar#ues that the choice $etween
the two should $e made on the $asis of contin#ent historical and
cultural factors. !he implication seems here to $e that in
societies li"e the United States' with wea" socialist traditions
and a stron# cultural emphasis on entrepreneurial individualism'
property1ownin# democracy is the more li"ely vehicle for
reali9in# the &ust society )with li$eral socialism perhaps a more
suita$le option in societies with more collectivist political
cultures or stron#er socialist traditions*.
.n an e+ually stri"in# move' Rawls in Justice as Fairness
)approvin#ly citin# Frouse and Mcherson* rests the ar#ument
for property1ownin# democracy not primarily in terms of the
demands of the second principle of &ustice' $ut rather in terms of
the first principle. Rawls ar#ues that the widespread political
ine+ualities #enerated $y welfare state capitalism represent a
systemic violation of the /fair values of the political li$erties.0
Unli"e other li$erties' the fair value of the political li$erties
must $e distri$uted e+uallyE a society in which this is not the
case cannot $e considered to $e either self1#overnin# or free.

75 Rawls )3995*. .mportantly' however' Rawls does treat provision of a
social minimum /providin# for the $asic needs of all citi9ens0 as a
constitutional essentialE see Rawls )7885*' pp. 77C179.
7@ !hus see !homas )7889*' who ar#ues for constitutionally
#uaranteein# the fair value of the political li$erties. Such a constitutional
#uarantee' in his view' would preclude democratic politics from
sanctionin# e-cessive ine+ualities' while avoidin# the need to loc" in
place any particular institutional scheme desi#ned to reali9e property1
ownin# democracy. See also J. Cohen )7885* for a criti+ue of Rawls(s
supposition that consensus can $e reached on the content of &ustice in
actual democratic polities.
7B See Rawls' )7883*' pp. 31B.
7G .n A Theory of Justice Rawls also connected ar#uments for
inheritance ta-es to the re+uirement of maintainin# the fair value of
political li$erties' as well for reali9in# fair e+uality of opportunity. !here
Rawls states that /it seems0 that /a wide dispersal of property is a
!his move is important $oth for its own sa"e and $ecause it
means that Rawls(s ar#uments for property1ownin# democracy
are there$y not solely contin#ent on acceptance of the
controversial difference principle. :onetheless' as well as its
fallin# short with re#ard to the first principle' Rawls also ma"es
clear that a predicta$le conse+uence of the concentration of
wealth and political power characteristic of welfare state
capitalism is that such polities rarely if ever are a$le to enact
redistri$utive policies sufficiently stron# to esta$lish and
maintain inter#enerational e+uality of opportunity' or to limit
o$&ectiona$le ine+ualities which serve no social purpose other
than the enrichment of the already privile#ed.
=ccordin# to Justice as Fairness" one of the main aims of
property1ownin# democracy is /to prevent a small part of
society from controllin# the economy' and indirectly' political
life as wellO
roperty1ownin# democracy avoids this' not $y the
redistri$ution of income to those with less at the end of
each period' so to spea"' $ut rather $y ensurin# the
widespread ownership of assets and human capital
)that is' education and trained s"ills* at the $e#innin#
of each period' all this a#ainst a $ac"#round of fair
e+uality of opportunity. !he intent is not simply to
assist those who lose out throu#h accident or
misfortune )althou#h that must $e done*' $ut rather to
put all citi9ens in a position to mana#e their own
affairs on a footin# of a suita$le de#ree of social and
economic e+uality. )Rawls' 7883< 359*.
Rawls #oes onto descri$e ?2 as a socioeconomic system with
at least the three followin# institutional features<
)3* ,ide 2ispersal of Capital< !he sine qua non of a ?2 is
that it would entail the wide dispersal of the ownership of the
means of production' with individual citi9ens controllin#
productive capital' $oth in terms of human and non1human
capital )and perhaps with an opportunity to control their own
wor"in# conditions*.
)7* 6loc"in# the .nter#enerational !ransmission of
=dvanta#e< = ?2 would also involve the enactment of
si#nificant estate' inheritance and #ift ta-es' actin# to limit
the lar#est ine+ualities of wealth' especially from one
#eneration to the ne-t.
)5* Safe#uards a#ainst the Corruption of olitics< = ?2
would see" to limit the effects of private and corporate
wealth on politics' throu#h campai#n finance reform' pu$lic
fundin# of political parties' pu$lic provision of forums for
political de$ate' and other measures to $loc" the influence of
wealth on politics )perhaps includin# pu$licly funded
olicies of type )5* should $e viewed as $ein# in place with an
eye on the protection of the fair value of the political li$erties'
and are therefore closely connected with creatin# a re#ime that
is in accord with Rawls(s first principle of &ustice. olicies of
type )3* and )7* should' in contrast' $e viewed as providin# the
means for institutionali9in# the demands of Rawls(s second
principle of &ustice. !hrou#h a com$ination of all three "inds of
policies' Rawls aims to specify a social system that has the
necessary condition . . . if the fair values of the $asic li$erties are to $e
maintained.0 Rawls )3943*< 7@B1@G. 6ut this connection is fore#rounded
to a #reater de#ree in Justice as Fairness' where he ma"es it the primary
focus of his criti+ue of welfare state capitalism.
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capacity to overcome the structural limitations of welfare state
capitalism in deliverin# a fully &ust set of socioeconomic
Recent %ommentary on Rawls’s %onception of Property-
Owning Democracy
Spurred on in part $y the stri"in# ar#uments of Justice as
Fairness' property1ownin# democracy has received increasin#
attention in recent years from li$eral e#alitarian political
philosophers. )!o $e sure' in many accounts of Rawls(s social
and political thou#ht' property1ownin# democracy is discussed
only $riefly' if it is mentioned at all.*
2iscussions of the dilemmas of contemporary li$eral e#alitarian
politics offered $y Simone Cham$ers and ,ill Fymlic"a each
stress Rawls(s criti+ue of the welfare state and the implicit
radicalism of property1ownin# democracy.
.n recent papers'
$oth 6en Jac"son and =mit Ron trace the intellectual ori#ins of
/property1ownin# democracy0 phrase to the early 78
6ritish conservative :oel S"eltonE Jac"son su##ests that James
Meade(s use of the term )su$se+uently pic"ed up $y Rawls* was
a deli$erately ironic attempt to invert the meanin# of what
hitherto had $een a conservative idiom.
Samuel ;reeman
ar#ues that Rawls(s preference for property1ownin# democracy
vis1P1vis the welfare state parallels his preference for the
/li$eralism of freedom0 of Fant and J.S. Mill' in which citi9ens
ta"e an active role in developin# their capacities' as opposed to
the /li$eralism of happiness0 associated with classical
utilitarians such as 6entham.
;reeman(s e-tremely
comprehensive treatment of the full ran#e of Rawls(s thou#ht
also contains a relatively e-tended account of the distinction
$etween welfare state capitalism and property1ownin#
.n a related vein' :ien1hQ %sieh draws on Rawls to
ar#ue the case for what he terms /wor"place repu$licanism'0
i.e.' the introduction of wor"place democracy and limitation of
ar$itrary mana#erial authorityE in Justice as Fairness' Rawls
forwarded some su##estive thou#h noncommittal comments
a$out the potential importance of wor"place democracy in
helpin# to reali9e a &ust society.
!his aspect of Rawls(s thou#ht
has also $een pic"ed up $y Martin ?(:eill' who e-plores' in a
recent article' what he terms /three Rawlsian routes0 for
defendin# some form of economic democracy as a precondition
for a &ust socioeconomic order.
Most recently' papers $y %sieh' ?(:eill' ,aheed %ussain' and
!had ,illiamson have further developed $oth the $asic idea of
property1ownin# democracy and have also su$&ected the concept
to critical scrutiny. %sieh focuses on the role of wor" in a
property1ownin# democracyE %ussain compares property1
ownin# democracy to what he terms democratic corporatismE
?(:eill offers a partial criti+ue of Rawls(s ar#uments a#ainst the
welfare stateE and ,illiamson descri$es how a wide dispersal of
real estate' cash' and capital mi#ht $e actually institutionali9ed
and sustained in a property1owned democracy.
= forthcomin#
volume on property1ownin# democracy' edited $y ?(:eill and
,illiamson' will ta"e the ar#uments of a num$er of these
philosophers forward' as well as include the wor" of a num$er
74 See o##e )788G*E =udard )7884*.
7C Cham$ers )788G*E Fymlic"a )7887*.
79 Jac"son )788B*E Ron )788C*
58 ;reeman )7884a*.
53 ;reeman )7884$*.
57 %sieh )788B*.
55 ?(:eill )788C$*
5@ %sieh )7889*E %ussain )7889*E ?(:eill )7889*E ,illiamson )7889*.
of other writers' each #ivin# further ela$orations and criti+ues of
Rawls(s ideas re#ardin# the institutional $asis of a &ust social
Non-Rawlsian 'rguments for Property-Owning
Property-Owning Democracy and Mar"et (ocialism
!he idea of a mar"et economy $ased on a wider dispersal of
capital than is characteristic of contemporary capitalist societies
is not uni+ue to Rawls or to the de$ate he stimulatedE nor is the
#eneral search for a plausi$le alternative to capitalism in li#ht of
the historic failure of centrali9ed state socialism. .ndeed' since
the late 39C8s' political economists and philosophers have
detailed a variety of proposals for a mar"et socialist society'
proposals that typically offer far more specificity and attention
to institutional detail than the #eneral comments a$out property1
ownin# democracy offered $y Rawls. articularly co#ent
formulations are those of Joshua Cohen' 2avid Miller' John
Roemer' 2avid Schweic"art' and Aar =lperovit9.
these proposals call for some form of community or pu$lic
ownership of capital within a mar"et model' while also allowin#
for $roadly democratic plannin# of the economy as a whole. .n
most cases )Roemer is an e-ception*' these proposals also call
for #ivin# wor"ers effective democratic control of most or all
enterprises. :ota$ly' these models do not re+uire or advocate
political revolution' $ut assume the constitutional framewor" of
li$eral democracyE nor do they challen#e the mar"et as a
mechanism of resource allocation' even when the models allow
for si#nificant de#rees of #overnment plannin#. ,hat these
versions of li$eral democratic socialism do insist upon is
chan#in# who owns and reaps dividends from capital. !o this
e-tent' proposals for li$eral democratic socialism $ear a
si#nificant resem$lance to Rawls(s conception of a property1
ownin# democracy.
Repu)licanism and Property-Owning Democracy
=lso of relevance are recent discussions $y repu$lican political
theorists concernin# the content of a repu$lican political
economy )or /commercial repu$lic0* which also point in the
$road direction of dispersin# capital more widely.
proposals of =merican political theorist Stephen Il"in are
particular noteworthy' for two reasons< first' he specifically
re&ects the Rawlsian paradi#m for thin"in# a$out politics and
instead ta"es James Madison as his startin# point for reasonin#
a$out the content of a commercial repu$licE second' he e-plicitly
uses the lan#ua#e of property1ownin# democracy. Conse+uently'
the followin# section of our discussion pays particular attention
to Il"in(s non1Rawlsian ar#uments for a ?2.
!he core premise of repu$lican approaches to political theory is
that in thin"in# a$out politics' it is not enou#h only to specify
the moral foundations of le#itimate #overnment' or the
normative principles )includin# principles of social &ustice* to
5B ?(:eill and ,illiamson )forthcomin#' 7838*.
5G Cohen )39C9*' Miller )3993*' Roemer )3995*' Schweic"art )7888*'
=lperovit9 )788@*.
54 !o $e sure' prominent differences $etween the two proposals remain.
.n particular' unli"e most forms of democratic socialism' Rawls(s
property1ownin# democracy has no role for democratic oversi#ht or
plannin# of ma&or capital investments. ;or further discussion' see
,illiamson )7889*.
5C 2a##er )788G*E Il"in )788G*.
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which #overnment should aspire. Rather' we must thin" a$out
how to construct and maintain a re#ime that' despite the
presence of at least partially self1interested actors' succeeds in
preventin# the domination of any one #roup of citi9ens $y any
others' via either private or pu$lic means' while also allowin# all
citi9ens meanin#fully to contri$ute' via the political process' to
influencin# the social conditions which shape their lives.
Constructin# such a re#ime re+uires payin# careful attention to
institutional desi#nE to how leaders are selected and to the
incentives that they are offeredE to the character and en#a#ement
of the ordinary citi9ens who are char#ed with $oth selectin#
leaders and holdin# them accounta$leE and' not least' to the
re#ime(s political economy and how it functions' includin# the
distri$ution of wealth that it #enerates.
Civic repu$licans' especially those who draw their inspiration
from Madison and other re#ime theorists such as Machiavelli
and Montes+uieu' characteristically ar#ue that reasonin# from
the ori#inal position' in the Rawlsian style' can ta"e us only so
far in tellin# us what a wor"a$le and tolera$ly &ust political
re#ime mi#ht loo" li"e. More than this' such repu$licans re&ect
proposals for a /division of la$our0 within political theory' such
that some scholars' e-pert in pre1institutional political
philosophy and a$stract reasonin#' define and specify the
normative principles which should #uide political life' while a
second #roup of scholars' who loo" more carefully at the facts
of the world' wor" out how to put those principles into practice.
;rom the viewpoint of repu$licans such as Il"in' such a division
of la$our is untena$le< Il"in ar#ues that we cannot fully ma"e
sense of political concepts such as /li$erty0 and /e+uality0 until
we have thou#ht throu#h' and indeed #arnered some practical
e-perience with' what it would mean to reali9e such values in
practice' throu#h real political institutions. ut another way' we
cannot claim that we want somethin# unless we understand what
it would truly to ta"e to #et it' in practice' #iven reasona$le
assumptions a$out human nature.
?ne of those assumptions' in
turn' is that political actors often act from mi-ed or self1
interested motives' as opposed to $ein# motivated $y the desire
to reali9e &ustice.
59 !hus Il"in< /.n the conte-t of KinstitutionalL practice' there aren(t two
separate &ud#ments>one a$out values' the other a$out practices that
will serve them. !here is only one< how much we value somethin# #iven
what it ta"es to reali9e it.0 Il"in )788G*< 44.
@8 !o $e clear' Rawls also reco#ni9es the importance of considerin# the
institutional implications of a conception of &ustice $efore acceptin# it.
%ence Rawls writes< /.t is important to trace out' if only in a rou#h and
ready way' the institutional content of the two principles of &ustice. ,e
need to do this $efore we can endorse these principles' even
provisionally. !his is $ecause the idea of reflective e+uili$rium involves
our acceptin# the implications of ideals and first principles in particular
cases as they arise. ,e cannot tell solely from the content of a political
conception>from its principles and ideals>whether it is reasona$le for
us.0 Rawls )7883*< 35G. !his reco#nition on Rawls(s part is important'
$ut is not sufficient to satisfy Il"in(s o$&ection' on two #rounds. ;irst'
Rawls limits his account of the institutional content of property1ownin#
democracy to ideal1type re#ime analysis>even thou#h he ac"nowled#es
the possi$ility that /a $asic structure may #enerate interests that ma"e it
wor" very differently than its ideal description.0 Rawls )7883*< 354.
Considerations of the "inds of interests a re#ime mi#ht #enerate are'
accordin# to Rawls' +uestions of /political sociolo#y0 and not
somethin# that accounts of ideal1type re#imes need to consider. .n
Il"in(s view' in contrast' careful consideration of the interests a re#ime
is li"ely to produce and how they mi#ht $e held in $alance so as to
maintain the re#ime and achieve its stated values over time is precisely
what /constitutional0 thin"in# must ta"e up. Second' as stated in the
te-t' Il"in re&ects Rawls(s view that the premise of a #eneral a#reement
a$out the content of &ustice and the assumption of /full compliance0 are
useful $e#innin# points for thin"in# a$out a wor"a$le constitutional
!his approach to politics is e-emplified in Stephen Il"in(s
recent $oo" Reconstructin# the $ommercial Republic. Il"in
descri$es the /circumstances of politics0 as involvin# a /lar#e
a##re#ation of people who 3* have conflictin# purposes that
en#ender more or less serious conflictE 7* are #iven to attempt to
use political power to further their own purposes and those of
people with whom they identifyE 5* are inclined to use political
power to su$ordinate othersE and @* are sometimes #iven to
words and actions that su##est that they value limitin# the use of
political power $y law and harnessin# it to pu$lic purposes.0
/!hese circumstances'0 Il"in adds' are not /Rthe $est of
foreseea$le conditions.( !hey are simply the conditions that
o$tain as we =mericans' li"e others' #o a$out our political
Il"in ar#ues that James Madison(s theory of a /commercial
repu$lic0>a li$eral re#ime characteri9ed $y #overnment that is
at once popular' limited' and active>has si- central elements.
!he first five include preventin# faction' preventin# a tyranny of
lawma"ers' ensurin# that lawma"ers consider the pu$lic interest'
ensurin# that lawma"in# has a meanin#ful deli$erative
component' and ensurin# a measure of civic virtue in the
populace. ;or purposes of the present discussion' the "ey
element is the si-th>namely' the /social $asis for the re#ime'0
or in other words' who has property and there$y political
influence in the society' and there$y the capacity to shape how
the re#ime operates in practice.
Madison(s political theory rested heavily on the possi$ility of
/men of property and su$stantial community position0>most
often lar#e landowners>comin# to ta"e a very $road view of
their own interests. Suppose the pu$lic interest and the
)enli#htened* self1interest of these men overlapped su$stantially'
and that these same /men of property0 were in a position to have
disproportionate political influence>for instance' $y $ein# the
predominant class from which elected representatives would $e
chosen. .f this were the case' and if the political institutions
themselves were desi#ned to #ive lawma"ers' includin# the
am$itious' stron# reason to appeal to the pu$lic interest' then a
deli$erative politics that in fact served the pu$lic interest mi#ht
$e possi$le.
=s Il"in notes' this Madisonian account is a deeply
unsatisfactory theory for contemporary li$eral re#imes. 6road1
minded /men of landed property and standin#0 are no lon#er the
dominant social classE instead we have the predominance of
corporate property' and corporations are themselves le#ally
re+uired to have +uite narrow interests. Moreover' if ine+ualities
of wealth and income $ecome e-cessive' and these translate into
si#nificant political ine+ualities' as they in fact often do' then we
face the spectre of not' as Madison feared' factional ma&ority
rule' $ut rather factional minority rule $y the wealthy and the
well1off. So the pro$lem remains>what is to $e the social $asis
of a political re#ime $ased on self1rule and limited $ut active
@3 Il"in )788G*< 7B@1BB. Il"in here is +uotin# Rawls )3995*< -vii. .t
mi#ht $e noted that Rawls' $e#innin# in Political Liberalism' does
revise his theory so as to ta"e account of one ma&or fact a$out the world'
namely' the fact of reasona$le pluralism. ;or a repu$lican li"e Il"in' the
+uestion is why Rawls stops there as opposed to ta"in# account of other
prominent facts as well )such as lar#e1scale corporate power*. See Il"in
)788G*< 5B915G8' n38. ;or a related criti+ue' see Sheldon ,olin(s )399G*
critical review of Political Liberalism.
@7 Il"in )788G*< 73.
@5 I"in )788G*< 5C1@7.
@@ I"in )788G*< B3145. Il"in(s ar#umentation on these themes is more
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Il"in(s answer is fourfold. ;irst' a commercial repu$lic should
$e a re#ime in which the middle class is the politically
predominant class' and can serve as a /pivot0 in ad&udicatin#
conflicts $etween $usiness elites and the poorE in particular' it is
important that the middle class have enou#h power to force the
$usiness elites to &ustify their proposals in terms of the pu$lic
interest. Second' e-cessive ine+ualities of wealth are
inconsistent with the maintenance of a commercial repu$lic'
precisely $ecause they translate into ine+ualities of political
influence and ma"e relations of mutual respect $etween all
citi9ens impossi$le. !hird' persistent poverty as well the
economic insecurity of the near1poor and much of the middle
class are inconsistent with the formation of independent' self1
respectin# citi9ens who reco#ni9e the value of deli$erative
politics. =s Il"in puts it' /!o worry a$out whether you can pay
your $ills wonderfully concentrates your mind>$ut not on
political life.0
;ourth' the interests of property1holders should
$e $roadened to the #reatest possi$le e-tentE this could $e
achieved $y $roadenin# the ownership of property and capital'
and $y fosterin# a politically stron# middle class capa$le of
challen#in# elite proposals' such that elite #roups must ar#ue on
their $ehalf $y appealin# to the pu$lic interest.
Conse+uently' Il"in writes' /in a fully reali9ed commercial
repu$lic' the fruits of prosperity should not $e availa$le only to
a fewE neither should economic production $e in the service of
creatin# an oli#archy with the status and material comforts of an
Il"in thus proposes ensurin# that wor" is $etter
paid' as well as advocatin# the more effective use of inheritance
ta-es' and a$ove all widenin# the distri$ution of capital>in
short' much of the a#enda of what Rawls terms /property1
ownin# democracy.0
!his focus on capital as opposed to income as the focus of
redistri$utive efforts has in turn four further &ustifications< first'
the lin" $etween accumulated capital and disproportionate'
dan#erous and factional political powerE second' the o$servation
that private relationships of domination rest on the divide
$etween those with capital and those without' not the divide
$etween hi#her1paid and lower1paid wor"ersE third' the
reco#nition that it is impossi$le to contain ine+ualities of income
without also payin# attention to ine+ualities in asset holdin#sE
and fourth' the political &ud#ment that it is all $ut impossi$le as
a practical matter to allow the mar"et to #enerate wide
dispersions of rewards' and then to rely upon the ta- system to
correct the resultant ine+ualities to a tolera$le level. !he
$eneficiaries of socioeconomic ine+uality are not' and never
plausi$ly will $e' so committed to social &ustice that they will
endorse lar#e1scale redistri$utions of their own incomes on a
re#ular $asis. ?n the contrary' they will insist on the &ustice of
"eepin# their own mar"et1#enerated returns' a claim that will
have stron# resonance amon# the well1off. = re#ime that relies
less on post1transfer ta-ation to achieve a tolera$le measure of
socio1economic e+uality will $e more sta$le over the lon#
comple- and nuanced than this $rief summary can do &ustice.
@B Il"in )788G*< 35@.
@G Il"in )788G*< 35@.
@4 Il"in )788G*< 79719G. .ndeed' Il"in(s discussion #oes si#nificantly
$eyond Rawls(s own proposals' drawin# on some of the ideas )such as
universal capital #rants and support for wor"er ownership of firms*
discussed in su$se+uent literature )see main te-t' $elow' for a $rief
@C !o $e sure' movin# towards a $roader distri$ution of capital and
property also would face formida$le political o$stacles. !he view is that
if a suita$ly wider distri$ution could $e achieved' this would $e a more
%ere we have a second set of ar#uments for movin# in the
direction of property1ownin# democracy. Clearly' there is
overlap $etween some of Rawls(s reasonin# and that of Il"in'
particularly in Rawls(s stress on the fair value of political
li$erties. ,hat is worth notin# here is simply that one need not
share any commitment to the Rawlsian edifice' or to a mode of
political thin"in# that uses the ideal conditions of the ori#inal
position as a startin# point for reflection' to reach the &ud#ment
that persons interested in tolera$ly &ust li$eral re#imes should
ta"e an interest in property1ownin# democracy. .n short'
property1ownin# democracy need not $e re#arded as a uni+uely
Rawlsian idea' $ut instead may plausi$ly $e endorsed $y
adherents of a ran#e of sophisticated theories concernin# the &ust
Policies to *roaden Property Ownership
!he idea of property1ownin# democracy has thus en&oyed
renewed attention from multiple strands of democratic political
theory in recent years. arallel to this development has $een
increased interest amon# policy scholars and some practitioners
in /asset1$ased0 policy approaches to redressin# poverty. !he
$asic thou#ht $ehind asset1$ased approaches is that social
policies should not rely only on efforts to prop up low incomes
amon#st the poor' $ut should also ena$le the disadvanta#ed to
#ain access to productive assets that mi#ht si#nificantly improve
their lon#1term life chances. I-amples of such assets includin#
savin#s accounts' educational funds' housin#' pension funds and
!o ta"e one prominent e-ample of an asset1$ased
policy' #overnments mi#ht esta$lish savin#s funds at $irth for
each child and capitali9e each account with )for e-ample*
S3'888' in e-pectation that the value of the fund will steadily
#row over time and represent a si#nificant source of funds $y
early adulthoodE a version of this policy )the Child !rust ;und*
has $een implemented in the UF. =c"erman and =lstott have
offered a much more am$itious proposal in the conte-t of the
United States' callin# on #overnment to provide all citi9ens at
a#e 3C with an SC8'888 /sta"e'0 on the view that havin# access
to such si#nificant funds would dramatically alter the life
prospects and plans of many disadvanta#ed' wor"in#1class' and
even middle1class youn# =mericans.
Most of the mainstream discussion of asset1$ased policies
focuses on individual accounts and on $olsterin# access to cash
savin#s or housin#. =dvocates of property1ownin# democracy
should also naturally have an interest in ways of $roadenin#
ownership of producti%e capital. Aovernment support )in the
form of loans' technical assistance' and in some cases capital
investments* for smaller $usinesses represents one traditional
policy approachE another possi$ility is the provision of funds or
incentives to allow individuals to $uy corporate stoc". More far1
reachin# are efforts to turn control over entire enterprises to
wor"ers or to local nei#h$ourhood or#ani9ations. =s Aar
=lperovit9 has documented' $oth employee ownership and
community ownership )throu#h vehicles such as community
development corporations* of productive $usinesses have
increased dramatically in the United States since the 3948s.

6oth approaches $roaden the ownership of capital in ways
sta$le lon#1term $asis for limitin# ine+ualities and $roadenin# prosperity
than relyin# primarily on continual' lar#e1scale pro#ressive ta-ation.
@9 See Sherraden )788B* for a thorou#h discussion.
B8 =c"erman and =lstott )3999*.
B3 =lperovit9 )788@' 788G*.
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! 5
consistent with property1ownin# democracy' as well as offerin#
other possi$le $enefits in addition )such as sustainin# &o$s in
poorer or declinin# localities*.
.n short' there are numerous practical mechanisms availa$le to
policyma"ers to attempt to $roaden access to capitalE most of
these mechanisms are potentially politically popular and capa$le
of winnin# support from a ran#e of ideolo#ical positions. !he
literature lac"s' however' a sustained treatment of how such
policies mi#ht $e $roadened and ratcheted up to scale in a
manner which mi#ht reali9e the aims of property1ownin#
democracy. =c"erman and =lstott(s sta"eholder society proposal
and =lperovit9(s ar#uments on $ehalf of a /pluralist
commonwealth0 come the closest in this re#ard' thou#h neither
proposal e-plicitly uses the lan#ua#e of /property1ownin#
democracy.0 .n short' there is ample room for further wor" in
translatin# the very am$itious aims of Rawlsian )or alternative
repu$lican* conceptions of property1ownin# democracy into
concrete political proposals.
Similarly' there has $een almost no serious discussion of the
politics of property1ownin# democracy or of the +uestion of
whether and how e-istin# /welfare state capitalist0 societies
mi#ht $e chan#ed into a form of mar"et society more closely
appro-imatin# property1ownin# democracy. !wo o$servations
are in order here< first' the social $asis for a movement towards
property1ownin# democracy is li"ely to $e +uite different than
traditional left coalitions on $ehalf of socialism and social
democracyE the aims of property1ownin# democracy are +uite
different in emphasis )thou#h ar#ua$ly not inconsistent with* the
traditional #oals of la$our and la$our or#ani9ations. .ndeed' the
more entrepreneurial' individualistic tenor of property1ownin#
democracy coheres with Ro$erto Un#er(s call for the /left0 to
cast its lot with the /petty $our#eoisie0 rather than declinin#
industrial wor"in# classes.
.n practice' a wor"a$le politics of
property1ownin# democracy would need to $e $lended with
other policies and initiatives more oriented towards traditional
la$our concerns a$out employment sta$ility' wa#e levels' and
la$our law.
Second' while proposals to create Child !rust ;unds and
$roaden access to homeownership are #enerally popular' the
most crucial step towards a Rawlsian conception of property1
ownin# democracy>more a##ressive' strin#ent ta-ation on
inheritance and estates>is li"ely to inspire much more
opposition. !his is especially true in the United States' where a
concerted effort $y conservative ideolo#ues over the past fifteen
years has succeeded in persuadin# many =mericans and
lawma"ers that inheritance ta-es represent an un&ust /death
E there is also su$stantial opposition to inheritance ta- in
countries such as the UF.
Serious ar#uments for full1$lown
property1ownin# democracy thus must $e com$ined with serious
and persuasive ar#uments re#ardin# the le#itimacy of $rea"in#
up lar#e estates throu#h inheritance ta-es and other forms of
wealth ta-ation.
!he ar#ument for the &ustice of ta-in# lar#e1
scale wealth in order to secure the fair value of political li$erties'
institute meanin#ful e+ual opportunity' and improve the lot of
the least well off in turn mirrors the lar#er Rawlsian ar#ument
for understandin# society as a system of social cooperation
aimed at reali9in# a common life characteri9ed $y fairness' as
B7 Un#er )788G*.
B5 Shapiro and Araet9 )788B*.
B@ See ?(:eill )7884*E ,hite )788C*.
BB ;or a promisin# ar#ument alon# these lines' see =lperovit9 and 2aly
opposed to a #ame in which the aim is to accumulate as many
assets as possi$le within the permissi$le rules. !he ar#ument for
$rea"in# up lar#e inheritances and the ar#ument for viewin#
society as a fair system of cooperation are ine-trica$ly tied
to#ether. ,ithout the prior commitment to viewin# society as a
fair system of social cooperation' ar#uments for $rea"in# up
lar#e inheritances are dramatically wea"enedE without the
political capacity to $rea" up lar#e accumulations of wealth in
practice' Rawlsian aspirations for reali9in# a &ust society $ased
on the two principles of &ustice will remain tantali9in#ly out of
=c"erman' 6ruce' and =nne =lstott.3999. The &ta'eholder &ociety! :ew
%aven< Tale University ress.
=lperovit9' Aar. 788@. America (eyond $apitalism Reclaimin# )ur
*ealth" )ur Liberty" )ur +emocracy! %o$o"en' :J< J. ,iley. URL
)cited 3G Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJ
=lperovit9' Aar' and Lew 2aly. 788C. ,njust +eserts! :ew Tor"< !he
:ew ress.
=rneson. Richard. 39CG. Comment on Frouse and Mcherson. -thics.
94< 35913@B. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Catherine =udard. 7884. John !oronto< McAill1Nueen(s
University ress.
Cham$ers' Simone. 788G. !he olitics of I+uality< Rawls on the
6arricades. Perspecti%es on Politics @< C31C9' doi<
Clar"' 6arry and %er$ert Aintis. 394C. Rawlsian Justice and Iconomic
Systems. Philosophy and Public Affairs 4< 587157B. URL )cited 3G
Septem$er 7889*< http<UUwww.&stor.or#Usta$leU77G@9G8
Clayton' Matthew' and =ndrew ,illiams' eds. 7888. /deals of -quality.
6asin#sto"e. al#rave Macmillan.
Cohen' A. =. 39C9. History" Labour and Freedom. ?-ford< Clarendon
ress. Related online version )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Cohen' A. =. 788C. Rescuin# Justice and -quality. Cam$rid#e' Mass.<
%arvard University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Cohen' Joshua. 39C9. !he Iconomic 6asis of 2eli$erative 2emocracy.
&ocial Philosophy and Policy G< 7B1B8.
Cohen' Joshua. 7885. ;or a 2emocratic Society. .n Samuel ;reeman' ed.
The $ambrid#e $ompanion to Cam$rid#e< Cam$rid#e
University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
2a##er' Richard. 788G. :eo1repu$licanism and the Civic Iconomy.
Politics" Philosophy and -conomics B< 3B31345'
2iNuattro' =rthur. 39C5. Rawls and Left Criticism. Political Theory 33<
B514C' doi< 38.3344U8898B934C583388388@
2oppelt' Aerald. 39C3. Rawls(s System of Justice< = Criti+ue from the
Left. 0ous 3B< 7B91584. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Il"in' Stephen L. 788G. Reconstructin# the $ommercial Republic
$onstitutional +esi#n After 1adison. Chica#o< University of Chica#o
ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJ
;reeman' Samuel. 7884. Conse+uentialism' u$licity' Sta$ility and
roperty1?wnin# 2emocracy in Justice and the &ocial $ontract< -ssays
on! :ew Tor"< ?-ford University ress. URL )cited 3G
Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJidVW?L4sGfld8TC
;reeman' Samuel. 7884. :ew Tor"< Routled#e. URL )cited 3G
Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJidVs-c7XGRWRrMC
Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! $
Araet9' Michael J.' and .an Shapiro. 788B +eath by a Thousand $uts
The Fi#ht )%er Taxin# /nherited *ealth. :ew %aven< Tale University
ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJ
%sieh' :ien1hQ. 7889. Justice at ,or"< =r#uin# for roperty1?wnin#
2emocracy. ;orthcomin# in Journal of &ocial Philosophy.
%ussain' ,aheed. 7889. !he Most Sta$le Just Re#ime. ;orthcomin# in
Journal of &ocial Philosophy.
Jac"son' 6en. 788B. Revisionism Reconsidered< Rroperty1?wnin#
2emocracy( and I#alitarian Strate#y in ost1war 6ritain. T.entieth
$entury (ritish History 3G< @3G1@@8' doi<38.3895Utc$hUhwi8B5
Fymlic"a' ,ill. 7887. $ontemporary Political Philosophy An
/ntroduction' 7
edition. ?-ford< ?-ford University ress.
Frouse' Richard' and Michael Mcherson. 39CG. = Mi-ed roperty
Re#ime< I+uality and Li$erty in a Mar"et Iconomy. -thics 94< 3391
35C.URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Frouse' Richard' and Michael Mcherson. 39CC. roperty1?wnin#
2emocracy. .n =my Autmann' ed. +emocracy and the *elfare &tate!
rinceton< rinceton University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Meade' James. 39GB. -fficiency" -quality" and the ).nership of
Property. Cam$rid#e< %arvard University ress.
Meade' James. 39GB. Principles of Political -conomy" 2ol! /2 The Just
-conomy. Chica#o< =ldine u$. Co.
Meade' James. 394B. The /ntelli#ent Radical3s 4uide to -conomic
Policy< The 1ixed -conomy. London< =llen Z Unwin.
Meade' James. 3995. Liberty" -quality" and -fficiency. :ew Tor"< :ew
Tor" University ress.
Miller' 2avid. 39C9. 1ar'et" &tate and $ommunity Theoretical
Foundations of 1ar'et &ocialism. :ew Tor"< ?-ford University ress.
URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJ
?(:eill' Martin. 7884. [2eath and !a-es[< Social Justice and the olitics
of the .nheritance !a-.< A Journal of &ocial +emocracy 3B< G71
43. URL )cited 3G Septem$er
?(:eill' Martin. 788Ca. ,hat Should I#alitarians 6elieveJ Philosophy
5 Public Affairs' 5G<7' 3391BG. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
?(:eill' Martin. 788C$. !hree Rawlsian Routes !owards Iconomic
2emocracy. Re%ue de Philosophie -conomique 34. URL )cited 3G
Septem$er 7889*<
?(:eill' Martin. 7889. Li$erty' I+uality and roperty1?wnin#
2emocracy. ;orthcomin# in Journal of &ocial Philosophy" doi<
?(:eill' Martin' and !had ,illiamson' eds. Property6).nin#
+emocracy. ?-ford< ,iley16lac"well. ;orthcomin# 7838.
arfit' 2ere". 3993. I+uality and riority. The Lindley Lecture'
University of Fansas. Reprinted in Clayton and ,illiams' eds. 7888'
/deals of -quality" pp. C3137B.
o##e' !homas. 7884. John His Life and Theory of Justice. :ew
Tor"< ?-ford University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Rawls' John. 3999. A Theory of Justice. Cam$rid#e< %arvard University
ress. Revised edition. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Rawls' John. 3995. Political Liberalism. :ew Tor"< Colum$ia
University ress.
Rawls' John. 7883. Justice as Fairness< A Restatement! Id. Irin Felly.
Cam$rid#e< %arvard University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Rawls' John. 7884. Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Id.
Samuel ;reeman. Cam$rid#e< %arvard University ress. URL )cited 3G
Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJidVyFclY"y3oU"C
Roemer' John' John. 399@. A Future for &ocialism! Cam$rid#e< %arvard
University ress. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Ron' =mit. 788C. Misions of 2emocracy in Rroperty1?wnin#
2emocracy(< S"elton to Rawls and 6eyond. History of Political
Thou#ht 79< C9138C.
Scanlon'!. M. . 399G. !he 2iversity of ?$&ections to .ne+uality. The
Lindley Lecture' University of Fansas' reprinted in Clayton and
,illiams' eds.' 7888' pp. @31B9.
Schweic"art' 2avid. 3949. Should Rawls 6e a SocialistJ = Comparison
of his .deal Capitalism with ,or"er Controlled Socialism. &ocial Theory
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Schweic"art' 2avid. 399G. A#ainst $apitalism. 6oulder< ,estview
Schweic"art' 2avid. 7887. After $apitalism. Lanham' M2< Rowman and
Littlefield. URL )cited 3G Septem$er 7889*<
Sherraden' Michael' ed. 788B. /nclusion in the American +ream Assets"
Po%erty" and Public Policy! :ew Tor"< ?-ford University ress. URL
)cited 3G Septem$er 7889*< http<UU$oo"s.#oo#le.comU$oo"sJidV&C1
!homas' =lan. 7889. Li$eralism' Repu$licanism' and the .dea of an
I#alitarian Ithos' wor"in# paper' University of Fent' 7889. See also
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,hite' Stuart. 788C. Ho. to +efend /nheritance Tax! London< ;a$ian
Society. ,ith Ra&iv ra$ha"ar and Faren Rowlin#son.
,illiamson' !had. 7889. = ;air Sta"e and a ;air Sha"e< John Rawls(s
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Cen%er &or Com'ara%ive and In%erna%ional S%(die) E*+ ,(ric- and .niveri%y o& ,(ric- Living Reviews in Democracy) "##$ ! /#

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