John Rawls, "The Law of Peoples," and International Political Theory [Abstract]

Review essay of A Theory of Justice, Political Liberalism, Collected Papers, and The Law of Peoples, by John Rawls

December 4, 2000

John Rawls is the most influential English-language political philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century — indeed, perhaps since John Stuart Mill. His influence rests partly on the very format of his masterwork, A Theory of Justice. But Theory is a flawed and incomplete masterpiece, and the "Rawls industry" that has developed around his work has been stimulated by these imperfections. Indeed, Rawls himself has corrected and elaborated upon his original formulations in a series of essays compiled in Political Liberalism and his recent Collected Papers. One of the most controversial features of Theory concerns its handling of international issues; Rawls turned to this question explicitly in an Amnesty International Lecture of 1993, "The Law of Peoples" (published in his Collected Papers), which he has now extended into a monograph with the same title. The latter is the main focus of this essay, which also includes a sketch of Rawls’s project as a whole as a necessary preliminary.


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