Rawls and Mill:
Almost all the analysts of liberalism pay special attention to J.S. Mill’s conception about liberty and liberalism. Because Mill was the first systematic philosopher who thought that if the role of the state is not reduced to the minimum level, the liberty of the individuals will never be properly realised and this he analysed from various angles and one such angle is utilitarianism.
Before him others dealt with the subject but Mill’s erudition surpassed their analysis. But in spite of these plus points Mill’s approach to liberty and liberalism could not satisfy the scholars because of certain shortcomings which we have analysed.
The passing away, of times, the advent of new age and ideas did not suppress people’s interest about liberalism. In our earlier analysis we have noted the liberalism of Hayek and Robert Nozick. Now we shall turn our attention to John Rawls’ analysis. We here quote a relevant passage from Gray.
He writes: The failings in the Millian project are in part a central motivation in the recent revival of contractarian approaches in the justification of liberal principles. In its most powerful and plausible form in the work of John Rawls………. Rawls’s contractarian approach is authentically individualist in a way. Mill’s utilitarian ethics cannot be since it confers on individuals in the original position a veto against policies which would maximise general welfare while invading the liberty and damaging the interests of same”.
Various Aspects of Rawls’ Liberalism:
Concept of Liberty:
Rawls’ conception about liberalism is scattered throughout his book A Theory of Justice consisting of 514 pages (except index). It is very difficult to analyse all his views in precise form. Some are stated. One such concept is theory of liberty. Strictly speaking, it is connected with his views on liberalism. First we start how he defines liberty.
He says that liberty can be explained by a reference to three items:
(1) The agents who are free.
(2) The restrictions or limitations which they are free from.
(3) Finally, what it is that they are free to do or not to do.
In the light of these issues Rawls defines liberty in the following words:
Liberty is a certain structure of institutions. A certain system of public rules defining rights and duties.
In true liberty or a true liberal state it is very much essential to see that which agents are free. Here agent is used to denote various parts of society. For example, individuals, organisations, institutions.
The term liberty relates not only to individuals because in today’s society individuals are not alone, they form group and organisations which moved and removed the ideas and views of the individuals and in various other ways influence them. Naturally we can say that a society can be called free or liberal if its members and organisations are free.
A society or political system cannot function without law and restrictions. Naturally we can treat the restrictions are inexorable parts of the political system. The pertinent point is whether these restrictions are impeding the smooth functioning of individuals and numerous agents. If they considerably and unjustifiably impede the functions and freedom of all agents we can conclude that the political system is deprived of liberty and, hence, the political system cannot be called liberal.
Rawls again raises the questions what functions the individuals and organisations are free to do. If they are prevented from performing very vital functions then the progress of the agents will receive great set back. It is also to be seen that whether the basic liberties are restricted or not. While considering liberty we must see that in its application if there is any type of discrimination. That is, if liberties are equally distributed or not.
It is also found that in some political systems more important liberties are neglected or in one way or other limited. It is absolutely uncalled for. Rawls says that the aim of liberty shall always be the proper development of individual personality to achieve justice. Liberty will promote toleration and general interest in the people and at the same time reduce the scope or possibility of in toleration. When all these conditions are properly fulfilled the society will be assumed to have liberty and it is liberal.
Justice and Liberalism:
John Rawls is remembered by students of political science for his thought- provoking analysis of the theory of justice. But his theory of justice is only a part of his philosophy and the philosophy is liberalism. We can say he has analysed justice, liberty etc. in the background of his liberalism and, as a result of it, it has always come to the limelight.
A close analysis of his political ideas reveals that his liberalism comes very closer to classical type. What he has said in his A Theory of Justice as Fairness constitutes the core of his liberalism. At least Gray thinks so.
A well-ordered society must have a clear and comprehensive idea about justice. Not only this, justice must pervade to all spheres and institutions of society. When this comes to be true we shall call the society just and liberal. Rawls says that in a just society all the individuals shall have rights equal with others.
In other words, all the members of society shall have equal rights and this is the primary condition of justice. Rawls also says that inequalities in the allotment of rights is also to be granted provided that this system will benefit all and opportunities are opened to all.
Justice, Free Market and Liberalism:
Rawls’ theories of justice, liberty and liberalism harbour upon the free market concept. The chain of relationship among justice, liberty, liberalism and free market system may be stated briefly in the following way. The theory of private property is the most fundamental right and without it citizens cannot develop their qualities. In Locke’s analysis its place is quite prominent.
Again, without free market economy right to property can never be attained. It is rather a corollary of free market system. All these combinedly build up the structure of liberal society or concept of liberalism.
Why Rawls and other liberal philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century focused their analysis on free market economy is based on the following arguments:
(1) Free market system is the most fundamental precondition of right to private property and liberty and liberalism cannot be imagined without them.
(2) Right to property and free market are the basic constituents of justice. He (Rawls) argues that it is the natural liberty to have property and to deprive a man of this natural liberty is tantamount to violation of natural liberty and also the concept of justice.
(3) Along with the other votaries of free market system John Rawls believes that free market economy ensures the efficiency in production, distribution and pricing system. In state controlled economy or socialist systems, it is alleged, this is not possible to achieve. The decisions regarding production, pricing and distribution emanate from the top. So, for the sake of efficiency it is essential that private entrepreneurs are to be entrusted with the job of all the above-noted matters.
The attainment of efficiency, Rawls believes, is also an important aspect of liberalism. Both justice and liberalism want to see a society well-ordered. In the opinion of John Rawls only in a liberal state and liberal social system can there exist and flourish justice. It is also the view of other liberals.
(4) Rawls argues that the market economy is the best system and scheme. This conclusion is not based on the fantasy of some bourgeois economists, but on the experience gathered during the past several hundred years. Competitive economic arrangement and efficiency, Rawls says, cannot be separated from each other.
(5) Another important advantage of free market economy has been pointed out by him (Rawls): “A further and more significant advantage of a market system is that given the requisite background institution, it is consistent with equal liberties and fair equality of opportunity. Citizens have a free choice of carriers and occupations. There is no reason at all for the forced and central direction of labour”.
(6) Establishment of market economy decentralises the economic power and it is a great and powerful step towards decentralisation. Liberalism believes that the citizens will participate in the economic activities and decision-making processes of the state.
First Principle of Justice and Liberalism:
John Rawls has analysed two great principles of justice and here we shall discuss only one. Each person will have the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties. When these basic liberties are guaranteed by the state and all measures are adopted for their realisation the state or political system will aptly be called liberal.
As well as the realisation of basic liberties forms a part of justice. Justice and liberalism are inseparable concepts. Rawls has pointed out some basic liberties: right to vote, right to contest any office of the state (of course if qualification permits), freedom of speech and expression, freedom to move freely and peaceably, freedom to assemble together, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of the person which includes freedom from psychological and physical oppression or assault, right to hold personal property and to dispose it, freedom from arbitrary arrest or freedom from seizure of personal property, equality before law and equal protection of law.
According to Rawls these are the basic liberties and for the attainment of justice these are to be distributed among all citizens. Rawls demands that no distinction shall be made arbitrarily while making arrangements for their allotment.
This leads to both justice and liberalism. If we look at these rights and liberties we shall find that these are especially important for the proper development of individual’s personality and according to philosophers of liberalism the concept of justice relates to the proper fulfilment of rights and liberties.
Liberalism and Autonomy:
It has been observed that realisation of rights and liberties are a very important part of justice and to us of liberalism. Gray says, “A free man is one who possesses the rights and privileges needed for him to think and act autonomously—to rule himself and not to be ruled by another”. One point is here quite clear. The realisation of liberties will never fall from heaven or they will not thrive in vacuum.
For their realisation a social structure is necessary and the structure must be, in all senses, autonomous. The core of the idea ‘autonomy’ is—one will be ruled by himself alone and not by anybody else. Rawls has discussed autonomy in his book. Defining autonomy, Rawls says that “it is the complete freedom to form our opinions and that the conscientious judgment of every moral agent ought absolutely be respected”.
The activities of the individuals will not be unnecessarily restricted and everyone will have freedom to pursue his objectives. This is not only a fundamental freedom but also a constituent of liberalism. Without autonomy liberalism will not get any opportunity to flourish. Liberalism also does not overlook accountability.
In all autonomous society the authority will have to give explanation for all its activities and decisions. Autonomy also implies that the society shall be administered in accordance with certain rules and regulations—that is, the state shall have limited powers.
What Rawls says about liberalism in his A Theory of Justice is not final. He has updated his concepts and views in his Political Liberalism published in 1993. His theory of justice as well as concept of liberalism is based on justice as fairness. It is generally observed that the concept justice as fairness has been borrowed by him from the German philosopher Kant. Kant viewed the entire idea of justice in the background of philosophy.
But justice is not only a subject of philosophy; it also belongs to economics and politics. Particularly, the political scientists are generally interested in the subject. They are concerned with the realisation of justice and it is firmly believed that the realisation falls within the jurisdiction of government. Rawls does neglect this aspect but his analysis revolves around philosophy.
Rawls has taken it for granted that only in a liberal state or in a democratic state people can have justice because these states have favourable atmosphere for the development of justice. But we are of opinion that non-liberal and particularly socialist states can have wide infrastructure which will favour justice and liberalism.
Socialists have reservations about the liberal theory of justice. So long the property and sources of production are controlled by few hands, economic and other inequalities will continue to exist and justice will not be within the reach of the people who constitute the majority part of the population. Marx, Engels and other socialists have emphasised it.
But in liberalism there is no scope of transferring the ownership of production and distribution from private hand to the authority of state and the liberals or supporters their of liberalism do not approve such a scheme because it is against their philosophy.
Rawlsian theory of liberalism also deals with welfare of individuals. But the welfare functions, for their proper implementation, required the intervention of state and laws are to be enacted to that extent.
There arises a confusion. Rawls, Nozick and many others have emphasised the limitations upon the activities of state. To what extent the functions of the state are to be restricted? We do not get any idea about it from Rawls.
John Gray (Liberalism) claims that Rawls does not conceal his allegiance to classical liberalism and he has made best efforts to revive it. It is believed by many the revival of classical liberalisation would be the best reply to the requirements of the present-day society.
The collapse of Soviet socialism, the acceptance of market economy by China and globalisation clearly demonstrate that the relevance of socialism to the needs of modern industrialised society is more or less exhausted. It has been asserted by some (including Rawls, Hayek and Nozick) that roll-back to classical liberalism can provide a suitable way. We do not know what shape this expectation will take in the coming years. People’s ideas about society, role of the state and outlook of the individuals are undergoing rapid changes.
Recent Trends in Liberalism:
From the eighties of the last century certain spectacular trends are perceptible in the domain of liberalism.
These may briefly be stated:
(1) After the fall of Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in that and other East European countries certain new ideological trends have emerged. One is, people’s sympathy for socialism is downward-moving. Second is, number of Third World states are proceeding towards free market economy which is an indication of liberalism. Third, people’s apathy to capitalism is gradually diminishing and they have taken the capitalist mode of production as granted. This is particularly evident in many states of Asia and Africa.
(2) Simultaneously, there has emerged another trend. Some disquieting features have entered into the thought system of liberalism and this has forced many defenders of liberalism to give second thought to it. It has been well stated by Andrew Heywood in the following words: “Liberal triumphalism needs to be tempered by the recognition of new challenges that have forced liberals to rethink and same time, to revise their views. Indeed, in some respects, liberal ideology is suffering from a crisis of confidence evident in the growing reluctance of liberals to present their ideas as universal or fundamental principles”.
(3) The rise of feminism has posed a formidable challenge to liberalism. From seventies to eighties of the last century there had occurred a meteoric rise of feminist movement. The advocates of feminism have argued that women are deliberately neglected by various sections of the society and even liberal movement or liberalism has not paid any attention to the cause of feminism.
This mentality has thrown a great assault to liberalism. Many feminists believe that liberalism is an unsuitable way or method of advancing the cause of feminism. This negative attitude of feminism about liberalism has inflicted “irreparable loss” for liberalism.
(4) Liberalism is faced with another challenge. After the collapse of communism in Soviet Russia and East European states some people thought that liberalism would find fertile soil and congenial atmosphere for its growth and ramification but, ultimately, this did not happen. In Russia and Eastern European states two forces developed simultaneously.
One is nationalism enveloped by ethnicity, and the other is liberalism. Russia is still in the grip of ethnic struggle although free market has been accepted as the basic form of social policy. In many Afro-Asian states people’s sympathy to nationalism based on security, certainty and strength is prominent.
Sympathy to liberalism is feeble. In many Afro-Asian states authoritarian rule has spread its roots to the depth of society which is a very intriguing development. Particularly in the West Asian states the authoritarianism has become a general feature.
(5) We can still locate another trend. We know that liberalism gleefully embraces all opposite views and thoughts and strongly advocates for toleration. But the rise and rapid growth of fundamentalism and religious fanaticism have eclipsed the noble thoughts and outlook of liberalism. Along with fundamentalism there has arisen terrorism. Both of them have put liberalism to litmus test.
On the one hand there is liberalism, strong urge for rapid development, free and peaceful cooperation among all the nations of the globe, and, on the other hand, fundamentalism and terrorism are creating chaos and unsurmountable problems. The adherents of religious fundamentalism and terrorism are arguing for right to self-determination and progress for particular social groups and communities.
Let us conclude with the following observation:
“Far from moving towards a unified, liberal world, political development in the twenty-first century may be characterised by growing ideological diversity. Political Islam, Confucianism and even authoritarian nationalism may yet prove to be enduring rivals to Western liberalism”.
Nature of Neoliberalism:
Recent developments have demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that people’s interest about liberalism has not ebbed at all, though it is faced with several challenges. Many thinkers in different parts of the globe take interest about the functioning of liberalism. This is mainly due to the fact that in the eighties and nineties of the last century in America, Europe, Asia and Africa many changes had occurred which cannot be delinked from liberalism.
Some such events may be noted to trace the changes in people’s attitude towards liberalism:
(1) J. M. Keynes suggested some policies and schemes to combat the post-Second World War (1939-1945) economic crises and Keynesian policies bore fruits up to the sixties. Keynesian policies helped the resuscitation of economy by reducing unemployment and arresting the depression in economy.
(2) In the seventies and eighties the situation dramatically changed. There was a downward trend in the productivity of labour, accumulation of capital or savings declined perceptively, the unemployment rate increased very rapidly and there was an upward trend of inflation. All these happened in those countries which adopted liberal economic policies and accepted liberalism as a political ideology.
People’s faith on liberalism was faced with problems or challenges. Many of them began to doubt the potency of liberalism or the ability of liberalism to solve the basic problems of economics from which the liberal society suffered.
(3) Not only crises engulfed liberalism but socialism was not free from crises. In no country socialism was successful. So both liberalism and socialism were in the grip of problems. The policy-makers, statesmen, and intellectuals began to think seriously about liberalism because socialism was foredoomed.
(4) Many people in Britain and USA began to think the whole episode in new perspective. It was their conclusion that too much articulation on the increasing role of the state in welfare activities and encroachment on the freedom of individual entrepreneurs was the major cause of crisis in liberalism. Reagan administration in the USA and the elevation of Margaret Thatcher to the post of Prime Minister in the UK brought about rejuvenation in liberalism.
Both Reagan and Thatcher forcefully argued for the drastic cut of state’s expenditure on welfare activities and projects, revival of state initiative in deregulation and granting more freedom to individual entrepreneurs. Many people were also vocal about the rise in the rate of interest.
The overall political import of the new course became clear Repression of workers’ claims for better living standards and working conditions.
These changes in the matured capitalist countries were grouped under the head of neoliberalism. The term neoliberalism has been defined by many in different ways For example, one writer says that “it is an updated version of classical political economy that was developed in writings of free market economists”. It simply means that neoliberalism is nothing but the revival of classical liberalism Market economy, allowance of more scope for the businessmen etc. are the chief characteristics.
But the authors of the article published in the Socialist Register (2002) have looked into the idea in a different way. They observed that the changes and policies that were adopted in the eighties and nineties encouraged many people to think about it.
The writers have made the following observation:
“The new framework of rules to which the functioning of capitalism was subjected is now known as neoliberalism, a return to liberalism in a new configuration”. The adoption o new policies produced results as desired.
There was a sharp decline in the unemployment rate, recession was no longer threatened, capital formation advanced forward. These were the overall achievements of capitalist economy under the banner of neoliberalism or ‘ old liberalism in new garb or bottle. But is it really liberalism? Let us observe.
We have noted that one of the basic elements of liberalism is free market economy where there are large number of producers and investors and there is keen competition among them. This is called competitive economy and profits and prices are determined by the interplay between demand and supply.
But during the last two or three decades some new trends have developed and some of them are:
(a) Ownership in the means of production and distribution is concentrated in the hands of few persons. It has led to the creation of large corporation. And thus the concept of free market has appeared to be a misnomer. In the earlier epochs there were large number of business organisations who competed among themselves and corporation has replaced it.
(b) The supply of finance is also controlled by few financial institutions Capital is no longer dependent on the personal savings. Numerous sources of cap a formation are being devised or created by giant financial houses. In the field of capital formations banks are taking leadership.
(c) “Capitalism gradually developed centralised institutions and mechanisms charged with the control of the macro-economy, with major consequences for the issuing of money, the level of activity and employment (Socialist Register 2002) Thus the concentration was not confined to any particular section of economy, it spreads its wings in all branches of economy and sectors of society thus nullifying the ideology of liberalism.
(d) There was also the centralisation of management. The progress and better management of the economy necessitated the creation of good, expert and educated managers and the owners of industry took care of it. Management was given high priority and different training schools or institutions were set up for better management. Ultimately, the management of the business or economy went out of the hands of individual industries. Like the supply of capital management was also controlled by few persons or institutions and in this way competition was buried.
(e) “Neoliberalism strengthened the separation between the ownership and management It accelerated the development of large non-financial corporations managed by business staffs; salaried management grew within financial institutionary”.
The above is the list of trends of capitalism in the era of neoliberalism. It is interesting to note that the defenders of these new trends did not abandon or criticise liberalism. They did not say that neoliberalism was unsuitable for the new era. We rather witness peaceful coexistence between liberalism or neoliberalism and the new ramifications of capitalist development.
Neoliberalism did not obstruct this. “Neoliberalism was possible because it did not interrupt the developments (of new capitalism) but strengthened them. Liberalism or neoliberalism proved its flexibility by welcoming the new systems of management and capital-formation.