Michael Walzer’s Theory of Justice

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Promp: Michael Walzer’s theory of justice provides us with the means of greatly reducing domination within, as well as between, the spheres of life upon which he focuses? Michael Walzer is a prominent American political theorist and a pioneer of moral philosophy. He has written many influential essays and books on which are all-encompassing to many prevalent issues. His questions are centered around the ethics of distributive justice within particular frames of social reference. Most notably, his book Spheres of Justice (1983) is a clear contrast of an approach to distributive justice compared to previous political theorists, such as John Rawls. Due to Rawl’s abstract line of reasoning, it’s unable to transcend into the human experience, thus the ambiguous philosophical sphere is the only frame where social meanings of goods are tested. Initially, by rejecting abstract theories made by political theorists like John Rawls, Walzer brings forth a radically different approach to distributive justice, advancing and clarifying the perplexing debate of concealed but dominating inequalities. Secondly, Walzer’s paramount principles of ‘complex equality’ describes distributive justice in a relatable and tangible fashion with a purpose of recognizing and correcting the U.S’s most considerable failure, allowing for powerful spheres such as political or economic spheres to overlap and dictate each other as well as corresponding spheres such as family, health, education, and dignity.

For Walzer, by discounting particular social contexts, theorists fail to notice they are “local and particular.”(1. p.8) Reason being that a commonwealth’s history and culture can have dissimilar ‘good-specific’ and ‘culture-specific goods’ social meanings and their corresponding delivery must be done in agreement with these different meanings. While it is true that social goods are inherent to specific histories and cultures, the practice of these principles varies from culture to culture. In principle, Walzer maintains political theory must be grounded in the specific traditions and the culture of a particular society. In view of his bias to individual society’s values and cultural variability, Waltzer is commonly seen as a communitarian libertarian. There are general parallels among human cultures is a distributive community; we share, divide, and exchange all social goods. Yet, when it comes to the particular domination and subordination between the spheres, there are individualistic differences. Walzer states the ‘cultural pluralism property’ as an explanation of why complex equality cannot be abstract and universal in range. Walzer believes that within certain time-space contexts, shared meanings of goods are fluid and flexible. Therefore, goods, in general, are not able to be judged on the same standard. Predominantly, his ideas are focused on removing the transgression within and between spheres, through focusing our attention on the necessity of eliminating domination, ending domination from bleeding into more and more spheres of society. Ultimately, this taints the fairness and equality of the spheres on the whole.

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Walzer institutes the idea of the “spheres of life”. These spheres are entirely distinct and different from one another in order to properly differentiate the valuation of the good in their respective sphere. This enables Walzer to assign value and rank social goods in each sphere and also impute dominance to those individuals in possession of high valued products. The value of the good is not only limited to its material makeup but also includes the value the good adds to the economy. To clarify, the goods an individual possesses or creates contribute to their value in society and the goods also serve as “the crucial medium of social relations” (1 p 7).

Walzer’s goal is to understanding justice alongside the ever-developing link between social, political, and economic theory is evident and his proposal is persuasive. Simply, Walzer’s argument is there are multiple spheres of inequality in any society. The goal is to not lump them all together but to ensure the spheres of life are not dominated or influenced by the coexisting social, cultural and political spheres. Spheres of Justice is not merely devoted to acknowledging the different cultural appreciations of the meaning of societal goods. By that same token, Walzer assets such goods ought to be separated, never compiled or monopolized while being perceived within the particular context of a nationals cultural norms, beliefs and customs. Problems arise when there are unjust segregation and overlap between the spheres. Walzer argues domination and exclusion occurs when inconspicuous routes are made going outside the territory of a particular sphere. Walzer observes: “No social good ever entirely dominates the range of goods: no monopoly is ever perfect.” (1 p. 11) These rigid boundaries inside each distinct sphere enable Walzer to focus on reducing the domination complex in each individual sphere rather than worry about the possibility of individual dominating multiple spheres of life. Under Walzer’s theory, the distribution of power is most clearly defined by the value of a particular good or goods an individual possesses. Each sphere has respective goods that are placed into a hierarchical structure distinct to that particular region or sphere. This system allows for both direct ranking of goods and quantification of a good’s dominance and subordination. Further, this allows for a method of distribution and trade that would inevitably reduce a good’s dominance.

Another key point is he criticizes the liberalism position to abide by the status quo, which on minorities to bolster his concept of “complex equality”. In short, complex equality is built on principles which acknowledge and examine distributive justice, their particular assigned social meaning for commodities to help make a theory of distribution. Yet, the inequality of people has existed for centuries. Despite several decades of oppression towards racial and gender minorities, how can Walzer believe that racial and gender inequalities can be overcome to fit into his theory of complex equality? Walzer’s theory of complex equality is based upon pluralism distribution. For example, access to healthcare should be based upon need, not wealth, income or credit. However, this concept only works on paper, not in real life. Walzer supports a national healthcare system in the United States that is based upon need and therefore, everyone will have access to healthcare, not just the wealthy. However, in Canada, healthcare is supposedly based upon this model of need, but in reality, many are denied care that they need and wealthy Canadians often travel to the United States to get access to better care. Thus, the idea of the need to determine who gets healthcare is attractive in theory but fails in reality.

First of all, the formation of the concept of ‘complex equality’ is one of Walzer’s most alluring contributions to the field of political theory. His method of justice is captivating due to the fact it is sphere-specific and socially and historically emplaced in specific cultures and are. Therefore, Walzer claims the failure of the over-abstract and distant political theorizing, is an observation oversight of the potential for domination and monopolies between the spheres. Walzer suggests two key truths to keep in mind when discussing distributive justice; goods are inherently ‘good-specific’ and, secondly, that these good-specific principles must be ‘culture-specific’.

Especially in the U.S., there is a clear-cut constitutional right for “everyone to have the right to hold opinions without interference”(2) These free-will declarations are fundamentally argued for by Walzer. According to him, political justice means one-person-one-vote, it means a right of opposition, the right to free speech. It means all the features of citizenship that make democratic politics possible are supported by non-discrimination. The idea that all citizens should be treated on the basis of their citizenship status, not on their race, gender, wealth or intelligence is central to Walzer’s ideas.

He proposes an explanation in response to the controversy arising from contemporary democratic societies having become increasingly distributive based communities. Walzer’s essay seeks the solve oppressions grounded in domination and subordination in and between the spheres of life. In a nutshell, his theory follows the question “how can we live together, both free and equal, and both similar and different?”(2) Overall, Walzer’s project strengthens the development of an egalitarian model of society, “a society free of domination.” According to himself, this ethical perspective will lead to a more democratic and equitable distribution of goods. Walzer forces a novel philosophical discussion in relation to minoritized social groups being dominated and unfairly discriminated against. Although similar to more basic theories such as simple equality where everyone receives the same of everything, Walzer’s theory allows for inequalities in social goods. Walzer is also adamant in achieving more than just an egalitarian society or a reduction of domination in society, and thus, Walzer’s theory is a theory of distributive justice.

According to Walzer himself, he distinguishes his approach with regards to attaining complex equality. His assertions helped lead Walzer to his notion of ‘complex equality,’ which requires separation between the spheres of social life. For instance, possession of one sphere’s goods does not lead to the possession of goods in other spheres. For instance, a man who accumulated wealth in the economic sphere, cannot transcend his affluence into the political sphere. In Spheres of Justice, Walzer defines complex equality as following: “In formal terms, complex equality means that no citizen’s standing in one sphere or with regard to one social good can be undercut by his standing in some other sphere, with regard to some other good. ”(1) Notions of social and political justice are at the helm of his argument. For Walzer, the essence of justice is equality in the absence of domination. Social justice is equality of opportunity the openness of the social system and economic system to ambition and competence. Overall it means the absence of such great inequalities as distortions of legal justice and political justice. Moreover, Walzer makes the crucial connection between equality and justice. In the present day, as well as historically, legal justice is rare in the world, because there must be equality before the law and afterward there must be a fair treatment across the board; wealth, family, or celebrity fame should not bring special treatment.

Correspondingly, Walzer connects his theory of justice with concepts of fairness and freedom which overlap with his political debate, grounding his theory in the unmasking of impending domination and subjection on minorities in society. In order to oppose domination that might be excluding or depriving some citizens. Walzer’s underlying apprehension is not that goods are distributed against their social meaning, rather his fundamental concern is that no citizens are dominated, oppressed or in servitude to others. Although there may be small inequalities within individual spheres, the advantages within the spheres should be distinct. Such as political and social influence and power, superior medical care, top-quality education, and entrepreneurial opportunities. To achieve a solution of complex equality, the helm of his argument centers around the proposal of a system of blocked exchanges. Goods obtained in one sphere should not be exchanged or transferable for goods in another sphere. In other words, person X acquires money in the economic sphere, this should not allow him to ‘buy’ power and influence in the political sphere.

In summary, Walzer’s work ventures to understand the society in a manner where we can all be tolerant of different conceptions of goods, in this way he comes closest to the theory of value pluralism, which is the cornerstone of his theory. Walzer’s dedication for starving to describe the diverse ways in which humans live and coexist together is remarkable. The relationship between domination and subordination is vital when discussing any theory of justice. Even today most systems of government appoint people into positions to both judges and influence the public through means of dominance and by definition, those appointed in government are given the power to make decisions on behalf of their subordinates. Walzer works to break down the correlation between goods, social meaning, and dominance in a typical community or what he calls a sphere. Walzer formulates his theory to provide social meaning to goods in a given society while concurrently reducing the need for both domination and inequality. Despite an exceptionally well-constructed theory and a very innovative point of view, Walzer’s theory would be impossible to integrate into a real society for a variety of reasons.

Work Cited

  1. Walzer, Michael. Spheres of Justice: a Defense of Pluralism and Equality. Basic Books, 2010.
  2. McDonald, Marla. “United Nations Human Rights System.” Global Freedom of Expression, 2016, globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/law-standards/united-nations-human-rights-system/.
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Michael Walzer's Theory of Justice. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/michael-walzers-theory-of-justice/