Alan Thomas ‘Rawls and Tomasi on Robust Economic Liberty’ Geneva March 13, 2003

March 13 2013

Departement De Science Politique Et Relations Internationales

University of Geneva


John Tomasi’s imaginative re-thinking of the libertarian tradition elevates a robust conception of economic liberty to the status of a basic liberty, such that it cannot be interfered with by the lexically subordinated difference principle (whose fate in Tomasi’s scheme remains unclear). It is argued that while there is a clear difference between Rawls and Tomasi over the perfectionist basis of liberalism, there is much less of a difference between them on the role of markets and the securing of robust economic liberty than Tomasi’s presentation acknowledges. Rawls secures in the constitution not the difference principle, but that macro-economic expression of an underlying Principle of Reciprocity that is a necessary condition for the stable expression of the difference principle. Setting aside liberal market socialism, this paper focuses on the implementation of a property-owning democracy as the privileged background for the introduction of a difference principle. With this context in place, the operation of all three of Rawls’s principles – the basic liberties, fair equality of opportunity and the difference principle – constitutes a robust defence of individual economic liberty, but in a way that continues to attach importance to the difference principle. Tomasi’s arguments do not, then, constitute a critique of Rawls; rather, they demonstrate that sympathy with some of the assumptions of libertarian political theory should lead one to adopt Rawls’s theory in one, determinate, fully specified form.