‘Republicanism, Liberalism and the Political Psychology of Emotion’, by Alfred Archer, Bart Engelen and Alan Thomas, University of York, Conference on Republicanism, June 26–27 2017



This paper compares and contrasts Pettit’s republican conception of justice with Rawls’s conception of justice as fairness. It does so by taking up a novel perspective on the two views: the implications of each for political psychology and the emotions that bear on political justification: shame, envy, malice and the will to dominate. The overall aim is to make headway on the complex question of the relation between the two views.

We know from Pettit’s work that a person who is dominated is craven, deferential and may resent this predicament. Positively, Pettit has endorsed Adam Smith’s conception of a just society as one in which citizens can appear in public without shame. He also adds that it is a crucial aspect of a republican view that a citizen must possess boldness, or self-confidence, in advancing their projects – an issue that he believes falls beyond the scope of state action. [Pettit, 2012, pp. 84–85]

Rawls’s political psychology is more prominently a part of his strategy of justification. The parties in the original position seek to assure the material basis of the self-respect of those whom they represent. A just distribution ought not to elicit reasonable envy and, in Justice as Fairness, the whole structure of Rawls’s justification of his principles is re-cast to take into account the role played by emotion. The two principles are first justified while bracketing the “destabilizing special attitudes”; they are then revised, as part of the theory of stability, with the malicious, anti-social attitudes of the would-be dominator taken into account.

We will draw the following conclusions from this comparison: first, Pettit’s conception of republican justice cannot, given some plausible claims about positional goods and the emotions that feature in their evaluative profile, meet Smith’s standard. Because this standard is sufficientarian it is, by Rawls’s lights, only weakly egalitarian in that Pareto improvements to the situation of the better off that do not make anyone else worse off are mandatory (if the worst off have met the sufficient standard). In light of this fact it seems that Frederick Neuhouser was correct to conclude that “more radical transformations that address asymmetries in the economic structure of society, though not ruled out, play little role in [Pettit’s] reflections on the policy implications of republicanism ”. [Neuhouser, 2013, p. 217. n.31]

Our positive proposal is that the republican ought to adopt Rawls’s strongly egalitarian conception of justice. This is for two reasons. First, it avoids the conclusion that Smith’s criterion of appearing in public without shame is unavoidable in the republican polity. Second, Rawls plausibly argues that those who lack the material basis of their self-respect will fail to value either themselves or their own projects. They will, therefore, lack the kind of confidence that Pettit recognizes as essential to the liber, but takes to be outside the scope of state action.

So our examination of the logic of positional goods leads us to conclude that only a society that guarantees the material underwriting of non-dominated status with a strong egalitarianism will allow the joint realization of adequate self-worth, the lack of stigmatizing shame, and republican “boldness”.

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