This is not Rawls' veil of ignorance


It's a foregone conclusion and every one agrees that the political system of the United States is rigged.

How we go about "unrigging" is up for debate, but both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have tapped into a vein for alienation and frustration; but to say there solutions are similar would do both a disservice.

Trump has harnessed a coruscating rage that is frightful to behold in all its effulgence while Sanders has channeled a disenfranchisement that has festered below the surface of the body politic for nearly half a century and was most recently on display during the Occupy protests.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton stands astride the gulf between the two, suffering the stings and barbs that have been flung at her and her husband since before Bill Clinton served eight years as our president. If she grabs the Democratic nomination from Sanders and if she can survive all-out war with the Trumpinistas, how she will harness the energy Sanders and Trump have been fueling their campaigns with is not yet know.

"So the historic question for 2016 is which direction the popular revolt among American voters will ultimately take," wrote Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times. "A President Trump or President Cruz would build walls and waterboard suspected terrorists, a President Clinton or President Sanders would raise the minimum wage and invest in at-risk children."

What this campaign season seems to be about is the unfairness of the system.

"So it's healthy for American voters to be demanding change," wrote Kristoff. "But when societies face economic pain, they sometimes turn to reforms, and other times to scapegoats (like refugees this year). It seems to me to make more sense to target solutions than scapegoats, but sense is often in short supply in politics."

What also seems to be in short supply this election year is the ability for all of us to see past our own circumstances and step outside of ourselves to make judgments on solutions that would benefit all of us. John Rawls noted the only true way to achieve equality is to don a "veil of ignorance," under which we are all unaware of our social stations, whether they be advantaged or otherwise. Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson all wrote about the veil of ignorance's role in creating a social contract. The idea is that parties subject to the veil of ignorance will make choices based upon moral considerations, since they will not be able to make choices based on self- or class-interest.

According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Rawls believed each person has the same and permanent claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all. This principle means that everyone has the same basic liberties, which can never be taken away. "Rawls realized that a society could not avoid inequalities among its people. Inequalities result from such things as one's inherited characteristics, social class, personal motivation, and even luck. Even so, Rawls insisted that a just society should find ways to reduce inequalities in areas where it can act."

"All differences in wealth and income, all social and economic inequalities," wrote Rawls, "should work for the good of the least favored."

Without the veil of ignorance, writes Ben Rogers for the Prospect, "It is impossible to find any measure of welfare which all people really desire."

To the horror of libertarians who worship at the altar of Ayn Rand, Ronald Dworkin wrote that we should find ways of negating the impact of arbitrarily distributed handicaps. Dworkin also firmly believed that we find ways of ensuring that no one is rendered poorer by virtue of their inferior talents and their innate handicaps, whether those be physical or otherwise.

While Dworkin is vague about how to go about this, notes Rogers, "(H)e does suggest that it would require a much greater degree of economic equality than now exists, and this would in turn, presumably, require not just a dramatic increase in taxes on the rich but much greater resources spent on educating children from worst-off families."

But we suppose in this current election cycle, seemingly focused on hand size, e-mails, who can use what bathroom, who would be a better First Lady — or First Man, and who might pay for a wall along our southern border, it's probably too much to ask Americans to pick up a book of political philosophy or don a veil of ignorance. We are all so deep in our own predicaments that we refuse to recognize our similarities. We have been divided up into niches for the convenience of marketing and politics that we are blind to each other's needs. And the year of 2016 exemplifies that.


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