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Group Members: Troy Tyrell and Tanel Panton

Course: Theories of the State (GT21B)

Tutor: Mr. McCalpin
Time: Wednesdays 12-1pm.

2. Compare and contrast Rawls’ theory of justice with Hayek’s version of freedom. In

doing so please outline and justify which theory provides a better explanation.

Rawls’ theory of justice was set forth in his classic work A Theory of Justice. Since its

conception it has been opened up to much discussion. In Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Rawls

argues for a reconciliation of liberty and equality. The general concept of John Rawls’ Theory of

Justice is that all social primary goods - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the

bases of self-respect are to be distributed equally. If there is however an unequal distribution

unequal, this will be seen an advantage of the least favored.

According to Rawls (1971), ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions’. He argues

that ‘an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice. Being

the first virtue of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising’. Rawls describes social

justice as a set of principles that provides a way of assigning rights and duties in the basic

institutions of society. They define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of

social cooperation.

Rawls argue that a society is well-ordered when it is not only designed to advance the

good of its members but when it is also effectively regulated by a public conception of justice.

That is, it is a society in which (1) everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same

principles of justice and, (2) the basic social institutions generally satisfy and are generally

known to satisfy these principles. However existing societies are of course seldom well-ordered

as a result there is usually a dispute as to what is just or unjust. Men often disagree about which

principles should define the basic terms of their association. For this reason Rawls formulate his

own concept of justice as found on the principles of the social contract of predecessor such as

Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. However, unlike his predecessors; Rawls’ social contract took a

different approach. Rawls developed what he claim are principles of justice through the use of a

methodological and hypothetical situation which he called “the original position” which

corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract.

In the original position everyone has the opportunity to determine or decide his/her own

principles of justice from behind a behind veil of ignorance. Rawls’ veil of ignorance essentially

blinds people to all facts about their personal identity that might cloud their judgment of what

justice is as behind the veil of ignorance they have no knowledge of their individual condition

including sex, race, nationality or class. Behind the veil of ignorance all individuals are simply

specified as rational, free and morally equal individuals. According to Rawls "no one knows his

place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the

distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even

assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological

propensities.’ To be fair in selecting the principles of justice, the possibility of bias must be

removed. Therefore according to Rawls the idea of operating from behind a veil of ignorance is

to ‘ensure that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principle by the outcome

of natural contingency of social circumstances. Since all are situated and one is able to design

principle to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of fair agreement

or bargain.’ Thus no individual would be willing to risk ending up in an intolerable position that

one had created for others but had no intention of being in himself. If an individual does not

know how he will end up in his conceived society, then he is unlikely to privilege one class of

people against another, but rather he would developed a scheme of justice that treats everyone

fairly. According to Rawls “they are the principles that rational and free persons concerned to

further their own interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the

fundamentals of the terms of their association. These principles are to regulate all further

agreements; they specify the kinds of social cooperation that can be entered into and the forms of

government that can be established.’ Therefore Rawls believe that individuals will make rational

choices which would lead to justice as fairness.

There are two principles of justice according to Rawls which rational individuals in the

original position will adopt to equate the principle of justice with fairness govern rights and

duties and regulate the distribution of social and economical advantages across society. He

maintained that the two principles of justice which would be agreed to by rational and mutually

disinterested individuals in the ‘original position’ of equality are that (1) each person has an

equal right to the most extensive basic liberties compatible with similar liberties for all also

known as equal liberty and (2) social and economic inequalities should be arranged so that they

are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged persons, and (b) attached to offices and

positions open to all under conditions of equality of opportunity known as the difference liberty.

According to Rawls, the principle of equal liberty is logically (and lexically) prior to the

difference principle, in that for justice to be attained the principle of equal liberty must be first

satisfied before the difference principle can be satisfied. Similarly, the second part of the

difference principle (b) must take priority to the first part (a) so that the conditions of fair

equality of opportunity are also guaranteed for everyone. According to Thompson (1990),

‘Rawls explains that the logical priority of the first principle of justice over the second principle

implies that violations of basic rights cannot be justified by arguing that such violations may

produce economic or social advantages. Furthermore, the logical priority of the first part of the

second principle over the second part implies that infringements upon fair equality of

opportunity cannot be justified by arguing that such infringements may produce economic or

social advantages.’

Hayek on the other hand is the leading modern exponent of the liberal concept of

freedom. Hayek’s definition of freedom involves one in which coercion of some by others is

reduced as much as possible in society. He further maintained that liberty is the state in which a

man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others”. According to Hamowy

(1978), ‘for Hayek, freedom is not the absolute liberty to do as one pleases, rather it is the

recognition of the necessity of law and morality in order to ensure that human interaction is

cooperative and orderly. Therefore unlike Rawls who believe that justice can only exist within

the coordinates of equality, Hayek understands freedom in the sense of that human cooperation,

social order, and economic prosperity are only possible where human freedom is maximized,

subject to the constraints of a legal and moral code. Hayek (1960), ‘ maintained that our tentative

indication of what is freedom is that it describes a state which man living among his fellows may

hope to approach closely but can hardly expect to realize perfectly’. Hayek therefore argues that

the task of freedom is to minimize coercion or its harmful effects, even if it cannot eliminate it


Hayek argues that freedom is solely a relationship among men and the only infringement

on freedom is coercion by men. He further argues that ‘the range of physical possibilities from

which a person can choose at a given moment has no direct relevance to freedom’. He contend

that whether a person is free or not does depend on the range of choices a person can make but

on the ability to shape his own course of action or whether somebody has manipulate him to act

in accordance to their wishes and his own. In this sense freedom thus presuppose that the

individual has some assured private sphere, that is, freedom is the ability to act in one’s private


He argues that having political freedom does not necessarily means that you are free, nor

does one need to be involved in political freedom to be considered as a free individual. He argues

that ‘it would be absurd to argue that young people who are just entering into active life are free

because they have given their consent to a social order into which were born: a social order to

which they probably know no alternative.”

Another version of freedom that Hayek subscribes to is that of ‘inner’ or ‘metaphysical’

freedom. He stated that ‘it is closely related to individual freedom’. It refers to the extent to

which a person is guided in his action by his considered will rather than the impulses of the

circumstance. That is a person can restrict his/her freedom. Hayek argues that opposite of “inner

freedom” is not coercion by others but the influence of temporary emotions, or moral or

intellectual weakness. He argues that if a person after recovering from his emotional and

intellectual weaknesses does not succeed in doing what he intended to do or ‘his strength desert

him at a decisive moment’, we may conclude that he is not free and a “a slave of his passion”.

Hayek argues that ‘it is dangerous to confuse the use of liberty to describe the physical

ability to do what I want or the power to satisfy the choice of alternative open to us or in other

words power’. This type of freedom he regards as an illusion. He maintained that “this confusion

of liberty with power in its original meaning inevitably leads to the identification of liberty with

wealth and it possible to exploit all the appeal which the word “liberty” carries in the support for

a demand for the redistribution of wealth. He argues that although both freedom and wealth are

good things which most of us desire, they still remain different. Above all being free does not

mean that you are happy. We may be free and still be miserable.

Liberty according to Hayek (1960) ‘does not mean all good things or the absence of all

evils. Our definition of liberty depends upon the meaning of coercion’. Coercion according

Hayek is ‘such control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another that, in order

to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to the a coherent plan of his own but to

serve the ends of another. Coercion is evil precisely because it eliminates the person will to act

and make him an instrument in the achievement of the ends of another. According to Hayek,

“coercion, however, cannot be altogether avoided because the only way to prevent it is by the

threat of coercion.

Therefore it is through the respective theorist theories, that Hayek provides a better

explanation. In opposition to the difference theory, justice is primarily related to individual

actions. Individual persons are the primary bearers of responsibility (the key principle of ethical

individualism). This raises two controversial issues in the contemporary debate that one could

regard the norms of distributive equality as applying to groups rather than individuals. It is often

groups that rightfully raise the issue of an inequality between themselves and the rest of society,

for example that of women, racial and ethnic groups. The question arises of whether inequality

among such groups should be considered morally objectionable in itself, or whether even in the

case of groups, the underlying concern should be how individuals (as members of such groups)

fare in comparative terms. If we are worried about inequalities among groups of individuals why

does this worry not translate into a worry about inequalities among members of the group?

Additionally, what Rawls doesn’t see is how a society based on the Difference Principle

would create conditions for resentment. For instance, I would know that my lower status is fully

“justified,” and would thus be deprived of excusing my failure as the result of social injustice.

Rawls thus proposes a terrifying model of a society in which hierarchy is directly legitimized in

natural properties. Friedrich Hayek knew that it is much easier to accept inequalities if one can

claim that they result from an impersonal blind force, so the good thing about irrationality of the

market success or failure in capitalism is that it allows me precisely to perceive my failure (or

success) as undeserved. The fact that capitalism is not “just” is thus a key feature that makes it

palpable to the majority. Therefore, I can accept much more easily my failure if I know that it is

not due to my inferior qualities, but to chance.

In addition liberalism is about individualism as opposed to collectivism. Hayek considers

liberalism to be the defense of individuals from the collectivist state. This does not mean,

however, that he is in favour of a weak state. It is our view that a strong state is necessary to

defend individual rights, especially that of economic rights. Hayek's two general themes are that

the managed society does not work and that it is incompatible with freedom. Here he argues that

there are two types of order that of the constructed order involving government planning or the

Spontaneous Order through the markets. Hayek believes that whilst the role of the state's

constructed order is important, it has to be limited. Hayek further states that constructed order

generally goes wrong if it does any more than provide favorable conditions for spontaneous

order. Which importantly, the most favorable condition to spontaneous order is the rule of law.

We are in favour that self-interest and the market meet human need more effectively than

benevolence or planning. Why it is our view and as postulated by Hayek, that planning threatens

political liberties. Government planning, he argues, puts governments in a position where to

support themselves they are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical. On the other hand, in a

market, decisions are de-centralized, given that it is in favour of consumer demands. With

planning they are concentrated in the state. This is economically in-efficient, but it also has

political consequences, because the power is concentrated. This was postulated in his work The

Road to Serfdom,, where he argued that planning threatens political liberties and that any amount

of state intervention is the ‘slippery slope of totalitarianism.’ Therefore Free market prices of

goods and services give us instructions about what society wants. Therefore If government

intervenes to stop the market operating, government instructions replace free-market

information. This means that instead of individuals deciding what they want, the government

decides what they should have. The extreme case of this is the totally planned economy. As there

is no market, many of decisions previously made when individuals decided to buy or sell

something now have to be centrally planned. This is economically inefficient, but it also has

political consequences. All that power is taken away from individuals and concentrated in the

planning authorities. Under such a system, Hayek argues, there cannot be any freedom. Given

that Freedom depends on the market. Hayek argues that the mixed economy gives the worst of

all possible worlds. Planning and the market do not mix.

In conclusion, freedom, according to Hayek, is the absence of coercion. It is a situation in

which the individual is not dependent on the arbitrary will of another. So called "positive

freedoms", Hayek claims, mean that people cease to be equal before the law and are subject to

the arbitrary will of the government.


1. Hamowy, R. (1978). Law and the liberal society. London: Pergamon Press.

2. Hayek, F. (1960). The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago


3. Horwitz, S. (2006). Hayek and Freedom. Retrieved January 19, 2011 from

4. Rawls, J. (2001). Justice as fairness: A restatement. Cambridge, MA: Belknap


5. Rawls, J. (1999a). A theory of justice (rev. ed.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

6. Rawls, J. (1996). Political liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.

7. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

8. Thompson, D. F. (1990). Political ethics and public office. Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press.