What Rawls creates is an enormously active government whose goal is to provide the primary goods, including the sense of one’s own worth, and therefore to encourage the attitudes that support the production and equal distribution of those goods. What can the future of liberty be in such a scheme? Liberty is, to be sure, Rawls’s first principle of justice, but it is qualified by having to be “compatible with a similar liberty for others.” Rawls does not elaborate the extent of that qualification. There is, to repeat, no natural-right teaching in Rawls, no absolute limit of any kind. All freely chosen life-plans must be restricted by the fundamental demands of social union. Conflict will be resolved practically and theoretically in favor of society. We have only Rawls’s assurance that nothing important can fail to find acceptance within the terms set by the original position. Man’s plasticity, made even greater by the absence of nature and its limits, permits all those little adjustments in men which will make the idea of social union possible. Society is the one absolute in Rawls’s thought, although it is without foundation.
And what is the purpose of all of this? An artificial happiness of an artificial man. Rawls’s promised society is a desert. It feeds on false tales—stories about its being the final product of evolution and history, stories that make unequal things appear to be equal. Democracy, which was to free us from the myths which perverted nature, becomes the platform for a strident propaganda that denies nature for the sake of equality, as the myths of conventional aristocracies denied nature for the sake of inequality. The community desired is one without tension, without guilt (except for those who do not go along), without longing, without great sacrifices or great risks, one made for men’s idle wishes and for the sake of which man has been remade. The language of maximum liberty, diversity and realization of capacities is so much empty talk, the only function of which is to support our easygoing self-satisfaction.
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