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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 21, May 25, 2024

Commanding prescription for furthering justice through privileging politics over economics | Vijay Kumar

Saturday 25 May 2024, by Vijay Kumar



Justice by Means of Democracy

by Danielle Allen

Indian Print by Satyam Books Pvt. Ltd.
Page 282
Price Rs.995/-

The ‘Theory of Justice’ by John Rawls was published in 1971, and since then has been holding the reign of most original work, at least in the post-second World War. The fundamental of Rawlsian paradigm was challenged first time by Prof. Amartya Sen in ‘Idea of Justice’ in 2009 by shifting the focus from “social contract” to “social choice”. After that Danielle Allen in her book ‘Justice by Means of Democracy’ in 2023 came out with the most powerful challenge to the very substratum of the theory of Justice’.
The basic theory in the book under review is that the surest path to justice is through democracy grounded in political equality. Allen, in the Introduction itself, discusses two types of liberties: Positive and negative. By positive liberty, she implies the right to participate whereas negative liberties mean the right to property, freedom of speech and expression, right to conscience and associated rights. She critiques Rawlsian theory by asserting that Rawls was preoccupied with negative liberties and ignored the right to public participation. According to Allen, democracy works in synergy with both positive and negative rights.

After laying down the basic premise grounded in political equality, Allen proceeds to supplement it with three subsidiary ideals in the form of social, political and economic equality. Thereafter, Allen delineates the five facets of political equality. The first facet of political equality is non-domination. The second facet consists of equal access to instruments of government and an equal chance to participate in decision-making. The third facet is what the author calls ‘epistemic egalitarianism’. The fourth facet is reciprocity, and the fifth facet of political equality is what the Author terms co-ownership of political institutions.

Having laid down the five facets of political equality, Allen proceeds to elaborate on the same. She underlines the importance of an equal share of control over the public institution, and this can be sub-served only through what the Author terms de-personalization of the power. By equal share, the Author means, collective intelligence rather than relying solely on experts. The democratic political institutions, according to her, constitute an asset owned by the people as a whole. Once this is achieved, the citizens can become co-owners and co-creators.

Thereafter, Allen moves to the concept of social equality, where she underscores on the significance of bridging, which must be associated with bonding and linking. After this, Allen comes out with her seminal theorization by propounding the doctrine of the ‘principle of difference without domination.’ It is this principle that leads to a ‘connected society’ in the social realm and an ‘empowering economy’ in the economic domain.

Before moving from the social dimension to the economic dimension, Allen expounds her new theorization and terms it ‘Polypolitanism’. By this terminology, she means that citizens have affiliations with multiple political communities, and thus have multiple voices. Here the author contrasts ‘Polypolitanism’ with ‘Cosmopolitanism’ and privileges ‘Polypolitanism’ over ‘Cosmopolitanism’ by arguing that ‘Cosmopolitanism’ merely creates a bond between national and international identity, whereas ‘Polypolitanism’ connects the human-being in more deepening sense. After the theorization of ‘Polypolitanism’, Allen moves to the next subsidiary ideal that pertains to empowering the economy. Here she dwells on workers’ right to participation and their equal shares in land, labour and capital. Thereafter, she argues that health of democracy requires full inclusion, and exclusion can be interrogated only through workers participation. She goes on to stress the desirability of purpose-driven rather than profit-driven firms. She further elaborates the concept of on ‘authentic purpose’ and the importance of relation in the pursuit of reciprocal justice. At this stage, she also highlights the importance of education in empowering the economy and prefers civic education to technology-oriented education and concludes the chapter of empowering the economy by advocating a shift from transactional to relational.

In Chapter 7, which is the last chapter, she sums up all her formulations by arguing that empowering all is the foundation for the participation of all. In the concluding chapter, she enunciates the idea of shared liberalism and shift from ‘rational choice’ to ‘justified choice’, as originally argued by Prof. Amartya Sen, and the act of human beings must be purposive. Allen wraps up her conclusion by theorizing that negative liberties can be enjoyed only after actualizing positive liberties. Drawing on Du Bois and Martin Luther King, she passionately argues that fellow human beings should be treated as ends, not means and all human beings must be enabled with equal capacity to deliberate, decide and take responsibility. Finally, in Allen’s conception, justice by means of democracy comes down to what citizens do, and she prescribes that the engagement of democratic citizens should be driven by purpose, not interest.

The most seminal contribution of the Book under Review is that it has succeeded in putting politics in the forefront. The neo-liberalism and globalisation led to the ascendency of economics over politics. Allen has established that politics contains more emancipatory contents than economics by emphasizing the importance of political equality as a first principle. Of course, the goal of political equality has to be supplemented with equality in the social and economic realm, but the multivalent character of public participation must remain the starting point. Allen has come out with a great and promising egalitarian agenda that can steer democratic politics by stimulating human flourishing.

(Author: Vijay Kumar, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India The author of recent book : “The Theory of Basic Structure : Saviour of the constitution and democracy”)

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