Rawls’ thin-good may be my go-to philosophical punching bag, I am not nearly the first person to critque him. He was lacerted by the communitarians of the 1970s and philosophers like Nausaum, today, have their way with him for similiar reasons. The idea that we should abolish all virtue ethics and most utilitarian ethics and any cultural value on art, beauty, and the like is one that would raise the ire of lots of people. Rawls thought the perfect world would be one where Kim Kardashian and Carl Sagan hold equal moral standing since they satisfy the only moral responsiblity of the individual in his system, respecting negative liberties.
What is less done is contemplating how to accomplish these normative and abstract critiques of Rawls in the abode of the empircal and tangible both in terms of a workable social system and one that could win in actual politics. Nausbaum is the current, main, antagonist of Rawls but she is famous where her thoughts are effectively worthless, among the ivory towers of academia and not the sweaty aisles of party conventions. John Rawls was a personal friend and regular guest of Bill Clinton while Nausbaum nor any other philosopher can say the same about anyone, currently, with real power.
While Rawls has normative critics, he is running wholly unopposed in the empirical. If you, as I, speak with the average Bernie Sanders supporter about what they think about morals and ethics, they spit out contradictory polemics about valuing kindness sometimes and believing all things between consenting adults are equally moral other times. They haven’t spent a minute in their entire lives doing philosophy which is apparent from obviously oxymoronic answers. If and when these people get elected and start introducing policies, they are clueless about how to address the alienated feelings of individuals who feel insignificant in the face of globalization.
They may support industry regulations and welfare programs but not even a handful are trying to use Jane Jacobs-y style urban design to abate the loneliness and despair the average Middle-American feels. They will often say “mental health care” as a way to handle such things but that is a pretty feeble and primitive response to a complex and nuanced problem that requires major social changes way more than using psychologists and drugs as a solution that ignores the social factors that caused the issues in the first place.
Building those communities means that responsibiltiies are going to have to, at least, equal rights. Dignity is going to have to be valued over rights. Lots of virtues are going to have to be instilled in people which means civic institutions, the arts (including pop culture), and education imparting the values of a civic religion (akin to that of Rouseau) to the up and coming generations. Which is a much more tangible way to oppose Rawls than anything Nausbaum has come up with. Jane Jacobs-style interconnected communities with institutions purveying a Rousaeu-style civic religion. That is a platform on which policies can be drafted.
Rawls has been attributed to the decline of liberalism since it demolishes the community, dignity, meaning, belonging, and such that people need psychologically leading to them seeking the relief to their lacking those things in things like nationalism. Philosophy, in all of its banter in the halls of the intellectuals, is useless to create anything to replace Rawls with until they have a polticial plan of action of policy and politcs. In addition to politics, they have to get into the culture. In a number of recent articles, I critiqued Twilight for narcssisism and a lack of altruisim, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood for promoting interpersonal hatred, and the entertainment industry, as a whole, for celebrating schadenfreude and having almost no interest in its opposite, mudita (the joy in another’s good fortune or success).
Narcisissism, schadenfreude, vengeance, hatred, are virtues perpetually taught by the great influencers of our culture without a counter of love, peace, or any benevolent virtue. The philosophers against Rawls do not try to get elected or pass any policies at high levels, they do not get zoning boards to build Jane Jacobs-y TNDs or New Urbanist communities, and they don’t go on TMZ to call on celebrities to end their feuds, forgive, and love each other. Philosophers are useless if the most public they get is NPR and the most practical they get is… No, they’re not even theoritcally designing potential social system that uses their philosophies. There is nothing practical or real and Rawls will keep winning.