The Demands of Global Justice

This article considers a fundamental question in global justice: what do richer countries owe poorer countries? More generally, what obligations do we have to each other across national boundaries?

What do rich countries owe to poorer countries? One response is that the rich have the duty not only to avoid depriving the poor of the basic means of subsistence but also the duty to protect them from such deprivation and the duty to assist them when they are so deprived (see Shue, 1980). There is, on this view, a humanitarian duty – the duty to provide aid to the poor – to help people meet their basic needs. But what is the basis of this humanitarian duty, and what is its moral status with respect to other moral commitments individuals typically have? Peter Singer (1972), for instance, famously proposes a robust conception of our duty to provide aid that appears to many commentators to be unreasonably demanding since it does not leave sufficient space for the pursuit of our permissible valuable and obligatory personal and relational ends. Thus, even if we can find widespread agreement that the global rich have the responsibility to aid the poor in urgent cases, the grounds and hence the content and limits of this duty remain a matter of dispute.

What else do we owe to one another in an ideally just world? A world in which a duty of aid is honored and acted on will be a remarkably different one from our current, plainly unjust, world. But would this be all that global justice as an ideal demands? Can we call our world ideally just when death and suffering from avoidable deprivation of basic needs are addressed? We can imagine a world in which absolute deprivations of these sorts are eradicated but in which noticeable economic inequality remains. We are thus imagining a world with inequality but in which the inequality does not generate deprivation of basic needs. Should this inequality present a problem of justice in itself? Should global justice include also some commitment to regulate distribution of economic resources or opportunities against some benchmark of equal distribution of these? This further commitment of global justice concerns what we can call global egalitarianism. Of course global egalitarianism need not, and typically does not, mean absolute global egalitarianism in the sense that the just arrangement is one in which all have equal amounts of resources in the outcome. An egalitarian distributive commitment serves to restrict inequality; not that it has to necessarily eliminate inequality entirely. A humanitarian duty, on the other hand, has as its purpose that of ensuring that people are able to achieve a sufficient standard of living or level of human flourishing. In contrast to egalitarianism, we can call the latter a form of global “sufficientism” (e.g., Gilabert, 4).

Humanitarian duties and egalitarian duties are of course closely related in practice. A likely outcome of ensuring that people are able to meet some threshold level of sufficiency will be the reduction of inequality, since raising the standard of living for the poor will result in a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor, all else being equal. And if a necessary means of improving the absolute conditions of the poor is to redistribute resources from the rich to them, this will further reduce inequality. Moreover, limiting inequality is often an important strategy for mitigating poverty (and not just an outcome thereof), since inequality is one of the main causes of poverty. The greater the inequality, the easier it is for the less well off to be outbid in the competition for resources within a common economic system. Increasing inequality can result then in impoverishment if the relational change means that the poor find they now lack the purchasing power to acquire basic goods.

Nonetheless, humanitarianism and egalitarianism are distinct commitments. Global egalitarianism holds that global justice requires attention to inequality as a problem in itself; it is not only incidentally or strategically of interest with respect to global poverty. As noted above, it is a sensible question whether, if we are able to eliminate global poverty, a just world ought to be one in which there are some checks on economic inequalities between the well-off and less well-off. To be sure, inequality will be a less urgent matter were there no poverty or humanitarian concerns associated with it. But the question remains whether it is nonetheless a concern of justice, just as the question of whether justice within the state demands some egalitarian commitments to regulate economic inequality between citizens, distinct from the obligation to provide for their basic needs, is a staple debate in political philosophy. Indeed, much of the contemporary debate on global justice is centered around the issue of global egalitarianism: few of the participants in this debate deny that a just world has to be one in which people’s humanitarian needs are satisfied—the point of contention is usually whether global justice includes global egalitarianism.

1. Obligations to Eradicate Poverty

Philosophers thus typically acknowledge the problem of world poverty to be less of a philosophical challenge than a challenge of political will. In a sense this is right for few people, politicians included, will openly deny that world poverty represents a serious moral failing for humanity. Yet the seeming lack of political will in the global response to poverty is not entirely a non-philosophical one. This lack has to do in large measure to disagreements about the causes of world poverty, and disagreements about the basis and therefore the content and limits of our humanity obligations to address a recognized global problem. Moreover, there are always philosophical hold-outs, in this case global libertarians (as we can call them), who will deny that there is any obligation to assist the global poor. It would be too quick for philosophers to put aside problems of poverty and our responsibility in this regard as settled. Nicole Hassoun’s Globalization and Global Justice is a philosopher’s attempt to clarify the basis of our duty to assist the global poor, a clarification that she hopes will also deflect the global libertarian objection.

Hassoun’s basic argument, as I see it, is that since the global institutional order, in particular its economic order, is one that is coercive of all individuals in the world, this institutional arrangement is illegitimate unless it also attends to the basic subsistence needs of all individuals. But why should this be so? Why is there the need to legitimize this coercive global arrangement? Hassoun’s fundamental normative premise is that this would be an unjustifiable restriction of individual autonomy otherwise. Thus, the argument is that because individuals are autonomous, any coercive arrangements impacting them is by default illegitimate unless these arrangements “do what they can to ensure that their subjects secure food, water, and whatever else they need for autonomy” (Hassoun, 89). The point is not that coercive arrangements violate autonomy-based rights as such. It is that if the conditions of autonomy (such as access to basic needs) are not protected, individuals are in no position to consent to any coercive subjection. This absence of consent introduces a problem of legitimacy.

To situate Hassoun’s project in the larger philosophical literature, consider Thomas Pogge’s well-known account of our responsibility to address global poverty (Pogge, 2001). For Pogge, it is the fact that the global advantaged are helping (in a range of ways) to sustain a global economic order that is harming the poor that imposes a duty of justice on the rich to respond to the poor’s plight. The duty to address poverty is, in Pogge’s account, a duty based in justice to make good the harms that we the rich are inflicting or have inflicted on the poor. The rationale for Pogge’s focus on the factual claim that the world order is harming the poor is that he wants a normative starting point that is as ecumenical as possible. Any plausible moral position, Pogge believes, accepts that we have a fundamental duty not to harm others, and thus the auxiliary duty to make amends for any harm we cause or are causing. Thus the focus in this approach centers on the empirical matter of whether and how the world order is indeed harming the poor, and how the rich are implicated as a class in this wrong. The debate over our obligations in response to world poverty is thus recast as a factual one about how the rich are contributing to the poor’s plight. Consider, in contrast, a different normative starting point, say that of Henry Shue (1980,2), who takes it that we have as a basic moral obligation the positive duty to assist those deprived of basic needs. On this account, it is immaterial whether the deprivation confronting us is caused by us or not—the fact of its existence is sufficient for creating an obligation on those able to respond. The point here is not to get into the debate surrounding these two approaches, but to point out that it is significant for Pogge that he establishes the harmful or coercive character of the world order because of his modest normative presumption—that our sole responsibility to each other is to avoid interfering with one another.

Hassoun’s approach takes it to be important that the world order be exposed as a coercive one; yet she also justifies her conclusion that coercion stands in need of legitimization because of its repercussions for individual autonomy. But if individual autonomy is that significant, why can’t we just draw the conclusion that we have the obligation to ensure that persons have access to food, water and so on because autonomy is impeded without access to basic subsistence? Coercion seems to play no role in the argument. Whether the global order is coercive or not is immaterial: what is relevant is that the global order provides for people’s basic needs because individual autonomy is not respected otherwise. Indeed, Hassoun’s own presentation of her thesis suggests this much. Her argument proceeds in two steps that can be summarized as follows (Hassoun, 89). First, autonomy means that persons have the “autonomy-based” human right to food, water and other means of subsistence they need “for sufficient autonomy”. Second, “to be legitimate, any coercive institutions must do what they can to ensure for their subjects food, water and whatever else they need for autonomy” (ibid., my italics). But if there is an autonomy-based human right to subsistence, then it is not only the case that coercive institutions must provide for the means of subsistence. Anyone and any institutions have the responsibility to assist those deprived, irrespective of coercion. The fact of coercion seems normatively redundant. Perhaps coercion has a role within an account of how to assign and allocate the imperfect (positive) obligation to protect people’s autonomy; but it is less clear why it is a necessary part of an argument that generates obligations given Hassoun’s own premise about individual rights.

Indeed, in the current debate on global justice, coercion is usually invoked not to justify the duty of humanitarian aid but rather the duty of egalitarian justice. For instance, Michael Blake’s influential paper, “Distributive Justice, State Coercion and Autonomy” (Blake, 2001), takes respect for personal autonomy alone sufficient to ground the concern for people’s “absolute deprivation”. That is, the respect for autonomy straightforwardly engages a commitment to provide for people’s basic needs. For Blake, the fact of coercion is relevant only when considering this further question: Do we have the duty to respond to inequality? That is, should we attend to people’s “relative deprivation” as well? It is only here that coercion matters—the fact of institutional coercion for Blake, coupled with the fundamental concern for autonomy, is what generates distributive egalitarian obligations. Blake’s point in his paper is that since there is institutional coercion in the domestic setting – that is, in the context of the state -- but not in the global setting, one can consistently endorse egalitarianism within the state and not be a global egalitarian. A reader then might wonder if Hassoun’s coupling of autonomy with coercion is not redundant for her purpose (of establishing the case for duties to address poverty), or whether she ought to, to avoid underplaying her hand, arrive at a more robust claim: that global justice includes global egalitarian obligations.

However, if Hassoun’s main target is kept in mind, the redundancy concern is perhaps circumvented. She has a different opponent from Blake’s. Hassoun is addressing the libertarian who denies that we have any positive duty to assist another. Blake is addressing the liberal egalitarian, and his appeal to autonomy as the value that creates positive obligations to attend to people’s basic needs will be rejected from the outset by the libertarian. To face the libertarian challenge, a more modest normative starting point (as in Pogge’s approach) has to be adopted. Pogge adopts a basic no-harm principle for his starting premise. Hassoun’s is legitimacy, specifically the idea that individuals must consent to any coercive order if that order is to win legitimacy. Hassoun wants to make the case that libertarians, who are themselves concerned foremost about the legitimacy of authority, will have to acknowledge that the global order faces a certain legitimacy crisis unless individuals under its sway are in a position to give consent, and to give consent one must be autonomous to some extent. Her argument then is that autonomy would require that persons’ basic needs are provided for since these are the preconditions for exercising autonomy.

Confronting and responding to the global libertarian is not without use, and this is Hassoun’s motivating goal. Libertarians have been rather ignored in the debate on global justice for the most part, since this debate, as mentioned, has largely focused on the choice between egalitarianism and humanitarian aid. The proponents in this debate accept that there are duties of humanitarian aid and their disagreement concerns whether there is a duty of egalitarian distribution. Hassoun’s discussion reminds us that global libertarianism remains a philosophical position that needs to be addressed rather than bracketed. As John Stuart Mill has taught us, at the very least we learn much about our own commitments even when we are right by testing them against challenges.

Hassoun’s fine book identifies the different ways in which the global order is a coercive order, and this is useful material. It also, as indicated above, introduces questions of the legitimacy of the global order, questions that have wide-ranging implications concerning the extent of our obligations of justice to each other. Importantly, even if we (unlike libertarians) accept that the idea of autonomy imposes obligations on us immediately to respond to basic needs deprivation, this duty remains imperfect and subject to some agential discretion. Who exactly has the duty to provide, and in what form and to what extent? How is this duty of assistance to be balanced against other commitments agents also have? These are questions that will plague even those, who unlike libertarians, accept that the value of autonomy alone generates positive obligations on the part of others. Hassoun’s recourse to coercion may also be read as an attempt to sort out this second stage question: that we are responsible for imposing a coercive arrangement on others does not so much generate a duty on our part to respond to needs deprivation (we already have this responsibility because of the ideal of personal autonomy), but it does limit what we might think as the reasonable discretionary space of how we have to respond. The fact of coercion transforms what is a duty of beneficence (which we have on account of personal autonomy) into a demanding and non-discretionary duty of justice (which we have because we are coercing people).

There are some commentators, like Blake (mentioned above), who hold that coercive arrangements of certain kinds generate not just the obligation to attend to basic needs but also the obligation to regulate economic inequality among those subject to the coercion. For Blake personal autonomy is unjustifiably violated otherwise. Blake’s observation, however, is that the global order is not coercive in the morally relevant sense that is required to generate this commitment. In contrast, Hassoun’s book points out that global order is coercive in the very ways Blake denies that it is. Her descriptions suggest that global coercion is rather systemic, it is legally entrenched, there are authoritative bodies effectively doing the coercion, and so on. On Blake’s thesis, this would be sufficient for generating distributive egalitarian commitments among persons in the world as a whole. Moreover, on Hassoun’s own terms, one might point out that individual capacity to consent to authority is not properly realized if there is significant inequality among persons. Can the significantly disadvantaged even though not impoverished be in a position to really consent to the global order if their bargaining power is weak relative to others’? The disadvantaged (as opposed to the impoverished) may not object to the present global order because this might be good enough compared to any alternative they could hope for (given their weaker bargaining position). But this need not translate into their having given consent, at least not in the sense of consent that Hassoun will be pleased with, I think. No doubt Hassoun has a particular objective in the book, namely to defeat the libertarian opposition to assisting the global poor. So this is not a criticism of her work. But it is an interesting question whether her argument in response to the libertarian can also go on to ground the stronger claim that global justice requires global egalitarian commitments as well. It seems to me that it can.

2. Global Egalitarianism

Pablo Gilabert’s From Global Poverty to Global Equality also confronts the libertarian challenge to global humanitarianism. Gilabert defends the duty to respond to global poverty using T.M. Scanlon’s well-known contractualist principle (Scanlon, 1998), which holds, to quote Gilabert, “that we ought to follow principles that no one could reasonably reject” (Gilabert, 278). For Gilabert, contractualism shows that we have non-derivative positive duty to assist the global poor, in contrast with Pogge’s approach (as mentioned briefly above and which Gilabert engages with) that takes our duty of assistance to be derivative of a more fundamental moral fact (such as the fact we are harming people). Indeed, in this respect, Gilabert diverges from Hassoun as well, and their books present a helpful contrasting pair of positions on this matter.

Gilabert, however, also goes on to make the case for global egalitarianism. In the recent debate, many skeptics of global egalitarianism tend to hold what might be called an “associativist” view of distributive equality. On the associativist view, distributive egalitarian commitments hold only among persons who stand in some social or political relationship to each other (hence “associativist”). There can be a case for global egalitarianism then only if the global order can be described or idealized as an association of a particular kind. For example, Thomas Nagel (2005) has argued that distributive egalitarian commitments take hold only among subjects of a coercive political arrangement of which they are also seen as joint authors. However, since the global order (unlike domestic society) is not an association of this kind, there is no global egalitarian obligation.

Associativist theories, in the context of the global justice debate, are often invoked in the service of what is typically called “statism”. Statism in this particular discourse stands for the view that egalitarian distributive commitments do not apply outside the context of the state. That is, statism rejects global egalitarianism. Statists need not also deny that there can be duties to attend to the deprivations of serious poverty (e.g., Blake and Nagel accept this duty). Their objection is specifically directed to egalitarianism, not humanitarian aid.

An alternative to associativism is the view that distributive egalitarianism is an ideal that holds between persons as such. This might be in turn due to some understanding of the moral status of persons, but the egalitarian ideal holds between individuals independently of any particular antecedent associational framework. Gilabert refers to this class of later positions as “humanist egalitarianism” (Gilabert, 9). If associativism of some kind is true—if egalitarian commitments are sparked only in the context of some associational relationships—then humanist egalitarianism must be false. To motivate the humanist approach to global justice, Gilabert expertly and critically surveys some of the prominent associativist theories. As the contemporary debate on this matter suggests, different associativist theories may be right in their identification of conditions that activate egalitarian commitments; but what is questionable is whether they have exhausted the sufficient conditions for equality. Gilabert’s own thoughtful evaluation reinforces this point.

For Gilabert, the basic idea that “all individual persons are ultimate units of equal moral respect and concern for everyone” (which he calls the idea of “Cosmopolitan Idea of Moral Equality”) provides a “prima facie” reason for humanist egalitarianism. I find Gilabert’s move intuitive and appealing and have tried to defend this general position elsewhere (see Kok-Chor Tan (2011). But associativists will question the claim that the moral equality of persons entails a default of equality in distribution. In response to this, Gilabert offers arguments, essentially contractualist in form, to bridge moral equality with equality in distribution. The basic idea is that a global institutional order that does not institute some egalitarian commitments is one that persons can reasonably reject. Associativists, however, are not likely to accept this claim. Is it really the case that a global order that does not institute some egalitarian obligations is one that persons, seen as free and equal, can reasonably reject? Contractualism will require certain guarantees against persons falling below a certain level in quality of life – a global order that fails to do this, like ours at present, is one that persons can reasonably object to. But more arguments seem to be needed to show that global egalitarianism is the standard that will be settled for. Still, global egalitarianism is a plausible (if not proven) outcome of a global contractualist procedure between equal individuals, and Gilabert can be seen to be providing an interpretation of what equal moral concern entails that is plausible on its own terms.

Gilabert does not say what his global egalitarian principle is: it cannot just be the claim that everyone is entitled to an equal distribution of something (even if we are agreed on that something). The egalitarian default or benchmark is just a presumption of any egalitarian distributive principle; a complete principle has to then specify the conditions under which departures from this benchmark are acceptable. John Rawls’s difference principle (Rawls, 1971) is a good example: the difference principle allows for inequality on the condition that the arrangement that results in this inequality is the arrangement under which the worst off class benefits most compared with feasible alternative arrangements. Does Gilabert’s deployment of contractualism result in an agreement on a principle of this sort or some other sort? An indication of what a global egalitarian distributive principle should look like (even if it is a version of Rawls’s difference principle) would help the reader better appreciate Gilabert’s project, especially if we are to read it, as suggested above, as an attempt to provide the best interpretation of what it means to treat all persons with equal respect qua persons.

There is much else to discuss and recommend in Gilabert’s book. There are helpful discussions on the difference between humanitarian duties and duties of justice; insights on our responsibilities in non-ideal conditions (where for example just institutions are absent); and useful remarks on feasibility conditions and justice. His discussion of the tension between cosmopolitan humanism and special concern for compatriots, wherein cosmopolitan values set certain constraints on patriotic commitments, is worthy, and again his general views on this matter are ones that I share (Kok-Chor Tan, 2003 and 2004). Even though “humanistic” cosmopolitanism is more a general category than a unique substantive position on global justice, it serves as a very useful normative category in contrast with the associativist position.

3. Between Statism and Egalitarianism

As we saw, Gilabert’s book takes the side of global egalitarians against statists on the question of global distributive justice. But are these the only two alternatives? Again, the statist is not necessarily one who denies that there is some duty to address absolute deprivation; what the statist rejects is the global duty of distributive equality. But is there a third position that says that while our global duties are more demanding than the duty to provide basic needs they do not include a distributive egalitarian duty? In Justice in a Globalized World, Laura Valentini makes the case for this third alternative. She calls this the “third wave” in global justice that is distinct from statism and global egalitarianism (which Valentini refers to simply as “cosmopolitanism”). On her approach, “global justice requires more than statist assistance, but less than full-blown cosmopolitan equality” (Valentini, 20).

The starting point of Valentini’s analysis, as with Hassoun, is the problem of coercion. Principles of justice are principles that establish “when coercion is justified” (Valentini, 4). So here we have another interesting point of contact and comparison among the books under review here. While Hassoun invokes coercion to ground humanitarian duties of assistance, Valentini calls on coercion to support obligations that are more robust than duties of assistance. For Valentini, coercion is a problem of justice because it “involves non-trivial restrictions of freedom as independence” (Valentini, 178).

Valentini takes justice to be freedom from domination; for her this means that concerns of justice kick in only among persons who are interacting and dependent on each other in some respects (Valentini, 185). Coercion, whether interpersonal or systemic, results in loss of freedom as independence. Where people are interacting and imposing arrangements on each other, there is the potential of threat to personal freedom. Justice considerations arise, then, where there is this interaction and shared institutional arrangement in order to ensure that relations between persons do not result in domination or in the loss of independence for anyone.

That justice concerns get animated only in the context of interaction and shared institutions provides one difference between Valentini and many cosmopolitan egalitarian accounts. Many cosmopolitans, like Gilabert, take justice to be a value anterior to interaction. For them, there can be concerns of justice between us and any newly discovered society with whom we have had no prior engagement (see, e.g., Gilabert, 217-19). Moreover, if the function of justice is to ensure freedom from domination among interacting agents, this reduces the significance of egalitarianism as a concern of justice. There is no egalitarian distributive default that we argue from—if there is to be equality, we argue towards it from some notion of equal freedom. More importantly, because domestic institutions are different from global institutions, the problems of coercion each creates are different and therefore call on different principles of justice (to justify the different forms of coercion). For Valentini, this is an important point that cosmopolitans who accept an institutional approach to justice overlook—they fail to appreciate that the global institutional order is different in kind from the domestic basic structure.

Thus, global justice requires the regulation of the major global institutions, especially the main global economic institutions, to ensure the absence of domination of some by others. But this exhortation—that global justice requires a global order that is inclusive and non-oppressive—does not amount to global egalitarianism according to Valentini. This is the main substantive difference between Valentini’s “third” position and cosmopolitanism: global justice does not call for global egalitarianism. On the other hand, Valentini’s account is different from the statistism since global inclusiveness demands more than simply humanitarian assistance. It requires interpersonal actions and institutional reforms that go well beyond merely providing people with the means of subsistence. To set up the polar opposites in between which she wants to position her conception of global justice, Valentini provides an incisive survey of the statist and cosmopolitan alternatives, and points to what she believes to be flaws of each. Among the main problems are that statists fail to acknowledge that the global order is institutional and coercive and not merely an non-institutional one (and hence a site of justice potentially), and that cosmopolitans mistakenly think that the global institutional order is no different in kind from domestic institutions (and hence global justice is simply domestic justice writ large).

Valentini occasionally compares her account with John Rawls’s law of peoples (Rawls, 1999) to show the way in which her view is not statist (e.g., Valentini, 72-73). This is perhaps a little unfortunate because Rawls’s own account can be seen as an instance of Valentini’s middle position rather than a statist one. Rawls certainly rejects cosmopolitan egalitarianism; but it is also clear that Rawls does not say that our global duties consist only of duties of humanitarian assistance. Rather, Rawls’s duty of assistance, instead of being humanitarian in the sense Valentini has in mind, can be rather robust. Its aim is to ensure that peoples are able to support and sustain well-ordered and functioning institutions of their own within the cooperative order of the Society of Peoples where each people is regarded as a free and equal member. This seems to me to be a description of Valentini’s own understanding of global justice and the duties we have to each other that are grounded on the commitment to respect the freedom and equality of each people. To be sure, Rawls treats peoples (i.e., societies) rather than individuals as the basic units of free agency in his account; but Valentini’s conception of global justice seems too to be concerned ultimately with preserving the freedom and equality (ie sovereignty) of states as a means of ensuring the freedom of persons within (e.g., Valentini, 204).

Valentini’s ideal of global justice is, however, clearly distinct from more obviously statist accounts like Blake’s and Nagel’s (Blake, op cit., 6 and Nagel, op cit., 8.). And her disagreement with these commentators is significant. Whereas, for example, Blake denies that coercion on the global level is relevant for the purpose of grounding any special distributive obligations, Valentini’s thesis is that global coercion is normatively relevant, and while this doesn’t go all the way towards supporting egalitarian commitments, the fact of global coercion is sufficient to generate other kinds of distributional obligations. Hence, Valentini’s book provides a response to Blake and Nagel on their own terms: starting with coercion, Valentini attempts to show, contra Blake and Nagel, that we can arrive at an account of our global duties that is more demanding than they think, even if these are not egalitarian duties.

But what exactly is Valentini’s principle of distribution and in what way is it not egalitarian? It is hard to assess this question because Valentini does not propose a distributive principle. Her task is to provide a “normative framework” for thinking about this matter. This is fair enough, and she succeeds in sketching out a very plausible alternative framework based on the moral significance of coercion and domination. But she does not establish in my view the case that global justice cannot be egalitarian in the same way as domestic justice because of this normative starting point. Why is a distributional principle that is more than “sufficientist” and that aims to regulate relations between agents for the purpose of mitigating or preempting coercion not an egalitarian distributional commitment? If this principle seeks to control inequality between the relevant parties, is it not in form an egalitarian principle? So even if Valentini is right that a global distributive principle need not be identical to a domestic distributive principle, this does not alone prove that the global principle cannot be egalitarian. There can be different patterns of egalitarian distribution if we like; that is, different egalitarian principles can establish different conditions limiting inequality. Thus, just as there can be different sufficientist principles that will provide different conceptions of the threshold of entitlements or flourishing persons are entitled to meet, so there can be different kinds of egalitarian distributive principles with different understandings of the conditions of admissible inequalities. A global distributive principle grounded on the fundamental commitment to individual freedom from domination can, we grant, take a different form from a domestic principle grounded on the same fundamental commitment. But if this principle is in the business of regulating inequality for the sake of ensuring freedom, it is strictly speaking an egalitarian principle. One might be tempted to think then that Valentini has not so much identified a third position as provided another grounding for global egalitarianism, one that is based on the ideal of freedom and non-domination. This global principle need not take the form of Rawls’s difference principle, but it can still be egalitarian.

In other words, it seems to me that if there is a distributive principle whose aim is to regulate inequality for whatever reason and to whatever specified degree, it counts as egalitarian. In contrast, if a distributive principle aims at some absolute threshold, then it is sufficientist independently of how weakly or robustly it defines this threshold. So there can be different egalitarian principles and different sufficientist principles. Statism, as Valentini defines it, is a kind of sufficientism but there are more robust sufficientist alternatives to statism (of which Rawls’s duty of assistance is one). Likewise, there can be more or less demanding forms of egalitarianism, of which global egalitarianism as Valentini defines it is one possible, and very demanding, version. Presenting the contrast in the general form of sufficientism and egalitarianism, the question becomes, contra Valentini, not that of the possibility of a third alternative but what versions of sufficientism or egalitarianism to endorse.

These comments are prompted by the originality and clarity of Valentini’s book. Valentini reminds us that there are more options than a weak form of global sufficientism as given by statism, and a demanding global egalitarianism as given by the main cosmopolitan theories. Although, as noted above, I think the formal possibilities remain limited to either sufficientism or egalitarianism, Valentini’s book tells us that there are different versions of each and that the global context may require a form of sufficientism or egalitarianism (which I would favor) that is different in content from its domestic correlate.

4. Concluding Remarks

The books under review here address central philosophical questions on global justice. What is the basis of our duty to assist the global poor ? Are these duties that derive from some other moral fact (coercion) or are they non-derivative, stemming immediately from what it is we owe to each other qua moral agents ? And how can we understand the limits of these duties ? Does global justice include also an egalitarian commitment, that is, a commitment to regulate economic inequality between states, or between persons in the world as a whole ? What is the basis of any egalitarian obligation ? Can it be the case that egalitarian commitments apply domestically but not globally ? If so, why the difference ? Finally, can there be a third alternative to the statist and egalitarian positions, that allow for significant global duties among societies but not necessarily duties of egalitarian justice ? The fine books by Hassoun, Gilabert and Valentini are valuable contributions to the growing body of philosophical work on these questions. Indeed, in addition to their distinctive and original contribution to the debate, each of the books engage fairly and thoroughly with the main existing accounts. They can in this regard also serve as helpful critical surveys of a complex area of inquiry and they provide useful organizations of an increasingly crowded and untidy field of discourse. These books also demonstrate the richness of the global justice debate when compared with each other : they show the interesting substantive disagreements stemming from the same starting premises, and they offer competing perspectives and methods on the same questions.

Finally, these works suggest that global justice is not a separate area of inquiry that need not be of interest for philosophers and political theorists who are not working on global issues as such. What Hassoun, Gilabert and Valentini show us is that investigating the questions of global justice can shed light on some fundamental issues in moral and political philosophy. We are compelled to reexamine duties of assistance and beneficence ; we are compelled to reexamine our understanding of the basis of egalitarian justice ; addressing the problem of global coercion as a special case provides an opportunity for clarifying our understanding of what coercion is. Indeed, the last few years have seen a slew of important papers on the grounds and reach of distributive egalitarian justice that are directly motivated by the debate on global justice. Rather than being a special sub-field of marginal interest to moral and political philosophy, the subject of global justice provides a special vantage point from which to reassess existing debates of justice, beneficence and obligations, as these new books show. The problems of global justice, we might say, present test cases that any plausible theory of justice has to address.

Source: Kok-Chor Tan,
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