Public Reason: Vol. 11, No. 2, 2019
The Instability of The Law of Peoples and a Suggested Remedy
Lavender McKittrick-Sweitzer

Rawls’ The Law of Peoples is vulnerable to the criticism of instability, which is exemplified by his oversight of the aggressive state. In order to address this criticism in keeping with Rawls’ overall project, I argue that the grounds for intervention in the Society of Peoples ought to be extended from merely human rights violations to also include the imposition of unjust inequalities by one state upon another. I also argue that Rawls’ conception of public reason is too narrow, and must be expanded to include participation of all reasonable citizens, not merely representatives of the peoples with membership in the Society of Peoples. In refuting objections to each of these alterations, I establish that this two-part revision is a successful route to be taken in addressing the concern of instability while also remaining in keeping with – and perhaps making more Rawlsian – Rawls’ overall project. My solution does this by further advancing liberalism, reflecting a commitment to pluralism and the social contract tradition, and more resolutely recognizing a possible divergence in moral capacities between representatives and citizens.

Key words: Rawls, Law of Peoples, instability, modus vivendi.


McKittrick-Sweitzer, Lavender. 2019. The Instability of The Law of Peoples and a Suggested Remedy. Public Reason 11 (2): 19-35.