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Like Father, Like Son? Not Quite.

January 16th, 2003 · No Comments

It turns out that Alec Rawls, son of John Rawls (aka the late grand don of 20th century egalitarian philosophy) is a flaming libertarian! In an article in The American Enterprise about six years back, a profile of various “rebel children” included the following:

What happens when your father is not only a liberal, but one of the most prominent liberal political philosophers in the country? Ask Alec Rawls, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Stanford and son of the famous Harvard professor John Rawls. Although the elder Rawls is very circumspect on day-to-day political issues, his magnum opus The Theory of Justice provides a philosophic justification for the welfare state, and modern liberals have adopted him enthusiastically. Alec, on the other hand, is a free-market maven who excoriates the welfare state as both unconstitutional and insane.

Alec downplays the political differences between himself and his dad, insisting their conceptions of moral philosophy are at the core quite similar. He concludes, however, that his fatherâ??s â??principles of justiceâ? err in their emphasis on equalizing the human condition. â??Most of those who consider themselves my fatherâ??s followers embrace equality as an ultimate end or value in itself. That is the source of the politics of resentment that characterizes the illiberal Left.â?

â??I think my parents had a naïve optimism in the 1960s, and thought that just by going after the problems of poverty they would be competently resolved,â? notes the younger Rawls. â??I donâ??t think my father was awareâ??as we are all aware nowâ??of what goes wrong when we give government too much power.â? Alec, who has worked as a carpenter to pay for both his undergraduate and graduate education, holds a more pessimistic view of government. â??I love carpentry, but the government does idiotic things with building codes and licenses. Licenses are a government-sponsored monopoly, and building codes do not let people do what they want to do with their own property,â? Rawls complains. â??We need to use markets and individual choice over regulations, laws, and socialism.â?

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