Michelman on Poverty in Liberalism

Frank I. Michelman has posted his paper Poverty in Liberalism: A Comment on the Constitutional Essentials on SSRN.  Here is part of the abstract:

Does a political culture’s embrace of liberal constitutionalism – or does liberal political thought more generally – come laden with a deep-seated resistance to recognition of the injustice of structural poverty within a broadly affluent society, or to getting done politically whatever is required in order to abolish that injustice? For those inclined to say so, the philosophy of John Rawls might seem to pose a testing case. In our time, Rawls’s philosophical excavations of liberalism are the ones we might well regard as the most dedicatedly antipoverty of all, and so his works would seemingly be the last place to go hunting for evidence of an ineluctable resistance in liberalism to the subjugation of poverty by political means. If we find such evidence there, where in liberalism will we not?


This paper asks whether the Rawlsian exclusion of fair equality of opportunity from the constitutional essentials should be taken as a sign, even within the thought of Rawls, of the incapacity of liberal constitutionalism, with its prioritized commitment to individual rights and liberties, to grasp and respond fully to the injustice of avoidable structural poverty. The paper answers “no.”

Stefan Padfield