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As Free and as Just as Possible: The Theory of Marxian Liberalism

ISBN: 978-0-470-67412-3
256 pages
May 2012, Wiley-Blackwell
As Free and as Just as Possible: The Theory of Marxian Liberalism (0470674121) cover image


Grafting the Marxian idea that private property is coercive onto the liberal imperative of individual liberty, this new thesis from one of America's foremost intellectuals conceives a revised definition of justice that recognizes the harm inflicted by capitalism's hidden coercive structures.

  • Maps a new frontier in moral philosophy and political theory
  • Distills a new concept of justice that recognizes the iniquities of capitalism
  • Synthesis of elements of Marxism and Liberalism will interest readers in both camps
  • Direct and jargon-free style opens these complex ideas to a wide readership
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations ix

Preface xi

1 Overview of the Argument for Marxian Liberalism 1

2 Marx and Rawls and Justice 29

2.1 Marx’s Theory of Capitalism and Its Ideology 30

2.2 Rawls’s Theory of Justice as Fairness 39

2.3 Rawls on Marx 52

2.4 Marx and Justice 57

2.5 Marxian Liberalism’s Historical Conception of Justice 61

3 The Natural Right to Liberty and the Need for a Social Contract 67

3.1 A Lockean Argument for the Right to Liberty 70

3.2 Our Rational Moral Competence 78

3.3 From Liberty to Lockean Contractarianism 88

4 The Ambivalence of Property: Expression of Liberty and Threat to Liberty 94

4.1 Locke, Nozick, and the Ambivalence of Property 96

4.2 Kant, Narveson, and the Ambivalence of Property 102

4.3 Marx and the Structural Coerciveness of Property 111

5 The Labor Theory of the Difference Principle 122

5.1 The Moral Version of the Labor Theory of Value 123

5.2 The Labor Theory of the Difference Principle 128

5.3 Finding a Just Distribution 133

5.4 Is the Difference Principle Biased? 141

5.5 Answering Narveson and Cohen on Incentives 147

6 The Marxian-Liberal Original Position 158

6.1 Property and Subjugation 160

6.2 The Limits of Property 163

6.3 The Marxian Theory of the Conditions of Liberty 168

6.4 Inside the Marxian-Liberal Original Position 172

6.5 The Difference Principle as a Historical Principle of Justice 183

7 As Free and as Just as Possible: Capitalism for Marxists, Communism for Liberals 190

7.1 The Just State 191

7.2 Capitalism for Marxists 195

7.3 The Marxian-Liberal Ideal: Property-Owning Democracy 197

7.4 Communism for Liberals 204

Conclusion: Marx’s “Liberalism,” Rawls’s “Labor Theory of Justice” 210

Index 221

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Author Information

Jeffrey Reiman is the William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy at American University in Washington, DC. A central figure in numerous political and philosophical debates in America, including those on abortion and criminal justice, he is the author of In Defense of Political Philosophy (1972), Justice and Modern Moral Philosophy (1990), Critical Moral Liberalism: Theory and Practice (1997), The Death Penalty: For and Against (with Louis Pojman, 1998), Abortion and the Ways We Value Human Life (1999), The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice, 10th edn. (with Paul Leighton, forthcoming), and more than a hundred articles on philosophy and criminal justice.

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“In the preface, Reiman says he hopes the book will be of interest to both the educated layperson and the professional philosopher; in this respect it succeeds admirably.  Written in clear and lucid prose, the book will be a valuable resource for students looking for an introduction to Marx and Rawls’s thought on freedom, justice and capitalism.”  (Res Publica, 1 March 2013)

“In this way, Reiman’s exciting book is a new and timely contribution for us today.”  (Marx And Philosophy Review of Books, 2 June 2014)

“It is likely that Reiman has good replies to these critical comments. In any case, independently of whether his core argument succeeds or falters, the distinctions, concepts, and arguments Reiman develops in As Free and as Just as Possibleare of great significance. They need to be studied and discussed by all those interested in Marx and justice, the real conditions of freedom, Rawls, and post-capitalism.”  (Social Theory and Practice, 1 October 2013)

“As Free and as Just as Possible offers a very accessible introduction to two major political thinkers, John Rawls and Karl Marx, to the relation between their respective theories and the work of John Locke and Immanuel Kant, as well as more recent theories of Jan Narveson and G.A. Cohen.”  (Krisis, 1 December 2013)

“Written in clear and lucid prose, the book will be a valuable resource for students looking for an introduction to Marx and Rawls’s thought on freedom, justice and capitalism. But specialists will also find much of interest here, too, since as we have seen the book is not just an overview of Marx and Rawls’s thought on these issues, but an imaginative attempt to fuse their insights to create a new theory of social justice. Whether or not one is fully convinced by that final synthesis, Reiman deserves credit for attempting to show that, while the idea of combining liberal and socialist has a history, it may still have a future.”  (Res Publica, 8 October 2013)

“This is an important effort to reinvigorate modern liberalism by applying essential insights from a fading Marxism.  Summing Up:  Highly recommended.  General readers, graduate students, and research faculty.”  (Choice, 1 September 2013)

A lucid analysis of Rawlsian liberalism and Marxian theory that shows the strengths and limits of each. This would be enough to make the book essential reading, but the author goes on to provide a robust defense of Marxian Liberalism: an imaginative blend of the right to liberty with the Marxist critique of private property.
- Howard McGary, Rutgers University

Reiman’s exciting new book challenges the thinking of political philosophers on both left and right. Reiman argues that Marx’s critique of the injustice and domination endemic to capitalism must be combined with the commitment to individual freedom which is the core value of liberalism. The book provides impressively clear and accessible discussions of sophisticated philosophical ideas. It is simultaneously a solid, original, and timely contribution to political philosophy and a good candidate for an undergraduate textbook.

- Alison M. Jaggar, University of Colorado at Boulder

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