Coercion, Justification, and Inequality: Defending Global Egalitarianism

| September 2015
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Michael Blake’s excellent book Justice and Foreign Policy makes an important contribution to the ongoing debates about the kinds of values that should inform the foreign policy of liberal states. I share Blake’s commitment to universal liberal values and also his commitment to autonomy. We part ways, however, over a number of issues, including over the question of when egalitarian ideals of distributive justice apply. Blake holds that they apply only in the context of a coercive state. Others—such as myself—argue that egalitarian principles of distributive justice apply at the global level, and hence think it unjust that some people in the world enjoy vastly better opportunities for leading fulfilling lives than others. In this essay I explore Blake’s arguments against global egalitarianism. I focus in particular on the arguments he makes in chapter four and his defense of what he terms “the negative argument about distributive justice” (p. 5). The core idea of Blake’s “negative argument” is captured in the following statement:

The process of justifying coercive law to those coerced is one which issues in the demand for some principle of material equality to those coerced. If this is right, then the best story we have about why material inequality matters is one that makes essential reference to the coercive nature of a sovereign state (pp. 86–87).

Thus, on Blake’s view there is an intimate connection between the coercive state on the one hand, and the application of equality on the other. Blake then proceeds to spell out this core idea in two ways: one that focuses on the nature of democratic government and a second that explores the implications of justification. In what follows, I shall examine both arguments. I then draw attention to a general problem with his view.

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Category: Book Symposium: Justice and Foreign Policy, Issue 29.3

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