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Justice and Modern Moral Philosophy.

Jeffrey Reiman, Justice and Modern Moral Philosophy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, 322 pp.

Jeffrey Reiman has written a stimulating and provocative book on the nature of morality. In a clear prose, well accessible to students, practitioners, and well-informed alike, he explicates his moral principles based on the requirements of nonsubjugation. Not to be conceived of as a blueprint, but rather a set of ideals and principles that may orient practice, his moral principles are relevant for a critical examination of what subjects owe to each other in capitalism, socialism, and communism. Whether capitalism itself, given other contemporary systems, may provide the least amount of subjugation is an open question for Reiman (p. 257). All told, Reiman critically examines, in a clear-headed, nondogmatic style the wherewithal of morality in contemporary society.

Reiman, who at many points acknowledges his indebtedness to Rawls' treatise, A Theory of Justice (1971), clearly spells out his key assumptions (truth claims) and methodology. By "subjugation" he means the denial without justification of a person's attempt to actualize her or his free will (p. 10), or any limitations on a person pursuing her/his sovereign interests (p. 72). He assumes throughout that his principles apply to rational people (which, at the outset, presents a potential tautology as to explaining the differences between sane and insane people; and which can also be challenged by an external critique by way of the postmodernist's alternative, of a "decentered" subject, an agent seen as more determined than determining, more constituted by discourse itself). In fact, he sees the subject as a rationally constructed entity seeking to manifest its desires (its "sovereign interests"). Due to the subject's immortality and finite existence within a society of scarcity, he tells us, self-interest inevitably leads to the potential for some people to subjugate others. Hence, underpinning his approach is a desire to find the moral principles that would reduce subjugation. Differing from Rawls' more intuitive approach, Reiman claims that "reason" is the answer to subjugation.

To further his aim of deducing the principles of morality, he first investigates the traditional theorists of social contract theory -- Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the works of Kant and Marx. After doing a superb, scholarly comparison of each, he is led to Rawls, who he claims has essentially the correct approach to clarifying justice principles, but falls short because of his inadequate presentation of why specifically the social contract is the road to notions of justice. In other words, Rawls is accused of lacking a theoretical foundation behind his intuitively deduced moralistic truth claims. Reiman's answer to this is, in a word, "reason." Reason -- the "capacity to make correct inferences from propositions" (p. 9) -- which he deduces formally and substantively, requires that we do not subjugate others. His methodology, then, is first directed at a search for the relevant conditions under which any suspicions of subjugation may be rebutted. Toward this end, he organizes his book into two main parts. One part explores "natural justice," the other "social justice."

In specifying principles of natural justice, he delineates an original position of the nomadic desert tribe; here, acts are highly visible and in the singular, and responsibility is less problematic than in a society marked by a more crystallized social structure. In this setting, he deduces the principles of justice that are owed by all to each other. Here, for example, are included the traditional "negative freedoms" of noninterference. He also deduces that these specific principles would include:

1. Retributive principles in the form of lex talionis (not so much because

of the infliction of pain itself, but because it forces recognition

by the lawbreaker of his/her equality with the victim whom she/he

has temporarily placed in a subordinate role);

2. The right to self-defense; and

3. The torturing of torturers, killing of killers, raping of rapists, etc.

Though demanded by reason, Reiman finds good reason (left unspecified)

for not taking this path (p. 198).

More "advanced" societies ("settled territorial society," p. 227) are marked by a crystallized social structure (developed around the 17th century). Social structure is "a pattern of behavior by means of which all or virtually all the members of a society effectively force their fellows to limit their actions to a range of acceptable alternatives" (p. 213). Here, reason demands social justice. In this society, compared to nomadic desert tribes, patterns of actions may subjugate, more often in invisible form; that is, subjugation is not necessarily conscious and intentional. In fact, social structure is a conglomerate of social positions offering differentials in life chances (p. 229). Yet forced cooperation exists. Reason here demands "positive freedoms" (p. 228) -- those freedoms that must exist as a quid pro quo to forced cooperation (i.e., freedoms to certain benefits that are produced by collective action; here, also, for law breakers, reason demands "proportional retribution" according to Reiman). The question then becomes "what are the principles governing the freedom-constraining actions that make up a social structure that everyone, subject to the conditions of the natural context, could be given the best reasons for accepting, compared to any other possible principles" (p. 229).

In answering this question, Reiman states his two moral principles (p. 3):

1. Whether or not people cooperate to produce benefits, they owe each

other noninterference, easy rescue, respect for natural ownership,

trustworthiness, intergenerational solicitude, and punishment no

greater than lex talionis and deterrence require -- and these are owed

to everyone equally.

2. Where people do cooperate to produce benefits that went into producing

them according to the difference principle -- that inequalities

must work to maximize the share of everyone in society starting from

the worst-off individual.

Acknowledging some similarities with Rawls' two principles of justice, Reiman first distinguishes his from those of Rawls. Rawls' two principles focus on the "nature of the benefits" distributed (his first focuses on equal liberty, his second on goods to be distributed only by a schema in which the lowest person would benefit). For Reiman, however, it is the "source of the benefits distributed" (the first principle focusing more on natural-justice principles and the second on forced cooperative activity) (pp. 3, 215, 229). Again, for Reiman, reason requires social justice in a setting characterized by the existence of a social structure where forced cooperative activities take place. Just as with nomadic tribes, where perceptions of subjugation will arise and reason answers with principles of natural justice, in a social system marked by a social structure, reason answers with principles of social justice that can be deduced. Reason, for Reiman, demands conceptions of justice-as-fairness in a social contract form.

Toward this end, Reiman develops a unique conception of justice based on a "labor theory of moral value" (p. 243). He first briefly explains Marx' labor theory of value, noting how workers produce surplus value (beyond necessary labor in the production of goods that need only an average amount of labor time in their production) for others, capitalists. This, of course, is profit and the wherewithal of the profit motive for capitalists. He then notes that this arouses the suspicion of subjugation; it is in fact objectively measured subjugation. From here he notes two main errors in contemporary Marxian thought:

1. That some Marxists prematurely rejoice with the thought that removing

capitalism itself leads to a less coercive, or less-subjugating

system; and

2. That capitalism itself may not provide room for optimizing less-subjugating

forms than any other system that currently exists (pp.

255-258). This is a daring line of inquiry, but an admirable investigation to be made by Reiman within radical circles. Often in contemporary radical theorizing we have a form of what I can call "schmarxism" with its constitutive variant of exorcism by which would-be world-changers delude themselves into seeing the enemy everywhere, and if not found, construct it in the other, who thereby becomes a target of self-righteous attack. Here dogmatism, the "correct party line," and variously hidden forms of Stalinism, substitute for clear-headed, critical thinking. (For a clear-headed critique of "fuzzy morals and flaky politics," see de Haan's recent book, The Politics of Redress [1990].)

Having said that, however, Reiman slips in his analysis and suggests that although coercive, capitalism "does not foreclose the possibility that it still offers the greatest total amount of freedom -- or that it can be altered in ways that would produce this while still remaining capitalism" (p. 257). The problem here is that Reiman much earlier had argued against developing an aggregate standard, a "teleologically derived principle of morality" (i.e., the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers) in that it (in the form of majority rule, for instance) can lead to much subjugation (pp. 191, 207). For example, if we assume workers (the nonpropertied) have an average of n freedoms while the propertied have an average of n+1 freedoms, and we then take an aggregate, i.e., an average of overall freedoms existing in this society, and compare it to a socialist society, then we might indeed have a larger aggregate amount of freedom in the first society (somewhere between n and n+1). Its distribution, however, could be skewed dramatically, favoring the propertied classes. This brings to mind Weber's claim that knowing something about the overall amount of freedom in existence in a society -- whether capitalist or socialist -- cannot be judged by its formal system of rights: property distributions are still overdetermining. The point is that a system with an overall greater amount of freedom can still also have a greater amount of subjugation in specific instances.

Reiman goes on to produce an interesting and thought-provoking analysis of a "labor theory of moral value." Having recognized Marx' idea of how surplus value is generated, and having shown that it is the source of subjugation, he then searches for an alternate distributive schema by which subjugation can be substantially reduced. He finds the answer in his "difference principle" -- the requirement that where inequalities must exist, they work in a way to benefit the worst off (p. 260). His difference principle does not demand that the better off give to the worst off, a sore spot in the contemporary legal atmosphere where affirmative-action programs and quota systems are being attacked as schemata of reverse discrimination, as sources of legal subjugation. His view does not depend on a benevolent attitude by the well off. Again, borrowing from Rawls, Reiman states that the two principles of justice -- equal rights to basic liberties and the difference principle -- should be operationalized in a "lexical ordering," in which the first principle cannot be violated by the second; in other words, liberty can only be circumscribed for the goal of increasing or protecting liberty (p. 261). Hence, the second principle can only be invoked in manners that do not violate the first principle. Having said that, Reiman gives an example of how his labor theory of moral value would work.

At the outset, Reiman assumes that some forced labor will take place in a social structure of forced cooperation; that some more "talented" laborers will exist (who can produce wanted things in less time than others); that a base-rate of the average amount of time necessary to produce a product can be established, which would also include training time to acquire such talents; and that "incentives" are needed and can be established to encourage the more talented in producing more during a particular time frame ("until such a time as the talented work needed in society is exactly what the talented spontaneously want to do" [p. 277]; one is reminded of Durkheim's criteria of a "spontaneous division of labor" spelled out in The Division of Labor in Society).

Next, Reiman assumes two workers, "A" and "B," from the same economic system; one, "A," is more talented, the other, "B," less. Reiman offers a diagram of what an equal distribution would produce (p. 279):
 A B
measured in labor time: 8 hours 8 hours
measured in goods: 8 loaves 8 cups

Here "A" exchanges 8 loaves (which took her 8 hours to produce) for 8 cups from "B" (which took "B" 8 hours to produce).

Reiman's operationalization of the difference principle, which acknowledges differentials in labor, is also a distributive schema by which the efforts by the more talented would simultaneously raise the benefits of the lowest level, here "B," without penalty to "A." This can be presented (p. 279) as follows:
 A B
measured in labor-time: 8 hours 12 hours
measured in goods: 16 loaves 12 cups

Here, "A," who exerts more of her/his talent produces 16 loaves in the same 8 hours, but in her/his exchange with "B" receives 12 cups of whatever, a greater amount than in the equal distribution schema above, by 4 cups, or 50% more. "A" has doubled her/his production in the same time, while "B," not as talented, has increased her/his production to 12 cups in 12 hours (a 50% increase). "B," after working 12 hours and producing 12 cups now receives twice as much (16 loaves rather than 12, or 4 more required by the difference principle) as an incentive. In other words, in the difference principle's distributive schema, "A" has an incentive to produce what his/her talents allow (she/he gets more in return, 12 cups rather than 8), but also an increment, m, is to now go to "B," who labors for 12 hours producing 12 cups, but who now can receive 16 loaves rather than 12. To put it yet another way, for each additional hour worked by "B," she/he receives an additional one-third loaf over what she/he would have received in the equal distribution schema. In Reiman's example, "B" receives twice as much for only 50% more time expended. It is here that the lot of the worst-off is being improved, but not at the cost of "A," for "A" also has an incentive to produce what her/his talents potentially allow.

In actuality, if left to the "free market range," we might, according to Reiman, have the following allowable situation (p. 280):
 A B
measured in labor-time: 8 hours 16-23 hours
measured in goods: 24 loaves 16-23 cups

In other words, here Reiman indicates that "A," working 8 hours can produce 24 loaves whereas "B," working 16-23 hours, can produce 16-23 cups. If "A" exchanges with "B," then, compared to the equal distribution schema, "A" working the same amount of hours receives twice to almost three times the amount from "B," whereas "B," working twice to almost three times the amount of time now receives three times the amount of loaves. Both, therefore, have an incentive to produce more; and the lot in life of the less-talented is improved incrementally following the difference principle. The net result would be manifestly less suspicious perceptions of subjugation. This is Reiman's "labor theory of moral value." In many ways, too, it produces what Durkheim, in his Division of Labor in Society, called "organic solidarity"; in other words, the bondage of society is strengthened substantially. Reiman also tells us that to implement this distributive schema, under capitalism it could occur spontaneously or, more likely, by "political intervention" -- by welfare policies and redistributive taxation (p. 286).

Of course, Reiman leaves himself open to his own critique. First, he had earlier argued that only reason could lead to developing justice principles that would reduce subjugation based either on formal deduction or substantive reasons: "I contend that knowledge of our mortality makes us care about how we live our lives in an urgent and ultimate way.... There is, then, for each person a rational imperative of self-interest" (p. 15). If we accept this, and his rational-man construct, then what possible incentive would exist for a political intervention by those inevitably beholden to the better-off? Rationality would seem to dictate that the prevailing arrangements that benefit the "talented" and well-to-do would be maintained, and, in fact, ideology would be continuously produced to maintain the myth of the privileged and the "just" distribution of rewards (Weber, recall, had a similar argument in his Economy and Society [1978: Volume 2: 953-954]). In short, Reiman does not have a transformative politics. In his defense, however, he does get us to rethink the question of the wherewithal of a sound theoretical grounding for moral principles.

Second, Reiman's distributive schema, though well argued, illuminating, compelling, and admirable for its sensitivity to the question of reducing subjugation, understates the significance of worker "B"'s increased amount of labor time performed to receive a greater share of goods. Reiman's argument, after all, was that a person's life is finite. This being the case, time itself is finite and of value. Worker "B" in Reiman's schema must work beyond, by a factor of twice to almost three times as much as worker "A" to receive the increased amount of goods that would include "m," the incremental increase due to the difference principle. But "A" enjoys more leisure; she/he does not toil as long as "B." Let us run this out. Perhaps "B," realizing that time is finite and that she/he would prefer to spend more time with his/her family, might even accept a reduction in the quality of life down to having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But "B," in her/his reflective moments might develop resentment for the hours she/he works in comparison to "A," who she/he views as lavishing in goods. Here, perhaps, positive values to be generated by "B" might only take the Hegelian form of reacting and negating, a negation of a negation, an inherently conservative development when judged by the Nietzschean rendition of the master-slave relationship. Perhaps this could also be translated by "B" into a justifying discourse (for self and others) that paves the way for "rational" law-breaking behavior and, with continued use, might even attain some degree of stability. For example, Cressey's book, Other People's Money (1956), which investigated the convicted embezzler's use of justifying verbalizations, and Schwendinger and Schwendinger's book, Adolescent Subcultures and Juvenile Delinquency (1985), which examined the juvenile delinquent's "moral rhetoric," indicated that discourses often provide the rationalizations to legitimize law-breaking behavior with impunity. (One is also reminded of Sykes and Matza's classic study of juvenile delinquent's use of "techniques of neutralization" and of Katz' recent book, entitled Seductions of Crime [1988], which explains how the offender legitimizes his/her assault on a victim.) In short, Reiman minimizes the possibility of "B"'s continued feelings of resentment toward "A," and hence the feeling of subjugation is only a step removed.

Third, developing a base-rate and determining the appropriate incentives implicates bureaucratic intrusions. One immediately hears Frederick Taylor knocking at the door with his time-motion measurement instruments in hand. Perhaps a new locus of experts is in the making and, with it, a new source of subjugation, perhaps the "iron cage" of Weber clangs loud. Foucault's many studies of the development of new discourses and the army of experts that brought their "rational" techniques to mental health, the medical arena, sexuality, and delinquency is a lesson to be heeded. In short, Reiman pays insufficient attention to the possibly inadvertent legitimizing of asymmetrical powers of the bureaucratic apparatus with its disciplinary machinery.

Fourth, the question of the more talented is a key to unraveling political-economic determinants of opportunity, of life chances. Reiman certainly recognizes differential life chances as a function of social structure that is historically situated. I suppose that Reiman would, with Rawls, argue that with each incremental increase -- the "m" that is a result of the differential principle -- the less talented are raised to situations of greater levels of opportunity, if not for them, then for their offspring. Consider a recent Supreme Court decision dealing with the question of "quotas" in hiring policies. Underlying the decision in Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987) was the idea that formal equality in law has not corrected discriminatory hiring practices. Affirmative-action programs attempt to remedy these discrepancies. In this U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Court, having noted at the outset that a "conspicuous imbalance existed" -- the labor force had 36.4% females, whereas the firm employed only 22.4% females -- okayed a plan that allowed a less qualified female to be hired over a better qualified male until the 36% figure was reached. Where "special skills" were concerned, the Court noted that this mechanism would be unconstitutional. Hence, if a firm employs 99% males (or whites) and one percent females (or Afro-Americans) who had no special skills, and where the labor force generally has 75% males (or whites) and 25% females (or African Americans) that had no special skills, then a plan to rectify the differentials until the percentage of the labor force is reflected in the firm can not be attacked as unconstitutional. Yet, where the question of a "skilled work force" was at issue -- the firm employed 99% male or white and one percent female or African American skilled workers -- and the outside unskilled work force had 75% males or whites and 25% females or African American workers, then no affirmative-action program to settle the discrepancies would pass constitutional requirements (see Milovanovic, in MacClean and Milovanovic [eds.], Racism, Empiricism, and Criminal Justice [1990: 84-88]). It is here that we find the similarities and differences with Reiman. Reiman's difference principle would negate the first schema right out of hand as propagating subjugation and, therefore, against his "labor theory of moral value." The second schema allowed by the Court (disallowing remedies in cases of skilled workers), however, is somewhat similar to the schema that Reiman is willing to allow. Continued over time, however, and symbolically reaffirmed, this may perhaps produce a more permanent underclass. How is worker "B," working at least twice as much as worker "A" in Reiman's model, supposed to engage in sufficient training (or even able to find sufficient time) to bring up her/his talents to the point where only 8 hours of work would be necessary? In short, Reiman lacks a political economy of the procurement of "talent."

Fifth, left outstanding is the question of fetishism of commodities. The difference principle, as I see it, does not undermine Marx' fetishism of commodity principle, in that commodity exchangers (Reiman's laborers, "A" and "B") meeting momentarily at the marketplace, still enter relations of equivalence even though, arguably, they are now rewarded better for commodities produced (e.g., surplus value is no longer being obtained only by the capitalist, but a certain amount, "m," finds its way to worker "B"). Commodities, however, are still being exchanged according to some ratio of exchange. The equivalence form would still be reified, and still, without more, be given an idealized expression in abstract principles of formal equality, free will, and proprietorship interests. The juridic subject would still, in my view, arise in a homologous manner to commodity fetishism. Of course, this criticism might be spared if Reiman could be more precise about how his difference principle, rooted in a labor theory of moral value, would undermine the commodity fetishism principle. In defense of Reiman, perhaps it might be said that his difference principle is but one key element of a more holistic, transformative politics. He does indicate that the existence of scarcity, for example, is one factor militating against the movement to the "higher forms" (p. 289).

Reiman also lays out the three generally understood moral principles of different modes of production: under capitalism, we have formal equality; under socialism, a worker is paid the full amount of labor put into her/his work; and under communism, the principle would be "from each according to his [or her] abilities, to each according to his [or her] needs," a principle that holds that a person her/himself is his/her own standard. Reiman then goes on to tell us that his difference principle is "neutral" as to capitalism, socialism, or communism (p. 286) and "under appropriate conditions, the difference principle leads to the distributive standards associated with socialism and communism" (Ibid.). If an historical juncture is reached, according to Reiman, where unequal incentives outlive their ability to increase the returns of the worst-off, they should then cease under the logic of the difference principle (pp. 287-288). Reiman seems to indicate a natural progression from capitalism to socialism to communism. As capitalism rescinds its need for unequal incentives, it moves toward socialism; as socialism rescinds its need for unequal incentives, it moves toward the "higher form" (p. 288). And this is where the argument ends. Standing on its own, this is an argument based on faith. On the plus side, it is not a blueprint -- as Reiman quite accurately tells us it is not intended to be -- but rather an insightful examination of possible mechanisms to go from here to there. On the down side, Reiman's position is left wanting for a bonafide transformative politics.

Having leveled these criticisms, many illuminating suggestions and implications follow Reiman's analysis: that social structures of all kinds have structural sources of subjugation not necessarily visible and recognized, which can be mitigated to some extent by the difference principle; that a rationale -- potentially expressible in a stable, oppositional discourse -- does exist for the subjugated for withdrawing legitimacy from some forms of forced systems of cooperation; that a genuine concept of morality can be derived from one of the central tenets of radical thought on labor theory; that a difference principle may safeguard liberty while providing a distributive schema by which, simultaneously, the worst-off are elevated while the more talented are not denied a reason for laboring according to their potentials, opening, perhaps, a more fruitful line of critical inquiry in specifying the Marxian principle "from each according to his [or her] abilities, to each according to his [or her] needs"; that the difference principle, rooted in a labor theory of moral value, may be one specification of the wherewithal of principles of organic solidarity, of mutual benefit, and dependence; and that Reiman's difference principle, being far superior to and of Rawls, has the potential, with more, to lead to the distributive schemata of socialism and communism.

What then is the worth of Reiman's book? I think that a book's worth can be partly measured: by its ability to illuminate; by its ability to build on previous classic analysis and then make a quantum leap to an absolute postulate from which can be deduced more creative and humanistic hypotheses subject to examination; by its ability to provide vistas for what may improve the human condition; and by its ability to engage the reader in thought-provoking examinations of the burning issues of contemporary society, especially the question of hierarchical impositions of all kinds. Based on these criteria, in my estimate, Reiman has produced one of the truly outstanding books on the issue of developing nonsubjugating social relations. One may disagree, as I have, with some lines of inquiry, some assumptions made, and even with some principles delineated, but one is nevertheless provoked into exploring other lines of inquiry that certainly provide clear-headed, nondogmatic vistas of what may be. This is an admirable and praiseworthy scholarly investigation!
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Author:Milovanovic, Dragan
Publication:Social Justice
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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