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What Is the Libertarian Critique of Rawls?

The government can use different strategies for its administration and ensuring economic equality, and among them is the preference of Libertarianism. Such a system makes it possible for the government to make minimal intervention in financial matters, thus allowing for a free market economy in which the government makes minimal or no interference. When the authorities do not significantly influence the lives of citizens, it provides for a system of administration in which the people have optimal liberty, meaning that they have freedom of choice on what they consider right or wrong. Libertarians prefer individual freedom as the political and economic weapon to prosperity, as the environment will allow them to make independent and wise decisions without authoritarian influence or interference. Even if the system allows everyone to do what they prefer, they must be guided by the Constitution’s doctrines, thus mitigating any violation of individual rights and freedoms (van der Vossen, 2023). Libertarianism enables people to enjoy their freedom, but as Rawls considers, people cannot be made to cater to the common good in society or offer a helping hand, and this issue results in questioning its effectiveness in ensuring the realization of democracy and economic equity.

Why The Libertarian Ideology Can Be Disputed?

Under the philosophical debate of justice, it is necessary to note that the ideology of Libertarianism remains controversial regarding the distribution of resources and distributive justice. The supporters of this ideology support the concept of a free market economy in which there is an economic order guided by the freedom of contract, voluntary cooperation, and private property rights (van der Vossen, 2023). Libertarians consider that contemporary democratic states should avoid the practice of unjustified redistribution of wealth as everyone should benefit from their respective hard work and continued input they make towards the realization of their economic and social or political goals. When people are coerced to redistribute their wealth, it violates their rights, for they have worked hard and used legal means to accumulate wealth. As such, people need immense freedom in their economic affairs but can only surrender some of such freedoms if they violate others’ rights to result in mutual benefit. However, it is widely understood that the current economic systems of capitalism are centered on the ideologies of individualism and the need to focus on accumulating wealth. People advocate for the concept of survival of the fittest, and they are more likely to be aggressive in the quest to accumulate wealth; this means that the economically and racially advantaged will continue to get richer while minorities and the poor shall continue to struggle in poverty. Rawls’ criteria are thus considered optimal, for he consistently argues against the applicability of the ideology of Libertarianism, for it is regarded as not the right measure for the realization of the needed goals.

The Libertarian Critique of Rawls

When political power is applied under the liberal conception of justice, it forms part of a liberal society where everyone is handled equally, and the standards of equity are embraced. Based on Rawls’s criteria, the consideration of the libertarian conception of justice cannot be applied to the standards of politics and the economy in which capitalism is observed. Also, it is challenging for Libertarianism to allow everyone to optimize their fundamental liberties. This issue results in a higher rate of economic and political inequality. Rawls considers justice as a concept of fairness, which means that the definition does not fit into the parameters of Libertarianism (Wenar, 2021). Such a practice cannot be used to meet the critical standards of administration and political will, as it promotes an unfair distribution of wealth and income, making the rich accumulate wealth while the poor survive in a vicious cycle of poverty. For Rawls, Libertarianism will result in unfair and unequal access to education, healthcare services, and economic opportunities, thus requiring the avoidance of its practice or implementation as a system of governance.

The difference principle can be used to define a positive ideal in which the standards of social unity are maintained. In societies that can manage to satisfy the different directions, the citizens will understand and know that the leadership ideology works for everyone’s benefit. They shall experience the benefits as a society and at the individual level, which means that inequalities shall be mitigated (Wenar, 2021). Also, those lucky to be born into wealthy families are not likely to get richer or exploit the poor, for the system will ensure everyone has the same opportunities and that everyone’s right is observed and maintained. Under Rawls’s perspective, everyone is willing to share another’s fate. However, this is not possible in an ideal society, considering that we live in a capitalist society where the concept of survival of the fittest is applicable.

Under Rawls’s Theory of Justice, two significant parallels in political and economic theory should be understood. The first concept is his response to utilitarianism, in which he considered that the ideology failed to cater to the separateness of persons, as everyone has unique needs and weaknesses (Fried, 2020). The second one was the unwritten version of his ideology that focuses on the key challenges people are likely to undergo due to the possible failure of Libertarianism. For instance, it does not consider an individual’s moral obligation to care for others or societal well-being. For him, the idea of Libertarianism is illiberal, and there is a need to modify the applicable ideologies to ensure that the standards of administration are accommodating and can result in a better framework for the realization of equality. In any society, people cannot be equal, and that is why governments have social programs meant to address the needs and interests of people with low incomes. Some are more likely to accumulate wealth and influence a free economy, while others are impoverished. It means it will be challenging for low-income people to access their needed services. Libertarianism will limit and highly disadvantage them, considering that the level or rate of wealth accumulation can compromise equity and equality.

Rawls remains one of the notable political philosophers who advanced the Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. Based on his explanation, it is clear that there have been a series of debates on the political philosophy realm that need to be understood. One main advantage or trait is that Rawlsians and libertarians agree that some liberal rights, like freedom of speech and religion, should be observed. However, the significant disagreement is based on the scope at which political and economic liberties can be maintained. Rawlsians have a different stance, for they argue that the freedom to choose a particular occupation or own personal property, not capital property, is part of the fundamental rights that should be protected at local, state, or national levels (Vallier, 2017). The Rawlsians have advanced their ideologies to the introduction of classical liberals’ and Libertarians’ approaches towards adopting and integrating one’s ability to have a set of goods and services and enjoy the rights against possible government intervention or regulation.

Political freedom can only be considered optimal if citizens enjoy high fairness in ensuring they appropriately enjoy their political rights. As it puts it, the “exercise of political power is fully proper only when it is exercised following a constitution the essentials of which all citizens as free and equal may reasonably be expected to endorse in light of principles and ideals acceptable to their common human reason.” Citizens should enjoy their political freedom equally, which means they can be elected into office without considering their social or economic status (Vallier, 2017). In a well-ordered society, the citizens must be committed to the correct guidelines under the liberal principle of legitimacy. It considers that government intervention should only be justified if it results in shared politico values (Alì, 2022). However, when the government interferes with the country’s political matters, it becomes challenging to realize the political conception of justice, as some citizens will be compelled to behave in a certain way or support a political party for their benefit. Considering public reasons can make it challenging to ensure that the shared normative resources can be distributed equally to result in a sign of mutual respect and assurance.

Rawls considers that a normative functioning individual or society can only follow the principles of justice, for they understand that following such norms will suit them. Such a concept implies that the right ideologies of justice can only be met if the behavior and decisions can survive public scrutiny and such institutions do not have to hide their normative concepts or basis of reasoning (Sundstrom, 2023). Citizens should have a chance to benefit or access the fundamentals of their public and political institutions and abide by the set standards, for they need to meet the ideologies of justice and do the right thing. When the ideals of justice are followed, society can benefit from social stability, and this consideration works against the expectations of views like utilitarianism, which may require that the government hides such concepts to avoid gaining a negative public image. Thus, the Rawls approach is optimal as it better explains the concept of justice and how it can be applicable in various contexts like substantive judgments and procedural judgments.


The economic and political ideology of Libertarianism can be considered reasonable and has been applied in various countries. However, as Rawls asserts, this system does not result in equity and equality principles, as people have different potentials and needs. The economically disadvantaged are less likely to attain their goals, for they are limited in what they can do, and this means that it is necessary to have a better system of administration that can address various needs. Libertarianism can enable people to enjoy their freedoms. Still, it fails to address the need to do good for society, like offering a helping hand, thus questioning its effectiveness in ensuring democracy and economic equity.


Alì, N. (2022). How rich should the 1% be? Proportional justice and economic inequality. Taylor & Francis.

Fried, H. (2020). The Unwritten Theory of Justice.” Oxford University Press EBooks.

Sundstrom, R. (2023). Just shelter: Gentrification, integration, race, and reconstruction. Oxford University Press.

Vallier, K. (2017). A Rawlsian case for libertarianism.,

van der Vossen, B. (2023). Libertarianism.

Wenar, L. (2021). John Rawls.


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