Adam Kunz

Adam will begin the second year of his PhD in political science this fall. His summer project involves an investigation of the concept of fraternity in John Rawls' A THEORY OF JUSTICE, published in 1971.

8/25/2016: “Well, there it is, kids: my mother land.”

I leave for Germany and Switzerland tomorrow morning and have two weeks of adventure planned. This will be my first time visiting the region and apparently I have a whole bunch of ancestral landmarks to visit. My great-grandfather, Robert, left behind all of his belongings and a dairy farm in Switzerland to came to America in 1870. I fully expect to have a Griswold moment when I track down his hometown.

While I’m not in the “research head space” this week, the Great-Grandpa Robert isn’t totally off topic. When we think about political virtues like fraternity, we need not go much further than immigration to understand what fraternity would look like in a just system.

The most common form of fraternity is the name we give to campus associations full of like-minded students. Similarly, there are fraternal organizations we can cite, like a VFW club or a local union or a Lion’s Club lodge. We call these “fraternal” because there is a kind of friendship buried in them. Each of these organizations are built around a common ideal, a shared commitment to that ideal, and an interdependence that motivates group effort toward that ideal.

In many ways, this is no different than the friendships that we enter into every day. I have my friends at school, my friends from my hometown, my friends from law school, etc. We are bound together by the commonalities we share at certain stages of our life and our development. I’ve used the hat analogy before, but it fits here: when I wear certain hats in my everyday life, the rules will change with the hat I wear. But, similarly, when my hat changes, my friendships may change or, at least, their nature may change to fit the environment in which I am operating.

The kind of fraternity Rawls is talking about could be thought of as “civic friendship.” If we extrapolate the friendship concept from our private friendship or our private associations and superimpose that concept onto our political life, then it’s a little easier to see what fraternity is. When I’m wearing my citizen hat, the rules change from what they might be when I’m a parent, child, employee, or church-goer. But with the change in rules, I have new associations – a new group of friends – to go with it.

If we extrapolate the friendship concept from our private friendship or our private associations and superimpose that concept onto our political life, then it’s a little easier to see what fraternity is.


Moreover, like the fraternal organizations or the campus fraternities, my civic friends and I come together with a common ideal: to reinforce and support just institutions (think “All Americans should support freedom” ideas). Similarly, we should share commitment to that ideal and generate interdependence that motivates group effort toward that ideal.

In concrete terms, Great-Grandpa Robert and immigrants like him voluntarily decide to come to another country and enter into a new civic friendship. It sounds cliché, but immigrants truly do emigrate in the hope of building a better life within the institutions in that country. Immigration is the example of breaking off a past civic friendship in the hope of a new and better one. Great-Grandpa Robert was just looking for a likeminded society in which he could live and work alongside likeminded folks. That, to him, was worth leaving behind the belongings and the dairy. 

Nevertheless, I’m still looking forward to trying the cheese in a few days.

8/20/2016: “Mouth-breather?”

OK. It’s official now. I’ve come to the point where the foundations for fraternity are set in Rawls’ theory and it’s now to time to identify what exactly Rawls means by it. As I’ve concluded the last couple of weeks, Rawls’ theory permits intermediate virtues to be considered once a just society is set up and the institutions are running smoothly. And these virtues are important because they perpetuate the system of justice and keep us from being a society of mouth-breathers. These intermediate virtues are critical for our capacity as citizens; when we wear our “citizen” hats, we need some ethos to govern our actions, something to breathe life into our participation in just institutions.

A person could make an argument for a dozen different virtues: liberty, equality, adherence to the rule of law, etc. But fraternity? Does it fit? Rawls thinks so:

A further merit of the difference principle is that it provides an interpretation of the principle of fraternity. In comparison with liberty and equality, the idea of fraternity has had a lesser place in democratic theory. It is thought to be less specifically a political concept, not in itself defining any of the democratic rights but conveying instead certain attitudes of mind and forms of conduct without which we would lose sight of the values expressed by these rights. Or closely related to this, fraternity is held to represent a certain equality of social esteem manifest in various public conventions and in the absence of manners of deference and servility. No doubt fraternity does imply these things, as well as a sense of civic friendship and social solidarity, but so understood it expresses no definite requirement. We have yet to find a principle of justice that matches the underlying idea.

We can structure our political institutions to take account of the least advantaged in society.


The difference principle, however, does seem to correspond to a natural meaning of fraternity: namely, to the idea of not wanting to have greater advantages unless this is to the benefit of others who are less well off. The family, in its ideal conception and often in practice, is one place where the principle of maximizing the sum of advantages is rejected. Members of a family commonly do not wish to gain unless they can do so in ways that further the interests of the rest. Now wanting to act on the difference principle has precisely this consequence. Those better circumstanced are willing to have their greater advantages only under a scheme in which this works out for the benefit of the less fortunate (A Theory of Justice, 90).

Sorry for the long block quote, but this is the critical piece of Rawls’ view on fraternity. In fact, that’s sum total of Rawls’ view on fraternity; he never revisits it. And if this paragraph were read in isolation, it wouldn’t be clear what Rawls means. But the foundation I’ve been laying the last two weeks remedies that:

1.       The Difference Principle is a principle of justice which can be derived through the constructivism Rawls employs via the Original Position.

2.       Once derived, the Difference Principle is used to set up just institutions. Based on that principle, we can structure our political institutions to take account of the least advantaged in society.

3.       Once this just society is developed, citizens can adopt whatever virtues they wish to govern their private relationships so long as they do not undermine the just institutions.

4.       To prevent private virtues from undermining the just institutions, citizens should support and sustain the Difference Principle in public life.

5.       The desire to support the Difference Principle is fraternity.

Points 1-3 are really just a restatement of Rawls’ full theory of justice, with special emphasis on the Difference Principle. Point 5 is just a definitional statement; Rawls is essentially redefining fraternity from its traditional meaning to a meaning through which the Difference Principle can have full force. But Point 4 is where we minimize the societal mouth-breathing. It is exactly what Rawls means by the last sentence in the quote above, namely that “[t]hose better circumstanced are willing to have their greater advantages only under a scheme in which this works out for the benefit of the less fortunate.”

This is just a skeleton. It shows what Rawls has in mind by fraternity and how the concept fits in the greater system, but the details are missing. I still need to answer the question of what fraternity looks like in a just system.

8/11/2016: "What is my purpose?" . . . "You pass butter."

This week, as I started to think about fraternity as a political virtue, I started thinking about why political virtues are so important. Once we realize that there is an intermediate set of political virtues (i.e. the “Mezzanine Level of Political Ethos” from last week) after we’ve developed just institutions but before we’ve developed private virtues, we could still ask “So, what? Why does any of that matter?”

These political virtues are a kind of hybrid that bridges the gap between our public institutions – which are abstract and largely separate from individual life – to our private associations and relationships – which we encounter daily and which are mostly subjective. The political virtues are intended to guide us in how we should act in upholding our just institutions; in other words, they are virtues that help us perpetuate the system and get along with our fellow citizens in our capacity as citizens.

Note, that this definition is tied strictly to our role as citizens. Although I likely wear different hats throughout the course of the day – grad student, husband, friend, son, etc. – the only one that matters in terms of political life is the hat I wear as a citizen. Political virtues are guideposts for how I should act while wearing that specific hat.

Framed this way, it should be clear why we need them. If we first create just institutions, but then immediately jump to setting up virtues that govern only private associations, without first articulating political virtues, then political life becomes cold and meaningless. Our private associations, rich with specificity and governed by vigorous individual virtues, will be more enjoyable – and receive more of our attention – than the political life in which all we have are abstract, albeit just, institutions. Citizens would be automatons with only very limited purpose, like Rick’s butter-passing robot: superficial, full of ennui, and existentially barren when it comes civic life. Voting, jury duty, tax paying – all of these would just be boxes checked.

So, this is a useful way to start identifying political virtues – and better explains why Rawls thinks fraternity might be one of them. Any principle that helps us be better citizens – in upholding our just institutions – is a political virtue. And they matter because they give purpose to political life.

8/4/2016: “I’m gonna build these different Ancient Egypt.”

Levels. They’ve been on my mind for the last couple of weeks – levels. Not like Kramer in that Seinfeld episode (although, a room full of tiered platforms sounds awesome), but more in terms of the levels of living citizens encounter in a just society.

Rawls is very clear about what he is and isn’t doing in his theory; it is limited solely to the question of what a just society would look like at an institutional and structural level. The question for Rawls is “What is politically just? How can we structure society to make our institutions, our principles, and our rules truly just?” To use an analogy, society is like a building in which Level 1 is our foundation – the structure that we put in place on which to build the rest. Rawls’ theory is focused only on making Level 1 just.  

Now, there are of course other “levels” of living; society is not just government institutions and programs. Rawls (like Kant) believes we all have our own theories of “the good” that dictate our lives. We have religious, cultural, educational, associational, familial, etc. relationships, all of which operate on some theory of the “good.”

For example, there could be different theories of what it means to be a good graduate student, or a good husband, or a good friend. In the building analogy, these are Level 2 through Level Infinity. There could be level upon level of interests and commitments in our lives that are infused by value. Rawls’ theory of justice says nothing about those levels. He doesn’t offer a universal theory of ethics and morality that governs all parts of life (you’d have to look to Kant for that).

But, in thinking about all this for the last couple of weeks, maybe there is an intermediate level between Level 1 and Level 2. Call it the “Mezzanine Level of Political Ethos.” After we’ve laid the structural foundation of a just society, but before we move to private commitments, doesn’t there have to be some discussion of what it means to be a good citizen? Once we’ve set up just public institutions, but before we get into private virtues and private morality, shouldn’t we decide (a) whether or not there should be certain political virtues that citizens in a just society should have and (b) what those political virtues are?

I think the answer to question (a) is “yes,” and I think Rawls’ theory of justice would support it. Indeed, I think Rawls anticipates that there is a Mezzanine Level of Political Ethos and alludes to various political virtues that would answer question (b) Rawls’ reference to concepts like fraternity – which is the subject of my paper – is precisely the kind of discussion of political virtue that I think should be happening before we move on to private morality.

Granted, Rawls doesn’t exhaustively analyze political virtues; he’s way more preoccupied with making sure that Level 1 is taken care of. But we can use the same methodology and process that Rawls employs to tease out what Rawlsian political virtues would look like. And THAT requires a lot more thinking.

Unlike Kramer, I’m not going to give up on levels anytime soon.

7/21/2016: A little background

My summer project has been underway for a couple of weeks now, but I have started in earnest this past week. The project focuses on an important concept in modern liberalism, namely the role of fraternity in civil society and, particularly, its place in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. I have a working paper I have been updating for the past year and the goal, by the end of the summer, is to have a complete draft that I can shop around.

By way of background, Rawls builds his theory of justice from an extended thought experiment in which he assumes that individuals, tasked with creating a just system, are placed in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance,” with limited knowledge of the types of people who will live under the created system. Rawls argues that these individuals in the original position would agree upon two principles of justice.

The first, the “Liberty Principle,” states: “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.”

The second principle is comprised of two sub-principles, respectively called the “Difference Principle” and the “Fair Equality of Opportunity Principle.” The combined principle states: “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle, and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”

Up to this point, my working paper argues that, among the liberal virtues that Rawls defends in A Theory of Justice, Rawls advocates for fraternity. In an earlier era, particularly during the French Revolution, fraternity was connected to liberty and equality, and it was understood as a virtue of community, brotherhood, and unity. Rawls claims that his Difference Principle is the mechanism by which fraternity is realized in a just society.

I argue that Rawls’ reference to fraternity has received little scholarly examination, except by G.A. Cohen, who argues that in order for Rawls’ vision of fraternity to be possible, a separate egalitarian ethos must be read into the Difference Principle. However, Cohen’s critical review goes beyond the confines of Rawls’ theory to provide an alien gloss to the text and ignores Rawls’ own stated and unstated assumptions regarding the person.

Using ideas from the work of my advisor, Bob Taylor, I have argued that Rawls’ Kantian conception of the person, buttressed by his pre-Theory of Justice comments on fraternity, better explains his commitment to fraternity as a liberal virtue and provides adequate foundation for claiming that fraternity is comprehended by the Difference Principle.

But there are holes in the current version of my argument and the work I’m doing this summer is designed to fill – or begin to fill – them. First, there are substantive issues surrounding the idea of fraternity and I need to (1) discuss how distinctively liberal the virtue of fraternity is, (2) explain to what degree its role depends upon the egalitarianism of the liberal theory in question, and (3) examine whether it drops away completely within the most “right-wing” versions of liberalism (e.g., libertarianism).

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I need to account for the Kantianism that Rawls says he employs in reaching his conclusion that the Difference Principle is a kind of fraternity. To that end, I need to (1) first understand what Kant himself is doing when he employs his constructivism and then (2) understand what Rawls is doing when he adopts Kantian constructivism in his theory.

Both concerns – the substantive questions of fraternity and the foundational role of Kantianism – need to be addressed before I can really answer the question of what Rawls means by fraternity.

So, this should be a really fun summer!