Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 April 1999
This article presents a reconstruction of Michael Walzer's pluralist theory in Spheres of Justice. It starts by noting that Walzer's main thesis (justice resides in autonomous spheres of social goods, according to principles reflecting each good's social meaning) is too restrictive to clarify his own concern with ‘complex equality’. After analysing the shortcomings of the thesis by reference to medical care and social security, this article proposes an account of ‘justice across spheres’: citizens adjudicate the boundaries of the distributive spheres so as to achieve complex equality, the state in which no one counts as another's social inferior. The citizens are held to be motivated by the desire to create and maintain what Walzer calls the ‘society of equals’. As a result, Walzer's theory is recast in a form that makes it easier to compare his distinctively pluralist approach with the abstract-egalitarian theories of Ronald Dworkin and John Rawls. The account of ‘justice across spheres’ is also used to explain Walzer's radical institutional recommendations for achieving complex equality in his own society, the United States.
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