‘The limits of the possible in moral matters are less narrow than we think. It is our weaknesses, our vices, our prejudices that shrink them.’
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract Book II, Chapter 12.2
[cited from John Rawls The Law of Peoples, p. 7]
After presenting a brief sketch of John Rawls's theory of justice, his international political theory is outlined and evaluated. Rawls develops a classification of ‘peoples’ based on whether or not they are ‘well-ordered’. The Law of Peoples covers ‘liberal’ and ‘decent’ peoples who adhere to minimum standards of human rights and are not aggressive in their international relations. This is in the realm of ‘ideal’ theory; ‘non-ideal’ theory must cope also with societies that are not well-ordered, such as outlaw states and burdened societies. The long-term aim is that all should be part of a confederation of decent peoples. Rawls's theory has been criticized by cosmopolitan liberals for its communitarian tendencies, but has much to offer scholars of international relations, including a systematic basis for classifying states, a helpful discussion of the distinction between reasonableness and rationality, and a powerful restatement of the importance of utopian thinking in international relations.