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Thursday, July 28, 2005


Have you ever read a book that you felt you needed to read because the book and its author were frequently cited but the book was so onerous to read that you dreaded having to finish it to the point where you had to prohibit yourself from reading anything else until you finished it because you knew that otherwise you would never get through it? Well, if you like books like that, I heartily recommend A Theory of Justice (Revised Edition) by John Rawls.

I consider Rawls, Hayek (The Road to Serfdom, and The Fatal Conceit), and Nozick (Anarchy, State, and Utopia) as part of the same genre and I happen to frequent blogs that discuss the contents of these authors' writings. I've complained vehemently about Hayek's writing style even though I have great respect for the content of Hayek's publications. It was beyond my ability to imagine that I could like Rawls' style even less, yet, that turned out to be the case. Hayek had the habit of creating outrageously long and complex sentences, say of the form ABCDEFG where each of A through G were long enough to be a sentence in their own right. Rawls' sentences are more bite size. He might express the contents of ABCDEFG as ABC. BCD. CDE. DEF. EFG. Unfortunately, this means that even though the individual sentences are shorter, because of the repetition, it essentially takes Rawls 500+ pages to convey what should have only taken about 200 pages.

Perhaps the intersection of philosophy, political theory, economics, and sociology is so difficult to write about, that it's impossible to convey the necessary information without writing in a style that's distinctively unpleasant to read. But I don't think so. For example, I think I can personally describe the essence of the authors in one short paragraph each. Conveniently, Nozick has already done this for his book:

"From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen."

Hayek's easy enough (for the Fatal Conceit, anyway):

When implementing new policy, lots of unexpected shit happens.

And lastly for Rawl's tomb (or is that tome?):

If you give everybody a temporary frontal lobotomy so they don't know diddley squat about anything and turn them loose to design society's political and economic institutions, they'd no doubt do a great job, and the resulting system would no doubt have lots of socialism (redistribution) and ensure that everybody's self esteem is taken care of because self esteem is, after all, the most important thing.

There are many articles critiquing Rawls and his Theory, most of which do a much better job than I could. Now that I've read the book, I can endorse this one in particular. If you read that critique, you'll see how the paragraph above describes the contents of Rawls' book.

Maybe now that I'm finally done reading Rawls' book, I'll have more time to blog.

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