Title Page

Notes on Contributors

Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, a former Fellow of King's College Cambridge, and a Founding Principal of the Democracy Collaborative. His books include America Beyond Capitalism, Atomic Diplomacy, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Rebuilding America (with Jeff Faux), Unjust Deserts (with Lew Daly), and Making a Place for Community (with David Imbroscio and Thad Williamson).

Corey Brettschneider is Associate Professor of Political Science (and, by courtesy, of Philosophy and Public Policy) at Brown University. He is author of Democratic Rights: The Substance of Self-Government as well as the forthcoming Democratic Persuasion: Promoting Public Values in Private Life, as well as numerous articles in journals including Political Theory and the American Political Science Review.

Simone Chambers is Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto. She is the author of Reasonable Democracy: Jürgen Habermas and the Politics of Discourse, and co-editor of Deliberation, Democracy and the Media (with Anne N. Costain) and Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society (with Will Kymlicka). She is currently working on a book titled Public Reason and Deliberation.

Joshua Cohen is Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society, and professor of political science, philosophy, and law at Stanford University. He is co-director of Stanford's Program on Liberation Technologies, and co-editor of the Boston Review. His books include On Democracy (with Joel Rogers), Associations and Democracy (with Joel Rogers), The Arc of the Moral Universe and Other Essays, Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals, and Philosophy, Politics, Democracy. Cohen is also on the faculty of Apple University.

Nien-hê Hsieh is Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. His work has been published by Economics and Philosophy, Journal of Political Philosophy, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Utilitas, and numerous other academic journals.

Waheed Hussain is Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in a variety of academic journals, including Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Moral Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, Journal of Value Inquiry, and Social Theory and Practice. He is currently working on a book titled Freedom and Democracy in Economic Life.

Ben Jackson is University Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University and a Fellow of University College. He is the author of Equality and the British Left: A Study in Progressive Political Thought, 1900–1964, and is currently working on the intellectual history of neoliberalism. He is a Commissioning Editor of Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy.

Martin O'Neill is Lecturer in Political Philosophy in the Department of Politics at the University of York. His work has been published in the Journal of Moral Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, Philosophy & Public Affairs, and various other journals. He is currently working on the political philosophy of corporations, banks, and financial institutions, and is co-editing (with Shepley Orr) a collection on Taxation and Political Philosophy. He has also written about philosophical issues in current politics and public policy for nonacademic publications, including the Big Issue, the Guardian, and the New Statesman.

Ingrid Robeyns is Professor of Practical Philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her work has appeared in Feminist Economics, Journal of Human Development, Journal of Social Philosophy, Political Studies, Social Theory and Practice, and many other publications. She is co-editor (with Harry Brighouse) of Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities and (with Bina Agarwal and Jane Humphries) Amartya Sen's Work and Ideas: A Gender Perspective.

Joel Rogers is Professor of Law, Politics, and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, and director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy. His many books include On Democracy (with Joshua Cohen), Associations and Democracy (with Joshua Cohen), What Workers Want (with Richard Freeman), and American Society: How It Really Works (with Erik Olin Wright).

David Schweickart is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago. His books include Against Capitalism, Market Socialism: The Debate Among Socialists (with James Lawler, Bertrell Ollmann, and Hillel Ticktin), and After Capitalism. His work has been translated into Spanish, Catalan, French, and Chinese.

Sonia Sodha was until recently a Senior Research Fellow at Demos, the London-based independent think tank. She has co-authored numerous policy reports on poverty and social exclusion, education, asset-based welfare policy, and civic service in the UK. She now works in the office of Ed Miliband MP, the Leader of the British Labour Party, and remains an Associate of Demos.

Alan Thomas is Professor of Ethics at Tilburg University and Director of the Tilburg Hub for Ethics and Social Philosophy (THESP). He is author of Value and Context: The Nature of Moral and Political Knowledge and Thomas Nagel, and editor of Bernard Williams, as well as many publications for academic journals, including Mind, Utilitas, and the European Journal of Philosophy.

Stuart White is Fellow and Tutor in Politics and University Lecturer at Jesus College, University of Oxford. He is the editor of New Labour: The Progressive Future? and The Citizen's Stake: Exploring the Future of Universal Asset Policies (with Will Paxton), and is the author of The Civic Minimum: On the Rights and Obligations of Economic Citizenship and Equality. He is an Associate Editor of Philosophy & Public Affairs.

Thad Williamson is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law at the University of Richmond. He is author of Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era (with Gar Alperovitz and David Imbroscio) and Sprawl, Justice and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life, and co-editor (with Douglas Hicks) of the forthcoming Leadership and Global Justice. In addition to his academic writing, he is a frequent contributor to newspapers and progressive popular publications in the United States, including The Nation, Tikkun, and Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice.


This book has its origin in a panel organized by Thad Williamson in collaboration with Nien-hê Hsieh, Waheed Hussain, and Martin O'Neill on the topic of “property-owning democracy” for the 2007 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), held in Chicago. Each collaborator presented original papers on the subject, and we received insightful responses from panel respondents Corey Brettschneider and David Schweickart. The papers from that initial conference were eventually published as a symposium in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Social Philosophy (edited by Carol Gould).

The collaborators for the APSA panel simultaneously decided to go forward with a more ambitious book project on the topic of property-owning democracy, judging that the topic deserved a more thorough treatment from a variety of disciplinary, philosophical, and political perspectives. O'Neill and Williamson took primary responsibility as editors, but we would like to acknowledge and thank Hsieh and Hussain for being integrally involved as we collectively shaped the book's table of contents and recruited authors. To our delight, we found a great deal of interest in the project, and were able to assemble an outstanding set of authors who were willing to join with us in engaging seriously with the idea of property-owning democracy. Our thanks go to all of the authors for their contributions, their wise input, their enthusiasm, and their patience throughout this process. It has been an enormous pleasure working with such a wonderful group of political philosophers.

Many of the individual authors' chapters have been presented at a variety of academic conferences and university departments in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe. We would like in particular to acknowledge feedback received on presentations concerning property-owning democracy and related ideas at a Jepson School of Leadership Studies research symposium at the University of Richmond (April 2008), the annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics in Philadelphia (June 2010), and the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC (September 2010).

We would also like to acknowledge helpful comments and encouragement provided by a variety of people not directly involved in the book project, including Chris Brooke, Thom Brooks, Francis Cheneval, Matthew Clayton, Richard Dagger, Stephen Elkin, Archon Fung, Carol Gould, Joe Guinan, Shepley Orr, Philippe Van Parijs, and anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Social Philosophy, Living Reviews in Democracy, and Wiley-Blackwell. O'Neill is grateful to James Hodgson for efficient research assistance, and especially also to Pablo Gilabert and Miriam Ronzoni, who prompted him think further about property-owning democracy and liberal socialism through helpful questioning at the Joint Sessions of the ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) in Helsinki in 2007. Joshua Cohen provided helpful advice at an early stage of the book project, and we thank him and Joel Rogers for their generous preface to this volume.

O'Neill thanks Mary Leng for limitless love and support, and thanks his sons Tommy and Joe (both of whom arrived during the gestation of this book) for joyful distraction. Williamson thanks Adria Scharf and daughter Sahara for their inspiration, companionship, and patience.

Our thanks as well go to the editorial team at Wiley-Blackwell who have patiently worked with us through the process of putting this book together: Nick Bellorini, who commissioned the volume, Tiffany Mok, who inherited the book, and Nicole Benevenia and Caroline Richards, who oversaw the production process.

We owe a considerable debt to Michael Sandel of Harvard University. We (the editors) first met as teaching fellows for Sandel's course on “Justice” at Harvard in Fall 2000. In addition to being a tour de force introduction to questions of justice for undergraduates, the weekly meetings of the teaching staff conducted by Sandel served as an excellent seminar on theories of justice, with Sandel actively encouraging challenges to his own views and fostering a lively debate among the teaching fellows. Despite – or because of – our differences in nationality, discipline, philosophical starting points, and choice of English football clubs (Arsenal and Manchester City, in case you were wondering), we struck up a lively ongoing discussion of politics and justice (and football) that has both generated and sustained this project. In a tangible sense, this book is the offspring of Michael Sandel's now-famous course and the intellectual space that it provided.

Our greatest intellectual debt is to John Rawls, whose work provides the impetus for this book (as for so much recent political philosophy). Each of us first encountered Rawls's work as undergraduates at a time in which he was seen as rather mainstream, if not staid – unlike many of our students today, who (quite rightly!) view his ideas as radical. But like many others before us, our respect for Rawls's work, and his accomplishment in working out a conception of a just society that gives expression to our commitments to freedom and equality, has only grown over time. To be sure, each of us also has been shaped by rival trains of thought drawn from both inside and outside of philosophy. But we remain convinced that Rawls's approach to social justice, and the ideals that it embodies, remains a compelling starting point for both the critical analysis of contemporary society and for disciplined inquiry into how our societies might be made substantially more just. While we do indeed think it necessary to move far “beyond” Rawls's own work in considering the justification, structure, and political plausibility of a “property-owning democracy,” we see this inquiry as in continuity with Rawls's commitment to the hope of creating a just society of free and equal citizens.

Martin O'Neill and Thad Williamson
Oxton, UK and Richmond, Virginia
November 2011


Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers

In A Theory of Justice (1971), John Rawls proposed a conception of justice he called “justice as fairness.” A synthesis of liberal and egalitarian political values, justice-as-fairness comprises two principles of justice – principles that require our institutions to ensure equal basic liberties, provide genuinely equal opportunities, and limit socioeconomic inequalities to those that maximally benefit the least advantaged (Rawls, 1999). Recognizing the distance of such institutions from current realities, Rawls nevertheless says that justice-as-fairness presents a realistic utopia – a utopia because it meets the demands of our fundamental political values, realistic because it is politically feasible, taking people as they are and institutions as they might be (Rawls, 2001, p. 4).

This concern for realism, for institutional feasibility, was central to Rawls's idea of the aims of political philosophy. Political philosophy, an exercise of practical reason, aims, inter alia, to play a role in the political world by “provid[ing] guidance where guidance is needed” (Rawls, 1999, p. 18) – in particular, by guiding our judgment on large, open questions about the demands of justice. A very large open question is how, if at all, we can balance the demands of liberty and equality in the institutions of a modern political society. Given this aim, a case for institutional feasibility cannot be relegated to a “from-theory-to-practice” appendix, treated as a supplemental application of principles fully justified prior to such argument. Instead, that case is an ingredient of “reflective equilibrium” – of the justification of a conception of justice (Rawls, 1999, pp. xix, 171, 577–578).

Rawls's own account of just institutions has several features, including democracy, both constitutional and deliberative. But one especially striking part was the idea of a property-owning democracy, drawn from ideas of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Meade (1964). A property-owning democracy is defined by its broad dispersion of private productive assets. Already present in A Theory of Justice, this idea plays a large role in Rawls's later Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Rawls, 2001, pp. 135–140). There he expresses skepticism that justice-as-fairness can be realized in a capitalist welfare state, which he assumes to rely principally on a tax-transfer redistribution of market incomes to achieve fair distribution. Capitalist welfare states do not, as Rawls describes them, worry about the dispersion of income-generating assets – human and nonhuman capital. But asset inequalities threaten a concentration of economic and political power damaging to democracy and equal opportunity. Achieving a reconciliation of liberty and equality in a private ownership economy requires, then, a broad distribution of those assets.

But Rawls did not say much about property-owning democracy: that is the purpose of this volume, the basis of the “Rawls and Beyond” in its subtitle. The essays collected here provide a serious, critical exploration of the appeal and potential of property-owning democracy. Beginning with Martin O'Neill and Thad Williamson's illuminating and instructive introduction, the volume is historically grounded, philosophically informed, and inspiringly alive with good practical and moral sense.

One of the lessons of the book is that property-owning democracy is a complex theme with many variations and a rich history. Rather than briefly sketching (thus simplifying) that complexity, we propose to locate the argument on a wider political-philosophical canvass.

First, the book focuses on a problem of just institutions. This focus – embraced by Rawls in his emphasis on the “basic structure of society” – belongs to the central traditions of political theory: from Plato's kallipolis, ruled by philosopher-kings, to Locke's case for the rule of law and separated powers, to Marx's communism, with common property and free cooperation without subjection to a state. But post-Rawlsian political philosophy has been less concerned with institutions, concentrating instead on alternative principles of justice (as in the vast literature on responsibility-sensitive variants of egalitarianism), or on the complexities of justifying principles of justice under conditions of pluralism, or on the importance of outcomes or “realizations” rather than institutions (Sen, 2009, pp. 5–6). These philosophical challenges raise important questions about the precise role of institutions in an account of justice. But even if a concern with just institutions is less fundamental than political theorists have traditionally supposed, even if they are only a tool for producing independently defined just outcomes, they are an important tool and command close attention. As Amartya Sen, a sharp critic of an exclusively institutional focus, says, “Any theory of justice has to give an important place to the role of institutions . . .” (Sen, 2009, p. 82).

Second, the book focuses on domestic justice and institutions. For the past 15 years, much political philosophy has focused on global justice, especially global distributive justice – important subjects in view of the extraordinary importance of globalization, global politics, global inequality, and global poverty. Still, justice in a domestic society is a subject of great importance, and a focus on domestic institutions has much to be said for it. To be sure, it might be said that we simply cannot work out what a just domestic society is except as part of a larger argument about global justice; perhaps, for example, a global difference principle makes concern for the least advantaged in wealthier societies less pressing. But most reasonable ideas about global justice permit us to reflect, as a distinct practical matter, on principles and institutions for domestic justice. The discussion here accepts that invitation. Without minimizing the importance of global justice, the authors are betting that they can make progress understanding just domestic institutions while abstracting from the global setting.

Finally, the book focuses on economic justice and class – a central focus of modern politics and of the Rawlsian concern to respond to radical democratic and socialist criticisms of liberalism. To be sure, a focus on these issues abstracts from other important concerns – race, gender and family, ethnicity, nationality, culture, and language – that raise large issues of justice and have provided a focus of much work in political philosophy since the mid-1980s. Here again, the editors and contributors do not slight these other issues, but lay a bet – like Rawls's in A Theory of Justice – that they can make headway in analyzing certain institutions of economic justice while abstracting from the more complete picture of a just society that fuller engagement with those issues might permit.

Readers will decide for themselves if this bet – like the bets on a domestic and institutional focus – is likely to pay off. We like the odds and happily join them in their wager.


Meade, J. (1964) Efficiency, Equality, and the Ownership of Property, George Allen and Unwin, London.

Rawls, J. (1999) A Theory of Justice, rev. edn, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Rawls, J. (2001) Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (ed. E. Kelly), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Sen, A. (2009) The Idea of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

. . . there is a question about how the limits of the practicable are discerned and what the conditions of our social world in fact are; the problem here is that the limits of the possible are not given by the actual, for we can to a greater or lesser extent change political and social institutions, and much else.

Rawls, Justice as Fairness, p. 5