Justice and Democracy, by Keith Dowding, Robert E. Goodin and Carole Pateman (eds.)

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, paperback, 0521545439, £14.99, hardback, 0521836956, £40 Now avaiable in paper back £15.99. Order this book

This series of essays is a ‘festschrift’ in honour of the political philosopher Brian Barry. Its aim is to bring together the themes of ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’, which have tended to be treated in parallel universes in political theory, and to highlight the tensions that can exist between them. ‘The central questions about the relationship between democracy and justice – or, more precisely, about the relationship between different interpretations of “democracy” and “justice” – remain largely unaddressed’ (p. 6) the editors observe. In their introduction they illustrate the potential interrelationships between the two using the examples of participation, personal satisfaction, public goods and gender. They then map out the possible patternings of these interrelationships. They suggest that ‘the need for really hard choices between them arises only if “democracy” and “justice” become greatly at odds with one another; and the distance between them will deepen the nearer societies are to being truly “divided” rather than merely “multicultural”‘ (p. 14).

Most, though not all, of the chapters address the interrelationship between justice and democracy at some level. The majority of them are written by political theorists for political theorists and are not therefore for the fainthearted lay person. A few of the chapters raise wider issues, however, which may be of interest to Newsletter readers. In particular, David Miller considers how the principle of social justice might be applied to public goods, i.e. ‘goods made available to everyone without charge’ (p. 127) such as street lighting and sanitation. Julian Le Grand addresses the tricky question of voluntary social exclusion and Philip Pettitt discusses how to identify ‘the common good’.

The only explicit references to basic/citizen’s income are to be found in the introduction and in Keith Dowding’s chapter. The editors argue that, although usually discussed as part of the social justice agenda, basic income ‘might be seen as a way of fostering democratization…A basic income can allow all people, including those who provide vital non-pecuniary services, to be seen as fully-fledged citizens. Basic income might be important to democratic arguments as well as ones concerned with social justice’ (pp. 10-11).

It is disappointing that none of the chapters uses the lens of gender as an analytical tool, not least as the editors observe that ‘the interrelationships between justice and democracy emerge particularly strikingly with respect to groups historically denied both: not least women, half the human race’ (p. 11). It is also surprising given that one of the editors is Carole Pateman who has done so much to contribute to gendered debates on both democracy and justice, yet there is no chapter by her (nor by any other woman).

The aim of bringing together thinking on justice and democracy is to be applauded. However, as someone who is not trained in political philosophy, I found much of this book hardgoing and I doubt whether it would appeal to many Newsletter readers who also lack such a training.

Ruth Lister, Professor of Social Policy, Loughborough University and Citizen’s Income Trust trustee.