The Right to Justification: Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice.

Author:Richardson, Henry S.
Position:Book review

The Right to Justification: Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice, Rainer Forst, trans. Jeffrey Flynn (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012; originally published in German by Suhrkamp, 2007), 368 pp., $40 cloth.

The Right to Justification, a thoughtfully selected, tightly knit, and wide-ranging collection of Rainer Forst's essays in moral and political theory, provides a useful introduction to the thought of one of the most exciting political philosophers working today. By lineage and position, Forst is heir to the Critical Theory school of Horkheimer and Adorno, and more recently of Jurgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. A highly systematic philosopher who has a unified moral and political theory, he is more firmly neo-Kantian than are most others of the Critical Theory school and more thoroughly engaged with work in the Anglo-American tradition.

For readers of this journal the last part of the book, devoted to human rights and transnational justice, would be of most interest. In part three, Forst explains how his unified theory provides a universal and indubitable basis for "constructing" human rights, by which he means both justifying them and generating their content. In addition, he stakes out what he calls a "transnational" position, according to which neither domestic justice (as "statists" urge) nor international justice (as "cosmopolitans" urge) has primacy; rather, each share the same moral foundation. From this foundation, which I come to shortly, he derives some definite and potentially radical implications for transnational distributive justice: Minimally, members of societies plagued by multiple types of domination have a legitimate claim on the various dominators for "the resources necessary to establish a (minimally) justified democratic order" (p. 263). Beyond that, at the "maximal" level he defends a dialogic analogue of Rawls's Difference Principle: The transnational "basic structure" must be such that it survives the "(qualified) veto right of the worst off" (p. 265).

As Forst sees things, the basis of this qualified veto right is the same as the basis for domestic and international justice. In fact, the basis of all of these is also the foundation of morality as such--namely, the right to justification. This is the right that those who affect you in morally relevant ways justify their actions to you reciprocally and generally. Those who seek to understand the basis of Forst's views on human rights and...

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