Brettschneider Response to Alex Zakaras on Chapter Six of Democratic Rights, “Private Property and the Right to Welfare.”

Thanks to Alex for his thoughtful and helpful post on this chapter.  His comments are especially helpful in thinking through how my account might respond to a kind of libertarian or “classically liberal” challenge. Specifically, Alex develops such a potential challenge from within the context of democratic contractualism. In particular, Alex wonders whether I am overly statist in my approach to welfare rights.  Citing Skocpol, he suggests that state involvement in welfare provision might weaken incentives of civil society groups to provide charity.  Why, he asks, should democratic contractualism rely on the state rather than charity to provide basic welfare rights?

I acknowledge the logical possibility that private markets might provide the kind of minimal welfare guarantees I defend in this chapter.  But absent any government involvement, I am skeptical that this logical possibility is likely.  More importantly, I have another worry about purely private provision of charity as a way of meeting these goals.  Although, Locke speaks of a right to “charity,” I worry that a system of purely private provision absent any state guarantees might undermine the notion that a guarantee of a minimum level of goods is in fact a right. Charity is often seen as a moral duty, but not a right required for political legitimacy.  On my account, however, it is important that these entitlements are, like the other democratic rights I defend,  necessary conditions for a legitimate state.  In sum, I acknowledge the logical possibility that these rights might be met be a market without a government safety net.  But I worry both that this is an unlikely empirical possibility and that such a system would weaken the claim that  a minimum provision of goods as a democratic right.

Alex also asks why I do not go further than the minimal requirements of a welfare right.  The least well off in society, he suggests, might reasonably demand welfare rights at the level of the difference principle under democratic contracutalist justification.  In the chapter I don’t rule out this possibility.  I only argue that welfare rights are a necessary condition of justifying property rights.  But this justification might not be a sufficient justification. Indeed, nothing in my account precludes the possibility that the difference principle is also a necessary condition required by my account.  Of course, if the difference principle itself is a necessary to justifying property rights and more broadly to democratic legitimacy the empirical worries I expressed in the previous paragraph about private markets providing welfare rights are even more pressing.

In his final remarks Alex offers his understanding of the right relationship between the justification that underlies democracy, democratic procedures, and individual rights.  We should think of the underlying justification, he suggests, as egalitarianism.  As I understand it, this is a view that is close to my own but which rejects the idea that this egalitarianism should be understood as distinctly democratic.  Broadly this account potentially shares much with Tom Christiano’s recent view as elaborated in his excellent book The Constitution of Equality.  Christiano’s view is similiar to my own in that he defends an account of equality as underlying liberal rights and democracy. But, unlike my own view, his account of this underlying value is  unabashedly comprehensive.   ( I pursue the tensions between my account and this kind of comprehensive view in a forthcoming exchange with Christiano  in the Journal of Politics, which I will link to when it is published.) I am curious if Alex too would go this far or if his is a more limited egalitarianism.

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