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Theoretical Inquiries in Law

Editor-in-Chief: Hannes, Sharon

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Property, Community, and the Problem of Distributive Justice

J. E Penner1

1University College London

Citation Information: Theoretical Inquiries in Law. Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 193–216, ISSN (Online) 1565-3404, DOI: 10.2202/1565-3404.1213, December 2008

Publication History:
Published Online:
2008-12-16

While it is often taken for granted that the concepts of property and of distributive justice are capable of working together to generate norms which can enhance positive social and political relations, in particular the value of community, this Article argues otherwise. Relying on critical tools deriving from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s notion of fetishism, the author claims that the Rawlsian conception of distributive justice fetishizes the institution of property, and claims to "distribute" participation in society amongst its members as if this amounted to a distribution of so many objects. Taken in this way, the concept of distributive justice has no respectable content. What social justice requires is a means to ensure that people are not "socially excluded," which requires each individual’s participation in the social and cultural enterprise. This sort of participation can no more be "distributed" than can life itself, and the realization of this point undermines the cogency of most discussions of distributive justice.

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