What’s a Political Theorist to Do?

Rawls, the Fair Value of the Basic Political Liberties, and the Collapse of the Distinction Between ‘Ideal’ and ‘Nonideal’ Theory

in Theoria

John Rawls famously distinguishes between ideal and nonideal theory, according priority to the former. He depicts his own efforts to articulate the conception of justice as fairness as an instance of ideal theory. Subsequent political theorists have taken Rawls’s distinction as a template for how we should understand the tasks of political theory. Yet they also have struggled to clarify the underlying distinction with notable lack of success. We argue that Rawls himself does not abide by the distinction between ideal and nonideal theory and that this affords a good reason to set the distinction aside as a distraction.