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.