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What ‘Justice’ Really Means

The word has taken a beating in the past few weeks. But what role does it truly play in our lives?

power and justice essay

By Paul Bloomfield

Mr. Bloomfield is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut.

It’s a staple of common sense that we don’t let judges try their own cases. Yet if we are to gain self-knowledge, we all must do just that: We must judge ourselves to know ourselves. While we typically think of justice as a virtue of social arrangements or political institutions, the United States has recently bore witness to this virtue in its first-person aspect — self-regarding justice — while watching the confirmation hearings of a Supreme Court Justice.

The virtue of justice requires not only that we judge others fairly, but also that we judge ourselves fairly. This is no mean feat. The trouble is that if a person is a poor judge of him or herself, it is hard to imagine that person being a good judge of others. Bias toward the self often leads to bias against others. Justice begins within ourselves.

While justice is important for each of us in our personal lives, it becomes strikingly important when we think of those in positions of power. We need leaders motivated by a love of justice and not merely self-aggrandizement. Leadership without an inner moral compass reliably pointing toward justice inevitably ends in the abuse of power.

Philosophically, all virtues are ideals that we can only approach without fully attaining them. So, we can always aspire to do better. Given this, what role does the virtue of justice play in our personal lives? What role ought it to play?

In fact there are two roles: Justice functions both in our epistemology, or how we form and justify our beliefs, as well as in practical morality, informing our private and public behavior. These ought to be entwined in our lives since we ought not only think in a fair and just manner but also act accordingly.

The apotheosis of justice is the courtroom judge, interpreting the law and ruling on evidence concerning innocence and guilt. Model judges are epistemically just: Their cognitive processes are never biased or unduly swayed, their conclusions are not prejudged, and their verdicts reliably correspond to the facts. Truth is their goal. Not only must there be no thumb on the scale, the evidence must be balanced while wearing a blindfold. The rulings of judges, however, are also undeniably moral, bearing as they do on issues of justice, restitution and the execution of punishment.

Just people are wise in the ways of fairness, equality, desert and mercy. They are normally pacific. Just people mind their own business, except when they see and call out injustice, speaking truth to power, which they’ll do even at a personal cost. Justice questions authority.

Just people also question themselves. This makes them honest and non-self-deceptive. They vigilantly maintain a clear conscience. Just people are cognizant of their own mistakes and faults, and so they are forgiving of others. They respect who they actually are and not whom they merely wish they were, and their authentic self-respect makes them respectful of others. People who are just do as they say and say as they do: their word is their bond. They are capable of great loyalty and fidelity, but not without limit.

The central epistemic principles of justice require like cases to be treated alike, as captured legally by the concepts of the rule of law and precedent . Weak and strong, rich and poor, all are equal before the law (where this must include the Supreme Court justices and presidents of the United States). While applying general principles alone is sufficient for clear, ordinary cases, a fine sensitivity, experience and reflection is necessary for reliably judging unusual or exceptional cases. Well-developed justice requires expertise in making hard “judgment calls.”

The central moral principles of justice require us to give proper respect to one another : Each of us must recognize the other as a person and not merely as an object. Each of us may testify. The least common denominator among us is that we are all human beings. In addition to that, we each have particular features making us all unique. Justice pays proper attention to what we have in common and to what sets us apart.

In discussing justice as a personal virtue, Aristotle said that being just, “ is a mean between committing injustice and suffering it, since the one is having more than one’s share, while the other is having less .” As recklessness and cowardice are opposing vices of courage, arrogance and servility are opposing vices of justice.

From sidewalk sexual harassment to the obstruction of justice, all abuses of power involve an unjust willingness to greedily arrogate more than one’s due. Typically, those who abuse their strength or cheat, and then don’t get caught or punished, self-deceptively think they’ve “beaten the system” and “won.” But fooling others into thinking you have earned a victory is not the same as genuinely being victorious. Cheaters fool themselves when they elide this difference.

The other way to fail justice is by judging ourselves to be less worthy than we truly are. This is sadly common among oppressed people, but it also arises among the affluent and powerful under the guise of the “impostor syndrome.” Humility has its place, but we shouldn’t overdo it, nor let it interfere with the intellectual courage required to call out injustice. Those who unfairly put themselves down or are servile, for whatever reason, are doing themselves an injustice by willfully accepting less than their fair share.

Given all this, the virtue of justice plays an important role in families and friendships, between neighbors and citizens, colleagues and clients, acquaintances and strangers. But it is also central to being a good person and living happily, and not merely deceiving oneself into believing that one is a good person and that one is happy.

Bringing justice fully into our lives, thinking in terms of it, will make us more circumspect. We are all too fallible. But it is often the case that we are much better at spotting the faults of others than we are at spotting faults in ourselves. Our blind spots are conveniently located to keep us from seeing our own weaknesses. What a coincidence!

Life is neither just nor fair: Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. This, however, only increases our obligation to be as just and fair as we can be, to be honest with ourselves as well as others, to try to correct injustice when we see it, and to do as much right in this unfair world as we can.

Paul Bloomfield is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut and the author of “ The Virtues of Happiness .”

Now in print : “ Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments ,” and “ The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments ,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

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Introduction to power, privilege, and social justice, definitions to lay the groundwork.

Before we start, here are a few terms that are referenced often in the information below.

Social identity is an individual's sense of who they are based on which social group(s) they belong to. Social identities allow individuals to have a sense of belonging. These groups can consist of but are not limited to:

  • Social class
  • Memberships in different organizations/clubs
  • and many more...

Power is the ability to influence and make decisions that impact others

Privilege is advantages and benefits that individuals receive because of social groups they are perceived to be a part of. Privilege is often a result of systematic targeting and/or marginalization of another social group.

Social justice is the practice of allyship and coalition work in order to promote equality, equity, respect, and the assurance of rights within and between communities and social groups.

How Identity Shapes Experience

Identity is complex and consists of multiple intersecting factors. For example, race, gender and/or socioeconomic status leads to differences not only in biological markers (skin color or physical features) and cultural markers (types of clothing), but also in shared traditions, beliefs, and/or biases. These identities not only impact the way society treats or views an individual, but also the way an individual interacts with others and their surroundings.

Identity shapes a person's experience to make it unique, even when they are in the same setting as someone else. For instance, a student who is low-income or trans might have a very different experience with Dartmouth than a more affluent, straight student due to the ways that power and privilege affect how they move through the world, how others view them, and what is expected of them.

The Importance of Social Justice

Social identities often shape our experiences, how we view the world, and the way society views and/or treats us. The social identities we carry are a basis for determining who may have power and privilege and who may be marginalized and oppressed.

Social justice is important because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate and learn from each other's diverse experiences and perspectives, builds a stronger campus community and impacts our daily lives. Social justice has the power to reform and improve access to and quality of education, healthcare, criminal justice and more. To make positive changes in the communities we are a part of, OPAL Education has a strong focus on social justice and peer to peer education and is dedicated to creating spaces "where all students can thrive, value difference, and contribute to the creation of a socially just world."

Next: Starting the Tough Conversations about Identity and Social Justice

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Feminist Perspectives on Power

Although any general definition of feminism would no doubt be controversial, it seems undeniable that much work in feminist theory is devoted to the tasks of critiquing gender subordination, analyzing its intersections with other forms of subordination such as racism, heterosexism, and class oppression, and envisioning prospects for individual and collective resistance and emancipation. Insofar as the concept of power is central to each of these theoretical tasks, power is clearly a central concept for feminist theory as well. And yet, curiously, it is one that is not often explicitly thematized in feminist work (exceptions include Allen 1998, 1999, Caputi 2013, Hartsock 1983 and 1996, Yeatmann 1997, and Young 1992). Indeed, Wendy Brown contends that “Power is one of those things we cannot approach head-on or in isolation from other subjects if we are to speak about it intelligently” (Brown 1988, 207). This poses a unique challenge for assessing feminist perspectives on power, as those perspectives must first be reconstructed from discussions of other topics. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify three main ways in which feminists have conceptualized power: as a resource to be (re)distributed, as domination, and as empowerment. After a brief discussion of the power debates in social and political theory, this entry will survey each of these feminist conceptions.

1. Defining power

2. power as resource: liberal feminist approaches, 3.1 phenomenological feminist approaches, 3.2 radical feminist approaches, 3.3 socialist feminist approaches, 3.4 intersectional approaches, 3.5 poststructuralist feminist approaches, 3.6 postcolonial and decolonial feminist approaches, 3.7 analytic feminist approaches, 4. power as empowerment, 5. concluding thoughts, other internet resources, related entries.

In social and political theory, power is often regarded as an essentially contested concept (see Lukes 1974 and 2005, and Connolly 1983). Although this claim is itself contested (see Haugaard 2010 and 2020, 4–10; Morriss 2002, 199–206 and Wartenberg 1990, 12–17), there is no doubt that the literature on power is marked by deep, widespread, and seemingly intractable disagreements over how the term should be understood.

One such disagreement pits those who define power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do, that is, as an exercise of power-over others, against those who define it as an ability or a capacity to act, that is, as a power-to do something. The classic formulation of the former definition is offered by Max Weber, who defines power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance…” (1978, 53). Similarly, Robert Dahl offers what he calls an “intuitive idea of power” according to which “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (1957, 202–03). Dahl’s discussion of power sparked a vigorous debate that continued until the mid-1970s, but even his sharpest critics seemed to concede his definition of power as an exercise of power-over others (see Bachrach and Baratz 1962 and Lukes 1974). As Steven Lukes notes, Dahl’s one-dimensional view of power, Bachrach and Baratz’s two-dimensional view, and his own three-dimensional view are all variations of “the same underlying conception of power, according to which A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests” (1974, 30). Similarly, but from a very different theoretical background, Michel Foucault’s highly influential analysis implicitly presupposes that power is a kind of power-over; and he puts it, “if we speak of the structures or the mechanisms of power, it is only insofar as we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others” (1983, 217). Notice that there are two salient features of this definition of power: power is understood in terms of power-over relations, and it is defined in terms of its actual exercise.

Classic articulations of power understood as power-to have been offered by Thomas Hobbes – power is a person’s “present means…to obtain some future apparent Good” (Hobbes 1985 (1641), 150) – and Hannah Arendt – power is “the human ability not just to act but to act in concert” (1970, 44). Arguing in favor of this way of conceptualizing power, Hanna Pitkin notes that the word “power” is related etymologically to the French pouvoir and the Latin potere , both of which mean to be able. “That suggests,” she writes, “that power is a something – anything – which makes or renders somebody able to do, capable of doing something. Power is capacity, potential, ability, or wherewithal” (1972, 276). Similarly, Peter Morriss (2002) and Lukes (2005) define power as a dispositional concept, meaning, as Lukes puts it, that power “is a potentiality, not an actuality – indeed a potentiality that may never be actualized” (2005, 69). (Note that this statement amounts to a significant revision of Lukes’s earlier analysis of power, in which he argued against defining power as power-to on the grounds that such a definition obscures “the conflictual aspect of power – the fact that it is exercised over people” and thus fails to address what we care about most when we decide to study power (1974, 31). For helpful discussion of whether Lukes’s embrace of the dispositional conception of power is compatible with his other theoretical commitments, see Haugaard (2010)). Some of the theorists who analyze power as power-to leave power-over entirely out of their analysis. For example, Arendt distinguishes power sharply from authority, strength, force, and violence, and offers a normative account in which power is understood as an end in itself (1970). As Jürgen Habermas has argued, this has the effect of screening any and all strategic understandings of power (where power is understood in the Weberian sense as imposing one’s will on another) out of her analysis (Habermas 1994). (Although Arendt defines power as a capacity, she also maintains that “power springs up between men when they act together and vanishes the moment they disperse” (1958, 200); hence, it is not clear whether she fully accepts a dispositional view of power). Others suggest that both aspects of power are important, but then focus their attention on either power-over (e.g., Connolly 1993) or power-to (e.g., Morriss 2002). Still others define power-over as a particular type of capacity, namely, the capacity to impose one’s will on others; on this view, power-over is a derivative form of power-to (Allen 1999, Lukes 2005). However, others have argued power-over and power-to refer to fundamentally different concepts and that it is a mistake to try to develop an account of power that integrates them (Pitkin 1972, Wartenberg 1990).

Another way of carving up the power literature is to distinguish between action-theoretical conceptions – that is, those that define power in terms of either the actions or the dispositional abilities of individual actors – and broader systemic or constitutive conceptions – that is, those that view power as systematically structuring possibilities for action, or, more strongly, as constitutive of social actors and the social world in which they act. On this way of distinguishing various conceptions of power, Hobbes and Weber are on the same side, since both of them understand power in primarily instrumentalist, individualist, and action-theoretical terms (Saar 2010, 10). The systemic conception, by contrast, views power as “the ways in which given social systems confer differentials of dispositional power on agents, thus structuring their possibilities for action” (Haugaard 2010, 425; see Clegg 1989). The systemic conception thus highlights the ways in which broad historical, political, economic, cultural, and social forces enable some individuals to exercise power over others, or inculcate certain abilities and dispositions in some actors but not in others. Saar argues, however, that the systemic conception of power should be understood not as an alternative to the action-theoretical conception of power, but rather as a more complex and sophisticated variant of that model. For, as he says, its “basic scenario remains individualistic at the methodological level: power operates on individuals as individuals, in the form of a ‘bringing to action’ or external determination” (Saar 2010, 14).

The constitutive conception of power pushes the insight of the systemic conception further by focusing on the constitutive relationships between power, individuals, and the social worlds they inhabit. The roots of this constitutive conception can be traced back to Spinoza (2002a and 2002b; Saar 2013), but variants of this view are also found in the work of more contemporary theorists such as Arendt and Foucault. Here it is important to note that Foucault’s work on power contains both action-theoretical and constitutive strands. The former strand is evident in his claim, cited above, that “if we speak of the structures or the mechanisms of power, it is only insofar as we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others” (Foucault 1983, 217), whereas the latter strand is evident in his definition of power as “the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization; as the processes which, through ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them;…thus forming a chain or system” (Foucault 1979, 92).

What accounts for the highly contested nature of the concept of power? One explanation is that how we conceptualize power is shaped by the political and theoretical interests that we bring to our study of it (Lukes 1986, Said 1986). For example, democratic theorists are interested in different things when they study power than are social movement theorists or critical race theorists or postcolonial theorists, and so on. Thus, a specific conceptualization of power could be more or less useful depending on the specific disciplinary or theoretical context in which it is deployed, where usefulness is evaluated in terms of how well it “accomplishes the task the theorists set for themselves” (Haugaard 2010, 426). On this view, if we suppose that feminists who are interested in power are interested in understanding and critiquing gender-based relations of domination and subordination as these intersect with other axes of oppression and thinking about how such relations can be transformed through individual and collective resistance, then we would conclude that specific conceptions of power should be evaluated in terms of how well they enable feminists to fulfill those aims.

Lukes suggests another, more radical, explanation for the essentially contested nature of the concept of power: our conceptions of power are, according to him, themselves shaped by power relations. As he puts it, “how we think about power may serve to reproduce and reinforce power structures and relations, or alternatively it may challenge and subvert them. It may contribute to their continued functioning, or it may unmask their principles of operation, whose effectiveness is increased by their being hidden from view. To the extent that this is so, conceptual and methodological questions are inescapably political and so what ‘power’ means is ‘essentially contested’…” (Lukes 2005, 63). The thought that conceptions of power are themselves shaped by power relations is behind the claim, made by many feminists, that the influential conception of power as power-over is itself a product of patriarchal domination (for further discussion, see section 4 below).

Those who conceptualize power as a resource understand it as a positive social good that is currently unequally distributed. For feminists who understand power in this way, the goal is to redistribute this resource so that women will have power equal to men. Implicit in this view is the assumption that power is, as Iris Marion Young puts it, “a kind of stuff that can be possessed by individuals in greater or lesser amounts” (Young 1990, 31).

The conception of power as a resource is arguably implicit in the work of some liberal feminists (Mill 1970, Okin 1989). For example, in Justice, Gender, and the Family , Susan Moller Okin argues that the modern gender-structured family unjustly distributes the benefits and burdens of familial life amongst husbands and wives. Okin includes power on her list of the benefits, which she calls “critical social goods.” As she puts it, “when we look seriously at the distribution between husbands and wives of such critical social goods as work (paid and unpaid), power, prestige, self-esteem, opportunities for self-development, and both physical and economic security, we find socially constructed inequalities between them, right down the list” (Okin, 1989, 136). Here, Okin seems to presuppose that power is a resource that is unequally and unjustly distributed between men and women; hence, one of the goals of feminism would be to redistribute this resource in more equitable ways.

Although she doesn’t discuss Okin’s work explicitly, Young offers a compelling critique of this view, which she calls the distributive model of power. First, Young maintains that it is wrong to think of power as a kind of stuff that can be possessed; on her view, power is a relation, not a thing that can be distributed or redistributed. Second, she claims that the distributive model tends to presuppose a dyadic, atomistic understanding of power; as a result, it fails to illuminate the broader social, institutional and structural contexts that shape individual relations of power. According to Young, this makes the distributive model unhelpful for understanding the structural features of domination. Third, the distributive model conceives of power statically, as a pattern of distribution, whereas Young, following Foucault (1980), claims that power exists only in action, and thus must be understood dynamically, as existing in ongoing processes or interactions. Finally, Young argues that the distributive model of power tends to view domination as the concentration of power in the hands of a few. According to Young, although this model might be appropriate for some forms of domination, it is not appropriate for the forms that domination takes in contemporary industrial societies such as the United States (Young 1990a, 31–33). On her view, in contemporary industrial societies, power is “widely dispersed and diffused” and yet it is nonetheless true that “social relations are tightly defined by domination and oppression” (Young 1990a, 32–33).

3. Power as Domination

Young’s critique of the distributive model points toward an alternative way of conceptualizing power, one that understands power not as a resource or critical social good, but instead views it as a relation of domination. Although feminists have often used a variety of terms to refer to this kind of relation – including “oppression,” “patriarchy,” “subjection,” and so forth –the common thread in these analyses is an understanding of power as an unjust or illegitimate power-over relation. In the remainder of this entry, I use the term “domination” simply to refer to unjust or oppressive power-over relations. In this section, I discuss the specific ways in which feminists with different political and philosophical commitments – influenced by phenomenology, radical feminism, Marxist socialism, intersectionality theory, post-structuralism, postcolonial and decolonial theory, and analytic philosophy – have conceptualized domination.

The locus classicus of feminist phenomenological approaches to theorizing male domination is Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex . Beauvoir’s text provides a brilliant analysis of the situation of women: the social, cultural, historical, and economic conditions that define their existence. Her diagnosis of women’s situation relies on the distinction between being for-itself – self-conscious subjectivity that is capable of freedom and transcendence – and being in-itself – the un-self-conscious things that are incapable of freedom and mired in immanence. Beauvoir argues that whereas men have assumed the status of the transcendent subject, women have been relegated to the status of the immanent Other. As she puts it in a famous passage from the Introduction to The Second Sex : “She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other” (Beauvoir, xxii). This distinction – between man as Subject and woman as Other – is the key to Beauvoir’s understanding of domination or oppression. She writes, “every time transcendence falls back into immanence, stagnation, there is a degradation of existence into the ‘en-soi’ – the brutish life of subjection to given conditions – and liberty into constraint and contingence. This downfall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In both cases it is an absolute evil” (Beauvoir, xxxv). Although Beauvoir suggests that women are partly responsible for submitting to the status of the Other in order to avoid the anguish of authentic existence (hence, they are in bad faith) (see Beauvoir xxvii), she maintains that women are oppressed because they are compelled to assume the status of the Other, doomed to immanence (xxxv). Women’s situation is thus marked by a basic tension between transcendence and immanence; as self-conscious human beings, they are capable of transcendence, but they are compelled into immanence by cultural and social conditions that deny them that transcendence (see Beauvoir, chapter 21).

Some feminists have criticized Beauvoir's conception of oppression for its reliance on a problematic analogy between race and gender (see, for example, her claim that “there are deep similarities between the situation of woman and that of the Negro,” (Beauvoir, xxix)). Beauvoir's frequent use of such analogies, critics contend, erases the experience of Black women by implicitly coding all women as white and all Blacks as male (Gines (Belle) 2010 and 2017, Collins 2019, 194–198, and Simons 2002). As Kathryn T. Gines (now Kathryn Sophia Belle) argues further, Beauvoir's analysis deploys “comparative and competing frameworks of oppression” (Gines (Belle) 2014a). At times, Beauvoir treats not just sexism and racism but also antisemitism, colonialism, and class oppression comparatively, arguing that they rest of similar dynamics of Othering. Her comparative analysis of race and gender is most problematic in her frequent analogy between the situation of women and that of the slave. As Belle argues, this analogy not only obscures the experiences of Black female slaves, it also leads Beauvior to “engage in an appropriation of Black suffering in the form of slavery to advance her philosophical discussion of woman's situation” (265). At other times, Beauvoir treats racism, sexism, antisemitism, colonialism, and class oppression as competing frameworks and argues that gender subordination is the most significant and constitutive form of oppression. Both moves are problematic, according to Belle, the former for its erasure of the oppression of Black women and the latter for its privileging of gender oppression over other forms of oppression.

Feminist phenomenologists have engaged critically with Beauvoir's work while extending her insights into power. For example, Young argues that Beauvoir pays relatively little attention to the role that female embodiment plays in women’s oppression (Young 1990b, 142–3). Although Beauvoir does discuss women’s bodies in relation to their status as immanent Other, she tends to focus on women’s physiology and how physiological features such as menstruation and pregnancy tie women more closely to nature, thus, to immanence. In her essay, “Throwing Like a Girl,” Young draws on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological analysis of the lived body to analyze “the situatedness of the woman’s actual bodily movement and orientation to its surroundings and its world” (Young 1990b, 143). She notes that girls and women often fail to use fully the spatial potential of their bodies (for example, they throw “like girls”), they try not to take up too much space, and they tend to approach physical activity tentatively and uncertainly (Young 1990b, 145–147). Young argues that feminine bodily comportment, movement, and spatial orientation exhibit the same tension between transcendence and immanence that Beauvoir diagnoses in The Second Sex . “At the root of those modalities,” Young writes, “is the fact that the woman lives her body as object as well as subject. The source of this is that patriarchal society defines woman as object, as a mere body, and that in sexist society women are in fact frequently regarded by others as objects and mere bodies” (Young 1990b, 155). And yet women are also subjects, and, thus, cannot think of themselves as mere bodily objects. As a result, woman “cannot be in unity with herself” (Young 1990b, 155). Young explores the tension between transcendence and immanence and the lack of unity characteristic of feminine subjectivity in more detail in several other essays that explore pregnant embodiment, women’s experience with their clothes, and breasted experience (See Young 1990b, chapters 9–11).

Much important work in feminist phenomenology follows Young in drawing inspiration from Merleau-Ponty’s analyses of embodiment and intercorporeality (see Heinamaa 2003, Weiss 1999); like Young, these authors use a Merleau-Pontyian approach to phenomenology to explore the fundamental modalities of female embodiment or feminine bodily comportment. Feminists have also mined the work of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, for useful resources for feminist phenomenology (Al-Saji 2010 and Oksala 2016).

More generally, Oksala defends the importance of feminist phenomenology as an exploration of gendered experience against poststructuralist critics who find such a project hopelessly essentialist. While Oksala acknowledges that essentialism is a danger found in some work in feminist phenomenology – for example, she is critical of Sonia Kruks (2001) for “considering ‘female experience’ as an irreducible given grounded in a female body” (Oksala 2016, 72) – she also insists that a phenomenological analysis of experience is crucial for feminism. As she puts it, “it is my contention that feminist theory must ‘retrieve experience’, but this cannot mean returning to a pre discursive female experience grounded in the commonalities of women’s embodiment” (40). On her view, experience is always constructed in such a way that it “reflects oppressive discourses and power relations” (43); and yet, experience and thought or discourse are not co-extensive. This means that there is always a gap between our personal experience and the linguistic representations that we employ to make sense of that experience, and it is this gap that provides the space for contestation and critique. Thus, Oksala concludes, “experiences can contest discourses even if, or precisely because, they are conceptual through and through” (50). For Oksala, experience plays a crucial role in reinforcing and reproducing oppressive power relations, but radical reflection on our experience opens up a space for individual and collective resistance to and transformation of those power relations.

The concept of experience is also central to Mariana Ortega's analysis of Latina feminist phenomenology (Ortega 2016). Ortega reads the prominent Latina feminists Gloria Anzaldúa and María Lugones as phenomenologists “whose writings are deeply informed by their lived experience, specifically by their experience of marginalization and oppression as well as their experience of resistance” (7). By highlighting the experience of marginalized and oppressed selves who live their lives at the borderlands or in a state of in-betweenness, Latina feminist phenomenology, as Ortega reads it, offers an important corrective to and expansion of the critique of modern subjectivity in the European phenomenological tradition.

For other influential feminist-phenomenological analyses of domination see Bartky 1990, 2002, Bordo 1993, and Kruks 2001. For helpful overviews of feminist phenomenology, see Fisher and Embree 2000, and Heinamaa and Rodemeyer 2010. For a highly influential articulation of queer phenomenology, drawing on the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon, see Ahmed (2006). For a compelling phenomenological analysis of transgender experience, see Salamon (2010).

Unlike liberal feminists, who view power as a positive social resource that ought to be fairly distributed, and feminist phenomenologists, who understand domination in terms of a tension between transcendence and immanence, radical feminists tend to understand power in terms of dyadic relations of dominance/subordination, often understood on analogy with the relationship between master and slave.

For example, in the work of legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon, domination is closely bound up with her understanding of gender difference. According to MacKinnon, gender difference is simply the reified effect of domination. As she puts it, “difference is the velvet glove on the iron fist of domination. The problem is not that differences are not valued; the problem is that they are defined by power” (MacKinnon 1989, 219). If gender difference is itself a function of domination, then the implication is that men are powerful and women are powerless by definition. As MacKinnon puts it, “women/men is a distinction not just of difference, but of power and powerlessness….Power/powerlessness is the sex difference” (MacKinnon 1987, 123). (In this passage, MacKinnon glosses over the distinction, articulated by many second-wave feminists, between sex – the biologically rooted traits that make one male or female, traits that are often presumed to be natural and immutable – and gender – the socially and culturally rooted, hence contingent and mutable, traits, characteristics, dispositions, and practices that make one a woman or a man. This passage suggests that MacKinnon, like Judith Butler (1990) and other critics of the sex/gender distinction, thinks that sex difference, no less than gender difference, is socially constructed and shaped by relations of power.) If men are powerful and women powerless as such, then male domination is, on this view, pervasive. Indeed, MacKinnon claims that it is a basic “fact of male supremacy” that “no woman escapes the meaning of being a woman within a gendered social system, and sex inequality is not only pervasive but may be universal (in the sense of never having not been in some form” (MacKinnon 1989, 104–05). For MacKinnon, heterosexual intercourse is the paradigm of male domination; as she puts it, “the social relation between the sexes is organized so that men may dominate and women must submit and this relation is sexual – in fact, is sex” (MacKinnon 1987, 3). As a result, she tends to presuppose a dyadic conception of domination, according to which individual women are subject to the will of individual men. If male domination is pervasive and women are powerless by definition, then it follows that female power is “a contradiction in terms, socially speaking” (MacKinnon 1987, 53). The claim that female power is a contradiction in terms has led many feminists to criticize MacKinnon on the grounds that she denies women’s political agency and presents them as helpless victims (for exemplary versions of this criticism, see Brown 1995 and Butler 1997a).

Marilyn Frye likewise offers a radical feminist analysis of power that seems to presuppose a dyadic model of domination. Frye identifies several faces of power, one of the most important of which is access. As Frye puts it, “total power is unconditional access; total powerlessness is being unconditionally accessible. The creation and manipulation of power is constituted of the manipulation and control of access” (Frye 1983, 103). If access is one of the most important faces of power, then feminist separatism, insofar as it is a way of denying access to women’s bodies, emotional support, domestic labor, and so forth, represents a profound challenge to male power. For this reason, Frye maintains that all feminism that is worth the name entails some form of separatism. She also suggests that this is the real reason that men get so upset by acts of separatism: “if you are doing something that is so strictly forbidden by the patriarchs, you must be doing something right” (Frye 1983, 98). Frye frequently compares male domination to a master/slave relationship (see, for example, 1983, 103–105), and she defines oppression as “a system of interrelated barriers and forces which reduce, immobilize, and mold people who belong to a certain group, and effect their subordination to another group (individually to individuals of the other group, and as a group, to that group)” (Frye 1983, 33). In addition to access, Frye discusses definition as another, related, face of power. Frye claims that “the powerful normally determine what is said and sayable” (105). For example, “when the Secretary of Defense calls something a peace negotiation…then whatever it is that he called a peace negotiation is an instance of negotiating peace” (105). Under conditions of subordination, women typically do not have the power to define the terms of their situation, but by controlling access, Frye argues, they can begin to assert control over their own self-definition. Both of these – controlling access and definition – are ways of taking power. Although she does not go so far as MacKinnon does in claiming that female power is a contradiction in terms, Frye does claim that “if there is one thing women are queasy about it is actually taking power” (Frye 1983, 107).

A similar dyadic conception of male domination can arguably be found in Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract (1988) (although Pateman's work is heavily influenced by socialist feminism, her account of power is closer to radical feminism). Like MacKinnon, Pateman claims that gender difference is constituted by domination; as she puts it, “the patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection” (Pateman 1988, 207). She also claims that male domination is pervasive, and she explicitly appeals to a master/subject model to understand it; as she puts it, “in modern civil society all men are deemed good enough to be women’s masters” (Pateman 1988, 219). In Pateman’s view, the social contract that initiates civil society and provides for the legitimate exercise of political rights is also a sexual contract that establishes what she calls “the law of male sex-right,” securing male sexual access to and dominance over women (1988, 182). As Nancy Fraser has argued, on Pateman’s view, the sexual contract “institutes a series of male/female master/subject dyads” (Fraser 1993, 173). Fraser is highly critical of Pateman’s analysis, which she terms the “master/subject model,” a model that presents women’s subordination “first and foremost as the condition of being subject to the direct command of an individual man” (1993, 173). The problem with this dyadic account of women’s subordination, according to Fraser, is that “gender inequality is today being transformed by a shift from dyadic relations of mastery and subjection to more impersonal structural mechanisms that are lived through more fluid cultural forms” (1993, 180). Fraser suggests that, in order to understand women’s subordination in contemporary Western societies, feminists will have to move beyond the master/subject model to analyze how women’s subordination is secured through cultural norms, social practices, and other impersonal structural mechanisms. (For Pateman’s response to Fraser’s criticism, see Pateman and Mills (2007, 205–06)).

Although feminists such as Fraser, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown have been highly critical of the radical feminist account of domination, analytic feminists have found this account more productive. For example, Rae Langton (2009) has used speech act theory to defend MacKinnon's claims that pornography both causes and constitutes women's subordination. More generally, Langton (2009) and Sally Haslanger (2012) have drawn on MacKinnon's work to develop an account of sexual objectification and to explore the ways that objectification is often obscured by claims to objectivity (for further discussion of Haslanger's work, see section 3.7 below).

According to the traditional Marxist account of power, domination is understood on the model of class exploitation; domination results from the capitalist appropriation of the surplus value that is produced by the workers. As many second wave feminist critics of Marx have pointed out, however, Marx’s categories are gender-blind (see, for example, Firestone 1970, Hartmann 1980, Hartsock 1983, Rubin 1976). Marx ignores the ways in which class exploitation and gender subordination are intertwined; because he focuses solely on economic production, Marx overlooks women’s reproductive labor in the home and the exploitation of this labor in capitalist modes of production. As a result of this gender-blindness, second wave Marxist or socialist feminists argued that Marx’s analysis of class domination must be supplemented with a radical feminist critique of patriarchy in order to yield a satisfactory account of women’s oppression; the resulting theory is referred to as dual systems theory (see, for example, Eisenstein 1979, Hartmann 1980). As Young describes it, “dual systems theory says that women’s oppression arises from two distinct and relatively autonomous systems. The system of male domination, most often called ‘patriarchy’, produces the specific gender oppression of women; the system of the mode of production and class relations produces the class oppression and work alienation of most women” (Young 1990b, 21). Although Young agrees with the aim of theorizing class and gender domination in a single theory, she is critical of dual systems theory on the grounds that “it allows Marxism to retain in basically unchanged form its theory of economic and social relations, on to which it merely grafts a theory of gender relations” (Young 1990b, 24). Young calls instead for a more unified theory, a truly feminist historical materialism that would offer a critique of the social totality.

In a later essay, Young offers a more systematic analysis of oppression, an analysis that is grounded in her earlier call for a comprehensive socialist feminism. Young identifies five faces of oppression: economic exploitation, socio-economic marginalization, lack of power or autonomy over one’s work, cultural imperialism, and systematic violence (Young 1992, 183–193). The first three faces of oppression in this list expand on the Marxist account of economic exploitation, and the last two go beyond that account, bringing out other aspects of oppression that are not well explained in economic terms. According to Young, being subject to any one of these forms of power is sufficient to call a group oppressed, but most oppressed groups in the United States experience more than one of these forms of power, and some experience all five (Young 1992, 194). She also claims that this list is comprehensive, both in the sense that “covers all the groups said by new left social movements to be oppressed” and that it “covers all the ways they are oppressed” (Young 1992, 181; for critical discussion, see Allen 2008b).

Nancy Hartsock offers a different vision of feminist historical materialism in her book Money, Sex, and Power : Toward a Feminist Historical Materialism (1983). In this book, Hartsock is concerned with “(1) how relations of domination along lines of gender are constructed and maintained and (2) whether social understandings of domination itself have been distorted by men’s domination of women” (Hartsock 1983, 1). Following Marx’s conception of ideology, Hartsock maintains that the prevailing ideas and theories of a time period are rooted in the material, economic relations of that society. This applies, in her view, to theories of power as well. Thus, she criticizes theories of power in mainstream political science for presupposing a market model of economic relations – a model that understands the economy primarily in terms of exchange, which is how it appears from the perspective of the ruling class rather than in terms of production, which is how it appears from the perspective of the worker. She also argues that power and domination have consistently been associated with masculinity. Because power has been understood from the position of the socially dominant – the ruling class and men – the feminist task, according to Hartsock, is to reconceptualize power from a specifically feminist standpoint, one that is rooted in women’s life experience, specifically, their role in reproduction. Conceptualizing power from this standpoint can, according to Hartsock, “point beyond understandings of power as power over others” (Hartsock 1983, 12). (We’ll come back to this point in section 4).

Socialist feminism fell largely out of fashion during the latter part of the 20th century, fueled in part by the rise of poststructuralism, the prominence of identity and recognition based politics, and the emergence of a neoliberal consensus (for a trenchant critique of these developments, see Fraser 1996 and 2013). However, in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, socialist feminism, now often referred to as Social Reproduction Theory (SRT), has made a comeback. SRT has a long history, with important early contributions by Silvia Federici (1975) and Maria Mies (1986) and connections to the Italian wages for housework campaign that began in the 1970s; for more recent discussions, see Tithi Bhattacharya (2017), Federici (2014 and 2019), and Alessandra Mezzadri (2019). SRT is a Marxist feminist project that orients itself to a question that remains implicit in Marx's theory of value: how is labor power, which is the source of value and thus of exploitation in Marx's account, itself produced, reproduced, and maintained? SRT maintains that labor power is produced and reproduced outside of the official economy, largely through women's unpaid labor within the family or domestic sphere. For social reproduction theorists, the production of goods and services is thus possible only on the basis of (largely) unpaid social reproduction, which includes childbirth, domestic work, caring for children, the elderly and others who cannot work for wages, and so on. For Federici, this represents an ongoing process of expropriation akin to Marx's notion of primitive accumulation (Federici 2014). Social reproduction theorists understand production and reproduction as parts of an integrated system; indeed, they view the distinction between the two as ultimately misleading inasmuch as it obscures the ways in which social reproduction is itself productive of value (Mezzadri 2019). For a related attempt to understand capitalism as a social totality whose relations of production are made possible by the expropriation of socially reproductive labor, environmental resources, and the labor of dispossessed and colonized peoples, see Fraser in Fraser and Jaeggi (2018).

Theories of intersectionality highlight the complex, interconnected, and cross-cutting relationships between diverse modes of domination, including (but not limited to) sexism, racism, class oppression, and heterosexism. The project of intersectional feminism grew out of Black feminism, which, as scholars have recently noted, has a long tradition of examining the interconnections between racism and sexism, stretching back to the writing and activism of late 19th and early 20th century black feminists such as Maria W. Stewart, Ida. B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Sojourner Truth (see Gines 2014b and Cooper 2016). Because these thinkers and activists did not use the term intersectionality, Gines (now Belle) characterizes their work as proto-intersectional, which she defines as follows: “identifying and combating racism and sexism – through activist organizing and campaigning – not only as separate categories impacting identity and oppression, but also as systems of oppression that work together and mutually reinforce one another, presenting unique problems for black women who experience both, simultaneously and differently than white women and/or black men” (Gines 2014b, 14). Other important antecedents to contemporary intersectionality theory include the Combahee River Collective’s notion of “interlocking systems of oppression” (CRC 1977), Deborah King’s analysis of multiple jeopardy and multiple consciousness (King 1988), and the work from the 1980s of Black feminists such as Audre Lorde (1984), Angela Davis (1984), and bell hooks (1981). As Mariana Ortega has argued (2016), there are also important conceptions of intersectionality developed in Latina feminism, particularly in Anzaldúa's account of the borderlands and mestiza consciusness (Anzaldúa 1987) and Lugones's account of the intermeshedness of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and class (Lugones 2003).

In other words, the concept of intersectionality has a long history and a complex genealogy (for discussions, see Cooper 2016, Collins 2011 and 2019, 123–126, and Nash 2019). Still, it is widely acknowledged that the contemporary discussion and use of the term intersectionality was sparked by the work of legal theorist Kimberle Crenshaw (Crenshaw 1991a and 1991b), specifically, by her critique of single-axis frameworks for understanding domination in the context of legal discrimination. A single-axis framework treats race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience. In so doing, such a framework implicitly privileges the perspective of the most privileged members of oppressed groups – sex or class-privileged Blacks in race discrimination cases; race or class-privileged women in sex discrimination cases. Thus, a single-axis framework distorts the experiences of Black women, who are simultaneously subject to multiple and intersecting forms of subordination. As Crenshaw explains, “the intersection of racism and sexism factors into Black women’s lives in ways that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those experiences separately” (Crenshaw 1991b, 1244).

In the thirty years since the publication of Crenshaw’s essays on intersectionality, this framework has become extraordinarily influential in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. Indeed, it has been called “the most important contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with other fields, has made so far” (McCall 2005, 1771). However, feminist philosophers have noted that this influence has yet to be felt within the mainstream of the discipline of philosophy, where “intersectionality is largely ignored as a philosophical theme or framework” (Goswami, O’Donovan and Yount 2014, 6). Moreover, intersectionality is not without its feminist critics.

Some sympathetic critics of intersectionality have suggested that the concept is limited in that it focuses primarily on the action-theoretical level. A full analysis of the intertwining of racial, gender, and class-based subordination also requires, on this view, a systemic or macro-level concept that corresponds to the concept of intersectionality. Echoing the Combahee River Collective (CRC 1977), Patricia Hill Collins proposes the term “interlocking systems of oppression” to fulfill this role. As she explains, “the notion of interlocking oppressions refers to the macro-level connections linking systems of oppression such as race, class, and gender. This is the model describing the social structures that create social positions. Second, the notion of intersectionality describes micro-level processes – namely, how each individual and group occupies a social position within interlocking structures of oppression described by the metaphor of intersectionality. Together they shape oppression” (Collins et al . 2002, 82).

Others have worried that discussions of intersectionality tend to focus too much on relations and sites of oppression and subordination, without also taking into account relations of privilege and dominance. As Jennifer Nash has argued, this has led to “the question of whether all identities are intersectional or whether only multiply marginalized subjects have an intersectional identity” (Nash 2008, 9). Although some feminist scholars claim that intersectionality encompasses all subject positions, not just those that are marginalized or oppressed, Nash notes that “the overwhelming majority of intersectional scholarship has centred on the particular positions of multiply marginalized subjects” (Nash 2008, 9–10). The over-emphasis on oppression in theories of intersectionality leads theorists “to ignore the intimate connections between privilege and oppression,” for example, by “ignor[ing] the ways in which subjects might be both victimized by patriarchy and privileged by race” (Nash 2008, 12). In response to this concern, philosophers such as Ann Garry have offered a broader, more inclusive conception of intersectionality that emphasizes both oppression and privilege (see Garry 2011).

Rather than supplementing the notion of intersectionality with a macro-level concept of interlocking systems of oppression or broadening it to include relations of oppression and privilege, Naomi Zack argues that feminists should move beyond it. Zack maintains that intersectionality undermines its own goal of making feminism more inclusive. It does this, on Zack’s view, by dividing women into smaller and smaller groups, formed by specific intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and so forth. As Zack puts it, “as a theory of women’s identity, intersectionality is not inclusive insofar as members of specific intersections of race and class create only their own feminisms” (Zack 2005, 2). Because it tends toward “the reification of intersections as incommensurable identities,” Zack maintains that “intersectionality has not borne impressive political fruit” (Zack 2005, 18).

From a very different perspective, queer theorists such as Lynne Huffer and Jasbir Puar have also criticized intersectionality as a theory of identity. Unlike Zack, however, their concern is not with the proliferation of incommensurable identities but rather with the ways in which the notion of intersectionality remains, as Puar says, “primarily trapped within the logic of identity” (Puar 2012, 60). As Huffer puts the point: “the institutionalization of intersectionality as the only approach to gender and sexuality that takes difference seriously masks intersectionality’s investment in a subject-making form of power-knowledge that runs the risk of perpetuating precisely the problems intersectionality had hoped to alleviate” (Huffer 2013, 18). Puar argues further that the primary concepts of intersectionality, including gender, race, class, and sexuality, are themselves the product of Eurocentric, modernist, and colonial discourses and practices and, as such, are problematic from the point of view of postcolonial and transnational feminism (Puar 2012).

Finally, Anna Carastathis has argued that the problem with intersectionality theory lies in its very success (Carastathis 2013 and 2014). Intersectionality has been, on her view, too easily appropriated by white-dominated feminist theory, cut off from its roots in Black and women of color feminism, and incorporated into a self-congratulatory progressivist narrative according to which “intersectionality is celebrated as a methodological triumph over ‘previous’ essentialist and exclusionary approaches to theorizing identity and power relations” (Carastathis 2014, 59; for related critiques, see Nash 2008 and 2019 and Puar 2012). Carastathis cites Kimberle Crenshaw’s lament that intersectionality’s reach is wide but not very deep, and suggests that this may be the result of aversive racism – that is, a desire to assert or establish racial innocence, but without really coming to terms with their own internalized racism – on the part of white feminists (Carastathis, 2014, 68–69).

In response to these sorts of criticisms of intersectionality, some scholars have attempted to reformulate the concept by understanding it as a family resemblance concept (Garry 2011) or by highlighting its provisionality (Carastathis, 2014). Others have argued for an expansion of the intersectional framework to better account for the experiences of diasporic subjects (Sheth 2014) or for a rethinking of this framework in relation to a Deleuzian notion of assemblage (Puar 2007 and 2012). Collins (2019) has proposed the development of intersectionality as a critical social theory through a reflection on its genealogy, epistemology, and methodology.

Most of the work on power done by post-structuralist feminists has been inspired by Foucault. In his middle period works (Foucault 1977, 1978, and 1980), Foucault analyzes modern power as a mobile and constantly shifting set of force relations that emerge from every social interaction and thus pervade the social body. As he puts it, “power is everywhere, not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (1978, 93). Foucault endeavors to offer a “micro-physics” of modern power (1977, 26), an analysis that focuses not on the concentration of power in the hands of the sovereign or the state, but instead on how power flows through the capillaries of the social body. Foucault criticizes previous analyses of power (primarily Marxist and Freudian) for assuming that power is fundamentally repressive, a belief that he terms the “repressive hypothesis” (1978, 17–49). Although Foucault does not deny that power sometimes functions repressively (see 1978, 12), he maintains that it is primarily productive; as he puts it, “power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth” (1977, 194). It also, according to Foucault, produces subjects. As he puts it, “the individual is not the vis-à-vis of power; it is, I believe, one of its prime effects” (1980, 98). According to Foucault, modern power subjects individuals, in both senses of the term; it simultaneously creates them as subjects by subjecting them to power. As we will see in a moment, Foucault’s account of subjection and his account of power more generally have been extremely fruitful, but also quite controversial, for feminists interested in analyzing domination.

It should come as no surprise that so many feminists have drawn on Foucault’s analysis of power. Foucault’s analysis of power has arguably been the most influential discussion of the topic over the last forty years; even those theorists of power who are highly critical of Foucault’s work acknowledge this influence (Lukes 2005 and, in a somewhat backhanded way, Morriss 2002). Moreover, Foucault’s focus on the local and capillary nature of modern power clearly resonates with feminist efforts to redefine the scope and bounds of the political, efforts that are summed up by the slogan “the personal is political.” At this point, the feminist work that has been inspired by Foucault’s analysis of power is so extensive and varied that it defies summarization (see, for example, Allen 1999 and 2008a, Bartky 1990, Bordo 2003, Butler 1990, 1993, 1997, Diamond and Quinby (eds) 1988, Fraser 1989, Hekman (ed) 1996, Heyes 2007, McLaren 2002, McNay 1992, McWhorter 1999, Sawicki 1990, and Young 1990). I will concentrate on highlighting a few central issues from this rich and diverse body of scholarship.

Several of the most prominent Foucaultian-feminist analyses of power draw on his account of disciplinary power in order to critically analyze normative femininity. In Discipline and Punish , Foucault analyzes the disciplinary practices that were developed in prisons, schools, and factories in the 18th century – including minute regulations of bodily movements, obsessively detailed time schedules, and surveillance techniques – and how these practices shape the bodies of prisoners, students and workers into docile bodies (1977, 135–169). In a highly influential essay, Sandra Bartky criticizes Foucault for failing to notice that disciplinary practices are gendered and that, through such gendered discipline, women’s bodies are rendered more docile than the bodies of men (1990, 65). Drawing on and extending Foucault’s account of disciplinary power, Bartky analyzes the disciplinary practices that engender specifically feminine docile bodies – including dieting practices, limitations on gestures and mobility, and bodily ornamentation. She also expands Foucault’s analysis of the Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham’s design for the ideal prison, a building whose spatial arrangement was designed to compel the inmate to surveil himself, thus becoming, as Foucault famously put it, “the principle of his own subjection” (1977, 203). With respect to gendered disciplinary practices such as dieting, restricting one’s movement so as to avoid taking up too much space, and keeping one’s body properly hairless, attired, ornamented and made up, Bartky observes “it is women themselves who practice this discipline on and against their own bodies….The woman who checks her make-up half a dozen times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara run, who worries that the wind or rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks frequently to see if her stocking have bagged at the ankle, or who, feeling fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the inmate in the Panopticon, a self-policing subject, a self committed to relentless self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience to patriarchy” (1990, 80).

As Susan Bordo points out, this model of self-surveillance does not adequately illuminate all forms of female subordination – all too often women are actually compelled into submission by means of physical force, economic coercion, or emotional manipulation. Nevertheless, Bordo agrees with Bartky that “when it comes to the politics of appearance, such ideas are apt and illuminating” (1993, 27). Bordo explains that, in her own work, Foucault’s analysis of disciplinary power has been “extremely helpful both to my analysis of the contemporary disciplines of diet and exercise and to my understanding of eating disorders as arising out of and reproducing normative feminine practices of our culture, practices which train the female body in docility and obedience to cultural demands while at the same time being experienced in terms of power and control” (ibid). Bordo also highlights and makes use of Foucault’s understanding of power relations as inherently unstable, as always accompanied by, even generating, resistance (see Foucault 1983). “So, for example, the woman who goes into a rigorous weight-training program in order to achieve the currently stylish look may discover that her new muscles give her the self-confidence that enables her to assert herself more forcefully at work” (1993, 28).

Whereas Bartky and Bordo focus on Foucault’s account of disciplinary power, Judith Butler draws primarily on his analysis of subjection. For example, in her early and massively influential book, Gender Trouble (1990), Butler notes that “Foucault points out that juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent. Juridical notions of power appear to regulate political life in purely negative terms…..But the subjects regulated by such structures are, by virtue of being subjected to them, formed, defined, and reproduced in accordance with the requirements of those structures” (1990, 2). The implication of this for feminists is, according to Butler, that “feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of ‘women’, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (1990, 2). This Foucaultian insight into the nature of subjection – into the ways in which becoming a subject means at the same time being subjected to power relations – thus forms the basis for Butler’s trenchant critique of the category of women, and for her call for a subversive performance of the gender norms that govern the production of gender identity. In Bodies that Matter (1993), Butler extends this analysis to consider the impact of subjection on the bodily materiality of the subject. As she puts is, “power operates for Foucault in the constitution of the very materiality of the subject, in the principle which simultaneously forms and regulates the ‘subject’ of subjectivation” (1993, 34). Thus, for Butler, power understood as subjection is implicated in the process of determining which bodies come to matter, whose lives are livable and whose deaths grievable. In The Psychic Life of Power (1997b), Butler expands further on the Foucaultian notion of subjection, bringing it into dialogue with a Freudian account of the psyche. In the introduction to that text, Butler notes that subjection is a paradoxical form of power. It has an element of domination and subordination, to be sure, but, she writes, “if, following Foucault, we understand power as forming the subject as well, as providing the very condition of its existence and the trajectory of its desire, then power is not simply what we oppose but also, in a strong sense, what we depend on for our existence and what we harbor and preserve in the beings that we are” (1997b, 2). Although Butler credits Foucault with recognizing the fundamentally ambivalent character of subjection, she also argues that he does not offer an account of the specific mechanisms by which the subjected subject is formed. For this, Butler maintains, we need an analysis of the psychic form that power takes, for only such an analysis can illuminate the passionate attachment to power that is characteristic of subjection.

Although many feminists have found Foucault’s analysis of power extremely fruitful and productive, Foucault has also had his share of feminist critics. In a very influential early assessment, Nancy Fraser argues that, although Foucault’s work offers some interesting empirical insights into the functioning of modern power, it is “normatively confused” (Fraser 1989, 31). In his writings on power, Foucault seems to eschew normative categories, preferring instead to describe the way that power functions in local practices and to argue for the appropriate methodology for studying power. He even seems to suggest that such normative notions as autonomy, legitimacy, sovereignty, and so forth, are themselves effects of modern power (this point has been contested recently in the literature on Foucault; see Allen 2008a and Oksala 2005). Fraser claims that this attempt to remain normatively neutral or even critical of normativity is incompatible with the politically engaged character of Foucault’s writings. Thus, for example, although Foucault claims that power is always accompanied by resistance, Fraser argues that he cannot explain why domination ought to be resisted. As she puts it, “only with the introduction of normative notions of some kind could Foucault begin to answer such questions. Only with the introduction of normative notions could he begin to tell us what is wrong with the modern power/knowledge regime and why we ought to oppose it” (1989, 29). Other feminists have criticized the Foucaultian claim that the subject is an effect of power. According to feminists such as Linda Martín Alcoff and Seyla Benhabib, such a claim implies a denial of agency that is incompatible with the demands of feminism as an emancipatory social movement (Alcoff 1990, Benhabib 1992, and Benhabib et al. 1995; for a reply to this line of criticism, see Allen 2008a chs. 2 and 3). Finally, Nancy Hartsock (1990 and 1996) calls into question the usefulness of Foucault’s work as an analytical tool. Hartsock makes two related arguments against Foucault. First, she argues that his analysis of power is not a theory for women because it does not examine power from the epistemological point of view of the subordinated; in her view, Foucault analyzes power from the perspective of the colonizer, rather than the colonized (1990). Second, Foucault’s analysis of power fails to adequately theorize structural relations of inequality and domination that undergird women’s subordination; this is related to the first argument because “domination, viewed from above, is more likely to look like equality”(1996, 39; for a response to this critique, see Allen 1996 and 1999).

Despite these and other trenchant feminist critiques of Foucault (see, for example, Hekman, ed. 1996 and Ramazanoglu, ed. 1993), his analysis of power continues to be an extremely useful resource for feminist conceptions of domination. For recent important feminist work that draws on Foucault’s genealogical method to offer an intersectional analysis of racism and gender or sexual oppression see Feder (2007) and McWhorter (2009).

Postcolonial and decolonial theory offer overlapping critiques of historical and contemporary practices and discourses of imperial and colonial domination. Yet they also have distinct lineages, theoretical commitments, and implications (for helpful discussion, see Bhambra 2014 and Ramamurthy and Tambe 2017). Postcolonial theory rose to prominence in the late 20th century, in association with the groundbreaking work of Edward Said (1979) and the Subaltern Studies Collective, and has been most influential in literary and cultural studies. Taking as its primary point of reference the northern European colonization of Southeast Asia and focusing primarily on the discursive and cultural effects of colonialism, postcolonial theory is deeply (though not uncritically) influenced by poststruturalism, particularly the work of Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Decolonial theory emerged somewhat later, in the early 2000s, in association with the Latin American and Carribean scholars in the Modernity/Coloniality group. Its primary point of reference is the colonization of the Americas that began in 1492. Heavily influenced by Latin American Marxism, world systems theory, and indigenous political struggles, decolonial theory focuses on the connections between capitalism, colonialism, and racial hierarchies. Although these two approaches are not mutually exclusive, decolonial theory is often viewed as the more radical of the two, due to its broader historical range and its calls for epistemic decolonization and delinking from capitalist modernity/coloniality (Ruíz 2021).

Gayatri Spivak's “Can the Subaltern Speak?” (1988) is widely viewed as the watershed text in postcolonial feminism. Spivak's essay opens with a critical discussion of an exchange betweeen Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, in which they reject the idea of speaking for the oppressed, insisting instead that the oppressed should speak for themselves. The first part of her essay is devoted to a critique of this claim and of the myriad ways in which Foucault and Deleuze ignore the epistemic violence of imperialism. It is Foucault and Deleuze’s insistence that the oppressed “can speak and know their conditions” that leads Spivak to formulate her famous question, “can the subaltern speak?” (78). If, as Spivak goes on to suggest, the subaltern can not speak, then the “subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow” (83). Drawing on the example of the British banning the practice of sati in colonial India, Spivak suggests that the subaltern cannot speak because she is caught between imperialist discourse and patriarchal traditionalism, neither of which enables her to voice her experience: “Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced figuration of the ‘third world woman’ caught between tradition and modernization” (102). In other words, there is no space from which the subaltern as female can speak and no way she can be heard or read.

Another emblematic text in postcolonial feminism is Chandra Talpade Mohanty's “Under Western Eyes” (1988). Mohanty's essay is framed as a critique of Western feminist analyses of “Third World Women” for their reductive and overly simplistic understandings of power and oppression. In such discourses, as Mohanty explains, “power is automatically defined in binary terms: people who have it (read: men) and people who do not (read: women). Men exploit, women are exploited. Such simplistic formulations are historically reductive; they are also ineffectual in designing strategies to combat oppressions” (73). By contrast, Mohanty calls for an intersectional understanding of power that refuses to homogenize or falsely universalize women's experience: “the…homogenization of class, race, religion, and daily material practices of women in the Third World can create a false sense of the commonality of oppressions, interests, and struggles between and among women globally. Beyond sisterhood there are still racism, colonialism, and imperialism” (77). Furthermore, by representing “Third World Women” as mere passive objects or victims of oppression, Western feminists implicitly position themselves as active subjects of resistance and revolutionary agents – which Mohanty calls “the colonialist move” (79).

Much of the agenda for decolonial feminism was set by Lugones in a pair of essays published in Hypatia (2007 and 2010). Building on the work of Anibal Quijano (2000), who argued that racialization is rooted in the structure of colonial capitalism, Lugones contends that gender itself is “a colonial concept and mode of organization of relations of production, property relations, of cosmologies and ways of knowing” (2007, 186). Seeing gender as a colonial concept enables feminists to break out of the ahistorical framework of patriarchy. As she explains: “To understand the relation of the birth of the colonial/modern gender system to the birth of global colonial capitalism–with the centrality of the coloniality of power to that system of global power–is to understand our present organization of life anew” (2007, 187). Lugones's decolonial feminist framework combines the insights of intersectionality theory with Quijano’s understanding of the coloniality of power (2007, 187–88). This brings into focus what Lugones calls the “modern/colonial gender system” (2007, 189), a system that is characterized by strict sexual dimorphism and presumed correspondence between biological sex and gender. In the later essay, Lugones simplifies her formulation somewhat: “I call the analysis of racialized, capitalist, gender oppression ”the coloniality of gender.“ I call the possibility of overcoming the coloniality of gender ”decolonial feminism“” (2010, 747).

Although most of the approaches to dominaiton discussed above have been informed by the Continental philosophical tradition, analytic feminists have made important contributions to the feminist literature on domination as well. For example, Ann Cudd (2006) draws on the framework of rational choice theory to analyze oppression (for related work on rational choice theory and power, see Dowding 2001 and 2009; for critical discussion, see Allen 2008c).

Cudd defines oppression in terms of four conditions: 1) the group condition, which states that individuals are subjected to unjust treatment because of their membership (or ascribed membership) in certain social groups (Cudd 2006, 21); 2) the harm condition, which stipulates that individuals are systematically and unfairly harmed as a result of such membership (Cudd 2006, 21); 3) the coercion condition, which specifies that the harms that those individuals suffer are brought about through unjustified coercion (Cudd 2006, 22); and 4) the privilege condition, which states that such coercive, group-based harms count as oppression only when there exist other social groups who derive a reciprocal privilege or benefit from that unjust harm (Cudd 2006, 22–23). Cudd then defines oppression as “an objective social phenomenon” characterized by these four conditions (Cudd 2006, 23).

As Cudd sees it, the most difficult and interesting question that an analysis of oppression must confront is the “endurance question: how does oppression endure over time in spite of humans’ rough natural equality?” (Cudd 2006, 25). Any satisfactory answer to this question must draw on a combination of empirical, social-scientific research and normative philosophical theorizing, inasmuch as a theory of oppression is an explanatory theory of a normative concept (Cudd 2006, 26). (That oppression is a normative – rather than a purely descriptive – concept is evident from the fact that it is defined as an unjust or unfair set of power relations). Cudd argues that social-theoretical frameworks such as functionalism, psychoanalysis, and evolutionary psychology are inadequate for theorizing oppression (Cudd 2006, 39–45). Structural rational choice theory, in her view, best meets reasonable criteria of explanatory adequacy and therefore provides the best social-theoretical framework for analyzing oppression. By appealing to a structural theory of rational choice, Cudd’s analysis of oppression avoids relying on assumptions about the psychology of individual agents. Rather, as Cudd puts it, “the structural theory of rational choice assesses the objective social rewards and penalties that are consequent on” the interactions and social status of specific group members and “uses these assessments to impute preferences and beliefs to individuals based purely on their social group memberships” (Cudd 2006, 45). But, as a structural theory of rational choice , the framework assumes “that agents behave rationally in the sense that they choose actions that maximize their (induced) expected utilities” (Cudd 2006, 46). In other words, structural rational choice theory models human actions as “(basically instrumentally rational) individual choice constrained within socially structured payoffs” (Cudd 2006, 37). When utilized to analyze oppression, structural rational choice theory suggests that the key to answering the endurance question lies in the fact that “the oppressed are co-opted through their own short-run rational choices to reinforce the long-run oppression of their social group” (Cudd 2006, 21–22).

Sally Haslanger’s work on gender and racial oppression, like Cudd’s, is heavily informed by the tools of analytic philosophy, though Haslanger also situates her work within the tradition of Critical Theory (see Haslanger 2012, 22–30). Haslanger distinguishes between two kinds of cases of oppression: agent oppression, in which “a person or persons (the oppressor(s)) inflicts harm upon another (the oppressed) wrongfully or unjustly” (314) and structural oppression, in which “the oppression is not an individual wrong but a social/political wrong; that is, it is a problem lying in our collective arrangements, an injustice in our practices or institutions” (314). Having made this distinction, Haslanger then argues for a mixed analysis of oppression that does not attempt to reduce agent oppression to structural oppression or vice versa. The danger of reducing structural oppression to agent oppression – what Haslanger calls the individualistic approach to oppression – is that doing so fails to acknowledge that “sometimes structures themselves, not individuals are the problem” (320). The danger of reducing agent oppression to structural oppression – what Haslanger calls the institutionalist approach – is that such an approach “fails to distinguish those who abuse their power to do wrong and those who are privileged but do not exploit their power” (320). Haslanger’s mixed approach, by contrast, is “attentive simultaneously [and, we might add, non-reductively] to both agents and structures” (11).

Haslanger also connects her account of structural domination and oppression to her analysis of gender. Haslanger offers what she calls a “focal analysis” of gender, according to which the core of gender is “the pattern of social relations that constitute the social classes of men as dominant and women as subordinate” (228). Other things – such as norms, identities, symbols, etc – are then gendered in relation to those social relations. On her analysis, gender categories are defined in terms of how one is socially positioned with respect to a broad complex of oppressive relations between groups that are distinguished from one another by means of sexual difference (see 229–230). As Haslanger explains, the “background idea” informing this account of gender is “that women are oppressed , and that they are oppressed as women ” (231).

By claiming that women are oppressed as women, Haslanger reiterates an earlier claim made by radical feminists such as Catharine MacKinnon (see, for example, MacKinnon 1987, 56–57). Indeed, Haslanger’s analysis is heavily indebted to MacKinnon’s work (see Haslanger 2012, 35–82), though she does not endorse MacKinnon’s strong claims about the link between objectivity and masculinity, nor does she adopt a dyadic (or, to use Haslanger’s terminology, reductively agent focused) understanding of oppression. But, like MacKinnon, Haslanger believes that “gender categories are defined relationally – one is a woman (or a man) by virtue of one’s position in a system of social relations” (58). This means that “one’s gender is an extrinsic property, and…it is not necessary that we each have the gender we now have, or that we have any gender at all” (58). Since the social relations in terms of which gender categories are defined are relations of hierarchical domination and structural oppression, “gender is, by definition, hierarchical: Those who function socially as men have power over those who function socially as women” (61). As Haslanger admits, referencing the sex/gender distinction, this does not mean that all males have power over all females – but it does mean that females who are not subordinated by males are not, strictly speaking, women, and vice versa. Moreover, as Haslanger notes, “MacKinnon’s account of gender, like others that define gender hierarchically, has the consequence that feminism aims to undermine the very distinction it depends upon. If feminism is successful, there will no longer be a gender distinction as such” because the complex of social relations of domination and structural oppression that give gender its meaning will no longer exist (62). While endorsing MacKinnon’s radical conclusion with respect to the currently existing gender categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, Haslanger’s own account offers a somewhat more nuanced view that allows for the future possibility of a kind of gender difference that would not be predicted on gender dominance: “gender can be fruitfully understood as a higher order genus that includes not only the hierarchical social positions of man and woman, but potentially other non-hierarchical social positions defined in part by reference to reproductive function. I believe gender as we know it takes hierarchical forms as men and women; but the theoretical move of treating men and women as only two kinds of gender provides resources for thinking about other (actual) genders, and the political possibility of constructing non-hierarchical genders” (235)

Up to this point, this entry has focused on power understood in terms of an oppressive or unjust power-over relationship. I have used the term “domination” to refer to such relationships, though some of the theorists discussed above prefer the terms “oppression” or “subjection,” and others refer to this phenomenon simply as “power.” However, a significant strand of feminist theorizing of power starts with the contention that the conception of power as power-over, domination, or control is implicitly masculinist. In order to avoid such masculinist connotations, many feminists from a variety of theoretical backgrounds have argued for a reconceptualization of power as a capacity or ability, specifically, the capacity to empower or transform oneself and others. Thus, these feminists have tended to understood power not as power-over but as power-to. Wartenberg (1990) argues that this feminist understanding of power, which he calls transformative power, is actually a type of power-over, albeit one that is distinct from domination because it aims at empowering those over whom it is exercised. However, most of the feminists who embrace this transformative or empowerment-based conception of power explicitly define it as an ability or capacity and present it as an alternative to putatively masculine notions of power-over. Thus, in what follows, I will follow their usage rather than Wartenberg’s.

For example, Jean Baker Miller claims that “women’s examination of power…can bring new understanding to the whole concept of power” (Miller 1992, 241). Miller rejects the definition of power as domination; instead, she defines it as “the capacity to produce a change – that is, to move anything from point A or state A to point B or state B” (Miller 1992, 241). Miller suggests that power understood as domination is particularly masculine; from women’s perspective, power is understood differently: “there is enormous validity in women’s not wanting to use power as it is presently conceived and used. Rather, women may want to be powerful in ways that simultaneously enhance, rather than diminish, the power of others” (Miller 1992, 247–248).

Similarly, Virginia Held argues against the masculinist conception of power as “the power to cause others to submit to one’s will, the power that led men to seek hierarchical control and…contractual constraints” (Held 1993, 136). Held views women’s unique experiences as mothers and caregivers as the basis for new insights into power; as she puts it, “the capacity to give birth and to nurture and empower could be the basis for new and more humanly promising conceptions than the ones that now prevail of power, empowerment, and growth” (Held 1993, 137). According to Held, “the power of a mothering person to empower others, to foster transformative growth, is a different sort of power from that of a stronger sword or a dominant will” (Held 1993, 209). On Held’s view, a feminist analysis of society and politics leads to an understanding of power as the capacity to transform and empower oneself and others.

This conception of power as transformative and empowering is also a prominent theme in lesbian feminism and ecofeminism. For example, Sarah Lucia Hoagland is critical of the masculine conception of power with its focus on “state authority, police and armed forces, control of economic resources, control of technology, and hierarchy and chain of command” (Hoagland 1988, 114). Instead, Hoagland defines power as “power-from-within” which she understands as “the power of ability, of choice and engagement. It is creative; and hence it is an affecting and transforming power but not a controlling power” (Hoagland 1988, 118). Similarly, Starhawk claims that she is “on the side of the power that emerges from within, that is inherent in us as the power to grow is inherent in the seed” (Starhawk 1987, 8). For both Hoagland and Starhawk, power-from-within is a positive, life-affirming, and empowering force that stands in stark contrast to power understood as domination, control or imposing one’s will on another.

A similar understanding of power can also be found in the work of the prominent French feminists Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous. Irigaray, for example, urges feminists to question the definition of power in phallocratic cultures, for if feminists “aim simply for a change in the distribution of power, leaving intact the power structure itself, then they are resubjecting themselves, deliberately or not, to a phallocratic order” (Irigaray 1985, 81), that is, to a discursive and cultural order that privileges the masculine, represented by the phallus. If we wish to subvert the phallocratic order, according to Irigaray, we will have to reject “a definition of power of the masculine type” (Irigaray 1985, 81). Some feminists interpret Irigaray’s work on sexual difference as suggesting an alternative conception of power as transformative, a conception that is grounded in a specifically feminine economy (see Irigaray 1981 and Kuykendall 1983). Similarly, Cixous claims that “les pouvoirs de la femme” do not consist in mastering or exercising power over others, but instead are a form of “power over oneself” (Cixous 1977, 483–84).

Along similar lines, Nancy Hartsock refers to the understanding of power “as energy and competence rather than dominance” as “the feminist theory of power” (Hartsock 1983, 224). Hartsock argues that precursors of this theory can be found in the work of some women who did not consider themselves to be feminists – most notably, Hannah Arendt, whose rejection of the command-obedience model of power and definition of ‘power’ as “the human ability not just to act but to act in concert” overlaps significantly with the feminist conception of power as empowerment (1970, 44). Arendt’s definition of ‘power’ brings out another aspect of the definition of ‘power’ as empowerment because of her focus on community or collective empowerment (on the relationship between power and community, see Hartsock 1983, 1996). This aspect of empowerment is evident in Mary Parker Follett’s distinction between power-over and power-with; for Follett, power-with is a collective ability that is a function of relationships of reciprocity between members of a group (Follett 1942). Hartsock finds it significant that the theme of power as capacity or empowerment has been so prominent in the work of women who have written about power. In her view, this points in the direction of a feminist standpoint that “should allow us to understand why the masculine community constructed…power, as domination, repression, and death, and why women’s accounts of power differ in specific and systematic ways from those put forward by men….such a standpoint might allow us to put forward an understanding of power that points in more liberatory directions” (Hartsock 1983, 226).

The notion of empowerment has also been taken up widely by advocates of so-called “power feminism.” A reaction against a perceived over-emphasis on women’s victimization and oppression in feminism of the 1980s, power feminism emerged in the 1990s in the writings of feminists such as Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Naomi Wolf. Although this movement has had more influence in mainstream media and culture than in academia – indeed, in many ways it can be read as a critique of academic feminism – it has also sparked scholarly debate. As Mary Caputi argues in her book Feminism and Power: The Need for Critical Theory (2013), power feminists reject not only the excessive focus on women’s victimization but also the claim, made by earlier empowerment theorists, that women are “sensitive creatures given more to a caring, interconnected web of human relationships than to the rugged individualism espoused by men” (Caputi 2013, 4). In contrast, power feminists endorse a more individualistic, self-assertive, even aggressive conception of empowerment, one that tends to define empowerment in terms of individual choice with little concern for the contexts within which choices are made or the options from which women are able to choose. Caputi argues that power feminism relies on and mimetically reproduces a problematically masculinist conception of power, one “enthralled by the display of ‘power over’ rather than ‘power with’…” (Caputi 2013, xv). As she puts it: “feminism must query the uncritical endorsement of an empowerment aligned with a masculinist will to power, and disown the tough, sassy, self-assured but unthinking ‘feminist’” (Caputi 2013, 17). Because of its tendency to mimic an individualistic, sovereign, and masculinist conception of power over, power feminism, according to Caputi, “does little, if anything, to rethink our conception of power” (Caputi 2013, 89). In order to prompt such a rethinking, Caputi turns to the resources of the early Frankfurt School of critical theory and to the work of Jacques Derrida.

Serene Khader’s Adaptive Preferences and Women’s Empowerment offers another rethinking of empowerment in feminist theory. Focusing on empowerment in the context of international development practice, Khader develops a deliberative perfectionist account of adaptive preferences. Rather than defining adaptive preferences in terms of autonomy deficits, Khader defines them as preferences “inconsistent with basic flourishing…that are formed under conditions nonconductive to basic flourishing and…that we believe people might be persuaded to transform upon normative scrutiny of their preferences and exposure to conditions more conducive to flourishing” (Khader 2011, 42). The perfectionism in her account leads her to emphasize the distinction between merely adaptive preferences – those formed through adaptation to existing social conditions – and what she calls “inappropriately adaptive preferences” (IAPs) – preferences that are adaptive to bad or oppressive social conditions and that are harmful to those who adopt them (52–53). She also insists that IAPs are most often selective rather than global self-entitlement deficits (109), which means that they impact individuals’ sense of their own worth or entitlement to certain goods not globally but rather in particular domains and contexts and in relation to certain specific individuals or groups. This allows her to acknowledge the psychological effects of oppression working through the mechanism of IAPs without denying the possibility of agency on the part of the oppressed.

Khader draws on her deliberative perfectionist account of IAPs to diagnose and move beyond certain controversies over the notion of empowerment that have emerged in feminist development practice and theorizing. As the concept of women’s empowerment has become central to international development practice, feminists have raised concerns about the ideological effects of this shift. While acknowledging that the language of empowerment in development practice can have ideological effects, Khader addresses these concerns by providing a clearer conception of empowerment than the one implicit in the development literature and emphasizing what she understands as the normative core of this concept, its relation to human flourishing. She defines empowerment as the “ process of overcoming one or many IAPs through processes that enhance some element of a person’s concept of self-entitlement and increase her capacity to pursue her own flourishing ” (Khader 2011, 176). This definition of empowerment enables her to rethink certain dilemmas of empowerment that have emerged in development theory and practices. For example, many development practitioners define empowerment in terms of choice, and then struggle to make sense of apparently self-subordinating choices. If choice equals empowerment, then does this mean that the choice to subordinate or disempower oneself is an instance of empowerment? Khader’s finely grained analysis provides an elegant way out of this dilemma by emphasizing the conditions under which choices are made and the tradeoffs among different domains or aspects of flourishing that these conditions may necessitate. Discussing a case of young women in Tanzania who chose to undergo clitoridectomy after receiving education about the practice aimed at empowering them, Khader writes: “Are the young women who choose clitoridectomy disempowered because they have few options for unambiguously pursuing their flourishing or are they empowered because they have exercised agential capacities by making a choice? My analysis of IAP allows us to say both” (187). For Khader, empowerment is a messy, complex, and incremental concept. Her analysis of empowerment enables us to see that “self-subordinating choices can have selective empowering effects under disempowering conditions” (189). But the normative core of her account, its deliberative perfectionism, insists that “a situation where one cannot seek one’s basic flourishing across multiple domains is a tragic one” (189).

The concept of power is central to a wide variety of debates in feminist philosophy. Indeed, the very centrality of this concept to feminist theorizing creates difficulties in writing an entry such as this one: since the concept of power is operative on one way or another in almost all work in feminist theory, it is extremely difficult to place limits on the relevant sources. Throughout, I have emphasized those texts and debates in which the concept of power is a central theme, even if sometimes an implicit one. I have also prioritized those authors and texts that have been most influential within feminist philosophy, as opposed to the wider terrain of feminist theory or gender studies, though I acknowledge that this distinction is difficult to maintain and perhaps not always terribly useful. Debatable as such framing choices may be, they do offer some much needed help in delimiting the range of relevant sources and providing focus and structure to the discussion.

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Democracy, Power, and Justice: Essays in Political Theory

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Democracy, Power, and Justice: Essays in Political Theory

  • ISBN-10 0198272987
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  • Publication date February 8, 1990
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Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.
* Scanned from Chapter 8 in R.J. Rummel, The Just Peace , 1981. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book . Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated. 1 . While I differ from Ramsey's conceptualizations in a number of respects, I owe to him the basic idea of Figure 8.1 (the overlapping regions of order, power, and justice). See his The Just War (1968: particularly p. 12). 2 . See Section 2.3.4 . 3 . See Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix (Section 19.7 of Chapter 19 ; Chapter 20 ). 4 . See Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix (Sections 30.2-30.4 of Chapter 30 ). 5 . See Section 4.4 and Section 5.2.2E-G . 6 . The problem of defining morally under what conditions war is just has been of great importance and interest in the literature. See, for example, Osgood and Tucker (1967), Ramsey (1968), Tooke (1965), Tucker (1960), and Walzer (1977). 7 . John Locke put the argument for just violence well: If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all he has for peace sake to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be considered what kind of a peace there will be in the world which consists only in violence and rapine, and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors. ----1952:228 8 . To state this differently, all social contracts depend on some sort of power, but not all depend on those forms of power we call force, coercion, or authority. Just contracts may depend on altruistic or exchange power, as noted in the text. 9 . Interestingly, the Just Principles are consistent with Ardrey's social contract based on ethology and biological evolution. The just society, as Ardrey sees it, is one in which sufficient order protects members, whatever their diverse endowments, and sufficient disorder provides every individual with full opportunity to develop his genetic endowment, whatever that may be. It is this balance of order and disorder, varying in rigor according to environmental hazard, that I think of as the social contract. ----1970:3 10 . To keep the logic clear: by themselves the two Just Principles define an anarchy, but not all anarchies are consistent with the Just Principles. 11 . See Nozick (1974: Part I), who analyzes whether an anarchy is stable, particularly large-scale anarcho-libertarian societies in which people can form and hire the services of mutual defense and security corporations. He concludes that the dynamics of such an anarchy lead necessarily to the formation of states and, at least, minimum governments. 12 . See Section 5.2.2H . 13 . Popper makes a similar point: The rational and imaginative analysis of the consequences of a moral theory has a certain analogy in scientific method. For in science, too, we do not accept an abstract theory because it is convincing in itself, we rather decide to accept or reject it after we have investigated those concrete and practical consequences which can be more directly tested by experiment. But there is a fundamental difference. In the case of a scientific theory, our decision depends upon the results of experiments. If these confirm the theory, we may accept it until we find a better one. If they contradict the theory, we reject it. But in the case of a moral theory, we can only confront its consequences with our conscience. And while the verdict of experiments does not depend upon ourselves, the verdict of our conscience does. ----1963: Vol. II, p. 233 See also Einstein, who writes: Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Die Wahrheit liegt in der Bewährung. Truth is what stands the test of experience. ----1953:780 14 . Hare (1965: Section 6.2) makes the same point about the value of freedom to ethics. 15 . Since we rarely have a pure just prescription to test (usually only a complex of just premises and related empirical assumptions), the test of practice is more of a point of view than of a bald statement. See also Edwards (1965). 16 . See Crossman (1950) for a number of autobiographies of those who have gone through this conversion. 17 . My own gradual conversion from democratic socialism to libertarianism was influenced more by learning about the consequences of socialism in practice, wherever implemented fully or partially, than by theory. Only when I had started questioning socialist claims, did libertarian writings and critiques of socialism influence me. 18 . In the words of the American jurist, Learned Hand: "Justice, I think, is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society, and I don't believe there is any royal road to attain such accommodations concretely" (from Bartletts Familiar Quotations, Fourteenth Edition). 19 . Of course, there are different philosophical and cultural views of truth. That which is closest to these volumes, and my point here, is Ushenko's perspectivism. See Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field ( Chapter 5 ). 20 . John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty has lost none of its excellence with age. His arguments for the value of freedom, especially in seeking truth, are no less relevant to justice. 21 . This free market of ideas is very much like a free market of goods, as Friedman (1967) argues. 22 . Mathematical proof has long been believed to provide an analogy to metaethical proof. Rawls (1971), for example, accepts this. So did John Locke. I do not, for the reasons given in Sections 4.2-4.3. Scientific method is different from mathematics. The former is concerned with empirically testing empirical statements; the latter involves proving that analytic statements are valid within a given analytic system. 23 . This does not mean that any assertion of truth or justice has an equal claim in the balancing process. To play the scientific game requires that one's assertions meet certain requirements to be seriously considered by others. Similarly, in the game of ethics, claims of justice must meet the criteria of universalizability, practicality, morality, and so on, as discussed in Section 4.4 . As scientists would ignore someone who says, "I know the earth is flat and it is flat because I know it," so would we ignore (shun?) someone who says, "It is moral that I lie whenever I want because I say so," And if one claims a perfect right to call whatever assertions scientifically true or morally just, we can only answer that he does not really understand science or justice. See Hare (1965: Chapter 6), who covers a number of other counterarguments that also might be made. 24 . For a more extended argument for freedom and minimum government along these lines, see Nozick (1974). I am indebted to him for the idea of a metautopia. 25 . What does it really mean to say that a social order is a just one? It means that this order regulates the behavior of men in a way satisfactory to all men, that is to say, so that all men find their happiness in it. ----Kelsen, 1961:6 26 . I have referred to Rawls' work in a number of notes, particularly in Chapter 5 . See especially Note 2 therein, which also gives the second principle. 27 . The two principles of justice are in lexical order (Rawls, 1971:302). Rawls does believe, however, that in practice there will be some trade-off between the principles (1971: Section 82), although what precisely this involves is not clear. On this, see Barry (1973: Chapter 7). 28 . This is an analogy and not the actual basis for choice in Rawls' original position (1971:152-153). Nonetheless, its introduction does beg misunderstanding and raises the question as to whether Rawls' principles are maxima, as he alleges, or really minima (minimizing the worst of all possibilities, since an enemy is assigning one's position). 29 . See Chapter 5 , Note 2 . 30 . See Rawls (1971:61). The meaning of equal liberty is best developed in Rawls' Chapter IV, especially Sections 32-35. 31 . That is, Rawls' principle is a first-order solution to the bargaining situation in the social contract model. See Section 6.2 and Section 7.1 . 32 . See Rawls (1971: particularly Chapter IV). 33 . Rawls (1971:197-198). 34 . See Rawls (1971:212-213). He constructs an ideal Western, liberal constitutional model as a general form for all societies--all societies are to follow his two principles of justice. In no place is it clearer that Theory of Justice is Rawls' liberal intuition about justice and politics; intuition which is peculiarly parochial about the world of conflicting and diverse conceptions of justice and politics. It is no wonder that Rawls had to strip his participants in his original position of all self-knowledge and interests so that he could, in effect, reduce them all to one "objective observer"--himself. 35 . Note how close his following argument is to that I independently give for the security function of a World Federation in protecting the Just Principles: Granting all this, it now seems evident that, in limiting liberty by reference to the common interest in public order and security, the government acts on a principle that would be chosen in the original position. For in this position each recognizes that the disruption of these conditions is a danger for the liberty of all. This follows once the maintenance of public order is understood as a necessary condition for everyone's achieving his ends whatever they are (provided they lie within certain limits) and for his fulfilling his interpretation of his moral and religious obligations. To restrain liberty of conscience at the boundary, however inexact, of the state's interest in public order is a limit derived from the principle of the common interest, that is, the interest of the representative equal citizen. The government's right to maintain public order and security is an enabling right, a right which the government must have if it is to carry out its duty of impartially supporting the conditions necessary for everyone's pursuit of his interest and living up to his obligations as he understands them. ----Rawls, 1971:212-213 36 . Ibid., p. 224. 37 . Rawls claims that his two principles of justice are essentially Kantian (his Section 40). However, I would argue that the Just Package comes even closer to Kant's fundamental moral conception than do Rawls' two principles. As Acton (1970:43-44) points out, maxims that transgress the moral law would lead men into subjection to rules which could not be recognized as just by everyone. These negations presuppose a positive ideal, that of a community, every member in which is respected by all the others, and in which only those rules of conduct are followed which everyone recognizes to be reasonable. This, Kant believed, is the Idea of Reason implicit in the moral principles which civilized peoples of all creeds and nations recognize. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant had said that legislation--and he was here thinking of the laws of states--ought to be guided by the Idea--and in using this word he had Plato in mind--of a "constitution of the greatest human freedom, according to laws which enable the freedom of each to exist along with the freedom of others (without any regard to the greatest human happiness, because that must necessarily follow by itself). . ." What had appeared in the Critique of Pure Reason as a political ideal, appears in the Groundwork as the ideal presupposed in the principles of morality, and is seen to be the supreme principle of morality, the Moral Law itself. 38 . See Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace ( Chapter 2 ). 39 . See Section 7.4.2 . 40 . I see the goals of welfare and equality as minimizing pain, hardship, and suffering. 41 . The libertarian literature is extensive; I will cite only those recent works that provide the specific scholarly underpinnings for the points I will make or fuller elaboration. In particular, for free market or economic arguments, see the works of Friedman (especially 1962, but also 1968, 1972), Hayek (1944, 1954, 1967, and especially 1973-1979), Hazlitt (1959), von Mises (particularly 1951, 1966), Rothbard (1973), Schumpeter (1950). See also Hazlitt's book on morality (1964), whose arguments for a free market in relation to equality and welfare (Chapters 24-25) are quite relevant. For a pertinent general philosophical treatment of libertarianism, see Hospers (1971). Some of Popper's works are philosophically pertinent (particularly 1963, 1964). 42 . The Liberation Principle does not grant the right to violate one's voluntary social contract with others. If one freely joins a community on a three-year contract (as in joining the United States Army), then one has no right to violate the contract by leaving before completing the three years of service. However, after the contract expires, no community should apply duress or coercion to get a person to renew his contract or to otherwise remain. 43 . See Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix ( Chapter 23 ). 44 . See Section 7.4.2 and Section 8.2 . I also will have more to say regarding principles of conflict resolution in Chapter 10 . 45 . Of course, some would cry out, "What about the worker exploited by business at a cheap wage?" I must ask, who is doing the exploiting, then? Is it the businessman who hires someone at the wage his services are worth in the market? Or is it the union that demands a nationwide mandated wage to protect its membership against competition, even though this means that nonunion workers will be unable to work? Or is it the academic with a lifetime-guaranteed job (tenure) who demands that government interfere to coercively prevent a private contract between a worker and employer because he, the academic, who knows nothing about either person involved, their needs, situation, or attitudes toward justice, feels the contract unjust? 46 . One of the major means by which government regulates society and intervenes on behalf of one group or another is through its control over currency. Government has not always exclusively controlled national currencies (no more than it has always issued passports), but this control is now so extensive and universal that some people are startled by the suggestion that they should be free to mint and circulate private currencies. In reducing the central role of national government gradually and incrementally, denationalizing currency is one direction to investigate and possibly implement. See Hayek (1978). 47 . Simply consider the effect on employment, demand, and prices of the 25 percent (from $25 billion to $20 billion) decrease in the money supply from 1929 to 1933 forced on the country by the Federal Reserve System. Although bank failures (themselves a consequence of Federal Reserve policy), are often attributed as the cause, since they are more obvious and dramatic (and they did affect economic psychology), the loss in wealth they caused was only one percent of available money by comparison. See, for example, Alchian and Allen (1972:712). 48 . I must unfortunately ignore many arguments that have persuaded welfare liberals and socialists that classical liberalism simply did not work well. One is that freedom in England and America meant mass exploitation by unscrupulous factory owners who hired the poor--including children--to work under horrible conditions while paying starvation wages. Only with the growth of unions, government regulation, and labor laws, was this exploitive system reformed. However, historical analysis (that is not anticapitalist to begin with) does not support this view. Indeed, what is shown is that the conditions of the working person and his quality of life generally turned out to be much better under early "rapacious" capitalism than under the feudal and guild oriented government command system that preceded it; and that through free competition the conditions of the working person improved, not because of unions or government, but often in spite of them. See, for example, Hayek (1954). 49 . My knowledge of this is not entirely abstract. Most of my youth was spent in extreme poverty (without government welfare) and I have known starvation. 50 . But what about conservation, pollution, resource exhaustion, environmental degradation, and the like? As ingredients in our quality of life, are these aspects of welfare not important? And do they not require government action? While the free market's ability to handle such problems is often underrated, I quite agree that concerning certain neighborhood effects of freedom, such as pollution, government has a positive role. But this role need not involve extensive government regulation and an oppressive bureaucracy. Instead, government can facilitate the free market adjustments necessary to handle these problems by providing the proper general laws and courts to adjudicate disputes over them, such that a structure of expectations surrounding and resolving these problems could evolve. Regarding pollution, for example, general laws could liberalize the ability of citizens or groups to sue polluters for alleged damages to their health, welfare, or goods. All the tacky empirical and value questions about pollution are not then decided in the abstract by politicians responding to special interests or by bureaucrats operating in their own world, but by the slow accumulation of legal expectations growing from diverse conflicts mediated by the courts. 51 . Too often, intellectuals equate millionaires with financial or business tycoons, land speculators, or Texas oilmen. Yet many have become millionaires through sports, acting, singing, writing, inventing, politics, and even authoring textbooks. 52 . With regard to ethics generally, the just peace is consistent with the philosophical work of Edwards (1965), Hare (1965), Hospers (1971), Kant (1952, 1965), Nozick (1974), and Popper (1963). The reason I emphasize Rawls here is because of his similar use of a social contract model and the contemporary domination of his book, A Theory of Justice.

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Essays About Justice: Top 5 Examples and 7 Prompts

Discover our guide with examples of essays about justice and prompts for your essay writing and discuss vital matters relating to a person’s or nation’s welfare. 

Justice, in general, refers to the notion that individuals get what they deserve. It includes fundamental moral values ​​in law and politics and is considered an act of fairness, equality, and honesty. Four types of justice deal with how victims can solicit a verdict. They are procedural, distributive, retributive, and restorative. There are many pieces with justice as the subject. It’s because justice is a broad subject encompassing many human values.

5 Essay Examples

1. juvenile justice system of usa essay by anonymous on ivypanda.com, 2. wrongful convictions in criminal justice system by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 3. racial profiling within the criminal justice system by anonymous on papersowl.com, 4. criminal justice: the ban-the-box law by anonymous on ivypanda.com, 5. the special needs of the criminal justice on mental illness cases by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 1. what is justice, 2. is justice only for the rich and powerful, 3. the importance of justice, 4. the justice system in mainstream media, 5. justice: then vs. now, 6. justice system around the world, 7. obstructions to justice.

“No doubt, familiarity about the nature of juvenile crimes and how juvenile justice structures function across the world will offer an insight to policy makers, social scientists and for gullible citizens. Thus, a comparative analysis will throw light on how well or how poorly one nation is exercising relative to other nations.”

The essay delves into the justice system process for teenagers who are 18 years and below who commit wrongful acts. Most teenagers involved in juvenile crimes do not have a strong foundation or parental support. The author also talks about the treatments, boot camps, and retreat houses available for teenagers serving in juvenile prisons.

The ever-increasing number of juvenile crimes in the world reflects the mismanagement and lack of juvenile courts, sentencing programs, rehabilitation, and age-appropriate treatment. The writer believes that if mistrials remain in the juvenile system, the problem will continue. They suggest that the government must initiate more system reforms and provide juvenile offenders with proper ethical education.

“The justice system is composed of various legal groups and actors, making a miscarriage possible at any stage of the legal process, or at the hands of any legal actor. Eyewitness error, police misconduct, or falsification of evidence are examples of factors that may lead to a wrongful conviction.”

In this essay, the author uses various citations that show the justice system’s flaws in the process and criteria of its rulings. It further discusses the different instances of unfair judgments and mentions that at least 1% of all convicts serving prison time were wrongfully accused. 

The writer believes that changing the way of addressing different cases and ensuring that all legal professionals do their assigned duties will result in fair justice. You might also be interested in these essays about choice .

“Here in the 21st century, we don’t exactly have ‘Black Codes’ we have what is known as Racial Profiling. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines racial profiling as ‘the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race ethnicity, religion or national origin.’”

This essay investigates the involvement of race in the criminal justice system, whether they are victims or perpetrators. The author claims that some law enforcement officers mistreat and misjudge people because of their race and presents various cases as evidence of these discriminatory actions. One example is the case of an unarmed black teenager, Jordan Edwards , who was shot because former officer Roy Oliver thought his partner was in danger.

Unfortunately, law enforcement officials use their power and position in society to deny any act of racial profiling, rendering the said law useless. The author declares that while their paper may not prove racial bias in the criminal justice system, they can prove that a person’s color plays a role and can cause harm.

“I think the Ban-the-Box law is the best way of creating employment opportunities for ex-convicts without discrimination. Criminal offenses vary in the degree of the crime, making it unfair to treat all ex-convicts the same. Moreover, some felons learn from their mistakes during detention and parole, creating a better and law-abiding citizen with the ability to work faithfully.”

The essay explains how ex-convicts or current convicts are consistently discriminated against. This discrimination affects their lives even after serving their sentence, especially in their rights to vote and work. 

Regarding job hunting, the author believes the Ban-the-Box law will effectively create more employment opportunities. The law allows employers to see an ex-convict’s skills rather than just their record.  The essay concludes with a reminder that everyone is entitled to a civil right to vote, while private enterprises are free to run background checks. 

“Case management focuses on incorporating key elements that focus on improving the wellbeing of individuals that are being assessed. Mental illness within the criminal justice system is treated as a sensitive issue that requires urgent intervention in order to ensure that an inmate is able to recover.”

This essay pries into one of the most delicate areas of ruling in the justice system, which is leading mentally ill convicts. Offenders who were deemed mentally ill should be able to receive particular treatments for their health while serving time. 

The author mentions that every country must be able to provide mental health services for the inmates to prevent conflicts inside the prison. In conclusion, they suggest that reviewing and prioritizing policies related to mental illness is the best solution to the issue.

Are you interested in writing about mental illnesses? Check out our guide on how to write essays about depression.

7 Prompts for Essays About Justice

Essays About Justice: What is justice?

Justice is a vast subject, and its literal meaning is the quality of being just. This process often occurs when someone who has broken the law gets what they should, whether freedom or punishment. Research and discuss everything there is to know about justice so your readers can fully understand it. Include a brief history of its origins, types, and uses.

Several situations prove that justice is only for the rich. One of the main reasons is the expensive court fees. Research why victims settle outside the court or just let their abusers get away with crimes.

Include data that proves justice is a luxury where the only ones who can ask for equal treatment are those with resources—present situations or well-known cases to support your statements. On the other hand, you can also provide counter-arguments such as government programs that help financially-challenged individuals.

Every citizen has the right to be protected and treated fairly in court. Explain the importance of justice to a person, society, and government. Then, add actual cases of how justice is applied to encourage reform or chaos. Include relevant cases that demonstrate how justice impacts lives and legal changes, such as the case of Emmett Till .

Talk about how justice is usually depicted on screen and how it affects people’s expectations of how the justice system works. Popular television shows such as Suits and Law and Order are examples of the justice system being portrayed in the media. Research these examples and share your opinion on whether movies or television portray the justice system accurately or not.

In this essay, research how justice worldwide has changed. This can include looking at legal systems, human rights, and humanity’s ever-changing opinions. For instance, child labor was considered normal before but is viewed as an injustice today. List significant changes in justice and briefly explain why they have changed over time. You might also be interested in these essays about violence .

Essays About Justice: Justice system around the world

Countries have different ways of instilling justice within their societies. For this prompt, research and discuss the countries you think have the best and worst legal systems. Then, point out how these differences affect the country’s crime rates and quality of life for its citizens.

Examine why people tend to take justice into their hands, disobey legal rules, or give up altogether. It can be because seeking justice is an arduous process resulting in emotional and financial burdens. Often, this occurs when a person feels their government is not providing the support they need. Take a look at this social issue, and discuss it in your essay for a strong argumentative. 

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips !

power and justice essay

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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Economics and social justice : essays on power, labor, and institutional change

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  • Part 1 Urban problems and labour markets: class and the economics of crime
  • from steam whistles to coffee breaks
  • class struggle and the stages of American urban development
  • a theory of labour market segmentation. Part 2 Long swings and cycles: long swings and stages of capitalism
  • stages of accumulation and long economic cycles
  • long swings and the non-reproductive cycle. Part 3 US productivity growth, profitability and investment: hearts and minds - a social moden of US productivity growth
  • power and profits - the social structure of accumulation and the profitability of the postwar US economy
  • power, profits and investment - an institutionalist explanation of the stagnation of US net investment since the mid-1960s. Part 4 Macroeconomic history: power, accumulation and crisis - the rise and demise of the postwar social structure of accumulation
  • business ascendancy and economic impasse - a structural retrospective on conservative economics, 1979-87
  • the global economy - new edifice or crumbling foundations? Part 5 Heterodox macroeconomics: the un-natural rate of unemployment - an economic critique of the NAIRU hypothesis
  • putting heterodox macro to the test - comparing post-Keynesian, Marxian and social structuralist macroeconometric models of the postwar US economy
  • from the drive system to the Capital-Labour Accord - econometric test for the transition between productivity regimes
  • putting the horse (back) before the cart - disentangling the macro relationship between investment and saving
  • who bosses whom? the intensity of supervision and the discipline of labour
  • bosses of different stripes - a cross-national perspective on monitoring and supervision
  • underpaid workers, bloated corporations. Part 6 Macroeconomic policy issues: wageless recovery, wageless growth? prospects for US workers in the 1990s
  • twixt the cup and the lip - mainstream economics and the formation of economic policy.
  • (source: Nielsen Book Data)

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  • You are here: Editorials

Editorial: On power and justice and why you can’t have one without the other

31 May 2018 By Paul Finch Editorials

The architecture related to power and justice was for centuries a combined form, in which ‘the majesty of the law’ could be both devised, interpreted and ruled upon from within a single building complex

Power without justice is tyranny; justice without power is meaningless, for who can deliver it? That is why the architecture related to these matters was for centuries a combined form, in which ‘the majesty of the law’ could be both devised, interpreted and ruled upon from within a single building complex. The distinction between royalty (indeed divinity) and the highest court in the land was a matter of spatial arrangement, not physical location. In Europe, it is only in recent decades that this relationship has been disrupted. In the case of the UK it took place in 2009, when a Supreme Court replaced the Law Lords who had operated under the Lord Chancellor – responsible for all judicial appointments – in the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper (or second) chamber. Needless to say, as with much delivered by the Blair administration, this reform was nowhere near as radical as it first appeared. For one thing, every member of the new court is styled as a Lord or Lady. For another, the court’s location is a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster on the other side of Parliament Square. You could be forgiven for thinking that little has changed. Bishops retain their place in the Lords, as does a band of hereditary peers.

‘Architecture of power is conditional upon power being exercised within it; once power moves elsewhere the building, however grand it may appear, loses its meaning’

Symbolically, however, the change was more significant, in tune with the spirit of the American constitution, where the separation of powers makes the appointment of Supreme Court judges such a contentious political matter. This court was deliberately created to prevent overmighty politicians from introducing legislation which might be regarded as tyrannical in the context of the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, the location of the court, near the Capitol, emphasises the close relationship between law makers and judges, who determine not only what the law means, but whether or not a particular piece of legislation is valid, suggesting that judges’ rulings are themselves an example of power at work. But although power comes in many shapes and forms, the relationship between legislature and judiciary is not exactly chicken-and-egg: ultimately you cannot have the second without the first, which is why the US Supreme Court could only exist as the result of a constitution decided by a proto-legislature. However grand some judges may feel themselves to be, in the end they are there because of a power greater than themselves.

Power and justice tend to be reflected in various ways architecturally: for example, by scale, grandeur, expense and permanence. Even if judges’ wigs are abandoned and interiors made more ‘comfortable’, as with the new Renzo Piano Paris judicial complex featured in this issue, for some reason the architecture is of a truly dominant (or aggressive) nature on the city skyline. It is almost as if the DNA of this sort of architecture requires buildings to reinforce the idea that although all are equal under the law, we need to remember just how important the law is. By contrast, as a result of cost-savings on the part of the UK government, regional courts and judges’ accommodation are being severely cut back; there is now a suggestion that ‘pop-up courts’ could emerge in pubs (reviving a medieval tradition), or in supermarkets. Just how far this will become reality remains to be seen, but it coincides with the biggest change in the architectural circumstances of law makers since the Palace of Westminster (the UK Houses of Parliament) largely burned down, in 1834. Now decades of inadequate maintenance and changed building and safety standards have prompted a decision that Parliamentarians will vacate the building for up to a decade, while a retrofit project which could cost £4 billion is undertaken. 


Bundesarchiv bild 183 s91405 berlin haus des zentralkommitees der sed 640x464 cropped

A good example of a building whose image has changed profoundly as a result of different users is what is now Soho House in the former East Berlin. Currently a club, hotel, restaurant and bar, the building started life as the Jonass department store in the 1920s, before being confiscated by the Nazis and turned into the headquarters for the Hitler Youth organisation. In 1945 it became an even greater symbol of power as home to the Soviet-backed East German government headed by Walter Ulbricht. The building subsequently housed the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, but was returned to relatives of the original department store owners after German reunification. Image courtesy of Heinz Funck / Bundesarchiv


Mbasohohouseberlin+8928 edit cropped

Empty for 12 years, the building was finally purchased by the Soho House organisation, which largely gutted the interior but kept the exterior. Architects for the original Neue Sachlichkeit-style building were Georg Bauer and Siegfried Friedlander. Photograph by Richard Lewisohn

This is a reminder that the architecture of power is conditional upon power being exercised within it; once power moves elsewhere the building, however grand it may appear, loses its meaning. In old East Berlin, the building formerly occupied by Walter Ulbricht and his henchman is now a Soho House, full of the joys of eating and drinking, including use of the old ‘Politbüro Room’, where the only orders now in evidence concern the menu. In the case of London, there has been some speculation as to whether Parliamentarians, having vacated the Palace of Westminster, might discover a taste for operating from contemporary architecture rather than that of the 19th century, even though Charles Barry’s plan – as Jeremy Melvin has pointed out – could be regarded as a perfect spatial description of the UK constitution at the time, with crown, aristocracy and the elected in a form of balance which for many reasons no longer applies. How can this type of architecture respond to the internet, electronic voting and the world of Skype? Will the enforced absence of politicians finally result in the century-long desire to reform thoroughly the second chamber, currently full of unelected placemen and has-beens who spend much of their time trying to ignore or bypass both the elected and the electorate? They make the judiciary look like models of probity. On this occasion, decisions about architecture may reflect the reform of politics.

Lead image: Queen Elizabeth II delivers her speech at the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster, 4 June 2014. The architecture of the Palace of Westminster could be regarded as a spatial description of the British constitution. Image courtesy of Carl Court - WPA Pool / Getty Images

This piece is featured in the AR’s June 2018 issue on Power and Justice –  click here to purchase a copy .

power and justice essay

Since 1896, The Architectural Review has scoured the globe for architecture that challenges and inspires. Buildings old and new are chosen as prisms through which arguments and broader narratives are constructed. In their fearless storytelling, independent critical voices explore the forces that shape the homes, cities and places we inhabit.

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American Diplomacy Est 1996

Insight and Analysis from Foreign Affairs Practitioners and Scholars

Established 1996 • Raymond F. Smith, Editor

power and justice essay

Winning the War for Peace, Justice and Prosperity: A Vision

In 1946, military analyst Lee Yuri (李浴日) of China pointed out that this dilemma may arise from the practice of a military doctrine that is not based on saving people, but on killing people. When a war does not end in justice for all, another battle erupts soon afterward. He contended that the world needs to practice a military doctrine that seeks to save people and to provide justice to all. He named this practice a “Military for Mankind” in his book On Victories 1 .

In this essay we first elaborate on the concept of Military for Mankind, which we broaden to include government and business. The concept of fighting a War of Peace, Justice and Prosperity is described in his book. Because justice is the key accomplishment of the War, we abbreviate it as the War of Justice. Ten precepts to practice “Military, Government and Business for Mankind” and to win a War of Justice are constructed from the book On Victories . We then examine what the world has right and wrong during the last two centuries from the perspective of these precepts.

The essay concludes with a list of recommendations for the leaders of the world to consider. The implementation of these recommendations might well lead to winning the War of Justice for the people of the world and thereby to achieving peace, justice and prosperity for all.

II. Military for Mankind . Lee Yuri emphasized the importance of the concept of Military for Mankind:

“The wars fought in 20th Century have been directed more toward a military doctrine of killing people and conquering enemies. Scientific advances have further exaggerated this problem, inasmuch as nuclear weapons are able to kill people by the millions. If military actions are allowed to intensify in this direction, the world will be destroyed and mankind will vanish from this planet.

Today, we must correct this wrongful “military doctrine” and establish one that has been devised to fight wars with the goal of saving people and achieving justice and prosperity for all. This doctrine and its practice will be termed “Military for Mankind” and the war to which it will apply will be termed the War of Peace, Justice and Prosperity.

The Chinese military doctrine developed 25 centuries ago was based on saving people. This doctrine must be reestablished throughout the world.”

Because we are currently engaged in a total war, we need to broaden “Military for Mankind” to “Military, Government and Business for Mankind”. In all countries, the military is a part of the government. For some countries, the country may own most of the businesses. This broadening of the military doctrine facilitates the examination of how each of the three components helps to win the War of Justice.

Government for Mankind was a concept that Confucius examined fully. This concept was adapted by many dynasties to manage the government of China throughout history.

III. War of Peace, Justice and Prosperity . In his classic book, On Wars, Clausewitz deals with the fighting of a battle. He explicitly states that the goal in fighting a battle or a war is to be established by the leader of the government. If the leader establishes the goal as peace, justice and prosperity, his generals must practice Military for Mankind and win the War of Justice for his country. Thus, what we are doing is placing the concept of Military for Mankind into a framework that can be used to analyze wars being fought and their consequences for peace, justice and prosperity.

The War of Justice was examined by Mencius in China. At about the same time, Socrates discussed the moral concept of Good and Justice, and the meaning of justice (i.e., What is Justice?). He spoke about the “medicine of Justice”. In essence, the concept of the War of Justice has long existed in both the Western and Eastern worlds.

The world won World War II in Europe. All nations that were involved there received justice. Germany has long re-emerged as a major power of the world. Peace and prosperity were gained by many nations. Thus, it is appropriate to say that the world won the European War of Justice. On the other hand, no justice was given to many Asian countries that were invaded by the Japan Empire, even if they were allies of the US. As a result, disputes have developed in Asia. Their elevation to a trade war is imminent.

The key point in winning the War of Justice is whether the people (of allies and enemies) gain justice. This is to say that fighting the War of Justice and the actions occurring during and after the battle should respect human life and human rights. In this way, the people will have no intention or desire to fight another war. On the other hand, the War of Justice should be fought without mercy against warlords, drug lords, and terrorist leaders.   IV. Ten Precepts on Military for Mankind and War of Justice. On Victories contains these five books written by Lee Yuri:

  • Analysis of Sun Zi’s Art of War
  • The Essence of War Principles by Clausewitz
  • Sun Yat-sen’s Principles of Revolution
  • Essays on Sun Zi’s Art of War
  • Essays on Military Doctrines.

He urged soldiers and commanders to study these books. For a country to be strong and to prosper, its politicians and government leaders should practice the principles stipulated in On Victories on all aspects of government and the conduct of war. Because the war is a people’s war, Lee Yuri expected the also the people to read On Victories .

Instead of expecting readers to read that book of 600,000 Chinese words, I have summarized them in the following 10 precepts for your review.

  • What is necessary to win the War of Justice :

This requirement was given by Sun Zi in Chapter 1 on Planning for War and interpreted by Lee Yuri as “What is first required of us to win the war is dao 道. What is dao ? It is the good governance by the government leader and military commander. If the leader and commander practice dao , their citizens will be in complete accord with their leader. The people will follow the leader in the War of Justice with no regard to their lives, and undismayed by any danger. They will be imbued with a must win attitude, and fight for their country fearlessly in all situations.“ This precept also implies that if a government does not practice dao , the citizens will not fight for that government.

  • Winning the enemy by the War of Justice .

Victory in the War of Justice requires that the people of the enemy have a new government that practices dao . If you have no plan to build this new government of dao , then you are not ready to fight the War of Justice. This strategy can also be described as subduing your enemy with justice so that he becomes your friend. If you should win the war without a battle, the rationale for this precept becomes compatible to the saying of Sun Zi that subduing your enemy without battle is of supreme excellence. The way to “subdue” your enemy is to build a government of dao to serve the enemy’s people or to convert the existing government to one that practices dao for its people. Prevailing should not be achieved by killing only.

  • The forms of war :

The war can be a water cannon fight, a crusader war, a revolutionary war, a conventional war, a prolonged war, a guerrilla war, a propaganda war, a psychological war, a media war, a legal war, a nuclear war, a cold war, an ideal or absolute war, a deterrent war, a war of poverty, a trade war, a war against self-destruction or, finally, a War of Justice. Clausewitz identified this  expanded list of wars The world has suffered through or fought all of these wars, except completion of the last war. It is also appropriate to suggest that a war of poverty and a trade war can be identified as part of a War of Justice. Some of these war forms will be elaborated later. In order to win the battle of these wars, Clausewitz believed that it was important that the commander conducts a scientific analysis of the battle and that the government leader sets the objective of the battle and provides the commander with the resources and authority necessary to execute the battle. The form of the war can affect the specific objectives to be established and the time and timing to fight the war.

  • The principle to win the war : This principle that was enunciated by Sun Zi is interpreted by Lee Yuri as “If you (the leader and the commander) know your situation and that of your enemy, you will not be endangered in hundred battles. If you do not know the situation of your enemy but only yours, you may win or lose with no certainty in the outcome of the war. Lastly, if you know neither, you will lose every battle.” (Knowing means that you know all aspects of the countries fighting the war: how to fight the battle, what you should and can do during the battle, what is the likely war casualty, can you definitely win the war, and how you can achieve lasting peace after battle victory has been achieved?)
  • The need for people to know the Art of War :  Lee Yuri said, “Whether you are strong or weak, it all depends on the thrifty of the Art of War.” He also said, “Wars will be with us for centuries. The world of today has wars. We must promote “Military for Mankind” and educate the people in the right Art of War. The Art of War is the foundation of military might, and the war knowledge of the people, military generals and government leaders is the Great Wall of the country”.
  • The essence of fighting any war : “In today’s world, if you can fight, you will persevere. If you cannot fight, you will die,” Sun Yat-sen said. The word “fight” is interpreted as “win in wars against enemy within or without”. Lee Yuri further stated that a government without dao, corrupted officers and greedy people are internal enemies that can cause a country to self-destruct or die.
  • The virtues of leaders and commanders : Sun Zi said, “A leader or a commander must have these five virtues: wisdom, honesty, humanity, courage, and discipline.” Lee Yuri expanded on this with “The wisdom is the device of a good plan that ensures success. With honesty, a leader can mete out appropriate awards and penalties and make his administration, especially its financial operation, transparent. With humanity, he cares for his soldiers, his people and his enemy. With courage, he remains calm in the face of adversity and leads the fight. With discipline , he is solemn, respectful and strict in operation of the military and government.” Lee Yuri pointed out in his book, On Victories, that President Roosevelt, President Truman, General and President Eisenhower, General Marshall and General MacArthur had these leadership characteristics and were visionaries.
  • The time to fight the war : This was uttered by Sun Zi and interpreted by Lee Yuri as “The visionary leader lays his plans well before sending his troop to fight. The good and kind commander makes his plans for a short battle, a quick war and a complete victory.” Sun Zi also said, “The leader does not moves his troops unless he sees an advantage to his country; does not use his troops unless there is victory; and does not send his troop to fight unless his country is in peril.” The basic principle of establishing the time to fight and win must be firmly adhered to by the leader and commander.
  • The basis of winning the battle : Sun Zi said, “A skillful commander first makes his army invincible. When he discovers an enemy’s weakness, he seizes the opportunity, attacks swiftly, and spares nothing to defeat his enemy.” Sun Zi then summed up this point as “A commander who commands his troop, not only cultivates his dao, but also preserves the integrity of his military system. He will take advantage of an enemy’s weakness and ensure victory.” Earlier, Sun Zi described the military system as the organizations, rules and supports in getting the military operational. Similar logic should be applied to the leader of the government and the operation of his governmental system.
  • The benefit of victory : In contrast to counting how many people you killed and how many countries you colonized, winning the War of Justice should give you peace for centuries and justice and prosperity for all. This precept emphasizes the importance of winning at all three fronts: peace, justice and prosperity. The war has not ended if we win at only one or two fronts. A corollary of this precept is to fight no war that has the potential to bankrupt yourself.

Because the fighting power of the world’s major powers is so superior, winning a battle over a lesser country is a foregone conclusion. As a result, we differentiate the doctrine for Military for Mankind and War of Justice from the conventional doctrine on military and government operation by emphasizing the following factors:

1. Justice for all people, but without mercy for warlords, drug lords, and terrorism lords. 2. Winning the hearts of the people following the battle 3. The essential for a government to practice dao , i.e., to have good governance.

V. On the World. In the last three decades, international exports increased at a rate of about 9% a year or about 12-fold. The improvement in productivity, removal of trade and investment barriers, growth of international and national markets, and innovation and development of high-tech and information systems have contributed to this dramatic increase. However, despite these successes, financial crises still develop. Many countries are fighting for resources and battling for trading advantage. People are suffering as a result of high unemployment and/or lack of food and medicine.

Will we have peace, justice and prosperity for the world in 20 years? Based on the outcome of the wars fought during the last 20 years, the answer may be negative. However, the progress in world affairs by the major powers gives us hope that we will have a yes answer.

Before elaborating more on the yes or no issue, we will examine from the perspective of Military for Mankind and War of Justice the world’s current conditions, discuss the world order, and address the root cause of wars and financial crises. After further examination of China’s situation and that of the USA and the relationship between the two countries, we have five recommendations for the world to act on.

Table 1 contains six groups of data that characterize the strengths and weaknesses of four countries. The first group is the resources that the four countries have. Their productivities are appeared as the second group. The third group is the debt owed by governments. The investment by these countries in their military operation is shown as the fourth group. The last two groups are data of the health of their people and some indices characterizing the corruption of government operations.

Table 1. Resources, productivity, debt, military expenditures, health and corruption of four countries.

* The conversion is calculated at assumed values of $100 per barrel and $4 per 1,000 cubic feet. ** The first number is years of remaining reserves based on oil reserves. The number in parenthesis is the number of years increased by the shale reserves if consumption remains at the same rate. *** The public debt of USA does not include the debt $5T owed to governmental agencies such as Social Security Trust Funds. Foreign entities own $5.72T of the $12.1T public debt; The Federal Reserve owns $1.79T, State and Local governments own $0.7T; and private entities and individuals own $3.89T. The public debt of China includes $2T that is incurred by provincial and local governments. **** www.transparency.org.

VI. New World Order. The recent signing of a chemical weapon agreement with Syria and a nuclear weapon agreement with Iran by six major powers — USA, China, Russia, Great Britain, France and Germany — certainly indicate the emergence of a new order of the world’s powerful countries. Among these six countries, USA is clearly a superpower . This is due to the Americans’good citizenship; its highly regarded functional legislatures; its exceptional legal system; the strength of America’s democratic government; the superiority of its armed forces; its No. 1 status in GDP; innovation, business practice and business size; and the abundance of its natural resources. With its present, new leadership, China’s GDP will grow rapidly, the corruption will be controlled and the country will progressively move from a developing country to a developed country. Then, China may advance to second rank among world powers.

Five of these major powers have nuclear armaments. They understand well the disastrous effect on the world of a nuclear war. The possibility of nuclear wars among the six major powers is nil.

The relationhip of Russia and China to the four other major powers is no longer like that to the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin or the China led by Mao Zedong. Instead, the six major powers are working together to reach an agreement with Iran for a reduction of its nuclear stockpile. Although this agreement is only the first step towards ensuring that Iran will not possess nuclear weapon, the signing of theagreement reflects a major breakthrough by the six major powers in that they are working together first to impose economic and financial sanctions on Iran and then to negotiate a compromise for all parties. Hopefully there will be no nuclear threat to Israel and the world by Iran and Iran will revise its government operation so that it will no longer be regarded as a state that sponsors terrorism.

The second good news item is that USA, Russia and Syria have worked out an agreement to free Syria of its chemical weapons. At present, all chemical weapons have been identified and ships that are capable of destroying the weapons are on their way to Syria. The destruction of all Syrian chemical weapons that were sold to that country by Western powers will relieve Israel and the world of one key security concern about Syria. On the other hand and based on the outcome of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, the approach taken by the USA to resolve the conflict between the Syrian government and its opposition forces will not succeed in building a Syrian government that can govern the Syrians well. It is not likely that USA will be fighting a Syria war, but the human suffering of Syrians caused by a Syria war is simply not acceptable. A new way to deal with the Syrian conflict must be developed jointly by the USA and Russia.

All other countries of the world will be separated into those countries that are civilized and those that are uncivilized. A civilized country works within international laws. It has demonstrations that can be regarded as peaceful. Some have high unemployment and operate with huge government deficits. These countries do not sponsor terrorism. Their legislators and government officials are elected by a majority of their citizens or by a selected group.

We will use the China throughout her Century of Humiliation as an illustration of an uncivilized country. During that period (up to 1949), internal turmoil was produced by government corruption and/or the greed of warlords. China suffered and many people died. Mentioned in his 1932 book The Japanese Prison in Shanghai War, Lee Yuri told his fellow inmates that the turmoil and corruption that were happening in China would destine China to extinction. Several countries (excluding the USA) took advantage of China’s situation to compound further the atrocities of killing or looting in China.

The uncivilized countries are usually governed by a dictator or tyrant. As a way to protect his interests within his country, the dictator may use his power and resource to export terrorism to the world. Iraq was such a state.

VII. Corruption and Greed . The root cause of most world problems is the corruption of some officials and greed of some people. Three incidents or crises will be examined to support this reasoning. The first is the financial crisis of 2008, the financial loss and human suffering of which are given in Table 2.  In contrast to the second incident — the Iraq and Afghanistan War — the financial loss of 2008 crisis was about eight times the financial cost of the War. The human suffering of the first incident is in the form of unemployment and company bankruptcies, whereas that of the second incident is given in numbers of military deaths and wounded personnel.

Table 2. Cost and Suffering of Three American Crises or Wars.

* The first number is the sum of row 4 and 5 of Table 3 on military deaths and wounded personnel. The second number does not include the deaths of terrorists and people wounded by, or getting cancer through, the Attack.

The financial crisis of 2008 resulted first from the greed of some financial executives who sought more commissions by granting mortgages to unqualified home buyers. At the same time, the home buyers hoped to be enriched by inflation and committed themselves to purchase homes that they could not afford. Meanwhile, some industries were overburdened by labor costs and became uncompetitive. Unable to survive the financial crisis, many companies declared bankruptcy and were reorganized subsequently. Fortunately, wise decisions made by the governments and people and the correction of the financial system imposed by governments enabled many banks and companies to recover. One noticeable example was the return of General Motor to its position as the leading automobile manufacturer in the United States. The description of the cause of the 2008 financial crisis certainly supports the suggestion that our government and laws could not restrain people’s greed. As a result of this failure, there were enormous financial losses and unspeakable human suffering.

The Iraq and Afghanistan war is the response of USA to the third incident which resulted from terrorists’ greed for revenge. These two wars were made under an unwise decision (i.e. USA can win easily). The estimated cost of the war is given in a report by Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz. This report states, “The fresh calculation — which includes the cost of spiraling veterans’ care bills and the future interest on war loans — paints a grim picture of how America’s future at home and abroad has been mortgaged to the two conflicts entered into by George W Bush in 2001 and 2003.” The report’s stark conclusion is, “There will be no peace dividend and the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars will be costs that persist for decades.” The projection can be much grimmer if another Saddam Hussein emerges in Iraq and the Taliban retakes Afghanistan.

Corruption usually means the acceptance of bribes by government officials. From the perspective of Military for Mankind, Government and Business and War of Peace, Justice , and prosperity; corruption means these seven crimes or unjust practices:

  • Taking bribes,
  • Obtaining votes by unethical means to get elected (for the purpose of getting more money or power),
  • Using governing power beyond the ordinary (as exemplified by the power grabbing of Mao during The Cultural Revolution),
  • Wasting government funds (as in the building of a bridge to a deserted island),
  • Gouging customers for profit (as in the use of patent law or monopoly position to set up unjust pricing),
  • Polluting air, land and sea for more profit,
  • Avoiding or evading fair taxation (as exemplified by the move of a company to a country that has no corporation tax).

With this broadened definition of corruption, two issues should be addressed. In many countries, executives are granted lavish bonuses whether or not they improve their company’s performance. In other countries, government officials who get important projects done well and at an optimum cost are not rewarded with a bonus. As a result, accepting bribes becomes a necessity for them to have a living standard that is comparable to those who receive a bonus. The second issue is for the companies to not use the loopholes in international laws and the legal protection of domestic laws to earn extraordinary profits and not pay a fair share of taxes. If the companies are conducting themselves properly in their business practices, people will have more money to invest in their country and the country will have more money to deal with the problem of overspending.

VIII. On the United States of America. “In the twentieth century, no country has influenced international relations as decisively and, at the same time, as ambivalently as the United States. No society has more firmly insisted on the inadmissibility of intervention in domestic affairs of other states, or more passionately asserted that its own values were universally applicable.“ This is a statement that was made by Kissinger in his book, Diplomacy .

How successful is the U.S. ambivalence and passion? Table 3 gives the casualties that the USA has suffered in wars since World War II. In World War II, U.S. casualties were high. If it were not for this U.S. sacrifice and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world would not be as good and peaceful as it is today.

Table. 3. American casualties in wars during the last sixty years (source: Wikipedia).

* The U.S. casualties in the Pacific Theater were about 67% of those listed.

During World War II in the Pacific Theater, the atrocities committed by the evil Japanese Empire to Asian countries were horrendous. As an example, 40 million Chinese persons were killed in that war. The reparation established by the San Francisco Peace Treaty merely required Japan to return the property that it had looted from China. Injustice was perpetrated on China by the signers of the Treaty.

The Korean War may be described as stagnant. The good news is that we have a strong South Korea that practices dao and that China is helping the world to change the behavior of North Korea. Although the U.S. retreated hastily from South Vietnam, Vietnam is changing by itself. Overall, we may say that the sacrifice of the U.S. in these two wars has been somewhat justified.

After we won the battles for Iraq and Afghanistan, we built up the world’s two most corrupt governments through the democratic model of U.S. The U.S. sacrifice did not end with a halt to the killings between the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq. As our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban is poised to overrun the current government.

Hopefully, the leaders of the U.S. can appreciate three lessons of these two wars. The first is that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan differ from Americans. What is important to us may not be important to them. When we apply our system and/or passion to them, the government that is built up may not function in the way that we expect. Second, we need to do a better job of Precept 4, i.e., knowing yourself and the enemy. We knew that we could win the battle for Iraq, but did not know that we could not establish a good Iraqi government. Knowing how to win a battle that is not a War of Justice as defined by Precept 2, is not a sufficient reason for the U.S. to send its generals, men and women into harm’s way to do an impossible job. Thirdly, USA did not select the right timing to fight the war (Precept 8). If the economic sanction were extended for a few years, Saddam Hussein might surrender and USA would win the battle without a fight.

The two world’s foremost reserve currencies are the U.S. dollar (62%) and the Euro (24%). Economist Paul Samuelson and others have maintained that the overseas demand for the dollars enables the United States to maintain persistent trade deficits without causing the value of dollar to depreciate or the flow of trade to readjust. This monetary advantage of the USA is further enhanced by the country’s superpower so that the U.S. treasury bonds become the vehicle into which foreign countries invest their export/import surplus.

The Federal Reserve has set the interest rate at an unprecedented low level to promote economy recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Such an interest rate significantly lowers the U.S. government’s burden of paying interest on the public debt.

Samuelson stated in 2005 that, in some uncertain future period, these pressures (the continuous accumulation of trade deficits, the printing of paper money, the increase in public debt, and an increase in interest rate) would precipitate a run against the U.S. dollar with serious global financial consequences.

If the U.S. does default on its public debt, will that make the U.S. government one of poor governance (i.e., the violation of Precept 1)? However, a better question to ask is whether we should do something now to reduce the pressures or wait until bankruptcy before we reorganize the U.S. back into its status as the world’s superpower. The revamping of General Motor suggests that the U.S. and Americans will succeed in the reorganization.

The world has many conflicts. Another world financial crisis is on the horizon. One important thing for the U.S. to consider is what changes in our foreign and domestic policy we should make so that we can still be the superpower and the country that works for peace, justice and prosperity throughout the world.

IX. On China “The Chinese economy displays both unmatched dynamism and unrivaled complexity. Since the early 1980s, China has consistently had the most rapidly growing economy on earth, sustaining an average annual growth rate of 10% from 1978 through 2005.“ This is a 2006 assessment of China by Barry Naughton in his book The Chinese Economy . The China’s GDP in 2013 is expected to grow to $9.16 trillion, which is much higher than the $5.8 trillion GDP of Japan. In January of 2014 it was reported that China may already have edged out USA as the country that has the highest level of trade of all countries. Most importantly, the Chinese now know that they must depend on growth in their domestic market to ensure that the dynamic growth of their economy continues.

President Xi Jinping is the new leader of China. His China Dream is to make China rich with goodness. He also has a Military Dream, which is to make the armed forces of China strong and committed to winning the War of Justice for all people.

In China, a new leadership team is elected by party members about every 10 years. The election of leaders involves an elaborate process. The leaders so chosen are well prepared to do their jobs and each has a specific assignment.

Let us use the rise of Xi to the presidency of China to explain how the Chinese election works. First, his father was prosecuted during The Cultural Revolution. As a result, Xi was sent out to a poor county for reeducation. However, his father was released from prosecution and assumed an important role in the success of the market economy policy of Deng Xiaoping. Xi’s effective dealings with the people in that county and his hard work gained him admittance to Tsinghua University, a top ranking university in China. Before his rise to the upper echelon of the central government, he listened to the concerns of people and worked to resolve them. He worked diligently to attract foreign investment. Resources are allocated to support the growth of new foreign and domestic companies. Before he became president, he had cultivated an important leadership position in the military.

His China Dream really motivates all Chinese not only to become richer, but also to become good citizens. Even if the defense expenditures as a % of GDP remains at the current level (which is about one half of that of the USA), his Military Dream will narrow the gap in the number of weapons between USA and China. China’s success in the landing of Chang’e 3 on the moon certainly suggests that their technology or quality gap in military technology may be narrowing. If Xi can effectively resolve the problem of corruption, China will be a formidable opponent of the USA.

Let me offer six personal observations (derived from my contact with Chinese persons of various levels and my readings of Chinese news) for consideration by the readers:

  • Government Control. Practically speaking, the government owns all lands and most companies in China. Because of the abolishment of agriculture tax for all farmers, they will not be considered in this observation as persons working for the government. Accordingly, we can be assured that the workforce that is employed by the government will constitute a much larger percentage of the population than that of the other major world powers. As the government gains more experience in running the market of China, foreign companies that exporting goods to China may be asked to do more than selling their products to China and taking their profits out of the country.
  • Infrastructure. Everyone knows that infrastructure is being constructed in China at an unprecedented level. Its accomplishment in this regard is even more amazing as a country with the least corruption (according to the corruption index listed in Table 1) may not be able to do it at the quality and for the cost that China achieves.
  • Corruption . My merchant friends regard corruption in China as rampant. On the other hand, many foreign companies thrive without bribing officials and some companies, wanting to increase sales, got convicted by China for bribery.
  • Farmers around prospering cities. The farmers are taking extra job as small businessmen and earning a great deal of extra income.
  • No housing bubbles in robust cities. Many people there are betting for housings. In addition, the farmers are buying houses in cities so that their children can have a better education. The two top most priorities for Chinese families in China are owning a house and getting the best education for their children.
  • Education . Good and free education is available for every child. Children in remote areas are learning English and computer skills. Recognizing the moral bankruptcy subsequent to The Cultural Revolution and the rise of materialism following Modernization, schools are taking the lead to promote the teaching of Confucius, Mencius, and dao in order to give the future generations a moral anchor.
  • Research and Development. This is aggressively pursued as exemplified by the success in building a high speed railway system, sending a rover Chang’e-3 to the moon and making enormous progresses in biological science and engineering.

Three critical issues require our consideration:

  • The first is whether we want China to be a formidable friend of the USA.
  • Second, should we do everything in our (super)power to weaken China so that she will never be our opponent?
  • Third is whether USA, China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia should collaborate and become the maker of peace, justice and prosperity of the world.

Before we consider these issues, one thing that Precept 4 calls for is that we know Chinese and China. Martin Jacques said in his book, “Soon, China will rule the world”. If his “soon” means in the next 10 to 50 years, this statement is definitely not supported by the data given in Table. 1. However, he did point out that the West was ignorant of China and its culture. If the U.S. is ignorant in these aspects, can U.S. make objective assessments of and intelligent decisions on the three issues mentioned earlier?

Here is an example of how the new China conducts foreign policy and practices the for-mankind doctrine. By avoiding domestic political affairs and funding the construction of a pipeline system across Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, China wins the friendship of these countries, stabilizes their economic and political conditions, and resolves China’s energy needs. Similarly China and India have improved their relations by signing a border agreement while China and Vietnam are working to resolve their dispute concerning the South China Sea.

As China’s economy was improving, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao and the leaders before them made a significant investment to build up the educational system. The graduates are assuming important government positions. Many of them are committed to correcting past errors, such as the corruption of government officials, and leading their nation to new heights. These two Chinese leaders worked vigorously to establish a system that can eliminate corruption in government and greed in people.

With the rise of Xi to the presidency and Li Keqiang to the premiership of China, their determination to clean up the government, the threat that corruption may destabilize the Chinese government will disappear. China will have a strong and wise government to serve her citizens.

Many world events indicate that China is a major power for world peace. It is not the China of the 20th Century. China is destined to grow and be a country for mankind.

X. On Sino-American Relation . A good relationship began in 1784 as the “Empress of China” sailed to Canton, China. Washington signed a Sea Letter and sent a delegate with the hope that the Empress of China could open up a new pathway and a new market to bring new life to the newly formed USA. The Americans took gentian roots from the Appalachian Mountains and red and white wines to China. They brought back a great deal of Wuyi tea (Bohea) from Fujian and china, which generated a huge profit for the sponsors of the ship. One of the sponsors was Robert Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Up to 1949, the USA was the friendliest of the “Imperialist” countries to China. During World War II, the USA provided a huge amount of supplies and materials with which China could fight the evil Japanese Empire. Many brave Americans came and risked their lives to help China fight the Sino-Japan War. Flying Tigers downed 2,600 Japanese airplanes. The Americans who lost their lives in the Pacific Theater as listed in Table 3 may have reduced Chinese casualties by tens of millions. Similarly the strong resistance of China to Japan’s invasion weakened Japanese capability to fight against MacArthur’s brazen island hopping assault. China should also be grateful to the USA and Great Britain for China being appointed as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations.

Unfortunately the ascendance of Stalin and Mao to power and the fighting of the Korean and Vietnam War degraded Sino-American relation to an adversarial relationship. The USA’s China policy became one of containment.

Fortunately, the establishment of a normal Sino-American relationship through Ping-Pong Diplomacy and trade between China and the outside world has increased rapidly. The granting of most favorable nation trade status to China by President Bill Clinton further increased trade between the USA and China.

On the other hand, the USA’s containment policy is still in effect as demonstrated by the military confrontations that have occurred in the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea. However, the improvement in submarines, the increased range of missiles, and the number of nuclear warheads of China make the containment policy obsolete.

The USA must have a new China policy so that confrontation will seldom be escalated into a battle with human casualties. Equally important is that the major powers should never think of a nuclear war as a means to destroy the other major powers.

The meeting of President Obama and Xi at Sunnylands, California is a good beginning. Their desire that the USA and China form a new major nation relationship is so important that the world would applaud it.

Americans do a great deal of good in the world. They also do things that are not good. Similar comments apply to the Chinese. If they do collaborate to resolve world conflicts peacefully (i.e., with minimal human casualties), then U.S.A, China and the world will have and enjoy a win-win-win situation.

XI. Recommendations. Some suggestions were made earlier for the two countries being assessed here. Five general recommendations are given below for consideration by all civilized countries:

  • On Corruption and Greed : The world should work together to reduce seven forms of corruption or greedy crimes described earlier. The United Nations needs to develop a body of international laws for use in prosecuting the crimes. Countries that are unwilling to enforce the laws should be excluded from world trade. Domestic laws should be amended or rewritten to reduce crimes of corruption within and without.
  • On International Collaboration : All countries — the major powers and lesser nations — should collaborate in world affairs and use trade, instead of deadly weapons, as a means to change a government to one of good governance. Human values and the suffering in each country differ. The killing of people should be the first issue to be addressed by collaborative effort. Changes to an existing government are less formidable than the formation of a new government that is free of corruption.
  • On the Prevention of Financial Crisis : The culprit in this crisis is corruption, government overspending, insufficient taxation, export import deficits, and low interest rates that are unsustainable. The government and the people must make some sacrifices to ensure that there will be no financial crisis and the associated economic human suffering for decades.
  • On Research : The world may run out of oil and gas in 20~30 years. We should invest in the research and technology necessary to deal with this issue. Investment needs to be made by the world on technologies that will lead to more energy, higher food production, and more practical medical technology so that energy, food and healthy people will be there to run the world when there is no longer any oil output from the ground.
  • On Education : The people need to be educated on what is Military, Government and Business for Mankind, why we fight the War of Justice , how to be a good citizen in a way to assure that our government does practice dao , what sacrifices are needed to assure effective government operation, and answers to other issues raised in this article. People must learn that greed, injustice and doing things only for their own self-interests are culprits that will destabilize their government and create wars among countries.

The tasks called for by the recommendations are being done by the world. We just reword them under the perspective of Military for Mankind, the War of Justice and a broadened definition of corruption to highlight the urgency for the world to carry out the tasks.

Corruption and financial crisis can cause a country to self-destruct. The USA and China should join forces in a war against self-destruction.

1. This book, others and essays written by Lee Yuri are on the website: www.leeyuri.org . Hard copies can be obtained with a donation.

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.

This book, others and essays written by Lee Yuri are on the website: www.leeyuri.org. Hard copies can be obtained with a donation.


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