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John Rawls argued in The Law of Peoples that we should reject any principle of international distributive justice, whether in ideal theory or nonideal theory. Instead, he advocated a duty of assistance on the part of well-ordered societies toward burdened societies. I argue that Rawls is correct that we should endorse a principle with a target and cut-off point rather than a principle of international distributive justice. But the target and cut-off point he favors is too undemanding, because it can be met by assisting a burdened society to become a decent people. Instead, only a society that respects the right to an adequate standard of living, and not simply a right to subsistence, can be an acceptable target. Rawls is prevented from drawing this conclusion by a failure to disentangle issues of intervention and assistance, a failure bound up with his flawed, intervention-driven account of human rights in defining a decent people.
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Keywords: distributive justice; duty of assistance; human rights; international justice; intervention; self-determination; standard of living

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Corpus Christi College, Oxford OX1 4JF, United Kingdom , Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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