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Political Coercion and the Scope of Distributive Justice

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Abstract

A prominent position in the global justice literature holds that claims of distributive justice are only ‘activated’ by the densely coercive institutional apparatus of states. I dispute this view in three ways. First, I argue that coercion is either justified by its results and rationale or it cannot be justified at all; as a result, coercive institutions do not demand an independent justification via distributive justice. Second, I contend that because the shape of coercive institutions is the result of political choices that have distributive implications, one cannot make normative judgements without asking why coercive institutions have the shape that they do. Third, even accepting (for the sake of argument) the claim that coercive institutions must be justified by a special focus on distributive justice among those subject to them, I argue that the resulting position does not justify restricting distributive justice to state borders. If (any of) these arguments are correct, it is a mistake to think that a concern with the coercive nature of political institutions legitimates restricting claims of distributive justice to compatriots.

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