HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


Many unjust relationships continue to exist among peoples as well as among individuals. Perhaps there are so many of them that their sum total supports the verdict that we live in an unjust world. Yet this study asks whether the "global order" as such is unjust, and seeks to give a partial answer to that question by showing that at least some prominent ways of arguing that it is fail. That question must seem hopelessly amorphous. Yet not only do we have to ask it, we will also mean something reasonably precise by it. We must ask it since the unit of political discourse becomes ever more the world as such. "Globalization" is a household world. So we must ask a question in the global context that we have asked all along about relationships among individuals and societies, namely, is it just? This question has great practical import: if the global order is unjust, the culprits will have duties in justice to rectify the situation, duties that could not simply be subordinated to domestic concerns. To make our question more precise, I adopt a minimal conception of justice and ask whether the global order as such is unjust in that sense. I ask whether there is a straightforward sense in which the global order harms the poor. Much intricacy is tied to the idea of "harming", as we know from the debate about Mill's Harm Principle (“just what counts as ‘harming’?”). The sort of "harm" that is beyond this inquiry is vulnerability, the fact (rather than the harmful exercise) of domination, harm done because some people?s needs remain unsatisfied, or because some deserve more than they own and harm done by the mere omission of bringing about a better state of affairs, and so is any injustice characterized along such lines. Adopting this minimal conception entails that we will be able to provide but a partial answer to the title question if a broader conception of justice at the global level can be made plausible.


Risse, Mathias. "Do We Live in an Unjust World?" KSG Faculty Research Working Papers Series RWP03-049, December 2003.