Toward a Humanist Justice: The Political Philosophy of Susan Moller Okin
The Political Philosophy of Susan Moller Okin
Edited by : Debra Satz and Rob Reich
Publisher : Oxford University Press, 2009
Pages : 269 pages
For scholars who are attempting to deepen their understanding and knowledge of justice should consider this book as a must-read. The volume that was written by prominent political theorists and philosophers originated in a memorial conference held in honor of Susan Moller Okin at Stanford University in February 2005. It consists of 12 original essays about Okin's work and the themes her work championed. This book can be considered as a way to document and evaluate Susan Moller Okin’s amazing career as a feminist political theorist. Satz and Reich attempts to highlight the details and limits of Okin’s liberalism and feminism, and they also illuminate her richly empirical methods, and show how her linchpin analyses could have been further extended. Thus, the chapters in this book focus on Okin’s contributions to liberal theory, to the understanding of gender and the family, to the relationship between feminism and cultural differences, and to issues of global justice. Many of the chapters in this volume are critical of Okin’s work, but they also reveal the continuing importance for contemporary political philosophy of engaging with Okin’s thought.
Toward a Humanist Justice consists of several parts. Part I of the book, "Rethinking Political Theory", includes essays by Nancy Rosenblum, Joshua Cohen, Elizabeth Wingrove, and John Tomasi on Okin's methodology and her particular form of liberal feminism. Nancy Rosenblum, for instance, argues that Okin’s liberal feminism represents a continuation of the radical nature of liberal theory more generally. By showing that the contemporary family is in fact a mechanism for the perpetuation of women as an inferior caste, Okin reveals liberalism’s potential as an emancipatory theory, its capacity to up-end conventional social arrangements. Another article which is also interesting to read is "Can Feminism be Liberated from Governmentalism?" by Tomasi. He distinguishes between direct and indirect-governmental approaches to feminist public policy. He also shows that feminism need not rely on what he calls “governmentalism” or the view that the state is the proper agent to right or fight sexual inequalities. Okin, Tomasi argues, was a pioneer in exposing and showing the injustice of these inequalities but was too ready to deploy the state and a collectivist approach as the remedy. Finally, Elizabeth Wingrove wrote that Okin’s use of empirical evidence to evaluate forms of the family represents a welcome departure from the more abstract modes of analysis that typically characterize analytic philosophy. In addition, she also worries that Okin failed to use this approach—deployed to devastating effect in Justice, Gender, and the Family—in her writings on multiculturalism and feminism.
Furthermore, Wingrove is unfortunately less clear in her more detailed account of that method, overly complicating Okin's use of empirical social science to discover and justify claims about gender injustice. Some theorists think that this aspect of Okin's work would reward a close analysis by a philosopher of social science. One very helpful point, however, is Wingrove's interpretation of Okin's use of the linchpin metaphor. A linchpin, she points out, "invokes relations of connectivity rather than causality" (60).
Part II, "Gender and the Family", is a collection essays written by David Miller, Mary Lyndon Shanley, and Cass Sunstein on Okin's theory of the construction of gender within families and related social institutions, especially religion. These chapters concentrate on the tensions between gender and liberal egalitarianism. David Miller discusses the ways that families reproduce inequalities across generations. He notes that certain unequal paths for children must be morally tolerated if we are to give weight to important parental interests in shaping their children’s personalities. This may include tolerating parents’ inculcation of certain gender roles. Mary Lyndon Shanley’s chapter examines Okin’s views about the relationship between injustice and the perpetuation of gender. She argues that Okin sought not only to eliminate the unjust effects of gendered roles and expectations but to abolish gender itself as a form of human identity. Shanley finds this latter project—the abolition of gender— especially compelling and seeks to describe what it might actually mean. In regard to Sustain’s work where he was exploring the relationship between religious liberty and sexual equality, Ann E. Cudd argues that Sustein did an excellent job of balancing religious freedom against interests in upholding sex discrimination law.
Part III, "Feminism and Cultural Diversity", includes essays by Ayelet Shachar, Alison Jaggar, and Chandran Kukathas on Okin's views about the contradictions she saw in combining feminism and multiculturalism. For Schacher’s article, it has been criticized by some theorists especially on her attempt to show that Okin was wrong not to consider group rights for women who value their religious identity.
Part IV, "Development and Gender", presents articles by Robert Keohane and the late Iris Marion Young on the last turn in Okin's work toward consideration of justice for the global poor. Young's article "The Gendered Cycle of Vulnerability in the Less Developed World", puts Okin's central argument in Justice, Gender, and the Family to work by showing a similar pattern in the vulnerability of poor women in less developed countries. This piece highlights a feature of Okin's methodology that the linchpin metaphor on Wingrove's analysis describes: Okin sought to connect the internal and external, direct and indirect, economic and psychological causes of women's oppression that make the bars of women's cages so strong and yet so difficult to see.
Thus, the essays take up the four chapters of Okin's life work: her early work on the place of women in the history of political thought, her middle period in which she grappled with contemporary theories of justice, her later period in which she challenged postcolonial feminists and multiculturalists, and her final couple of years in which she sought to understand global gender injustice. These essays are on the whole excellent; they are each critical of some part of Okin's philosophy or method. Yet they also invariably illustrate the enormous contributions that her work made to political theory, feminist thought, and, although this comes through perhaps less clearly, methodology.
Summary by: Cut Mita