Democratic Justice in Transition

Ruti Teitel’s Transitional Justice and Ian Shapiro’s Democratic Justice come out of very different academic traditions. But they both develop a view of justice that might loosely be called pragmatic by virtue of its treatment of justice as a value that is simultaneously grounded in practice and powerful in bringing about social and political change. Moreover, they both use this shared pragmatic view of justice to provide us with two things that are of great importance to the study of transitional justice and democracy in general. The first is an explanatory framework for understanding how legal institutions and claims about justice function during periods of transition from authoritarianism to democracy. The second is a normative framework for generating principles of justice that can be used to democratize practices in all spheres of life: personal, social, economic, and political. Teitel and Shapiro’s general view of justice is very compelling on its own terms and particularly well suited to the efforts of those who want to think about justice practically without degrading it or treating it as merely superstructural. The pragmatic view of justice they develop does not, like its transcendental counterparts, force us to locate a universal moral principle called justice. Nor does it, like its more cynical realist counterparts, force us to accept the status quo or to resign ourselves to a world where justice is considered to be no more than a mere mask for power politics and economic interest. Instead, it allows us to treat our moral and legal values, including justice, as both historically situated constructs and powerful tools for bringing about social and political change.