I have said as much as I want to say about Rawls for the time being, but before moving on to other subjects, I think I owe David Palmeter a response. Here is what he said:
First, a confession. It is forty years since I read A Theory of Justice, and in the intervening four decades, I have not been moved to return to it, so my memory could be a trifle hazy. The book appeared in 1971. In 1999, Rawls published a revised edition, which I bought recently in preparation for the study group on it that I shall be leading come the Fall semester. In both the first edition and the revised edition, Rawls' remarks about socialism, such as they are, appear in sections 42 and 43. [The entire book is divided both into chapters and into numbered sections. Sections 42 and 43 appear in Chapter V, titled "Distributive Shares."] I did a quick comparison of the original and revised editions by comparing the lead words of each paragraph, and so far as I can tell, there were no revisions of those particular sections.
I find Rawls' discussion of socialism tone-deaf, if I may put it that way. Let me offer an example. In the third paragraph of section 42, he writes: "The classical distinction [between "a private-property economy and socialism"] is that the size of the public sector under socialism (as measured by the fraction of total output produced by state-owned firms and managed either by state officials or by workers' councils) is much larger." [Page 235 in the revised edition, page 266 in the original edition.] Rawls then goes on to talk about the so-called free rider problem, as though that had anything at all to do with socialism. This, and what follows, seems to me to show that Rawls did not have a clue about the nature of Marx's critique of capitalism. He says, "questions of political economy are discussed simply to find out the practicable bearing of justice as fairness." [p. 234/265] Never mind that he exhibits no understanding or awareness of the role of ideological mystification. He simply does not consider the possibility that private ownership of the means of production rests on exploitation, and hence is neither compatible with "our" intuitions about justice [whose? not mine!] nor would be chosen by rationally self-interested agents in the Original Position under the Veil of Ignorance who however knew the general laws of society. which include the fact that capitalism rests on exploitation.
In the flood of words that Rawls pours out, it is a little difficult to know what to make of what he says. For example, on page 242/274, he writes "Which of these systems [i.e., capitalism or socialism ed.] and the many intermediate forms most fully answers to the requirements of justice cannot, I think, be determined in advance." But three pages later [page 245/278] he writes this extraordinary passage: "The unequal inheritance of wealth is no more inherently unjust than the unequal inheritance of intelligence.... Thus inheritance is permissible provided that the resulting in equalities are to the advantage of the least fortunate and compatible with liberty and fair equality of opportunity." And then he calmly goes on as though that were a matter of uncertainty and relative unimportance!
I am sure Rawls moved his eyes over the pages of some works by Marx, but there is no way that he could actually have read Marx and then have written these sentences.
Now, it is obviously possible to read everything in Rawls through the lens of this passage, and conclude that, whether he knew it or not, his theory was a justification of revolutionary socialism. There have been many odder readings of texts in the two and a half millennia of philosophy. But why on earth bother, inasmuch as the fundamental theory [as I have demonstrated elsewhere in print] is wrong?