Errnnest Barker’s Views on Theory of Justice

Errnnest Barker’s small book is famous for reason more than one. Barker is basically a believer of idealism and he has viewed certain basic concepts of political science in the background of idealism.

His theory of justice occupies a very important place in the thought system of the English speaking world. Present analysis is based on the views expressed in the book Principles of Social and Political Theory published in 1950.

Barker’s Views about Meaning and Origin:

Barker makes an attempt to discover the root of the idea of justice. He observes that justice is derived from justus or justitia. The meaning of these two words is to join together. Which will be joined together? He is of opinion that man and man and value and value are joined together.

We are quite aware that in any pluralist society there are numerous men who hold different values and we respect this plurality of values and thought because it is the grand way of the progress of ideas and thought. But the society is not the amalgamation of separate units, all are correlated and there is also an interdependence among them.

There is the value of liberty as well as the value of fraternity. There is a strong necessity of filling or joining these values. Barker believes that if all these values are allowed to function differently the whole fabric of society will be at a great risk.

The relationship among men and values is always in the process of adjustment and readjustment. This has been necessitated by the change of society. Charge in the outlook, attitude, values and also material condition. If the society fails to adjust itself with the new situation its survival will be at stake. Now the question is at what basis the society will proceed to adjust itself with the changes? The clear answer is— it is justice. “Justice is the reconciler and synthesis of political values; it is their union in an adjusted and integrated whole”.

Justice is the reconciler and synthesizer of political values such as liberty, fraternity etc. In the opinion of Barker justice reconciles different values and by doing this the process of adjustment and readjustment proceeds continuously. Absence of adjustment and readjustment justice will be affected.

We know that the enjoyment of liberty by one may affect adversely the liberty of other people and in that situation it is the duty of the state to effect a rectification. The enjoyment of liberty of one man cannot be the source of deprivation of liberty for other person. It is the function of justice to bring about a reconciliation between the claim of different person.

What is the strength of justice with the help of which it performs the function of reconciliation? According to Banker there are four different sources.

These are:

(1) Religion,

(2) Nature,


(3) Economics

(4) and ethics.

We can say these are the weapons with which justice synthesizes the values and makes a reconciliation among men. It is not that justice uses all these weapons at a time but it uses sparingly. The use depends on situation.

Religion as the Origin of Justice:

Barker has thoroughly studied the social, political, religious and ethical systems of Western society and has concluded that religion is so active in society that it very often acts as a source of justice. Religion determines the ethical principles and contain the notion of justice. These ethical principles are embodied in laws enacted by the state and such laws are to be obeyed by all.

In every society there are many persons who have no faith in religion and they do not bother about religion and its influence upon individuals’ life. But once the ethical principles are incorporated into laws of the state these are binding for all and to disobey a law is followed by punishment.

Barker maintains that in Middle Age, and even in the greater part of modern age religion created a remarkable impact on social, political and cultural outlook, behaviour and manner of people. But religion does not always act as the direct source of justice. The state in various ways and methods instills the faith on religion and moral principles in the minds of men in round about ways.

The state does not enforce law based on moral principles, but it encourages men to obey law. The state believes that if individuals form the habit of obeying laws other than the laws based on religious and moral principles, in course of time they will obey all types of law. Moreover, men are taught that the objective of moral and religious laws is attainment of justice.

Nature as the Origin of Justice:

Nature as a source of justice is very interesting and the concept is very old. But here the word nature is not used in the senses biologists and physicists generally use. When we treat nature as a source of justice, it is used in the sense of “ought” and not “is”. It emphasises that what a man or authority should do or act.

It also means ethical or moral sense and not material world. In ancient Greek philosophy Nature, God, Reason etc. were placed on the same set or were juxtaposed. They were not interested in making any distinction between them. Not only this it was also identified with religion and ethics. In this way nature was awarded highest regard and most important place in the intellectual world.

It was also believed that by nature individuals are rational and they cherish liberty, equality and fraternity which are treated as universal values.

Let us now combine together all the currents of thought:

(1) Man recognises that he should not be guided by “is” but by “ought”.

(2) Man is by nature rational (at least majority of them).

(3) It is natural that he should act rationally.

(4) Nature is the fusion of ethics, morality, reason, God, religion etc.

(5) Since man is imbibed with reason and rationality he will always give preference to “ought” or “should be”.

(6) He will do those acts which make a reasonable combination of liberty, equality and fraternity. In this way there shall emerge justice in society and behind this nature is the cause.

Economics as the Origin of Justice:

It has been observed by many that restructuring economic system or its reforms can provide a potential source of attaining justice. Before forming this opinion we want to discuss other things.

Marx and Engels have provided the best and elaborate explanations of how the economics or economic power as the source of injustice and exploitation which is the abnegation of justice. In a state where the economic power is in the hands of few persons (who constitute a class called the capitalist class); they will utilise it in their favour.

First of all they will force the state authority to enact law which will be used to safeguard their interests. The generally do it by sending their representatives to the legislature and executive branch. In this society justice will be meant the protection of interests of the dominant class. But this is not the nature of real justice.

What did Marx, Engels, and their followers say so far as the economic power, nature of state and justice are concerned? Only the seizure of the state power by the working class and this and establishment of its dictatorship through a class struggle could emancipate the working class and free the economic power from the clutches of the dominant class and this could make way for the establishment of justice in the society. What Marx and Engels had wanted to assert is that the redistribution of wealth and income would be the source of justice.

The redistribution would lead to the removal of inequalities in wealth and income. In the opinion of Marx and Engels economic inequality is the root cause of all other inequalities viz social, political and other inequalities, and inequality is another name of injustice. Thus economics cuts both ways —it causes inequality and injustice and also makes way for justice.

How economics can be a source of justice in society has been clearly explained by Duguit. According to Duguit national society can be imagined as an economic society. Different occupational groups will constitute such a society. Different producers were engaged in producing various commodities and all of them would form groups. Though these groups and other manifold organisations are separate and pursue their objectives separately all of them are bound by relationship and solidarity.

The concept of solidarity denotes that though there are many groups engaged in different activities of production, there shall exist a cooperation among them all. Barker says: “The maximum of production—which is the essential aim of the society, because it brings the maximum of production and maximum of enjoyment—entails the maximum of cooperation. This maximum of cooperation involves and supplies the principle of solidarity and this principle of solidarity furnishes in turn the notion of justice, the notion of what is right in itself, the notion of value which is impersonal law.”

After highlighting Duguit’s viewpoint Barker proceeds to analyse the other aspects of the concept. He asks—Is economics or principle of economics the primary basis and origin of the notion of justice? He answers the question in the following words: “If economic factors and economic interests have partly determined the legal system of order and the legal framework of rules, it is even more true that law has furnished the whole general system of order, and the whole general framework of rules, within which and under which the factors and interests of economics have had to work ….. Positive law is a general scheme which covers many fields of life besides the economic.”

The law makers of the state that is the members of the legislatures and the lawyers who apply or adjudicate the laws are no doubt considerably influenced by the economic interests. But the entire scheme of positive laws has been built in such a way as to influence and design the human relations, In other words, the chief and simple purpose of all positive laws has been to streamline the economics of society.

Barker concludes with the following observation: “If that is the relation of economics to positive law we may fairly expect something similar to be true of the relation of economics to the idea of justice and we may refuse to believe that economic principles can ever be the source (though they may be a contributory source) of our idea of what is inherently right”.

Ethics as the Origin of Justice:

Finally Barker deals with the issue to what extent ethics acts as a source of justice. He says that when the moral standard of the community is enforced by the general moral conscience it can conveniently be the source of justice. This general moral conscience is a synthesis of values and the values are the impersonal source of law. We thus see that the ethical values of the body politic are implemented into practice by the general moral conscience and this is again the root cause of law.

In other words, according to Barker law is not the manifestation of views and ideas of any particular person or group of persons. In a true law general moral conscience is embodied and when such a law proceeds to enforce the moral standard of the society both morality and justice will come to settle.

But the above process will never be translated into reality if law is not properly made. How it is to be done? Barker says that a true and ideal law will have both validity and value. How are these two objectives be achieved? For the validity of law it is first of all essential that it must be enacted by the legally constituted authority.

It must be enforced and recognised by the same legal authority. To put it in other words behind every law there shall be recognition of state authority. This type of law can be said to have validity. But every law at the same time must have value which means that it must be in conformity with the general canons of ethics, morality, ethical conscience and the general notion of justice.

If the human relations are built upon the general canons of ethics and if law embodies these canons, then it will be taken for granted that law has value. Thus we conclude that a proper law will have both validity and value and when such laws are obeyed (of course spontaneously) by general public that situation can ensure justice. Barker further observes that law is not morality or ethics and it cannot force a man to be moral or to perform ethical acts.

But here the relation between law and ethics does not end. Law must create an atmosphere which will be congenial for the proper observance of ethical duties and in this way law helps the realisation of ethics. It may further observed that a law must establish a moral minimum standard for all people of the society and this minimum moral standard must be observed by all members irrespective of caste, creed, race, sex and religion.

In the form of recapitulation we can say law must be the proper manifestation of general moral conscience and when this happens a law cannot be far away from the moral and ethical domain and such a law can create an atmosphere in which people can comfortably perform duties which are in consonance with morality and ethics.

When all these prevail justice will have a good place in society. In this way Barker analyses the relation between law, morality and justice. A state must be careful that its acts and laws do not violate moral precepts. When all these conditions are fulfilled ethics can ensure the justice in the society. Though Barker gives due emphasis to all the sources of justice we are of the view that his clear preference is for ethical and moral origin and this is due to his strong attachment to idealism.

The Final Principle of Justice:

What Ernest Barker says in The Final Principle of Justice is nothing but the repetition of what he has already said. We have just now stated it. Repeating his earlier standpoint Barker says that justice is, in real sense, the synthesis of various principles of rights and their distribution. Justice performs the function of joining or fitting together the various rights or claims of the principle of liberty, principle of equality and the principle of fraternity.

He calls liberty, equality and fraternity as right because any responsible citizen (who is also law abiding and duty performing) can claim to have liberty, equality and fraternity. Justice not only joins but also knits together all these principles. It is the function of justice to effectuate cooperation and adjustment of many all these principles.

One very important argument is to be stated here. Barker calls this function of synthesisation of justice as the final principle (emphasis added). Here we interpret the term final as supreme. Any other principle than justice can function as an agent of synthesisation.

It also means that only justice can be the coordinating agent of all the claims to liberty, equality and fraternity. The supreme objective of the distribution and adjustment of liberty equality and fraternity is the realisation of justice and no other principle can be allowed to interfere.

Barker has further explained the term justice as the right ordering of human relations. This argument carries a lot of significance. If the relations among the human beings of a society are not properly and fruitfully arranged justice will be the chief or only victim. Right ordering of human relations has another important aspect.

The relations among individuals will be adjusted and arranged in such a manner that none will be deprived of his legitimate share of liberty, equality and fraternity because everyone must have a share to all these and that must be in consonance to his development of inherent qualities.

In the opinion of Barker justice is a social reality. It is social reality in the sense that the concept of justice is known to all and everybody wishes to get justice either from society or from state. This justice has not been created all of a sudden by a group of persons.

He says that it is a social thought which means that behind the development of justice there is a social thought. Social thought means a thought created, cultivated and developed-by people of society. People’s partici­pation has made it a reality and enriched the whole concept. Justice is not based on any imagination. Through the development of social thought concept of justice has reached a stage which is actual.

Barker has analysed another aspect of justice. We have already noted that justice itself is not ethics or morality but it originates from ethical and moral concepts and ideas. It is to some extent based on morality and ethics. Barker beautifully writes, “This justice is not morality, and its code is not that of ethics. It is not a rule of the inward life, but a rule of the outward life”. Life of whom and what is the exact nature of such life? He says that life is of the men who live in society in an organised way.

Mention has been made that justice is not an imaginary concept and naturally it does not deal with inward life and directly with morality and ethics. It is the concept of the external world and outward life. When the human relations are properly ordered that will (or may) lead to the realisation of justice. Naturally justice cannot be conceived of as the product of contemplation or internal ideas. It is closely linked with the reality in which we live.

We know that justice joins both men and principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood and if so it is an order of persons and principles and this order regulates the principles of distribution and relations among human beings. Justice does this with an utmost impartiality. This is a very important characteristic feature of justice. Justice always maintains balance among various elements and forces of society.

When this balance remains unattained or unattainable it will be presumed that justice will be disturbed. Balance of what? Balance in the distribution of claims to liberty, equality and fraternity. A true justice sees that one is not getting more than what is his due. In order to perform this job the hands and eyes of the justice are blind folded. Blind foldedness implies the impartiality. If the balancing feature of justice is lost or disturbed justice will lose its real significance.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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