Libertarians(like me) generally disagree with orthodox Rawlsians (like Samuel Freeman) about whether Rawlsian principles of distributive justice are compatible with libertarianism.1In this essay, I set out to explain why. In section 1, I describe the problem, which is essentially that libertarians think the Rawlsian framework does not rule out anti-statist, capitalist, and broadly libertarian approaches to distributive justice and orthodox Rawlsians think that it does. I propose that this problem arises because the Rawlsian framework is underspecified in two ways. First, the Rawlsian framework has a lot of moving parts, so people with different pre-theoretical intuitions can use Rawls’s theory, without error, to arrive at very different conclusions. I make this point in section 2. Second, orthodox Rawlsians advance justice as fairness at an intermediate level of idealization. In section 3, I argue that pitching the theory at this level inherits many of the problems with a non-ideal approach that addresses specific problems with the status quo as well as the problems with a purely ideal approach that addresses the motivating ideals and values. This approach also obscures more than it illuminates to the extent that it is often unclear whether arguments at this level of analysis are justified on principled or pragmatic grounds.

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