Volume 30, Issue 1, Spring 2016
The Nature of Poverty as Inhuman
Plausible but Illiberal?
The present symposium, which I have organized on behalf of the International Journal of Applied Philosophy, is devoted to Hennie Lötter’s Poverty, Ethics and Justice. The first three articles in the symposium attempt to show that Lotter’s view on the eradication of poverty is inherently flawed, either in light of what a liberal state conceivably could do, or what respect for democracy requires, or what the environment can sustain. In this opening article, I draw out an interesting implication of Hennie Lötter’s original and compelling conception of the nature of poverty as essentially inhuman. After motivating this view, I argue that it, like the capabilities approach and other views that invoke a conception of good and bad lives, is inconsistent with a standard understanding of a liberal account of the state’s role, one that is independently supported and even readily accepted by liberal egalitarians. I argue that one must choose between a compelling conception of an impoverished life as not good or even bad and a liberal theory of the state’s function, roughly by which conceptions of good and bad must not ground policy, where many redistributivist liberals have not recognized this inconsistency. Although there are activities similar to fighting poverty that a liberal state can undertake, I contend that it cannot, by definition, aim to eradicate poverty as such, in the way that Lötter and others plausibly conceive of it.