Political Theory Project

John Tomasi

Director, Romeo Elton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Professor of Political Science

Biography

John Tomasi is the Romeo Elton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a Professor of Political Science at Brown University. He also holds an appointment at the University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom where he is a University Associate and Research Professor. He is the founding director of the Political Theory Project. 

Tomasi received his B.A. from Colby College, his M.A. from the University of Arizona (1990), and his B. Phil., D. Phil. from Oxford University (1993). He has held previous positions at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton, the Department of Philosophy at Stanford, and the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. His specializations are political theory and ethics and public policy.

Curriculum Vitae

Awards

Professor Tomasi has twice been awarded University prizes for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

Publications

In addition to numerous scholarly articles, Tomasi is author of Liberalism Beyond Justice: Citizens Society and the Boundaries of Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2001) and Free Market Fairness (Princeton University Press, 2012). Read the Wall Street Journal review to learn more about this publication.

Free Market Fairness (Princeton University Press, 2012)

Can libertarians care about social justice? In Free Market Fairness, John Tomasi argues that they can and should. Drawing simultaneously on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls, Tomasi presents a new theory of liberal justice. This theory, free market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor.

Unlike traditional libertarians, Tomasi argues that property rights are best defended not in terms of self-ownership or economic efficiency but as requirements of democratic legitimacy. At the same time, he encourages egalitarians concerned about social justice to listen more sympathetically to the claims ordinary citizens make about the importance of private economic liberty in their daily lives. In place of the familiar social democratic interpretations of social justice, Tomasi offers a "market democratic" conception of social justice: free market fairness. Tomasi argues that free market fairness, with its twin commitment to economic liberty and a fair distribution of goods and opportunities, is a morally superior account of liberal justice. Free market fairness is also a distinctively American ideal. It extends the notion, prominent in America's founding period, that protection of property and promotion of real opportunity are indivisible goals. Indeed, according to Tomasi, free market fairness is social justice, American style.

View a brief discussion by Professor John Tomasi of Free Market Fairness here.

Liberalism Beyond Justice: Citizens, Society and the Boundaries of Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2001)

Liberal regimes shape the ethical outlooks of their citizens, relentlessly influencing their most personal commitments over time. On such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and women's rights, many religious Americans feel pulled between their personal beliefs and their need, as good citizens, to support individual rights. These circumstances, argues John Tomasi, raise new and pressing questions: Is liberalism as successful as it hopes in avoiding the imposition of a single ethical doctrine on all of society? If liberals cannot prevent the spillover of public values into nonpublic domains, how accommodating of diversity can a liberal regime actually be? To what degree can a liberal society be a home even to the people whose viewpoints it was formally designed to include?

To meet these questions, Tomasi argues, the boundaries of political liberal theorizing must be redrawn. Political liberalism involves more than an account of justified state coercion and the norms of democratic deliberation. Political liberalism also implies a distinctive account of nonpublic social life, one in which successful human lives must be built across the interface of personal and public values. Tomasi proposes a theory of liberal nonpublic life. To live up to their own deepest commitments to toleration and mutual respect, liberals, he insists, must now rethink their conceptions of social justice, civic education, and citizenship itself. The result is a fresh look at liberal theory and what it means for a liberal society to function well.

Read a review of this work that appeared in Ethics (Bert van den Brink, Ethics, Vol. 112, No. 4 (July 2002), pp. 872-875)

Current Projects

Professor Tomasi is currently at work on a book that is co-authored with Matt Zwolinski, titled A Brief  History of Libertarianism (under contract with Princeton University Press) in addition to a new chapter for the Spanish translation of his 2012 book, Free Market Fairness, in which he explores the logistics of applying his theory of market democracy, central to the book, at the policy level in Chile.

Since the summer of 2018, Director John Tomasi has been traveling to Santiago, Chile to advise President Sebatian Piñera’s administration, developing ways to apply his market democracy model, outlined in his 2012 book Free Market Fairness (Princeton University Press), at the public policy level in Chile.

Read more about the project in the official communications from Brown University below. 

Official Brown communications regarding John's research in Chile

One semester after Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, four Brown students are working with political scientist John Tomasi to make connections between political philosophy and conditions on the ground in Chile.