Political Injustice and Public Policy

  • Fernando de Barros FilgueirasEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_3020-1



The relation between justice and public policy is reflected on the ability of governments to act inclusively, efficiently, efficaciously, and effectively, considering the ethical perception of society regarding institutions design and performance. Inclusion, efficiency, efficacy, and effectiveness serve as parameters that guide citizens’ judgment on the performance of public policy and public administration as a whole. Political injustice takes place when institutions are permeable to power structures that lead to exclusion, inefficacy, and ineffectiveness. Political injustice in public administration is mainly triggered when the principle of equality is corrupted in public policy.

The debate on justice and public policy lays on the administration’s capacity to add public value and be effective in its governance approach. Thus, political injustice is a normatively dependent concept, related to citizens’ judgment on the justification and implementation of norms and values for governmental public action’s assessment. Such judgment shall inform that a public policy is legitimate or illegitimate, based on ethical principles of inclusion, efficiency, efficacy, and effectiveness. That is, if a public policy is aligned with the public interest or if it reproduces exclusionary power structures. Public communication is central in this process, since it represents institutions’ ability to promote public value, which will guide citizens’ opinion about public policies.

The debate on governance argues that interaction between state and society must be considered in public administration’s planning, so it can ensure mechanisms that enhance the quality of public policies and services as well as the quality of the political regime in which management operates. More than problems of public institutions, the concept of governance also considers the problem of public action, in such a way that the administration is limited not only in the aspect of management but also of politics (Rhodes and Bevir 2016).

Nowadays, democracies have been composed with citizens that are more critical to the action of governments. Such criticism has raised a wave of protest and demand for change in terms of management mechanism and political regime (Norris 2011). Increasing distrust in political and administrative institutions, broadening perception of corruption in managers’ and large public enterprises’ actions, as well as coordination problems and misinformation would be recurrent problems in democracies and that directly affect institutions (Dalton 2004; Hardin 1999; Klingelmann and Fuchs 1995; Levi 1998; Offe 1999; Pharr and Putnam 2000). There would be, in this sense, new demands to the public administration aligned with citizens’ critical position in relation to democratic deficit of institutions, unrelated to social justice (Norris 2011). In other words, political injustice increases distrust in institutions and public policies, considering citizens’ judgments justified by their exclusion from the decision-making process and by governments’ poor results.

The idea of democratic deficit is related to citizens’ high suspicion on institutions and a growing perception of public administration malfunction. The offer of public goods and services is hampered by inefficiency, inefficacy, and ineffectiveness of public policies, heavily bureaucratic archaic public services, lack of trained and qualified civil servants, systemic corruption, and public management models that do not allow the administration to add public value and to deal with its connection to the political system.

Therefore, it is the legitimacy of public action in society that announces the relationship between public administration and injustice, focusing on inclusive and democratic values. Political justice is a parameter for judging public policy’s inclusive capability and results. In contrast, political injustice comes from excluding power, which promotes inefficient, inefficacious, and ineffective results, out of ethical parameters.

Framework of Justice and Public Policy

The debate on justice holds a broad traditional thinking. Theories on justice may vary from justice as transcendent institutionalism to justice as social accomplishment (Sen 2009). On one hand, justice is the set of principles that provide the correct choice of institutions. These principles have transcendental shape and guide society to the best possible choice of political and legal institutions for the realization of principles (Rawls 1993; Dworkin 1985; Nozick 1974). Principles must be justified in the light of a public reason that commands and guides governmental actions. The perspective of justice as social achievements, on the other hand, seeks to observe injustice in society’s plan compared to social behavior criteria. However, the purpose of justice should not be focused on a dichotomous and antagonic treatment of these two perspectives, which should be combined to form a more complex framework. A valid conception of justice must account the right institutions and the right behavior, considering the values and norms set by principles (Sen 2009).

Justice is directly related to principles, which are brought to public discourse as argumentative resources for public action’s evaluation. Public policy’s public character depends on how government action can be justified, institutionally, having the constitution as a guide, or based on results, providing social achievements.

Within the scope of transcendental institutionalism, democratic society is governed by the principle of pluralism. Pluralism means that democratic societies build extensive and different moral, philosophical, and religious views, which prevent any kind of public interest based on social achievements, because any social achievement of a group will lead to the exclusion of another one. The transcendental character of the institutions lies in the fact that a democratic society is based on the production of an overlapping consensus on principles of justice. Overlapping consensus produces a tolerant society on the condition that citizens are reasonable and respect the difference principle (Rawls 1993).

In this sense, the origin of principles of justice demands a contractualist conception centered on the problem of validation. Validity is set up through consensus on principles that can be endorsed by everyone, regardless their moral, philosophical, or religious views. Legitimacy issues are limited to the constitutionality of laws as well as government and citizens’ political actions. The exercise of power is legitimate if it is exercised according to a constitution, which is fairly endorsed by free and equal citizens (Rawls 1993).

Institutions shall establish policies and actions for the sole purpose of achieving the principles of political justice set out in a constitution. To be fair, public policy needs to be neutral from the point of view of their justification – not their results – because the bond to the conception of the good means the violation of the difference principle. Justification’s neutrality is essential to validate policy established by the state and its agencies, bearing in mind valid institutions. As plural societies have no agreement on goods, the best judgment is the one that expresses first-order impartiality. Therefore, it limits the concept of public to constitutional precepts (Rawls 1993).

Constitutional principles justify administrative public action by rules that recognize citizenship equality. The equality principle requires the state to consider and treat its citizens as equals (Dworkin 1985). Public policies based on equality and on rule of law point to the following principles: (1) the government should not impose restrictions or sacrifices on any citizen based on an argument that the citizen would not be able to accept without abandoning his sense of equal value and (2) liberalism based on equality requires an economic system in which no citizen has less than an equal share of community resources just so that others can have more of what is lacking (Dworkin 1985). In the light of the principles of transcendental institutionalism, public policy is fair on the condition that it is justified in accordance with the principles established by a constitution.

With regards to the concept of justice as social achievements, judgment does not take place based on transcendental principles. Deontological concepts of justice fail for assuming ideal models that are sustained in the empirical world (Walzer 1975). It is impossible to think of a person existing without being involved with his community and his ethical life since his faculty of the mind is based on values that are common and have a broader social meaning. The idea of justice is so complex that it has different significations in plural societies, depending on the context and on the group under discussion. A universal concept of justice that generates principles able to organize and formally order society is unlikely. Ordering depends on the search for deep structures of society, which are marked by common community values. Without ethical life, which generates values and deep structures of society, it is not possible to find meaning to the idea of justice, since it is connected to the fundamental loyalty that one has to others. Criticisms to transcendental institutionalism recognize diversity as the landmark of contemporary democratic societies and the need to recover ethical life to think public action. These criticisms are based on community and culture concepts as the basis for policy, taking into account a context of new social movements and their struggle for recognition (Taylor 1992). Thus, social achievements concept considers that citizens’ judgment on public action justice is based on identities and philosophical and moral concepts of the world.

Justice in public policies, therefore, takes place on two levels: (1) in the political justification level, considering a free decision-making process that is able to equally include citizens and (2) in the policy implementation level, according to results that include and recognize citizens’ diverse interests, opinions, and perspectives. With regards to inclusion, justice in public policy takes place in the decision-making process and in the public action’s results. Regarding efficiency, justice in public policy takes place when scarce resources are optimized. Finally, as to effectiveness, public policy justice takes place when public action can ensure improved services and equitable and effective results.

Political Injustice, Corruption, and Governance

Political injustice occurs in public policies when governmental action is assessed by citizens based on justification and implementation problems. Regarding the justification level, public policy is unfair when its ground of validity excludes the principles of freedom and equality. That is, when citizens are not free to choose the governmental action flow and when there is no equal concern and respect for diverse interests in public action. In terms of implementation, public policy is unfair when its results do not recognize and exclude the community’s diverse interests, opinions, and perspectives, promoting society resource deprivation.

The main cause for political injustice in public policy is corruption. Democracy, as an ideal norm, is the political regime in which the ones affected by public decisions can manifest against those decisions (Habermas 1996). Corruption is a process of citizens’ unjustified political exclusion from institutions and social achievements. Corruption means illegitimate and illegal private appropriation of public funds. Its immediate outcome is society’s privation of power and deviation in resource distribution. Therefore, corruption assembles varied forms to act against public interest and it is manifested by moral judgment (Filgueiras 2008).

Being a normatively dependent concept, moral judgment, which specifies and defines corruption, depends on the law justification and implementation process, within public communication. Thus, corruption is a form of political injustice, which takes place in two levels: the institutional level and the social achievement level. Corruption is directly related to inequality, since it results in democracy institutions’ malfunction and agents’ misbehavior, promoting organizations and public administration resources privation. In relation to institutions malfunctioning, corruption decreases the value of equality before the law, causing political exclusion (Warren 2005). Institutional malfunctioning results in one-sided distribution of society’s economic resources, increasing inequality. That is, corruption directly affects social achievements by distributing society’s resources unequally.

Corruption, as the ultimate expression of political injustice, since it results in political exclusion and reproduction of inequality, directly affects the quality of democratic government. Corruption jeopardizes the public communication process and directly affects the legitimacy of the political system and of public policy. In that sense, corruption is the breakdown of the political system legitimacy, as it means producing forms of exclusion in democracy.

Facing political injustice stems from democratic governance improvement. Public administration must grant new ways of power exercise in order to promote inclusive public policy, which means more effective, efficient, and effective. It must ensure ethical mechanisms of power exercise and institutional innovation processes marked by citizens’ participation, solid management tools, transparency, and accountability. Democratic governance is the administration model that is open to public and delivers services and policies for citizens. Democratic governance goes beyond management, for the quality of public services is relevant for citizenship. Democratic governance means administration in public, for which, in addition to efficiency and effectiveness, state action legitimacy matters, considering public service and policy that promote equity and add public value to state action (Bevir 2010). Democratic governance brings together three elements that count up to public administration: (1) state capacity for implementation and coordination; (2) transparency and accountability mechanisms (Filgueiras 2016) and; (3) mechanisms for political participation (Fung 2015).

The concept of democratic governance is enclosed with the notion that government quality matters. Quality implies the ability to act and produce equitable results to society as a whole. It means not being permeable to corruption, being able to exercise full legitimate fair public authority (Rothstein 2010). Strengthening public sector’s mechanisms for management and democratic governance allows for more inclusive institutions and results, which makes it possible for public policy to be immune to injustice and be paired up with ethical standards.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research and Graduate StudiesNational School of Public Administration - EnapBrasíliaBrazil
  2. 2.Federal University of Minas GeraisBelo HorizonteBrazil