June 7, 2019 10:06AM

Rawls vs. Nozick and Rand: The Musical Version

Following a London West End staged reading, a cast soundtrack was released last month for A Theory of Justice: The Musical. The show, composed in 2013 and performed at Oxford and the Edinburgh Fringe since then, takes as its protagonist Harvard political philosopher John Rawls, whose influential work argues for a version of modern liberalism in which the state plays a significant redistributive role. In the plot, Rawls travels through time and encounters earlier political philosophers such as Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes. As for dramatic tension, that is provided by Rawls’ conflict with contemporary antagonists Robert Nozick, his libertarian colleague in the Harvard philosophy department famed for his work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, along with novelist‐​philosopher Ayn Rand, who seems to loom as large in the modern liberal imagination as ever (her character here, evoking Lola in Damn Yankees, is apparently assigned the showstopping number, and dances a dangerously persuasive tango with Nozick). 

According to coverage of the show, Nozick and Rand are portrayed as a couple. That’s absurdly at variance with the lives of those real figures, of course. But musicals, like unfortunate political theories, take liberties.