“Do you want to run this project to promote the Nordic model? Don’t worry, you can think about it. Let me know tomorrow”. These were roughly my boss’ words when I was first introduced to the idea of the JUST SOCIETY project. At first, I was skeptical. Having lived abroad for about eighteen years I am acutely aware that something working well in one place may fail immeasurably elsewhere. Not only is so-called policy diffusion difficult, but who are we to tell others what to do?
Then again, Denmark, an example of the Nordic model, is not a bad place to be. Danes largely have the social, economic, and political conditions that provide substantial freedom and well-being, which is facilitated by strong, fair, and inclusive state institutions and an active and participatory civil society. I know from experience that this is not the case in many other places and honestly: it is in Denmark I would like to grow old. Moreover, if I could be part of promoting more just societies to the benefit of people in less fortunate situations, I would not want to miss the opportunity.
What is a just society? In his book The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen argues that justice is not only about people having the freedom of opportunity to pursue their well-being, but also that people actually have the capability to achieve the kind of life they would value. The distinction between opportunity and capability is important in several respects. I will highlight two:
First, what is the use of opportunity if your means, status, and situation in life hold you back from pursuing it? Focusing on “capability” draws our attention to society’s role in promoting people’s capabilities, and the structural inequalities nationally and globally that hinder the full flourishment of people’s capabilities in pursuing a life they value.
Second, Sen does not say what a just society should look like – we, ourselves, define the kind of life that we have reason to value. No country or society has the recipe for what would be the constellation of a just society. So just because I like Denmark (mostly), I cannot assume that Denmark is a society that other people would value.
Therefore, JUST SOCIETY is about taking the Nordic model as a reference point, but viewing it candidly, comparatively, and critically. We are a group of younger scholars with a keen interest in issues like how the state ensures the rule of law and equal access to justice, as well as how redistributive public policies can promote equality and well-being. We collaborate with experienced academic experts on the Nordic model to critically consider what can possibly be learned that is of use elsewhere. We are open for dialog with our partners across continents, asking them what they may find relevant from the Nordic countries. Hence, our purpose is to compare experiences, achievements, and mistakes to discuss how to build stronger institutions, better legal frameworks, and inclusive public policies that can promote just societies across our world.
JUST SOCIETY is not about promoting the Nordic model, but rather a starting point for dialogue. Don’t tell my boss.
7 May 2021