Camden, A Possible Utopia

By: Anonymous

There are basic human rights that all Americans must hold dear. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are deserved by every American. John Rawls, an American philosopher on justice and what is right, is a man who understands human basic rights. He lays out the framework for making sure a state and its people are in perfect unison under the position of maximizing basic rights. The city of Camden was built out of a duty to these rights. Its industries had provided jobs and clean city streets that kept citizens healthy and happy. Today Camden is a much darker place. It has been ruled by corrupt officials. The money necessary to support a government that can maximize basic human rights is non-existent. Camden has a government that is only looking out for those they think are worth the trouble. But, to truly understand the kind of injustice the city holds towards its people, we must look to Rawls philosophy of the conception of justice to make sure we understand what is best for our interests when demanding a better life in Camden.

Mankind has the necessary privilege to its basic rights. Human rights are essential rights to all people. All governments must acknowledge basic human rights because they are legitimized through the societies in which they govern. A government cannot claim legitimate authority over a people without the intentions of protecting people’s basic human rights. If the government is justified then the society is justified. If a society has an unjustified government then that society does not respect the basic human rights, therefore it is illegitimate and unjustifiable to all people because it violates the basic rights that we as humans all have.

Basic human rights are about the freedom and respect every human being on this planet is deserved. The “Universal Declaration for Human Rights” is a law that was created by the United Nations in 1948 that outlines thirty articles of rights. The first article says that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (  Human rights holds priority over all things and government. It is something philosophers use to bring out the true reality of everything and everyone. John Rawls was a philosopher who saw all people as capable of reason and good choices towards a justified moral goal. He established a theory that provides the framework toward understanding a justified society.

Through Rawls’s theories, he is able to bring about human rights and the role of governments to a point where they can be classified as either legitimate rulers or illegitimate rulers. It is our duty as citizens to recognize when our elected government is acting illegitimately, because that in turn affects how people live in a society. Rawls provides a theory of “justice as fairness”. This theory has two principles within it: liberty and equality.

The “principle of liberty” defines that if there is a form of slavery then liberty is not given to all and this violates basic human rights. Rawls’s “principle of equality” is that a government or society is legitimate only when all processes are open to all and therefore inequality can be allowed. Inequality is only legitimate when it is to the greatest benefit to the least advantaged in a society.  Rawls believes that society and its government can be legitimized through inequality and certain measures, just so long as it falls into his categories of principles. When deciding about justice we have to combat self-interest according to Rawls. We have to design our basic political institutions and principles from behind a veil of ignorance where we lack information about our personal well-being.

Rawls’s two principles of justice have an underlying principle that stems from their union.  The “difference principle” is based off of what a rational person would decide when under a “veil of ignorance”. When under a veil, one would not know who was previously considered well-off or least-well-off in a society. What Rawls believes is that those who are well-off  and those who are least-well-off  will make decisions that maximize the greatest justice for both least and well-off people;  in case one of them is the less-well-off. Therefore, those with the least amount of benefit in a society will be equal in benefits to those with the most amount. Rawls says that when under a veil of ignorance, “no one knows his situation in society nor his natural assets, and therefore no one is in a position to tailor principles to his advantage” (Rawls 295). Rawls believes in the concept of what’s right and that is what his theory is based on. His theory of justice lays ground rules to making sure that justice and righteousness is always ensured if his principles are taken seriously. It is for the betterment of all people and the basic human rights to be upheld.

According to Rawls, there are two positions one must comprehend when evaluating the justification or legitimacy of a governance. The first position of the two is called “conception of justice” which emphasizes what is considered most righteous. The other position is called a “comprehensive doctrine”, which is a value one holds within themselves based on their own inferences. What makes a society and government legitimate is when they use a conception of justice to make decisions instead of using their comprehensive doctrines. These doctrines are not fair to use in a government because a comprehensive doctrine  is where a person uses their religious worldview or other view-point that is biased and solely their own to make decisions instead of what is most righteous for justice’s sake. To base ones decisions for a people under their own doctrines of what they think is right only maximizes the good for those who believe that specific comprehensive doctrine. If a conception of justice is used to make a decision then they are acting upon the pure sense of what is right based on what benefits all instead of a few.

In Camden, according to “Camden Rebirth: A Promise Still Unfulfilled,” a Philadelphia Inquirer article written by Matt Katz ,“Camden is so broke, so unable to perform the basic functions of government that the obvious solution is repairing the century old brick sewer system which is almost impossible to achieve, fiscally and politically.” In this quote, Katz is referring to Camden’s inability to fix its most basic problems for its citizens due to lack of funding. The people are unable to have the most basic needs such as waste management, which most Americans would see as a priority to living a decent life. But, the fact that Camden doesn’t have the money to support its people is a concern Rawls can address. When a government is unable to support rights for its citizens it is deemed illegitimate and will also make the society that supports it illegitimate as well; which renders an entire system as unjustified and not holding human rights at a higher regard.

The state of New Jersey has stepped in and provided funding to the city in the form of bail-out money. This money has proved to not provide the necessary overhaul required to legitimize their government’s ability to benefit all of its citizens. Melvin R. Primas Jr., who has led the states takeover of Camden, has said that the issue is not about the amount of funding required but with race and stereotyping of minorities in Camden. They are always the last to receive the benefits from state funding. The money usually goes to places that benefit those who are favored. The higher education institutions, the Water-front, and the aquarium bring in more people to Camden, so have been given some of the bail-out money. Unfortunately, the approach is not benefitting everybody, but those who can take part in those areas of the city. If those in charge of the city were under a veil of ignorance they would assume that the money should be distributed throughout all of Camden instead of to key figures who are assumed will put the money to its most benevolent use.

Politicians in Camden continue to fail at their goals of revitalizing the city. The state had provided Camden with a $175 million bail-out. City schools, firefighters, police, and jobs for the people in the city only received five percent of the $175 million. Places that better a city’s people can only change the degrading environment. Big institutions seem to have received the majority of the money and these institutions are run by a few who make the decisions based on their comprehensive doctrines.  One hundred million of that $175 million was given to Rutgers Camden and the Adventure Aquarium.  In Rutgers University’s defense, they have many programs that reach out to the community and have given back to the less fortunate. The question still lingers: when do the people of Camden see direct benefit from the people they place in power to help and understand their well-being? What were the people in charge of governing the city thinking? They are not pursuing a right path or justified one. Unless the elected officials have motives that are within themselves and not with the citizens they lead in majority. They are holding a comprehensive doctrine and that is the wrong thing to do when leading people, according to John Rawls theory of justice.

There are many issues residents of Camden face in violation to their human rights. From a Rawls point of view the people of Camden are not beholden to the principle of equality. As long as the process of something is open to all people then inequality can be morally permissible, according to Rawls principle. A very influential man in Camden politics is George Norcross. Norcross is a leading figure in the city’s redevelopment. It is through the businesses that he runs that he has collected millions of government work that has made him a very influential unelected official of the democratic parties chair in New Jersey politics. Norcross is also on the board of trustees at Cooper University Hospital. It is through his work at Cooper hospital, located in Camden, that he has received money to expand its facilities through the use of 220 million dollars worth of renovations and additions. This is more money than the state’s 175 million bail-out. John Rawls, in a pursuit to satisfy the most moral justice would see that Norcross holds a lot of power that affects many Camden residents. Norcross is not an elected official, so John Rawls would see that his decisions are his own as they are his comprehensive doctrine. This places his actions as equal only to himself and not to the Camden residents in which it affects. The residents are not able to participate in the decision process of the city’s growth. Therefore, the people of Camden are not beholden to the principle of equality.

Through the expansions of Cooper hospital and its other buildings, Norcross has placed many Camden residents in a state of anger and fear of losing their homes and beloved city to big institutions. A Camden resident named Benigno Rodriguez has said, “The reason why they want to take over that area is so it can benefit the waterfront, cooper hospital, and the higher tax bracket” ( The unjustified expansion of an institution, which aims to benefit people, seeks to relinquish local residents of their homes is considered a moral wrong to human rights as well as to John Rawls overall theory of justice. “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property,” according to the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 17 ( If residents of Camden are neglected as lawful residents of their property then that is a violation of basic human rights. John Rawls also would see this as a violation of his principle of liberty as no one is allowed to do anything that is in violation of another’s liberty.

One should lead with a conception of justice and have everything in concern for the benefit of everybody. The difference principle, according to Rawls, is that “unless there is a distribution that makes both persons better off, an equal distribution is to be preferred” (Rawls, 281). The relevance of Rawls in this situation is paramount as he would see that the public figures are not pursuing a legitimate distribution of benefit to the community. They are not allowing people to receive the necessary respect and societal concern as they are required to under the basic human rights.

To counter-act my argument, Assembly woman Nilsa Cruz-Perez of Camden has said that it would take billions upon billions of dollars to fix Camden the way it is necessary to be fixed. If this is true then the city officials were only putting the bail-out money to things that it could benefit with the most amount of ability through the cash provided. The Law school was a good benefit in that it brought more students to Camden and more income. But, shouldn’t the community have a say in where that money goes and if it is to go somewhere that they at least are able to see the benefits so they can live better lives? If the school brings in enough revenue to fix the plumbing of Camden then it upheld the greater benefits of all and the rights of the people to using bathrooms. The problem with this is that apparently this will require billions of dollars which the school cannot alone bring to the city.

Are we demanding what is best for the interests of everybody in Camden or are we only settling for what we perceive is the best? Could we be manipulated by comprehensive doctrines that do not ensure justice for all? The answer is simple. We do not have the justice that would greatly improve Camden’s current state. According to Rawls we have a long road of change in order to achieve the kind of justice Camden residents deserve. A Camden that would be justified under a theory of justice by John Rawls would be a Camden that holds basic human rights at the utmost concern. Decisions towards renewal would not be focused on the aims of the few but the aims of everybody involved. Perhaps the bail-out money would have went to something more inspirational to the people of Camden. Maybe Camden could increase their social development with family life and personal well-being. Tackling the issues of Camden at the root of the problems would only be to the most benefit.  If Rawls’s theory was more of a reality, governing officials would base every decision off the greater good of the least-well-off. This means that people’s homes would never be considered lesser in value to that of an expanding institution. All opinions would never be tossed aside as arbitrary. Everyone’s opinion would be held with reasonable inquiry. Camden would almost be a utopia-like place that would easily find its footing and be able to stand up to challenge even the most prosperous cities of the world. Camden would set the trend for renewal of post industrial cities everywhere and would be an inspiration to all.


Works Cited

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human Rights.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <;.

Katz, Matt. “Camden Rebirth: A Promise Still Unfulfilled.” The Inquirer, 08 Nov. 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <;.

“John Rawls.” The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought. Ed. Andrew Bailey. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2008. 265-311. Print.


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