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While there are some exceptions, I would argue that we generally follow the retributive theory of justice in the United States. The US is, for the most part, a country dedicated to be “tough on crime.” This pushes us away from utilitarianism and Rawls’ idea of distributive justice and towards the retributive theory.
In distributing the good in our society, we clearly do not follow Rawls’ ideas. He calls for a system in which nothing is done unless it tends to help the poorest at least as much as it helps the richest. This is clearly not the case in our society. We tolerate and even promote a system in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
When it comes to criminal sanctions, we clearly favor retributive justice. One piece of evidence for this is the fact that we are one of the only rich, democratic countries in the world that uses the death penalty. We tend to support the use of the death penalty simply for retributive reasons. We do not really feel that it does much to deter crime or improve society, but we do feel that people who commit heinous crimes deserve it. This is a retributive idea. The same is true for our punishments for lesser crimes. In a Rawlsian or utilitarian world, we would be more likely to try to rehabilitate criminals. This would help the neediest in our society and it would increase overall happiness. However, we do not like to spend money on rehabilitation largely because we do not want to “coddle” criminals or give them benefits that law-abiding citizens do not get.
In these ways, it is clear that we tend to adhere to the idea of retributivism in our society.
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