Unfair and Unbalanced
A new book asks whether its possible to redeem equality as a value in a "global economy that no longer recognizes any moral or political legitimacy in schemes to redistribute wealth."
The Society of Equals
by Pierre Rosanvallon
translation by Arthur Goldhammer
Harvard University Press
$35.00 List Price
In our unstable neoliberal world, the venerable social ideal of equality is perhaps the most precarious commodity of all. To be sure, evidence of its absence abounds—in the casual enclosure and systematic auctioning of once-public goods, in the gaudy bailouts of our nonproductive financial sector, in the riotous indulgences of the 1 percent and the gnawing penury of the 99. And as the sphere of its exercise has narrowed to the vanishing point, equality seems to have been downgraded into the great dirty secret of our public life—only in contrast to the old Potter Stewart saw, fewer and fewer of us know it for the simple reason that almost none of us see it.
French political theorist Pierre Rosanvallon takes fresh stock of the ideal of equality in The Society of Equals, an ambitious bid to revive egalitarian thought in a global economy that no longer recognizes any moral or political legitimacy in schemes to redistribute wealth—let alone in more modest efforts to expand access to basic social goods such as health care, housing, or education. Amid such pinched conditions, Rosanvallon writes, the very word equality
has somehow become detached from experience, so that it no longer clearly indicates battles that must be fought or goals that need to be achieved. Equality has become a sort of remote deity, which is routinely worshipped, but has ceased to inspire any living faith. When used at all, it is generally as a sort of negative incantation—“reduce inequalities”—without a corresponding positive image of a better world.