Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality

Synopsis

"The distinguished political philosopher and author of the widely acclaimed Just and Unjust Wars analyzes how society distributes not just wealth and power but other social "goods" like honor, educat"

Excerpt

Equality literally understood is an ideal ripe for betrayal. Committed men and women betray it, or seem to do so, as soon as they organize a movement for equality and distribute power, positions, and influence among themselves. Here is an executive secretary who remembers the first names of all the members; here is a press attaché who handles reporters with remarkable skill; here is a popular and inexhaustible speaker who tours the local branches and "builds the base." Such people are both necessary and unavoidable, and certainly they are something more than the equals of their comrades. Are they traitors? Maybe--but maybe not.

The appeal of equality is not explained by its literal meaning. Living in an autocratic or oligarchic state, we may dream of a society where power is shared, and everyone has exactly the same share. But we know that equality of that sort won't survive the first meeting of the new members. Someone will be elected chairman; someone will make a strong speech and persuade us all to follow his lead. By the end of the day we will have begun to sort one another out--that's what meetings are for. Living in a capitalist state, we may dream of a society where everyone has the same amount of money. But we know that money equally distributed at twelve noon of a Sunday will have been unequally redistributed before the week is out. Some people will save it, and others will invest it, and still others will spend it (and they will do so in different ways). Money exists to make these various activities possible; and if it didn't exist, the barter of material goods would lead, only a little more slowly, to the same results. Living in a feudal state, we may dream of a society where all the members are equally honored and respected. But though we can give everyone the same title, we know that we cannot refuse to recognize--indeed, we want to be able to recognize--the many different sorts and degrees of skill, strength, wisdom, courage, kindness, energy, and grace that distinguish one individual from another.

Nor would many of us who are committed to equality be happy with the regime necessary to sustain its literal meaning: the state as Procrustean bed. "Egalitarianism," Frank Parkin has written . . .

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