Power and Equality

Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy 5:1-38 (2019)
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Abstract

Several democratic theorists have recently sought to vindicate the ideal of equal political power (“political equality”) by tying it to the non-derivative value of egalitarian relationships. This chapter critically discusses such arguments. It clarifies what it takes to vindicate the ideal of political equality, and distinguishes different versions of the relational egalitarian argument for it. Some such arguments appeal to the example of a society without social status inequality (such as caste or class structures); others to personal relationships among equals, like friendship. Each strategy faces problems. After discussing what social status consists in, the chapter argues that social status equality does not require an equal distribution of power, but only that unequal distributions are not justified on grounds incompatible with the citizens’ fundamental equal moral standing. By contrast, personal relationships among equals do require equal power; but establishing that their norms apply to our political community is challenging.

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Daniel Viehoff
New York University

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