Egalitarianism (equality as a term referring to "sameness"), is a problematic issue. Since it is obvious that we are not born equally... that there are observable differences (gender, height, weight, race... etc.), Nature does not propose "sameness" but "similarity", (though this term as an attempt to generalize, may be too specific in some instances). A further problem arises when someone attempts to apply the words "opportunity" or "access" as a means of outlining an attempt to practice someone's defined standard of equality in an effort to achieve sameness. To say that everyone should have an "equal opportunity" or "equal access" to a job, education, or whatever the topic of interest may be, is a means by which so-called equality can be both monitored and enforced because it is controlled. "Equality" is thus a means of rationalizing a particular kind of social control that everyone must comply with but not necessarily be permitted to discuss and vote on. In such a circumstance, equality is not equated with freedom nor liberty... because one is not able to exercise the freedom to achieve what they want according to their ability. They are met with an obstacle due to a particular type of definition and practice thereof. Such control may be defined by some in terms of a percentage... thus forcing, for example, an education institution to adopt a policy whereby a proportion of one group must be admitted even though someone from another group is to be denied because a particular quota, based on some arbitrarily assigned percentage, either has or has not been achieved.
If we look to Nature for examples of Equality, then we should also cite the situation which is defined by some as "Survival of the Fittest". In many instances, Nature gets rid of the sick, injured, malformed and feeble. It does not enforce the ethic of treating everyone equally. The Nature of Nature does not appear to advance the promotion of equality in terms of "sameness". If "sameness" was that which Nature strives for, then everyone would be a clone of the same model and everyone would live under the same environmental, social and familial conditions. In rejecting the standard promoted by Nature, we are imposing a type of artificiality, or "other nature" on Nature's observable design. Humanity's exertion for establishing a different type of equality than that seen in other life forms, is an "other nature" or "alternative nature"... and is not to be confused with something that isn't natural.
Another problem with attempting to devise a definition of Equality is that it presents us with the situation in which we must decide on the level of equality an entire group (such as a family, community, city, or nation) is to have. If we say the standard of equality is to be based on available resources, then differences in resource availability sets into play the practice of entitlement... which is akin to the establishment of a social class system and ownership values. If a nation claims ownership to a high level of grain production, for example, and the rest of the world wants the grain production redistributed evenly amongst all people, what then do we do when the size of a population which makes the distribution create a situation in which no bread can be produced because no single individual has enough grain for a bread recipe... but even if bread can be produced by collecting enough grain from a given pool of people; it would not necessarily yield enough to be redistributed equally for adequate nutrition... because their are too many mouths to feed? Humanity must curtail population growth before the equality of resource distribution forces people to engage in the tactic of Nature utilizing a "Survival of the Fittest" doctrine that might be termed a "dog eat dog" social practice.
And yet another problem with "Equality" is that it is inclined towards the adoption of a perspective that rewards mediocrity... or sameness. In a social situation where "sameness" is the rule of thumb, people may not want to encourage differences such as that described by the words talented, gifted, intelligent, genius, wisdom, insight, etc... Indeed, in a circumstance where sameness is the standard sought for, such words would be used in the context aligned with sameness... such as describing someone as being "giftedly the same", or "talentedly the same" or having the same level of genius as everyone else. No less, where equality is the standard rule -of- thumb, if this standard is a particular form of insanity or irrationality, then sanity would be viewed as an undesirable anomaly. A person that is sane would be viewed as being insane, and those who experience a level of "super sanity".
But many people experience moments of insight "above" the average, or above that which can be described as being "equal to others". We might not reference such perspectives as an indication of genius, but we might nonetheless describe them as being "above average". Whereas one may think of developing "Egalitarianism" in the social sense that everyone should have basic necessities fulfilled, if resources permit it, but the manner in which such distributions take place typically uses some bureaucratic method that portrays a system of regulate entitlement. But, let's say everyone is allotted to get enough fresh water to drink. If resource distribution of water is allocated by way of cost, those who have more to pay the cost with will be permitted to have more of the resource... unless distribution and usage are micro-managed so that people do not horde or misuse a given water supply. If an industry needs more water than another industry, do we then use a different standard of equality in the distribution thereof? And if the water supply becomes a dwindling resource, do we stop manufacturing processes in order to have enough for people? And if the population size out-grows available water supply, do we deny water to one or another person based on race, age, wealth, position, religion, political orientation or some other criteria that is to be defined as a logical or rational perspective? Will the decision be made by everyone on an equal basis? Do we disallow water to be used in the manufacture of alcoholic or soda pop beverages even if it means putting people out of work or that addictions to a given fluid may then be substituted by some other addiction?
What if all the people in desert or frozen regions want to share in those regions with forests, meadows, or jungles? Are we going to deny a global equality in order to preserve a regional system of equality and thus express an hypocrisy? Is equality to be standardized by the will of a minority, majority or collection of minorities that may thus represent a majority? What if the majority wants everyone to wear the same clothes, eat the same foods, worship the same religion, work the same number of hours, receive the same vaccinations, and pay for the same types of medical tests (standardized by a medical institution trying to increase its revenues by claiming everyone needs to have a certain checkup)? And what if a group's needs are not met by an established equality, but the majority's is? Should they be allowed extra helping of a given resource simply because their body requires it, yet the group doesn't contribute anything more to a given society... or may even contribute less?
Is equality to be equated with majoritarianism, though such an equation was never voted on by everyone? Why is it that the majority are not permitted to discuss and vote on an interpretation and definition that they are forced to live by? But let's now look at some other political ideas related to the topic of Egalitarianism:
The publication of A Theory of Justice (1971), by the American philosopher John Rawls, spurred a revival of interest in the philosophical foundations of political liberalism. The viability of liberalism was thereafter a major theme of political philosophy in English-speaking countries.
According to the American philosopher Thomas Nagel, liberalism is the conjunction of two ideals:
Various traditional and modern versions of liberalism differ from each other in their interpretation of these ideals and in the relative importance they assign to them.
In A Theory of Justice, Rawls observed that a necessary condition of justice in any society is that each individual should be the equal bearer of certain rights that cannot be disregarded under any circumstances, even if doing so would advance the general welfare or satisfy the demands of a majority. This condition cannot be met by utilitarianism, because that ethical theory would countenance forms of government in which the greater happiness of a majority is achieved by neglecting the rights and interests of a minority. Hence, utilitarianism is unsatisfactory as a theory of justice, and another theory must be sought.
According to Rawls, a just society is one whose major political, social, and economic institutions, taken together, satisfy the following two principles:
The basic rights and liberties in principle 1 include the rights and liberties of democratic citizenship, such as the right to vote; the right to run for office in free elections; freedom of speech, assembly, and religion; the right to a fair trial; and, more generally, the right to the rule of law. Principle 1 is accorded strict priority over principle 2, which regulates social and economic inequalities.
Principle 2 combines two ideals. The first, known as the “difference principle,” requires that any unequal distribution of social or economic goods (e.g., wealth) must be such that the least-advantaged members of society would be better off under that distribution than they would be under any other distribution consistent with principle 1, including an equal distribution. (A slightly unequal distribution might benefit the least advantaged by encouraging greater overall productivity.) The second ideal is meritocracy, understood in a very demanding way. According to Rawls, fair equality of opportunity obtains in a society when all persons with the same native talent (genetic inheritance) and the same degree of ambition have the same prospects for success in all competitions for positions that confer special economic and social advantages.
Why suppose with Rawls that justice requires an approximately egalitarian redistribution of social and economic goods? After all, a person who prospers in a market economy might plausibly say, “I earned my wealth. Therefore, I am entitled to keep it.” But how one fares in a market economy depends on luck as well as effort. There is the luck of being in the right place at the right time and of benefiting from unpredictable shifts in supply and demand, but there is also the luck of being born with greater or lesser intelligence and other desirable traits, along with the luck of growing up in a nurturing environment. No one can take credit for this kind of luck, but it decisively influences how one fares in the many competitions by which social and economic goods are distributed. Indeed, sheer brute luck is so thoroughly inter-mixed with the contributions one makes to one's own success (or failure) that it is ultimately impossible to distinguish what a person is responsible for from what he is not. Given this fact, Rawls urges, the only plausible justification of inequality is that it serves to render everyone better off, especially those who have the least.
Rawls tries to accommodate his theory of justice to what he takes to be the important fact that reasonable people disagree deeply about the nature of morality and the good life and will continue to do so in any non-tyrannical society that respects freedom of speech. He aims to render his theory noncommittal on these controversial matters and to posit a set of principles of justice that all reasonable persons can accept as valid, despite their disagreements.
Libertarian and communitarian critiques
Despite its wide appeal, Rawls's liberal egalitarianism soon faced challengers. An early conservative rival was libertarianism. According to this view, because each person is literally the sole rightful owner of himself, no one has property rights in anyone else (no person can own another person), and no one owes anything to anyone else. By “appropriating” unowned things, an individual may acquire over them full private ownership rights, which he may give away or exchange. One has the right to do whatever one chooses with whatever one legitimately owns, as long as one does not harm others in specified ways—i.e., by coercion, force, violence, fraud, theft, extortion, or physical damage to another's property. According to libertarians, Rawlsian liberal egalitarianism is unjust because it would allow (indeed, require) the state to redistribute social and economic goods without their owners' consent, in violation of their private ownership rights.
The most spirited and sophisticated presentation of the libertarian critique was Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), by the American philosopher Robert Nozick (1938–2002). Nozick also argued that a “minimal state,” one that limited its activities to the enforcement of people's basic libertarian rights, could have arisen in a hypothetical “state of nature” through a process in which no one's basic libertarian rights are violated. He regarded this demonstration as a refutation of anarchism, the doctrine that the state is inherently unjustified.
Rawls's theory of justice was challenged from other theoretical perspectives as well. Adherents of communitarianism, such as Michael Sandel and Michael Walzer, urged that the shared understanding of a community concerning how it is appropriate to live should outweigh the abstract and putatively impartial requirements of universal justice. Even liberal egalitarians criticized some aspects of Rawls's theory. Ronald Dworkin, for example, argued that understanding egalitarian justice requires striking the correct balance between an individual's responsibility for his own life and society's collective responsibility to provide genuine equal opportunity for all citizens.
Foucault and postmodernism
The work of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926–84) has implications for political philosophy even though it does not directly address the traditional issues of the field. Much of Foucault's writing is not so much philosophy as it is philosophically informed intellectual history. Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical (1963; The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception), for example, examines the notion of illness and the beginnings of modern medicine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison (1975; Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison) studies the origins of the practice of punishing criminals by imprisonment.
One of Foucault's aims was to undermine the notion that the emergence of modern political liberalism and its characteristic institutions (e.g., individual rights and representative democracy) in the late 18th century resulted in greater freedom for the individual. He argued to the contrary that modern liberal societies are oppressive, though the oppressive practices they employ are not as overt as in earlier times. Modern forms of oppression tend to be hard to recognize as such, because they are justified by ostensibly objective and impartial branches of social science. In a process that Foucault called “normalization,” a supposedly objective social science labels as “normal” or “rational” behaviour that society deems respectable or desirable, so behaviour deemed otherwise becomes abnormal or irrational and a legitimate object of discipline or coercion. Behaviour that is perceived as odd, for example, may be classified as a symptom of mental illness. Foucault viewed modern bureaucratic institutions as exuding a spirit of rationality, scientific expertise, and humane concern but as really amounting to an arbitrary exercise of power by one group over another.
Foucault advocated resistance to the political status quo and the power of established institutions. But he was skeptical of any attempt to argue that one political regime or set of practices is morally superior to another. The use of rational argument to support or oppose a political view, according to Foucault, is merely another attempt to exercise arbitrary power over others. Accordingly, he eschewed any blueprint for political reform or any explicit articulation of moral or rational norms that society ought to uphold. In a 1983 interview he summarized his political attitude in these words:
My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.
Foucault's ideas gave rise in the 1970s and '80s to philosophical postmodernism, a movement characterized by broad epistemological skepticism and ethical subjectivism, a general suspicion of reason, and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Postmodernists attacked the attempt by Enlightenment philosophers and others to discover allegedly objective moral values that could serve as a standard for assessing different political systems or for measuring political progress from one historical period to another. According to Jean-François Lyotard (1924–98), for example, this project represents a secular faith that must be abandoned. In La Condition postmoderne (1979; The Postmodern Condition) and other writings, Lyotard declared his suspicion of what he called “grand narratives”—putatively rational, over-arching accounts, such as Marxism and liberalism, of how the world is or ought to be. He asserted that political conflicts in contemporary societies reflect the clash of incommensurable values and perspectives and are therefore not rationally decidable.
A skepticism of a more thoroughgoing and exuberant kind was expressed in the writings of Jacques Derrida (1930–2004). He maintained that any attempt to establish a conclusion by rational means ultimately “deconstructs,” or logically undermines, itself. Because any text can be interpreted in an indefinite number of ways, the search for the “correct” interpretation of a text is always hopeless. Moreover, because everything in the world is a “text,” it is impossible to assert anything as objectively “true.”
Feminism and sexual equality
Hatred and hostility based on racial, ethnic, tribal, and other group divisions gave rise to some of the worst catastrophes of 20th-century history. Political philosophers responded to these developments in diverse ways. Perhaps the most innovative philosophical response to social and political oppression was developed by contemporary feminists seeking to address the domination of women by men.
One interesting account of sexual equality and the obstacles to attaining it emerged in the work of the American feminist legal theorist Catharine A. MacKinnon. She asserted that the struggle to overcome male domination is faced with a deeply entrenched adversary: sexual desire between heterosexual women and men. The subjugation of women in society strongly influences conventional standards of femininity and masculinity, which in turn determine what heterosexual individuals find attractive in the opposite sex. Thus, according to MacKinnon, heterosexual women tend to find dominant men sexually attractive, while heterosexual men tend to find submissive women sexually attractive. The latter is the stronger and more important dynamic, since men as a group are politically, economically, and socially more powerful than women. The upshot is that the ordinary and widespread sexual attraction between heterosexual women and men is corrupted by a kind of sadism. The struggle for equal rights and equal power for women is opposed not only by laws, institutions, and practices but also by sexual desire itself. Given this analysis, the legal and cultural tolerance of pornography, which makes the subordination of women sexually appealing to men, is immoral. Pornography serves only to perpetuate a regime of sex-based domination that any decent society should reject.
Richard J. Arneson<.P>
The history of Western political philosophy from Plato to the present day makes plain that the discipline is still faced with the basic problems defined by the Greeks. The need to redeploy public power in order to maintain the survival and enhance the quality of human life, for example, has never been so essential. And, if the opportunities for promoting well-being are now far greater, the penalties for the abuse of power are nothing less than the destruction or gross degradation of all life on the planet.
From another perspective, however, the political problems of the present day are interestingly unique, giving rise to theoretical questions that earlier political philosophers did not have to confront. Two contrasting features of the world in the early 21st century, for example, are the increasing integration of national political and economic systems (see also cultural globalization) and the continuing gross inequality of wealth between developed and less-developed, or underdeveloped, countries. Both features suggest the desirability, even the necessity, of developing political philosophy in order to make it more applicable in a global context. Such considerations have led the Indian economist Amartya Sen and the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum to explore the possibility of a “global” theory of justice. Nussbaum has argued that every inhabitant of the globe is entitled to the conditions that enable one to attain a decent and objectively worthwhile and valuable quality of life. Other philosophers have argued for the justice or necessity of a single world government or of forms of government other than the nation-state.
The advent of nuclear weapons in the mid-20th century increased interest in traditional just-war theory, especially as it applies to the issue of the proportional use of force. Later in the century, the proliferation not only of nuclear but also of chemical and biological weapons made the application of just-war theory to the contemporary scene seem all the more urgent. In the view of some thinkers, the increasing menace of international terrorism in the early 21st century has changed the scope and conditions of justly prosecuted wars, though others vehemently disagree. The nature of terrorism has itself become a philosophically debated question, some philosophers going so far as to assert that terrorism is justified in some real-world circumstances.
The adoption by many countries of liberal-democratic forms of government in the second half of the 20th century, especially after the fall of Soviet and eastern European Communism in 1989–91, led some political theorists to speculate that the liberal model of government has been vindicated by history or even (as Francis Fukuyama asserted) that it represents the “end” of history—the culmination of the millennia-long political development of humankind. Be that as it may, many theorists, confident of the basic viability of liberalism, have taken the view that the most important questions of political theory have been settled in liberalism's favour, and all that remains is to work out the details.
Others are not so convinced. One issue that continues to be troublesome for liberalism is its traditional posture of benevolent neutrality toward religion. Some liberal theorists have proposed that this posture should be extended to all disputed questions concerning what constitutes a good life. Yet millions of people around the world, even in the West, continue to reject the separation of church and state, and millions of others have objected to state policies that allow the pursuit of conceptions of the good life with which they disagree. In these respects, liberalism may be out of sync (rightly or wrongly) with the political aspirations of much of the world's population.
All this suggests a rather homely conclusion: the future direction of political philosophy, like that of political practice, is uncertain. If anything is likely, it is that there will be much for political philosophers to think about.
Richard J. Arneson (Ed.)
Source: "Political Philosophy." Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, 2013.
Left (Political Philosophy)
The "Left"... In politics, the portion of the political spectrum associated in general with egalitarianism and popular or state control of the major institutions of political and economic life. The term dates from the 1790s, when in the French revolutionary parliament the socialist representatives sat to the presiding officer's left. Leftists tend to be hostile to the interests of traditional elites, including the wealthy and members of the aristocracy, and to favour the interests of the working class (proletariat). They tend to regard social welfare as the most important goal of government. Socialism is the standard leftist ideology in most countries of the world; Communism is a more radical leftist ideology.
Source: "Left." Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, 2013.