Who’s afraid of inequality?

It is widely believed that excessive economic inequality is a profound social problem. Although this new egalitarianism often appears radical, it is, on the contrary, profoundly regressive. Contemporary critics of inequality accuse the super-rich of putting unbearable strain on the fabric of society with their uncontrollable avarice. At the same time, these critics view those at the bottom of the social ladder as having lost any sense of proper behavior. In this nightmare vision, the middle class is not so much squeezed as torn painfully between two sets of reckless forces.

This bleak view is not confined to those who identify themselves as leftists. Contemporary conservatives also often rail against excessive inequality, greedy bankers and errant behavior. There is little dissent against the new egalitarian consensus. Both sides promote solutions that can be described as embodying the therapeutic management of inequality. Their focus is on healing damaged social bonds by regulating what they regard as irresponsible behavior. The authorities have constructed an increasingly elaborate system of surveillance and control as a way of achieving this goal. They hector individuals incessantly about the need to eat healthy food, limit alcohol consumption, practice safe sex and be wary about exactly what words they use. Such authoritarian restrictions on personal freedom are justified in the name of maintaining the cohesion of a strained society.

Aspiring to a more prosperous life is also stigmatized as “greed.” Often the focus is on investment bankers and wealthy corporate executives. But the underlying message is that everyone, from billionaires down to the poor, should be willing to accept “shared sacrifice.” This contention implies that people should rein in their ambitions and indeed be prepared to accept cuts in their current incomes. The new egalitarianism provides a green, politically correct vocabulary for promoting austerity.

All this is a world away from the notions of equality that emerged in the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries. For the first time in history, it was widely accepted that all humans were in important respects equal. No one was seen as inherently worth more than

anyone else. Although it is difficult to generalize, most Enlightenment thinkers saw a link between liberty and equality. Freedom meant granting everyone equal rights. It also involved according people moral autonomy.

It is true that these ideals were not always honored in practice. For instance, women tended to have an inferior status and slaves were, by definition, treated as a lower class. But the recognition by an influential section of society of the importance of equality and its link to freedom was still an enormous step forward.

In contrast, contemporary egalitarians rarely if ever talk of freedom or autonomy. When they refer to the dangers of inequality, it is generally as a prelude to restricting liberty. For them, it is necessary to curb freedom to mitigate the effects of social fragmentation.

The new egalitarianism also clashes with the Enlightenment view of equality in other important ways. For many Enlightenment thinkers, the notion of equality was linked to the ideal of realizing the full human potential. Sometimes this idea was expressed as a belief in the perfectibility of mankind. Typically, Enlightenment thinkers had an optimistic view of humanity, seeing tremendous room for progress. Some specifically linked the idea of human advance to rising economic prosperity.

Socialism emerged from the radical wing of Enlightenment thought. Socialist thinkers generally believed in higher living standards for the majority of the population, referred to back then as the working class, and the end of the domination of society by a small elite. In contrast, the new egalitarians aim to hold humanity back rather than take us forward. They see us as fragile and dangerous beings whose aspirations must be kept in check. The popular aspiration for a more prosperous life is condemned.

This contemporary trend is entirely regressive. Where leftists once upheld prosperity for all, the contemporary critics of inequality promote universal austerity. Where socialists once supported freedom, the new ­egalitarianism is a top-down and elitist movement. The new
egalitarians are the enemies of progress, freedom and true equality.

Solution News Source

Who’s afraid of inequality?

It is widely believed that excessive economic inequality is a profound social problem. Although this new egalitarianism often appears radical, it is, on the contrary, profoundly regressive. Contemporary critics of inequality accuse the super-rich of putting unbearable strain on the fabric of society with their uncontrollable avarice. At the same time, these critics view those at the bottom of the social ladder as having lost any sense of proper behavior. In this nightmare vision, the middle class is not so much squeezed as torn painfully between two sets of reckless forces.

This bleak view is not confined to those who identify themselves as leftists. Contemporary conservatives also often rail against excessive inequality, greedy bankers and errant behavior. There is little dissent against the new egalitarian consensus. Both sides promote solutions that can be described as embodying the therapeutic management of inequality. Their focus is on healing damaged social bonds by regulating what they regard as irresponsible behavior. The authorities have constructed an increasingly elaborate system of surveillance and control as a way of achieving this goal. They hector individuals incessantly about the need to eat healthy food, limit alcohol consumption, practice safe sex and be wary about exactly what words they use. Such authoritarian restrictions on personal freedom are justified in the name of maintaining the cohesion of a strained society.

Aspiring to a more prosperous life is also stigmatized as “greed.” Often the focus is on investment bankers and wealthy corporate executives. But the underlying message is that everyone, from billionaires down to the poor, should be willing to accept “shared sacrifice.” This contention implies that people should rein in their ambitions and indeed be prepared to accept cuts in their current incomes. The new egalitarianism provides a green, politically correct vocabulary for promoting austerity.

All this is a world away from the notions of equality that emerged in the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries. For the first time in history, it was widely accepted that all humans were in important respects equal. No one was seen as inherently worth more than

anyone else. Although it is difficult to generalize, most Enlightenment thinkers saw a link between liberty and equality. Freedom meant granting everyone equal rights. It also involved according people moral autonomy.

It is true that these ideals were not always honored in practice. For instance, women tended to have an inferior status and slaves were, by definition, treated as a lower class. But the recognition by an influential section of society of the importance of equality and its link to freedom was still an enormous step forward.

In contrast, contemporary egalitarians rarely if ever talk of freedom or autonomy. When they refer to the dangers of inequality, it is generally as a prelude to restricting liberty. For them, it is necessary to curb freedom to mitigate the effects of social fragmentation.

The new egalitarianism also clashes with the Enlightenment view of equality in other important ways. For many Enlightenment thinkers, the notion of equality was linked to the ideal of realizing the full human potential. Sometimes this idea was expressed as a belief in the perfectibility of mankind. Typically, Enlightenment thinkers had an optimistic view of humanity, seeing tremendous room for progress. Some specifically linked the idea of human advance to rising economic prosperity.

Socialism emerged from the radical wing of Enlightenment thought. Socialist thinkers generally believed in higher living standards for the majority of the population, referred to back then as the working class, and the end of the domination of society by a small elite. In contrast, the new egalitarians aim to hold humanity back rather than take us forward. They see us as fragile and dangerous beings whose aspirations must be kept in check. The popular aspiration for a more prosperous life is condemned.

This contemporary trend is entirely regressive. Where leftists once upheld prosperity for all, the contemporary critics of inequality promote universal austerity. Where socialists once supported freedom, the new ­egalitarianism is a top-down and elitist movement. The new
egalitarians are the enemies of progress, freedom and true equality.

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy