Since the 1980s, society's wealthiest members have claimed an ever-expanding share of income and property. It has been a true counterrevolution, says Pierre Rosanvallon--the end of the age of growing equality launched by the American and French revolutions. And just as significant as the social and economic factors driving this contemporary inequality has been a loss of faith in the ideal of equality itself. An ambitious transatlantic history of the struggles that, for two centuries, put political and economic equality at their heart, The Society of Equals calls for a new philosophy of social relations to reenergize egalitarian politics.
For eighteenth-century revolutionaries, equality meant understanding human beings as fundamentally alike and then creating universal political and economic rights. Rosanvallon sees the roots of today's crisis in the period 1830-1900, when industrialized capitalism threatened to quash these aspirations. By the early twentieth century, progressive forces had begun to rectify some imbalances of the Gilded Age, and the modern welfare state gradually emerged from Depression-era reforms. But new economic shocks in the 1970s began a slide toward inequality that has only gained momentum in the decades since.
There is no returning to the days of the redistributive welfare state, Rosanvallon says. Rather than resort to outdated notions of social solidarity, we must instead revitalize the idea of equality according to principles of singularity, reciprocity, and communality that more accurately reflect today's realities.
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Pierre Rosanvallon is a Professor of Political History at the Collège de France and Director of Studies at L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.Review:
The best available treatment of equality as a condition of the common life. (Michael Ignatieff)
In a rich and illuminating work of political theory and historical interpretation, Pierre Rosanvallon traces the rise and fall of the ideal of equality, from the American and French Revolutions to the present. And he argues for reviving equality as a moral and political project. The 'society of equals' he favors is less about redistribution than about recovering commonality as the basis of social relations. At a time when the welfare state has lost its capacity to inspire, Rosanvallon, one of Europe's most distinguished political theorists, offers a way of recasting the case for a more equal society. (Michael J. Sandel, author of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets)
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...Rosanvallon deftly traces the slow collapse of the egalitarian tradition, mainly in the counterposed trajectories of French and American political thought.
(Chris Lehmann Bookforum 2013-09-01)
The idea of equality often evokes heated passions...Pierre Rosanvallon, one of France's leading public intellectuals, has stepped into this minefield to provide a thoughtful work.
(Daniel Bel-Ami Financial Times 2013-09-20)
During the American and French revolutions, striving for liberty and achieving equality were not seen as contradictory. Modern notions of individualism and individual choice have undermined that bond: we pay merely lip service to equality while our body politic has never been less inclined to correct unequal distribution of income and wealth. Rosanvallon warns us what is at stake here: modern democracy will not survive if it avoids the question of equality. (Andreas Hess Times Higher Education 2014-01-09)
The Society of Equals...is a work of both history and political philosophy: a sweeping historical analysis of equality since the American and French Revolutions and an effort to reconstruct the understanding of equality for a new ‘age of singularity’ when ‘everyone wants to “be someone.”’...Does [Rosanvallon] solve the contemporary puzzles about inequality? I don’t think so. But he analyzes them in so illuminating a way that anyone interested in understanding and reversing the surge in inequality should read his work...Greater economic equality is certainly not inevitable; it will require thought and political organization to make the most of the opportunities that history affords, and Rosanvallon’s Society of Equals is one of the resources to carry along on that journey. (Paul Starr New York Review of Books 2014-05-22)
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