What Is Political Inequality?

Sunday, August 14, 2022

What Is It

We all know our society is economically unequal: some people have more money and resources than others. But equality isn't just a matter of who has which things. Political equality involves respect and participation in the political process—but those aren't resources that can be divided up like pie. So what is political equality in the first place? How do we know when we've achieved it? And can we prevent politics from being an elite activity concentrated among the educated and wealthy? Josh and Ray push for equality with Margaret Levi, Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and co-author of A Moral Political Economy: Present, Past, and Future.



Josh Landy  
How do we stop politics from being a rich person's game?

Ray Briggs  
Would campaign finance reform be enough?

Josh Landy  
How can ordinary citizens get a seat at the table?

Comments (1)

Daniel's picture


Wednesday, July 6, 2022 -- 9:11 PM

Inequality in a political

Inequality in a political sense is a superficial phenomenon deriving from much more fundamental inequalities, such as those in the workplace. Even direct democratic systems, such as fifth century Athens, were still dominated by elite and aristocratic groups, such as those around Pericles. My claim here is that a just society doesn't need politics, to the point where one can assert that a society is unjust to the degree that it is political. Political self-assertion is necessarily preconditioned by a situation of social injustice, and political reaction is performed for the purpose of its structural preservation. So three terms are enlisted in an appropriate response to the title question: politics, society, and injustice. Equality and inequality, by contrast, are metaphors taken from arithmetic and contain no information about what's being described. A well run prison, for example, is in a mathematical sense a society in which all living space and resources are shared with perfect equality, but it is nevertheless undesirable in a majority of situations.

Politics, as indicated above, is either assertive or reactionary, and does not exist apart from the distinction between a comparatively small group or community of population managers and their associates, and a larger group of those who are managed or, if you like, between an oppressor class and an oppressed class. The question of political inequality should therefore be restated as one of inequalities which generate its need together with its use in Reaction. And since the phrase "inequality" should be completely dispensed with as obscurantist slang, the true question is: What's the relationship between social injustice and political activity?

Society, as collectively desirable proximate coexistence, can also then be considered a name for what sets up standards of justice so that there's agreement about where they're transgressed. The details of what these terms stipulate are not necessary for the claim that without them political representation or misrepresentation would be unintelligible. If we take our own society as an example, and observe that in a society governed in the interest of concentrated multinational wealth there is deployed in reaction to popular self-assertion extreme political means pinned to populist labels expressing sectarian divisions within the governed, then the question is excised from talking about politics at all, and instead asks, as has often been done in contexts of philosophy: What is a just society?

In short, discussion of political equality must be reduced to a discussion of social justice if it is to begin to approach the distant horizon of intelligibility. And this is not achieved by checking a box or waiving a few pompoms for one's favorite political team as spectators, but by making one's own decisions in one's community and workplace as active participants. From the perspective of one's interest in a good society in which participation is real and not symbolic, then, the question of politics is how to get rid of it.

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