A Brief Addendum to “The Mistake of Liberal Democracy”

Substituting the notion of “sovereign equality” for “equality of outcome” would complete the articulation of liberty and equality I argued for in “The Mistake of Liberal Democracy,” and clarify the implications of their severing by liberal democracy. An obvious question regarding my claim for the indivisibility of freedom and equality is, “Could you really claim that Bill Gates and a homeless person are unequal in no meaningful way, as long as they could both be said to be playing under the same rules?” It’s a good question, and my first answer is the unsatisfactory for many “yes, that is precisely what I am claiming”; but I can also give a more satisfactory (to many) answer: “no, they are unequal in a meaningful way, and the meaning given to that way comes from the belief that there should be some general power superintending and weighing all resentments so as to ensure they don’t obfuscate the resentment of the center.” That superintending power is the sovereign power, which is coeval with freedom and in constant tension with it. Sovereign power stakes its claim where equaliberty demands too much rigor from its participants, and that there are many such sites our current crisis testifies. Sovereign equality, then, is public recognition of each one’s resentments, displacing the general adoption of the resentment of the center. And if one were to say that, in effect, Bill Gates plays on a different field and according to a different set of rules from the homeless person, that would be true, but largely due to the massive sovereign incursions into freedom, bought by the wealthy who felt that competition had outlived its usefulness once they had won, but also sanctioned by the claims of sovereign equality.

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