Democratic equality is one of the few concepts in contemporary philosophical debate that has gained widespread acceptance. Many philosophers have agreed that equal consideration of interests is morally required, ranging from utilitarians to Kantians. As a result, democratic equality is the moral perspective that democracy as a decision-making method must adhere to the principle of equality. Individuals who practice democracy are not the same as those who practice democracy (Cohen, Joshua 730).
The argument for democratic equality implies that the focus is on the decision rather than the person making it. For instance, a right decision which respects the principle of equality can be considered to be democratic even if it is reached by a dictator. The paper seeks to evaluate the claim that “one of the arguments for democratic equality is that social and natural luck is arbitrary from the moral point of view. But this argument is inconsistent with the inequalities permitted by Rawls’s difference principle.”
The concept of social and natural luck
In the words of Cohen, Joshua (728), equality is among the most loaded and highly contested words in the contemporary world of philosophy. Because of the positive connotation that comes with the word, politicians have found it to be one of the best slogans to use, especially during campaigns. Several questions must be asked when one talks about equality for instance, why should there be equality? Equality for what? And, who should provide justice?
The concept of democratic equality demonstrates that social and natural luck is a deviation from the moral point of view in as far as democracy is concerned. There are three types of equality namely the formal equality, proportional equality and the moral equality. According to the concept of egalitarianism, equality means that people should be treated equally. People should have equal opportunities, equal resources and equal conditions among others (Daniels, Norman 76).
Natural and social luck, therefore, contradicts the moral view, heavily borrowed from values of Christianity such as equal dignity and respect, that all humans are equal and should be accorded equal opportunity. The fact that some people can get unfairly warranted social and natural favorable treatment negates the principle of equality. The argument will be expanded in the course of the discussion.
The difference principle
The difference principle is one of the principles of distributive justice. In general terms, the idea of distributive justice takes into consideration that economic framework in every society is the cause of different distribution of economic gains and burdens affecting members of the community (Altham 76). The concept, therefore, suggests that it is practically untenable to have perfect democratic equality even from the moral perspective.
The difference principle takes a slightly different approach. According to Rawls (Altham 77), the fact that an economic framework determines the wealth distribution is justification enough that not every citizen in a country can have equal net worth. However, Rawls is slow at calling the situation and equality. Rawls instead looks at the least fortunate in the society in absolute terms and not in relative terms to means; he does not compare the wealth of the rich and the poor in the society as individual aspects. Rawls goes ahead to question the impact of the difference in economic status on the entire wealth creation ability of the country.
According to him, the countries can increase their economic production, and by so doing, the living standard of the poor will also be lifted. This, according to Rawls, is equality covered by the difference principle. The difference principle is very close to the strict equality concept.
To evaluate the claim that “one of the arguments for democratic equality is that social and natural luck is arbitrary from the moral point of view. But this argument is inconsistent with the inequalities permitted by Rawls’s difference principle,” it is necessary to outline the premises used in the process.
Premises for the argument
One, justice requires that all individuals are treated equally about their interests. Two, the principle of equality demands equality to be viewed as the ability for an individual to be allowed to participate in making decisions on the collective properties of the society.
Three, interests can only be served through a binding collective procedure, and finally, there are fiercely interdependent categories of interests which, by affecting one person, have an impact on all. I will now focus on the two parts of the claim independently but intensely.
“One of the arguments for democratic equality is that social and natural luck is arbitrary from the moral point of view”
The first part of the claim deals with the moral equality element of the democratic equality concept. In the words of Altham (78), the postulate that human beings were unequal by nature collapsed in the early eighteenth century when an idea of natural rights surfaced. The essential idea of natural and social rights was first advocated for by the Christianity community and later adhered to by the Talmud and Islam. In the same century, the idea that equality could be achieved when everyone had respect for other people’s social and natural rights. In the late eighteenth century, the dominant idea of natural and social equality was enshrined in the natural law tradition and the theory of social contract respectively.
The idea of natural luck causing inequality has been justified by many philosophers and writers over time. According to Hobbes, every human being, in his or her natural condition, can cause harm to another individual. This, according to him, should be proof enough to avoid using natural luck for the advantage of oneself and to create inequality.
The other argument that natural and social success based on luck should not cause inequality in a democratic system is that it is by chance that one is born somewhere for instance; it is by chance that one is born into the first family and the other one is born in a socially less privileged family. Two, social inequality can be viewed as a massive of the human race from the natural equality in as far as the homonymous state of nature is concerned. The decline would be catalyzed by the human urge for property, perfection, and possession.
Natural and social luck was one of the causes of the great French Revolution of 1789 in which democratic equality was among the items. From the moral point of view, the principle of equal dignity and respect are tenets of democratic equality and use of mere luck either socially or naturally is morally untenable in the contemporary democracy. Borrowing from Daniels, Norman (76), the most common forms of equality include the equality of welfare, equality of opportunity and equality of condition.
Types of democratic equalities that can be negated by natural and social luck
Equality of Welfare
The welfare equality is a concept that arises from the moral view of democratic equality. The concept is defined by an intuition that it is the individuals’ well-being that is at stake when it comes to political ethics. However, justice must be the center stage at which the level of welfare is equalized. Philosophers such as Dworkin agreed that without justice, welfare could not be morally justified. For instance, a welfare geared towards doing wrong things in the society cannot qualify to be equality.
Equality of Opportunity
Equality of opportunity is one of the equalities that are directly affected when one uses either natural or social luck to derail democratic equality. The Equality of opportunity dictates that the social, political and economic opportunities should be open to all irrespective of their natural or social status. There is specific natural equality of opportunity extensions which deserves mention. One, public sector jobs should be open to all applicants and selection to fill the positions should only be based on merit and nothing else. Two, slots in colleges and universities should be open to all student applicants, and the students ought to be ranked according to their performance as demonstrated by the results and hence selected on purely the academic grounds.
Equality of Condition
The meritocratic ideals provide that to some extent; equality may not be achieved because of competition. In as much as a society may satisfy the ideal of formal and moral opportunity chances, the society may never guarantee an equal opportunity of a condition.
An example of such equality is the equality of democratic citizenship and civil liberties which guarantee all citizens of a democratic nation the freedom of speech and the right to vote. Besides, it is considered democratic a system that allows the vote cast by the citizens to count at the end of the day.
However, the law does not envisage the condition in which all the people targeting to air their views in the political arena should operate. For example, political parties can use propaganda and defamatory statements in a bid to win political races. However, democracy would not end at the provision of free speech but also at the protection of the speakers themselves. For instance, it is not democratic, both morally and formally, for one to be allowed to air his views then get assassinated later on. The equality of condition, therefore, states that everyone must not only be allowed freedom of expression but also fair and equal conditions after their expression.
“But this argument is inconsistent with the inequalities permitted by Rawls’s difference principle”
Having introduced the difference principle, it is essential to highlight some of the critics of the difference principle. One, the strict equality advocates say that the permitted inequalities are unacceptable even in cases where individuals gain from the position of the absolutism of the least privileged in the society. However, the advocates have not satisfactorily and explicitly explained why it is untenable to have the society benefit from those viewed to be of low economic and social power in the society the least advantaged in the community yet the benefits present a deviation from the concept of strict (Nagel and Thomas 227).
Two, the strict egalitarians argue that a relative position is much better than an absolute position when it comes to equality. According to Croker, a philosopher, there is value in paying close attention to the concept of relativism as a means of fathoming the merits of having the society work together. The approach by the critics is that being materially equal or striving to be so is a great stride towards equality. Three, the Utilitarian object the difference principle arguing that the principle does not maximize equality. However, Rawls responds to this criticism in his theory of ‘the theory of justice.’ Four, Libertarians, on the other hand, mention that the principle involves unacceptable infringement of liberty, self-ownership and property rights. Five, the principle is criticized for ignoring the insinuations that people deserve certain economic benefit in the society.
Finally, the proponents of the principles of luck egalitarianism make an argument that the principle does not take into consideration the moral duties in totality and that responsibility, according to them, should be allowed to play in principles of distributive justice.
Inequalities Permitted by the Difference Principle
According to Nagel, Thomas (224), Rawls came up with the Difference Principle by mentioning that inequality is indeed exceptional in so long as that inequality benefits the least privileged in the society. Two, Rawls accepts an equality that can help the future generation in what he refers to as the ‘Justified Principle.’ According to Rawls, individuals do not deserve the natural talents which they are born with and therefore should not benefit from such talents. Rawls then advocated for distribution of wealth to ensure that individuals to dot take advantage of their naturally obtained skills.
The idea of absolutism according to Rawls, therefore, means that the equality of the less privileged should not be defined by comparing their net material worth with that of the privileged in the society. On the contrary, the equality of the less privileged should be made possible by ensuring that the least privileged in the society should attain the maximum material gain from their naturally or socially obtained talents.
The other argument is that the society should preserve some wealth for the future generation. In as much as he did not specify the types of wealth, it is evident from his argument that he was focused on everyone being able to get essential goods (Nagel and Thomas 229).
The claim that “One of the arguments for democratic equality is that social and natural luck is arbitrary from the moral point of view. But this argument is inconsistent with the inequalities permitted by Rawls’s difference principle” has been explained and evaluated by dissecting the two sides of the claim independently. From the discussion, it can be concluded that the arguments for democratic equality as regards the natural and social luck is indeed inconsistent with the views of Rawls as depicted in his difference principle in two main ways. One, the democratic equality believes that equality is achieved though relativism while the difference principle, on the other hand, believes that equality is achieved by absolutism.
Two, the argument for democratic equality advocates for the use of natural and social luck provided that the luck was entirely unintended and does not in any way affect the tenets of democracy, for instance, the inborn talents. Rawls, on the other hand, believes that people should not use natural and social luck to benefit at the expense of other and that such action only contributes to inequality. Paradoxically, Rawls sees no problem in inequality that acts to the advantage of the less advantaged in the society.
Altham, J. E. J. “Rawls’s Difference Principle.” Philosophy 48.183 (1973): pp.75-78.
Cohen, Joshua. “Democratic equality.” Ethics 99.4 (1989): pp.727-751.
Daniels, Norman. “Democratic equality: Rawls’s complex egalitarianism.”The Cambridge Companion to Rawls 241 (2003): pp.76.
Nagel, Thomas. “Rawls on justice.” The Philosophical Review (1973): pp.220-234.