The other new French book on inequality

It is The Society of Equals, by Pierre Rosanvallon, and it is a transatlantic look at how the notion of inequality has changed over the last three centuries.  It strikes me as the sort of book Crooked Timber would have a symposium on.  Here is one good bit:

Thus there is a global rejection of society as it presently exists together with acceptance of the mechanisms that produce that society.  De facto inequalities are rejected, but the mechanisms that generate inequality in general are implicitly recognized.  I propose to call this situation, in which people deplore in general what they consent to in particular, the Bossuet paradox.  This paradox is the source of our contemporary schizophrenia.  It is not simply the result of a guilty error but has an epistemological dimension.  When we condemn global situations, we look at objective social facts, but we tend to relate particular situations to individual behaviors and choices.  The paradox is also related to the fact that moral and social judgments are based on the most visible and extreme situation (such as the gap between rich and poor), into which individuals project themselves abstract, whereas their personal behavior is concretely determined by narrower forms of justification.

Roger Berkowitz has a very good review here, excerpt:

As does Piketty, Rosanvallon employs philosophy and history to characterize the return of inequality in the late 20th and now 21st centuries. And Rosanvallon, again like Piketty, worries about the return of inequality. But Rosanvallon, unlike Piketty, argues that we need to understand how inequality and equality now are different than they used to be. As a result, Rosanvallon is much more sanguine about economic inequality and optimistic about the possibilities for meaningful equality in the future.


…inequality absent misery may not be the real problem of political justice. The reason so much inequality is greeted with resentment but acceptance, is that our current imagination of justice concerns visibility and singularity more than it does equality of income.



Comments for this post are closed