Equality, Moral and Social

Equality, Moral and Social

1. Introduction

Since it has a number of quite separate claims, it does not have a single easy central thesis. However, it does have a general goal. It is using a concern with descriptive accuracy as a way of getting into the more central issues which are normative. In the process, it raises issues about relativism and about the suitability of moral language for the task of describing a political practice. I have long been puzzled by the gap between popular belief in the role of legislation and official pronouncements about it, on the one hand, and the rather sketchy evidence for a causal impact of the legal forms of the sort found in the chronicles of legislatures and the forks and election results. Theory of this gap has been an important project for me for over a decade now. This essay does not answer questions about legislation that I have raised, but it uses an old technique, the commentary on a quotation from a classic text.

2. The Concept of Equality

The notion of equality is easy to grasp. It is the idea of equal opportunity and the belief that all should have equal social standing. However, this simple statement is not an adequate definition of equality and does not show the fundamental of equality in the terms of society, politics, and economics. In society, all are to be equal and should not experience superiority or inferiority within one another. In political equality, each person is to have an equal say in what goes on in their society and have the right to elect officials and voice their concerns. In terms of elected officials, none should be above the equality standard, having equal responsibility and the same code of ethics that the general public follows. Economic equality is the idea that all should obtain equal shares of the benefits derived from the resources of society. This does not mean that everyone is under the same pay structure, but rather those who work have an equal share in the rewards produced by their work and it is not overshadowed by others. This starts to bring light to the complexity of the concept of equality because in each case it is an attempt to abolish differentials in standards (whether social, political, or economic) that result in differential treatment, usually to the disadvantage of the less well off. This leads us to the problem of defining when particular differentials are legitimate and when they are not. This is where the concept of equality becomes muddled and hard to define. We recognize that differentials in natural abilities are factors that cannot be changed and are not a matter of choice. It is a common belief, according to the wide array of theories on justice, that people should not be held responsible for matters that are not in their control, and this is no different in the case of natural abilities. However, abilities alone do not constitute the matter of legitimate differential. Too often they are factored in to justify differentials in social, political, and economic standards, and these are matters that are within control and are largely affected by the environment of the individual. The nature of when and why differentials are legitimate is a problem that has caused an unending amount of debate and speculation on the issue of equality. However, it does show one thing: the concept of equality is a clear set of standards to which it is very difficult to achieve. In many cases, it is an ideal that is impossible to meet or define in terms that are practical for society, and this is the very reason it becomes a complex issue.

3. Moral Implications of Equality

However, it is also argued that equality has negative moral implications, particularly if it is equality born of leveling down. Leveling down is a course of action taken when one restricts the opportunities of a particular advantaged group in order to remove an unequal distribution. This is problematic as taking away opportunities from a group is unfair and is against the idea of a just society as described by the modus of justice. This can also cause hostility between groups seen through leap and gap theories where an advantaged group is likely to compare their new lowered status to the group’s higher past status and become hostile towards the group seen to cause the decline. This can often result in volatile relationships between social groups and have an adverse effect on the functionality of society.

Equality has both positive and negative moral implications for society. The positive moral implications are centered around the idea of equality being associated with justice, and that justice is an essential moral good. When people are treated equally or at least as moral peers, that is taken as an indication that they are respected, accepted, and valued. This is necessary for self-respect and is also conducive to cooperation between individuals or groups, taking into account that it is easier to cooperate with others when there is a shared belief that everyone is being treated fairly and opportunities are not being unfairly restricted for some. This, of course, is conducive to a better functioning society and peace between social groups. This enhances the idea of social capital and trust between social groups as there is no implied exploitation of an unequal group. All these implications are beneficial for society and are largely centered around the idea of individuals feeling that they or others have not been wronged and they are being treated in a fair manner. All these imply that equality is serving as a moral good for both individuals and society in providing a fair go and increased opportunities for all marginalized groups.

4. Social Implications of Equality

The situation of the Jews was bi-directionally influenced by their achievement pattern in social class. Coming mainly from the lower middle classes, there have always been proportionately fewer Jews than the majority group among the power elites of the various nations among which they have lived. This has meant that at the levels of state power and physical security, elites have generally felt themselves to be threatened or to be underrepresented in cases where no actual Jewish threat existed. This factor has led to various attempts to restrict Jewish activity and ultimately to the disastrously failed experiment of Hitler to eliminate the Jewish group from Europe. This recent history is reflective of many past experiences of minority groups which border upon questions of eliminative or caste policies. Any attempt at a qualitative Indian case in the interrelations of groups which are in differing social and economic positions and the judgments upon what is and what is not a threat to the majority, and the subsequent attempt to reach general consensus or acculturation policy between the groups involved, will disclose and bear out the thesis of this paper.

This is not to argue against the mobility of these groups toward positions of prestige and power. History offers no basis for the belief that permanent marginality for any ethnic group is a healthy or a satisfying state. The trouble lies in the fact that excessive and differential progress by minority groups in given areas of life may threaten the self-respect, and thus the security, of the majority. This was the situation of the Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Eastern Europe, they were often debarred from the peasant masses and although they were equally subject to urban poverty, there were few instances of feudal or church law which barred the doors of guilds and professions to them. In the West modern period, movements for Jewish assimilation have met varied success. In the Germany of the Weimar Republic, Jews had acceded too quickly and too completely to desired positions in university life, the arts, and the professions. The reaction against Jewish presence in these areas was a significant factor in the Nazi rise to power and in the policies of the Third Reich. The Jewish experience in modern Europe thus bears out the thesis of the present paper: minority groups which are physically and culturally distinguishable and which possess a strong sense of group identification tend to succeed beyond their number in a given cultural or social area in relation to the majority, and very often such differential success brings hostility and restrictive action.

This last result supports the hypothesis, frequently expressed in this paper, that a society made up of diverse, highly self-conscious ethnic groups is inherently unstable. A condition of instability must be reflected in an imbalance of power among the contending elements. And a society which embodies sharp differences in power and lacks consensus on the general distribution of power is not likely to be one in which justice will flourish. These arguments taken together suggest that the social consequences of policies designed to bring about equality for specific minority groups may diverge somewhat from the intended consequences. If this analysis is correct, then when we consider which groups should be given preferential treatment and what form that treatment should take, we should be as much concerned with the social as with the economic and political consequences of such policies.

5. Conclusion

A complete discussion of the justice of the claims of the working classes to a fuller share in the government of their country and a larger interest in the future of society and of the justice of the demands which they make as to alterations in the economic system would involve a re-statement of the arguments of the previous essays, so it may suffice to say in connection with the question of political power that the right of the working classes to participate in the government of their country is an immediate corollary from the principles of democracy which are now universally accepted in an abstract form and which are admitted as regards the political institutions of the country to be true in the main by the great body of Radicals.

It is the object of this essay to assert the moral and political claims of the working classes, to maintain that they should no longer be debarred from their share in the control of the destinies of their country, and that they are justified in desiring to bring about by every constitutional means in their power a thorough transformation of the existing political and economic system. To the assertion of their claims, it cannot be pretended that justice has been fully done. The arguments of their opponents are, on the one hand, drawn from common notions which hitherto have never been critically examined, and on the other from considerations of expediency which have never been dispassionately discussed in connection with the true principles of Social Science.

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