From Equality of Opportunity to the Society of Equals
Od rovných šancí k společnosti rovných
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Any attempt to reaffirm equality as a fundamental democratic value faces two tasks: it must respond to social and cultural changes accompanying the most recent phase of capitalist development, and it must reactivate the original context of the democratic transformation that brought equality to prominence, in close conjunction with other aspects of an innovative vision. At the outset, equality was interpreted in terms of “a world of similar human beings, a society of autonomous individuals, and a community of citizens”. In this context, equality was closely linked to liberty, but their interconnections were also open to historical changes. Later developments – including the shift to a more organized kind of capitalism, two world wars and the rise of a temporarily successful rival version of modernity – led to significant upgradings of equality. But during the past half-century, the case for equality has been undermined by historical trends. Mutations of the capitalist economy, on the level of organization as well as production, and the disappearance of a really existing alternative, lent support to a new type of individualism. Drawing on Simmel’s distinction between the individualism of similarity and the individualism of distinction, the present phase can be interpreted as a radicalization and democratization of the individualism of distinction into an individualism of singularity. A social-liberal strategy, aiming at a reconciliation of liberty and equality, must take this new individualism on board and understand it as a social relationship, thus maintaining critical distance from neo-liberal ideology.
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