Rethinking Equality in an Age of Inequalities

Thursday, 24 November 2011, 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Jan Patocka Memorial Lecture

We live a time of counterrevolution. Since the 1980s, the richer part of society has continued to accumulate revenues and possessions, thus reversing a century-old trend towards fewer inequalities.

The economic and social roots of this situation are well-known. The complete breakdown of the very idea of equality has also played a major role, which has gone hand in hand with an insidious undermining of the tax system and other redistributive measures. Inequalities that are seen as unacceptable are being denounced, as can be seen in the recent protests on Wall Street as well as in the streets of Athens, Madrid, Tel Aviv and Santiago de Chile. However, this denunciation does not prevent resignation and a feeling of helplessness. To get out of today’s stalemate, there is nothing more urgent than a refounding of the idea of equality.

This lecture wants to contribute to this refounding in two ways. It first retraces two centuries of debates and struggles around the idea of equality, to shed new light on today’s situation. It then proposes to go beyond dominant theories of justice, from John Rawls’ to Amartya Sen’s, to outline a theory of equality as social relation. The lecture will show that refounding a society built on principles of singularity, reciprocity, and community is the necessary condition for a more active solidarity.

Pierre Rosanvallon, Chair in Modern and Contemporary History of Politics, Collège de France, Paris; Director of Studies, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; Director of the online journal La Vie des Idées.

Selected Publications:

La Société des égaux, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2011
La Légitimité démocratique. Impartialité, réflexivité, proximité, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2008
(German translation: Demokratische Legitimität : Unparteilichkeit – Reflexivität – Nähe)
La contre-démocratie. La politique à l’âge de la défiance, Seuil, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2006
(English translation: Counter-democracy: politics in an age of distrust)

In cooperation with the Institut Français d’Autriche