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The Society of Equals

The Society of Equals

Pierre Rosanvallon

Translated by Arthur Goldhammer

ISBN 9780674724594

Publication date: 11/04/2013

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Since the 1980s, society’s wealthiest members have claimed an ever-expanding share of income and property. It has been a true counterrevolution, says Pierre Rosanvallon—the end of the age of growing equality launched by the American and French revolutions. And just as significant as the social and economic factors driving this contemporary inequality has been a loss of faith in the ideal of equality itself. An ambitious transatlantic history of the struggles that, for two centuries, put political and economic equality at their heart, The Society of Equals calls for a new philosophy of social relations to reenergize egalitarian politics.

For eighteenth-century revolutionaries, equality meant understanding human beings as fundamentally alike and then creating universal political and economic rights. Rosanvallon sees the roots of today’s crisis in the period 1830–1900, when industrialized capitalism threatened to quash these aspirations. By the early twentieth century, progressive forces had begun to rectify some imbalances of the Gilded Age, and the modern welfare state gradually emerged from Depression-era reforms. But new economic shocks in the 1970s began a slide toward inequality that has only gained momentum in the decades since.

There is no returning to the days of the redistributive welfare state, Rosanvallon says. Rather than resort to outdated notions of social solidarity, we must instead revitalize the idea of equality according to principles of singularity, reciprocity, and communality that more accurately reflect today’s realities.

Praise

  • The Society of Equals…is a work of both history and political philosophy: a sweeping historical analysis of equality since the American and French Revolutions and an effort to reconstruct the understanding of equality for a new ‘age of singularity’ when ‘everyone wants to ‘be someone.’… Does [Rosanvallon] solve the contemporary puzzles about inequality? I don’t think so. But he analyzes them in so illuminating a way that anyone interested in understanding and reversing the surge in inequality should read his work… Greater economic equality is certainly not inevitable; it will require thought and political organization to make the most of the opportunities that history affords, and Rosanvallon’s Society of Equals is one of the resources to carry along on that journey.

    —Paul Starr, New York Review of Books

Author

  • Pierre Rosanvallon is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History of Politics at the Collège de
    France.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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