- Equality lies only in human moral dignity. . . . Let there be brothers first, then there will be brotherhood, and only then will there be a fair sharing of goods among brothers. [Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (), Part II, Book VI, Chapter III, “Conversations and Exhorations of Father Zossima”.]
A commitment to universal human worth and dignity necessarily implies a commitment to equality. People do not agree what the nature and extent of that equality should be.
At least, it must include equal opportunity. Most people in the developed world probably would agree with that statement but in fact we do not practice it. Millions of children are born into poverty every year. Those in impoverished lands have virtually no chance to survive, let alone prosper and thrive as we understand those words in the United States.
I am no radical egalitarian. I believe that people should have the opportunity to improve their circumstances by hard work. If talent gives some people advantages over others, those are not advantages I would wish to eradicate because it is impossible to separate talent completely from effort, and I wish to encourage people to do their best.
Demonstrably, the most prosperous countries are mixed economies with as many capitalist features as are consistent with sustainable prosperity. In the economic war between capitalism and communism, capitalism has won, decisively. But that does not mean that all socialist features of political economy must be eliminated. On the contrary, in no nation in the developed world does a pure capitalist economy exist. It never has and it never will, for the simple reason that capitalism, with its foundations in human greed, tends to excess if unchecked. For that reason, state intervention in and regulation of the economy will always be necessary in technologically advanced economies with complex systems of industry, finance and information exchange. The only way this will change is if technology advances to such an extent that it allows virtually economic factors to be controlled individually or locally, as was the case when people grew their own crops and purchased almost no consumer goods. People may complain that government only makes the problem worse but in point of fact, the main reason this is true in quasi-democratic nations like the United States is that most people do not pay attention to or understand the economic forces behind their politics.
Income inequality is a growing concern, again, throughout the developed world. Excessive income inequality threatens social stability and, eventually, prosperity itself. Wealth is and always has conveyed power. If a few people have a certain relative amount of wealth, they also have too much power. That power allows them to structure the terms of economic exchange, in other words, to rig the game. There simply is no getting around this fact, which history demonstrates time and time again – the robber baron era (Gided Age) and the Roaring Twenties in the United States alone – and yet the American people consistently have failed to prevent excessive accumulations of wealth, and are doing it again.
Our technology and the state of our knowledge have advanced to such an extent that a near Utopia is within our grasp, if only we could see our way clear to it. We must understand that our place in society is just that: it is a place at the table. Dinner will not be pleasant if some have no recourse but to scramble for the crumbs under the table. At the same time, the table is only so big: we must make responsible choices in our consumption of resources, including our reproductive choices. If people ever figure this out, the good life may yet be attained and sustained.
- Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America (Temple University Press, 2010).
Movements promoting radical egalitarianism:
- Daniel Gavron, The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000).
- Henry Near, The Kibbutz Movement, volume 1: Origins and Growth 1909-1939 (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1992).
- Henry Near, The Kibbutz Movement, volume 2: Crisis and Achievement 1939-1995 (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008).
- Rupert Fike, ed., Voices from the Farm: Adventures in Community Living (Book Publishing Company, 1998).
- Diana Leaf Christian, Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities (New Society Publishers, 2003).
- Diana Leafe Christian, Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community (New Society Publishers, 2007).
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (Harvard University Press, 2000).
- G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality (Harvard University Press, 2008).
- Bruce Feltham, ed., Justice, Equality and Constructivism: Essays on G.A. Cohen's Rescuing Justice and Equality (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).
- Kate Pickard and Richard Wilkinson, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (Allen Lane, 2009).
- Richard Wilkinson, The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier (New Press, 2005).
- Richard Wilkinson, Unhealthy Societies: The Afflications of Inequality (Routledge, 1996).
- Richard Wilkinson, Mind the Gap: Hierarchies, Health and Human Evolution (Yale University Press, 2001).
- Ichiro Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy, The Health of Nations: Why Income Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health (New Press, 2002).
- Louis P. Pojman and Robert Westmoreland, Equality: Selected Readings (Oxford University Press, 1996).
Documentary and Educational Films
Struggles for equality:
- Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press, 2010), ten stories drawn from San Francisco's Asian communities in the 1960s and 70s.
Shadow side in art (inequality):
- Wassily Kandinsky, Unequal (1932)
- Pavel Filonov, The Workers (1915-16)
- Jan Vermeer, The Milkmaid (ca. 1660)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 1, in E-flat major
- Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, in G major
- Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 3, in C minor
- Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 1, in D major ("Ghost")
- Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 2, in E flat major
- Piano Trio, Op. 97 in B flat major ("Archduke"). Though Beethoven probably did not intend to express the theme of equality in writing music for the Archduke, it comes through anyway. On the other hand, Beethoven seems to have been fond of, and surely was devoted to, the Archduke. In any case, Archduke Rudolph was a student of "democratic and labour movements." So perhaps there was more intent toward this theme than the work's title suggests.
C.P.E. Bach, Trio Sonatas
- Trio Sonatas from WQ 89, 90 and 91
- Trio Sonata in B minor, WQ 143
- Trio Sonata in G major, WQ 144
- Trio Sonata in D minor, WQ 145
- Trio Sonata in A minor, WQ 148
- Trio Sonata in D major, WQ 151
- Trio Sonata in B flat major, WQ 161/2