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Realising egalitarian futures



Political philosophers have become increasingly concerned in recent years with the question of which institutions best secure egalitarian justice. In John Rawls: Reticent Socialist, William Edmundson makes a powerful case that Rawlsian justice requires widespread public ownership that goes far beyond familiar models of welfare-state capitalism. Alan Thomas’s Republic of Equals presents a contrasting and extensive Rawlsian defence of a ‘property-owning democracy’: a private enterprise economy with widely dispersed ownership of productive assets, initially proposed by the economist James Meade. And recent work by Martin O’Neill begins to marry together normative political theory with recent empirical and policy analysis on the inegalitarian dynamics of contemporary financialised capitalism, as documented most famously in the work of Thomas Piketty.

Yet critical questions remain, particularly as to what social and political forces might serve to advance the egalitarian agenda currently being sketched out in the work of political philosophers and other academics. Whilst the weakening of neoliberal hegemony in recent years has thus far been exploited most effectively by right-wing populists, there are also some promising signs that it presents an opportunity for radical egalitarian alternatives to gain political ground. Accordingly, this workshop proposes to investigate the question: where do egalitarian political theorists go from here? How can they best contribute in their intellectual work to increasing the likelihood that the future is an egalitarian one?

Potential questions to be pursued during the workshop include (but are not limited to):

  • What kinds of futures ought egalitarians to fix their sights on? Should current political dynamics prompt a doubling down on utopianism, or a renewed pragmatism and defensiveness amongst egalitarians?
  • Which obstacles to the realization of these futures ought egalitarians to prioritize tackling, and which have they overlooked? In what sense do misogynistic, xenophobic or racist attitudes represent an obstacle to institutionalizing egalitarianism?
  • What are the normative implications of recent work in sociology, political science and economics for egalitarians?
  • Which areas of economic and social life does recent egalitarian theorising overlook? How might egalitarian values inform changes to the financial sector, the workplace, and so on?
  • Do (Marxist, Feminist, Realist, Postcolonial, etc.) critiques of liberal egalitarianism provide egalitarians with valuable lessons for the future?
  • What lessons have been forgotten from the long history of egalitarian philosophical thought? Is there a case to be made for paying renewed attention to an overlooked political thinker? (e.g. RH Tawney or John Dewey?)
  • What can political theory contribute to questions of egalitarian political strategy over the short, medium and long term? What social coalitions can be mobilised in support of egalitarian reform and how should potential tensions between different elements of such coalitions be negotiated?
  • What might be the role of trade unions, political parties and other forms of collective political agency, in enacting egalitarianism?
  • Should egalitarians pursue a fierce internationalism, or rather concentrate on domestic injustices? What role ought the European Union to play in egalitarian political strategy?