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Why equality?: on justifying liberal egalitarianism

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The debate over the nature of egalitarianism has come to dominate political philosophy. As ever more sophisticated attempts are made to describe the principles of an egalitarian distribution or to specify the good or goods that should be distributed equally, little is said about the fundamental basis of equality. In virtue of what should people be regarded as equal? Egalitarians have tended to dismiss this question of fundamental equality. In the first part of the paper I will examine some of these strategies of marginalisation and assess whether the issue of fundamental equality matters. Jeremy Waldron has criticised this strategy of avoidance in his recent book God, Locke and equality. He argues that Locke's turn to a theistic grounding for fundamental equality provides a better approach to the problem than the approach taken by contemporary liberals such as John Rawls. I will examine Waldron's critique of Rawls and show that it is wanting. I will conclude by suggesting that Rawls's approach to the issue has a bearing on the way in which equality should be understood as a political value. This argument for the primacy of a political conception of egalitarianism has a bearing on the interconnection between core liberal values and the idea of the state that has been emphasised by Rawls, Dworkin and Nagel.

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