The current focus on inequality, argues Danielle Allen, makes it more imperative than ever to better understand the concept of “equality.” Allen’s essay focuses especially on political equality, which requires attention in its own right and in relation to other dimensions of (in)equality. Through a critical engagement with John Rawls’s work, she argues that public autonomy (“positive liberties”) is central to imagining and realizing political equality.
Danielle Allen is director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and professor in Harvard’s Department of Government and Graduate School of Education. She is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (Princeton University Press, 2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. Board of Education (University of Chicago Press, 2004), Why Plato Wrote (Wiley, 2010), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Liveright, 2014), and Education and Equality (University of Chicago Press, 2016). She is the coeditor of the award-winning Education, Justice, and Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2013; with Rob Reich) and From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (University of Chicago Press, 2015; with Jennifer Light). She is a chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Philosophical Society.