Nancy Rosenblum’s Items contribution is based on her response to Charles Taylor’s October Roosevelt House lecture, "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," and also appears in The Democracy Papers. A member of the Anxieties of Democracy program’s Advisory Committee, Rosenblum reflects on Taylor’s arguments through the lenses of history and political philosophy. She ends on a note of contingent hope, emphasizing that democracy’s contemporary vulnerabilities are related to genuine advances in the quality of democracy over time.
In the latest essay in our "Reading Racial Conflict" series, Megan Ming Francis draws attention to the extraordinary work of Ida B. Wells. In the late nineteenth century, Wells exposed the extent of racial violence in the United States by documenting lynching and then disseminating her findings through her books, journalism, and activism. Ming Francis emphasizes a further innovation by Wells—i.e., how she connected lynchings to the economic interests and status anxieties of white southerners, as well as the relevance of this connection to understanding contemporary racial conflicts.
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.
In his contribution to the "What Is Inequality?" series, Pedro Ramos Pinto provides a critical history of both scholarly and public attention to inequality. Ramos Pinto examines the development of GDP as a mode of comparing inequality across nation-states as well as recent efforts at documenting changes in income distribution within countries. He concludes with a paradox: a principal focus on the income levels of individuals risks oversimplifying and misunderstanding inequality, but at the same time provides a concise and potent rallying cry for egalitarian movements that contest it.
Mike Savage and Niall Cunningham demonstrate how a focus on inequality can deepen understanding of major political events through their analysis of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Pairing the results of their Great British Class Survey with the geography of support for Brexit, and using data visualization tools, the authors show how the UK regions that voted for Brexit (and the anti-elite sentiment behind it) are also those areas most affected by growing inequalities, social and cultural, as well as economic.
Ananya Roy, director of UCLA Luskin’s new Institute on Inequality and Democracy, is concerned about the ubiquitous presence of inequality discourse within and beyond the academy. As one mechanism for the “repoliticization” of inequality, Roy calls for revived and critical attention to the concept of poverty. In particular, Roy focuses on impoverishment (and responses to it) as an active social process, how poverty comes to be defined as a social problem, and, at a global level, how conventional notions of North and South need to be reimagined in order to grasp the transnational dimensions of poverty and inequality.
Elizabeth Anderson’s essay in our “What is Inequality?” series calls attention to the limits of conceptualizing inequality through the lenses of distribution and discrimination. Anderson emphasizes a relational approach to inequality, one that focuses on enduring social hierarchies. Looking at inequality relationally, Anderson argues, better helps us understand the goals of egalitarian social movements in a way that encompasses claims for distributional fairness and the elimination of discriminatory practices.