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Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality

Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality

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By (author) Ronald M. Dworkin

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  • Publisher: HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Format: Paperback | 528 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 235mm x 35mm | 735g
  • Publication date: 1 March 2002
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, Mass
  • ISBN 10: 0674008103
  • ISBN 13: 9780674008106
  • Sales rank: 160,278

Product description

Equality is the endangered species of political ideas. Even left-of-centre politicians reject equality as an ideal: government must combat poverty, they say, but need not strive that its citizens be equal in any dimension. In this new book the author insists, to the contrary, that equality is the indispensable virtue of democratic sovereignty. A legitimate government must treat all its citizens as equals, that is, with equal respect and concern, and, since the economic distribution that any society achieves is mainly the consequence of its system of law and policy, that requirement imposes serious egalitarian constraints on that distribution. What distribution of a nation's wealth is demanded by equal concern for all? Dworkin draws upon two fundamental humanist principles - first, it is of equal objective importance that all human lives flourish, and second, each person is responsible for defining and achieving the flourishing of his or her own life - to ground his well-known thesis that true equality means equality in the value of the resources that each person commands, not in the success he or she achieves. Equality, freedom, and individual responsibility are therefore not in conflict, but flow from and into one another as facets of the same humanist conception of life and politics. Since no abstract political theory can be understood except in the context of actual and complex political issues, the author develops his thesis by applying it to heated contemporary controversies about the distribution of health care, unemployment benefits, campaign finance reform, affirmative action, assisted suicide, and genetic engineering.

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Author information

Ronald Dworkin is Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University. He is the 2007 recipient of the Holberg International Memorial Prize.

Review quote

Many philosophers would not be offended by the charge that philosophy is not a practical pursuit. Dworkin, a professor at New York University and University College in London, is deeply offended. He insists that philosophers can clarify the foundations of law to build a better world...In Sovereign Virtue, Dworkin attempts...first to establish principles and then apply them to today's vexing issues, including health care, campaign finance and affirmative action. -- Mitchell Goodman Raleigh News & Observer There is much that is brilliant in Dworkin's development of [his] themes. He reconceptualizes egalitarianism so...it corrects only inequalities for which people are not responsible...[Dworkin] presents an original and comprehensive political theory that claims to unite equality not only with freedom but also with other allegedly competing values, such as democracy, community and the good life. And he repeatedly connects his abstract speculations to specific controversies from contemporary political life. This is what political philosophy should do, and Dworkin does it better than anyone else now writing. -- Thomas Hurka Toronto Globe and Mail Dworkin's aim in Sovereign Virtue is to rescue the 'endangered' value of equality and to accommodate it to personal responsibility...[His] position is what he calls an 'ethical individualism' embodying two principles: it is equally important, for each human life, that it be successful; and every person has a special responsibility for the success of his own life. If you take both these ideas seriously, you will be driven, so Dworkin argues, to demand equality of resources. This ideal is the core of the book, and he defends it in impressive detail against its main rivals--equality of welfare and equality of opportunity. The Economist This is a work of the first importance, by an outstanding philosopher of politics and law who is the most eloquent, thoughtful and judicious spokesman of the new centre-left-liberal position which in recent years has come to be called 'the third way'--a label conferred and expounded by lesser minds, but here given what is not only the deepest and most compelling statement it has yet received, but a statement which is, in addition, genuinely deep and compelling. -- A.C. Grayling Financial Times Dworkin is that rare creature, a public intellectual. He writes with clarity and economy, and while he is not hard to understand, he demands maximum concentration from his readers...He sets out not just to persuade us to think differently, but also to act differently. He wants to change not just our beliefs but our behavior too...Sovereign Virtue is a book rich in arguments. Every objection is debated into submission; every alternative is pondered until its inadequacy becomes clear to the author. -- Anthony Julius Sunday Telegraph Sovereign Virtue...is...extraordinarily impressive: supple, suave and enviably deft, like all his work, and in its cumulative effect quite exceptionally illuminating...[Dworkin] has been in many ways the most systematic moral, political and legal thinker of the past three decades in the Anglophone world. He may lack the personal authority or the singularity of mind of John Rawls. But on this evidence he has a substantially broader range of ambition, a set of forceful moral intuitions, a speed and boldness of intellectual manoeuvre, and a combination of energy and sheer pertinacity that are all his own. -- John Dunn Times Higher Education Supplement For Dworkin fans, indeed for any analytical political philosopher who rejects the 'new pragmatism' linguistic turn and relishes a complex argumentative structure, this book will provide many hours of intellectual stimulation. Just as we who are not ourselves great chess players or mathematicians can admire the minds of great chess players or mathematicians, so even skeptical readers may admire Dworkin's elegant and complex sense of how philosophers can do their work. -- Lief Carter Law and Politics Review For the last two decades, Ronald Dworkin has been developing answers to...questions [of public policy] as part of a powerful and surprising response to the larger question of how we should reconcile liberty with equality. Unlike many partisans of equality, he thinks conservatives are right to hold individuals largely responsible for their own fates. But unlike many partisans of liberty, he nevertheless believes in substantial governmental intervention to bring about more equality. And, unlike both, he argues that, in the deepest sense, equality and liberty are never truly at odds. In Sovereign Virtue, Dworkin has brought together this surprising theory and some of its applications...If we care about having a rational public discourse about the many contests that seem to pit liberty against equality, we owe his book a careful reading. -- K. Anthony Appiah New York Review of Books 20010426 With Sovereign Virtue, Ronald Dworkin finally presents his political theory in a form convenient for the general reader, stripped of the specialized arguments about jurisprudence on which he has built his reputation. The issue in Sovereign Virtue is not how judges should decide cases, but what kind of equality between individuals government should secure and maintain. -- Daniel Choi Independent Review [Dworkin] explodes the platitudes that have traditionally been used to determine whether someone's views on equality were "sound" and he manages to map out a terrain on which [an] honest and respectable argument about equality can be conducted. These are major achievements, and the papers collected in Sovereign Virtue must be regarded now as classics in political philosophy. -- Jeremy Waldron London Review of Books 20010909 Dworkin's prolific scholarly and journalistic writings have defined the intellectual agenda for academic liberals in law schools as well as philosophy and political-science departments for a quarter of a century...Ronal Dworkin is a powerful and persuasive advocate of the view that law and politics do indeed at crucial junctures depend on moral philosophy's services. -- Peter Berkowitz National Review Dworkin has been a leading contributor to the egalitarian literature for 20 years. This volume collects and develops his most important work in the area and would be of immense interest for this reason alone. In addition, Dworkin labors tirelessly to connect his theoretical analysis to concrete policy prescriptions. The second half of the book provides one of the most impressive extended examples of applied political theory in the egalitarian literature...Dworkin's defense of resourcist theory is quite persuasive on its own terms, and it forces the reader to confront Dworkin's account of responsibility for preferences and the related implications for egalitarian justice. -- Alexander Kaufman Social Service Review Dworkin's procedure is bolder, his ambition to build theory stronger, and the range of application of his views much wider...But what is perhaps most philosophically striking about Dworkin is how insistently systematic his vision is. It is not merely that he builds interesting, and sometimes compelling, connections between the book's first seven chapters on theory and the last seven...It is, rather, in his almost platonic argument for a kind of unity of the virtues that the deepest aspirations of his thought can be seen. -- James Lindemann Nelson Second Opinion The first half contains a veritable flood of novel and inspired theoretical ideas; the second half applies these exciting ideas in surprisingly conventional ways. -- Will Kymlicka ISUMA He offers a powerful defense of the market, along Mesesian lines...Dworkin is not the only writer to raise these issues, but he does so in a particularly effective way: At many points, Dworkin's book proves a valuable quarry for those aiming to defend the market. The Mises Review This is an important book whose appearance might very well fuel the "Fourth Great Awakening." Arguably it is far more fundamental than the narrow "morality" that concerns Himmelfarb. Future Survey Dworkin argues that equality is the "sovereign virtue" in the sense that it is the "special and indispensable" value that political authority must promote...This work will be frequently cited because of the importance of the papers and the convenience of having them collected in one volume; it is an essential text for academic libraries. -- J. D. Moon CHOICE

Table of contents

Introduction: Does Equality Matter? I. Theory 1. Equality of Welfare 2. Equality of Resources 3. The Place of Liberty 4. Political Equality 5. Liberal Community 6. Equality and the Good Life 7. Equality and Capability II. Practice 8. Justice and the High Cost of Health 9. Justice, Insurance, and Luck 10. Free Speech, Politics, and the Dimensions of Democracy 11. Affirmative Action: Does It Work? 12. Affirmative Action: Is It Fair? 13. Playing God: Genes, Clones, and Luck 14. Sex, Death, and the Courts Sources Notes Index