The political egalitarian's dilemma

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (4):373 - 387 (2007)
Abstract
Political egalitarianism is at the core of most normative conceptions of democratic legitimacy. It finds its minimal expression in the “one person one vote” formula. In the literature on deliberative democracy, political equality is typically interpreted in a more demanding sense, but different interpretations of what political equality requires can be identified. In this paper I shall argue that the attempt to specify political equality in deliberative democracy is affected by a dilemma. I shall illustrate the political egalitarian’s dilemma by a hypothetical choice between two informational bases for political equality: Rawlsian primary goods and Amartya Sen’s capability approach. The political egalitarian’s dilemma reveals a clash between the requirement of ensuring equal possibilities to participate in the democratic process and the requirement of subjecting substantive judgments to deliberative evaluation. As such, the dilemma is a variant of the procedure vs. substance dilemma that is well-known in democratic theory. While it has sometimes been argued that deliberative democracy solves the tension between procedure and substance, the political egalitarian’s dilemma shows that this tension continues within deliberative democracy.
Keywords egalitarianism  legitimacy  deliberative democracy  Rawlsian primary goods  Amartya Sen’s capability approach
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