The Notion of Complex Equality and the Beauty of Alcibiades

Ethical Perspectives 6 (3):211-214 (1999)
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One of Prof. Walzer's most fascinating contributions to the field of political theory is his introduction of the concept of `complex equality'.In Spheres of Justice, he defines this concept as follows: “In formal terms, complex equality means that no citizen's standing in one sphere or with regard to one social good can be undercut by his standing in some other sphere, with regard to some other good. Thus, citizen X may be chosen over citizen Y for political office, and then the two of them will be unequal in the sphere of politics. But they will not be unequal generally so long as X's office gives him no advantage over Y in any other sphere – superior medical care, access to better schools for his children, entrepreneurial opportunities, and so on” .To achieve a situation of complex equality, Prof. Walzer proposes a system of blocked exchanges: it should be avoided that goods obtained in one sphere are exchanged to obtain goods in another sphere. For instance, the money person X has acquired in the economic sphere should not be used to `buy' power and influence in the political sphere.Prof. Walzer states that this system of complex equality will lead to a more egalitarian distribution of social goods. Maybe in each sphere distinct inequalities will persist, but given the plurality of spheres, eventually every person will acquire goods in one sphere or another. This line of reasoning reminds us to some extent of the traditional pluralist argument as it was formulated by Robert Dahl .Dahl asserts that in contemporary American society, no single group actually dominates political decision-making, since the power of even very influential groups is limited to a few policy arenas. Even underprivileged groups have enough access to proper channels to let their voice get heard in political decision-making



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