Seen to be done: The roots and fruits of public equality [Book Review]

Res Publica 16 (1):83-88 (2010)
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What is the ethical basis for democracy? What reasons do we have to go along with democratic decisions even when we disagree with them? When can we justly ignore democratic decisions? These three questions are intimately connected: understanding what is ultimately important about democracy helps us to understand the authority of democratic decisions over our personal views, and the limits of such authority. Thomas Christiano’s ambitious new book, The Constitution of Equality, aims to provide such an understanding through a discussion of all three questions. Briefly put, in Christiano’s view, public equality is the moral foundation of both democracy and liberal rights, and it serves to explain the authority of democracy as well as its limits. The book aims first of all to ground the principle of public equality in a number of principles related to the nature of personhood, dignity, well-being and formal considerations of justice, on the one hand, and in the need for publicity for social justice, on the other (Chaps. 1 and 2). The book then aims to show how both democracy and basic liberal rights are grounded in the principle of public equality, which tells us that in the establishment of law and policy we must treat persons as equals in ways that they can see are treating them as equals (Chaps. 3 and 4). The account clarifies the nature and roles of adversarial politics and public deliberation in political life (Chap. 5). Finally, the book argues that democratic decisions have authority over personal views and that violations of democratic and liberal rights are beyond the legitimate authority of democracy, and that the creation of persistent minorities in a democratic society, and the failure to ensure a basic minimum for all persons weaken the legitimate authority of democracy (Chaps. 6 and 7). I shall begin by addressing Christiano’s view on the basis of equality, and then shall focus mainly on the central argument for public equality, democracy and its..


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Arto Laitinen
Tampere University

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