This chapter looks at how issues around rights, partiality and accountability test the luck-neutralization impulse that is at the core of luck egalitarianism. The chapter reviews Williams’ arguments on equality, counterposing them to Nozick’s outright rejection of the egalitarian terms of reference. This is to show the limits of both liberal and conservative critiques of equality as well as open the door to assess whether Marxian conceptions of equality might have more merit.
Arising from disagreement with Rawls and Nagel, Parfit and Nussbaum, this chapter offers an alternative approach to conceptualize and to demonstrate the unfairness of exploitation predicated upon structural oppression. Drawing upon Williams’ and Cohen’s comments upon and contributions to moral and political philosophy, I point to ‘luck egalitarianism’ arguments as a more suitable model to identify, assess and direct interventions to overturn existing social inequalities. The underlying appeal of luck egalitarianism is to demonstrate that much of what a person seeks to claim as their own is contingent; what remains is the material dividends of social relations.
Through a discussion of how social inequality is treated in the liberal view of the world, this chapter asks whether the strongest form of liberal reasoning really deserves our allegiance. By plotting key contours of liberal social theory – which include the presumption of liberty, the freedom of consciousness and the necessity of representative government – the chapter shows liberalism as emerging from a particular philosophical anthropology and metaphysics of reason. Admirably, liberals resist reducing the person to always and nothing but this or that. But liberals have not given enough attention to how capitalism and its private property regime hinder the values that liberals cherish.
The introduction discusses how freedom comes through social and material equality, and how this status can be achieved via ‘equally promoting approaches’. It also accounts for the role of contingency in forming social inequalities in the first place, as well as for the need to account for luck in redistributive justice. Luck is intimately related to how opportunities are structured and mystified in capitalism, and how this in turn affects well-being. Given this set of concerns, the introduction attends to debates involving a mode of reasoning called luck egalitarianism, which is firmly grounded in both the classical egalitarian aspirations of non-subordination and orthodox liberal conceptions of self-determination. This ‘equally promoting approach’ focuses on the totality of the production, circulation and consumption of goods as they can be leveraged to satisfy human needs. This broader view can help analyse durable and qualitatively and quantitatively demonstrable social inequalities as well as how these inequalities are sustained institutionally and reproduced ideologically.
After initially reviewing then rejecting Gregory Mankiw’s, and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz’s, explanations for inequality, this chapter turns to Thomas Piketty’s concern with inheritance and structural exploitation via investment instruments, showing that his thesis is more radical than critics acknowledge. Still, Piketty stops short of offering a critique of the contingency of inheritance itself and the institutional structure created to sustain its political potency.
Luck greatly influences a person’s quality of life. Yet little of our politics looks at how institutions can amplify good or bad luck that widens social inequality. But societies can change their luck.
Too often debates about inequality focus on the accuracy of data or modeling while missing the greater point about ethics and exploitation. In the wake of growing disparity between the 1% and other classes, this book combines philosophical insights with social theory to offer a much-needed political economy of life chances.
Timcke advances new thought on the role luck plays in redistributive justice in 21st Century capitalism.
Due to his deep engagement with the problem of contingency, this chapter examines the scholarship of Bernard Williams. Williams advanced one of the most nuanced and subtle treatments of contingency, drawing attention to its implications for an ethical evaluation of political practices. His suspicion is that ethical commitments are not subject to a degree of reason but rather turn on inexplicable preferences. Therefore, there is little productive discussion to be had from attempting to reconcile, amalgamate or rank these preferences. That said, Williams’ pessimism in the authority of universalizing moral claims could do with a touch of ironism, as exemplified by the virtues of fortitude, wisdom, self-affirmation and labour. This is not to release either reason or experience from ethical deliberation, but rather to show that they take their orientation from humanistic impulses. The same temperament can be used to address matters of luck in political theory that deal with social inequalities that arise due to luck.
This chapter examines the thought behind the inclination or disinclination to use institutional means to collectivize risk and bad luck. Through providing an overview of the distribution of luck to dispel simplistic analyses of rising inequality, as well as make the case that power and mystification are mechanisms that appeal to the idea of individual bad luck, this chapter shows how appeals to luck enable institutions to back out of welfare commitments.
Through revisiting the thought of John Rawls, Amartya Sen, Francis Fukayama and Jennifer Welsh, among others, this chapter surveys some of the primary contours of late 20th- and early 21st-century liberalism to identify the faults in its conceptual stance. This body of thought adopts a kind of attitude to ideology that ultimately mistreats the concept, rendering it less analytically powerful than it could be. Altogether this leaves the concept depleted as far as social critique is concerned. This has dramatic, and indeed negative, consequences for the analysis of social inequality. However, the key point of the chapter is to show that even at its best, the liberal social imaginary does not have the power to leash and tame the kinds of everyday encounters that arise from capitalist social relations. The chapter concludes that liberalism needs the conceptual assistance that Marxist methods can provide if liberals are to make good on their values.
This article begins with two situated knowledges drawn from my lived experience as a feminist researcher with a ‘borderline personality disorder’ diagnosis. The first knowledge is that diagnostic and medicalised ways of framing experience (particularly the experience labelled ‘BPD’) can constitute a kind of cruel optimism, which arises ‘when the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially’ and becomes ‘an obstacle to your flourishing’ (). The second knowledge is that while the label ‘BPD’ is stigmatising, pathologising and highly gendered, it refers not only to a real experience but to valuable ways of being/becoming and knowing. Here I make the case for recasting the borderline not as a patient to be diagnosed but, as Gilles Deleuze suggests, as a diagnostician whose ‘symptoms’ are the traces of unjust and harmful frameworks that work upon us all. Building on the important work of Margaret Price, whose writing on psychosocial disabilities and epistemic injustice produced the concept of counter-diagnosis, I have developed a methodology I call autø/gnøsis. Using a new materialist approach (Deleuze, Braidotti, Barad), autø/gnøsis thinks through and with the borderline self and borderline knowledges, while also acknowledging the shifting, unsteady void at the centre of these concepts.