There are few concepts in the contemporary philosophical debate that gather such an agreement as the Principle of Equality. From utilitarians to Kantians, moral philosophers declare that each ones interest ought be equally considered. This principle will be referred to as the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests (Dworkin 1977: 179-83, Kymlicka 1990: 12).
Thomas Christiano has in various articles and in his brilliant book “The Rule of The Many” (Westview Press 1996) stated that democracy follows from the acceptance of the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests. If his claim is correct, he might succeed in defending democracy where others have failed.
Since ancient Greece, some of the most powerful arguments against democracy have gained strength from the notion that there are good and bad decisions to be made in politics, and what matters in not who makes these decisions, but rather which decisions are made. The sort of argument that Christiano presents is an argument that if successful, it would be irrelevant if a dictator would make the best decisions; democracy would still be something that we ought to defend and achieve. This argument calls attention to an intrinsically valuable quality in democracy, namely that democracy is the embodiment of the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests. Thus Christiano presents an intrinsic defense for democracy (Christiano 1990: 151).
According to Christiano, fairness is to equally consider each one’s interests. That is because “each one has a life to live” and no one is to be (without reasons) considered as less important than anyone else. (53-54)
But why is democracy fundamentally an egalitarian and thus fair way of making collective decisions? As indicated by Christiano, because of the following reasons: (a) everyone has the same amounts of votes. (b) Everyone has the same opportunity to make his or her voice heard and (c) each person has an equal opportunity to run for office. (55)
This indicates that there is at least some connection between the Principle of Equality and the democratic rights stated above (a-b). What we will investigate is if Christiano succeeds in his aim to show that this connection is powerful enough to provide an intrinsic defence for democracy. If Christiano succeeds in his aim, an undemocratic government could not justify its existence by appealing to the Principle of Equal Consideration, even if its society was less unequal in the distribution of the goods of life than it would have been if it were democratic.
If we are to understand The Principle of Equality as equality in well-being, Christiano agrees that the relation between democracy and The Principle of Equality is rather unclear. A dictator may be as good as any democratic legislature in distributing the resources in a manner that would guarantee equal well-being. (56)
Christiano suggests that we may interpret The Principle of Equality in another way. We may understand equality as an equal distribution of resources. Perhaps can he then show that an equal distribution of resources is only possible if the society is democratic. (56)
The aim of this thesis is to critically analyze Christiano’s argument. In a rough sketch it consists in the following claims.
- Justice requires that individuals be treated equally with regard to their interests.
- There is a special category of interests that are deeply interdependent, so that what affects one, affects all; these are interest in the collective properties of society. The air that we breathe is one example. It is inevitable that we have air of some quality, and it is something that is relevant to us all.
- These interests can generally only be served through a collectively binding procedure. These procedures might be democratic, but might also be the result of a dictator’s decisions.
- The Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests requires equality of means for participating in deciding on the collective properties of society. These means are votes, campaign finances and access to information. (59)
Therefore: According to the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests, each one ought to have equal amount of these means, and this is the principle that democracy is the embodiment of.
The discussion will mainly inquire into premises (2) and (4) and to the problems actualized by these claims. In chapter one I will explicate these premises and elaborate my critique against the second premise. I believe that this premise is acceptable, but that Christiano’s notion of collective properties is very problematic, therefore my comments seek to revise this premise in order to make his argument even stronger.
In chapter two I will challenge the following claim:
Egalitarian institutions cannot depend on the notion of equality of well-being to serve as a principle for solving political disputes. (66)
According to Christiano these institutions should rather interpret the Principle of Equality as a principle of equal distribution of resources (or means) to achieve well-being.
In chapter three I will inquire into the debate concerning what we ought to distribute equally if we accept the Principle of Equality: Ronald Dworkin suggests that we ought to refute well-being as an appropriate equalisandum. If his notion of well-being is adequate, he might provide support for Christiano’s claims with his powerful arguments.
In chapter four I will discuss another problem actualized by the fourth premise. Even if we ought to distribute resources equally in society, it seems as if Christiano’s claims that votes are a resource of special importance needs some explication. Christiano’s suggests that what may seem as an illusory conflict of interests when citizens advance their conceptions of justice are in fact conflicting interests of special importance. This implies, according to Christiano, that the only way to treat these interests equally is to give them equal shares in political authority. (72-3) I will finally challenge this suggestion.
I believe that according to the theory about the good that Christiano implicitly recognizes, an objectivist approach to what we mean by interests, his Egalitarian Argument will not follow.
If my assumption that Christiano accepts the objective-list theory is false, I will maintain that the objectivist approach is the correct one and that it falsifies his argument. Perhaps this entails that we ought to move on to consider an alternative to the democratic ideal.