PHISO Working Paper Series: “Freedom without equality? Reinventing a floating balance of both” by Andreas Herberg-Rothe

This draft for further research attempts to navigate the longstanding tension between freedom, equality, and inequality in normative political theory. There is an undeniable gap between the ideals of numerical (absolute) equality—embodied in constitutions —and the realities of obscene social inequalities throughout the world. The conceptualization of freedom and equality as binary opposites (in “real socialism” as well as in current Neo-Liberalism) exacerbates and perpetuates the divide between the aspirations of “modern” numerical equality on the one hand and social justice on the other. At first sight the modern understanding of numerical equality as an absolute seems to supersede the antique construction of relational, proportional equality. This is true to some extend but also the main problem. The gross inequalities and injustices that result from globalization, Neo-Liberal policies, and the reduction of equality to arithmetic, numerical understanding are both causes and consequences of this conceptual understanding of freedom and equality as binary opposites. Our conclusion is to outline a new concept of justice by balancing freedom and equality.

The concept of a floating (Clausewitz) and developing (Hegel) balance, which we view as a possible solution, is exemplified by the economic cycles in the footsteps of Kondratieff, hegemonic cycles, or a sinus curve with a slowly enhancing x-axis. Another illuminating example is the inseparability of the poles of a magnet, which Hegel was emphasizing. Although John Rawls already tried to conceptualize justice as a relation of equal rights of freedom and (moderate) social inequality, his approach heavily suffers from the liberal and modern reduction of equality to a mere numerical concept (in his veil of ignorance). The inevitable consequence of this understanding is his explicit primacy of freedom above equality. In the face of the social inequalities worldwide, we propose to revive the discourse about relational equality as a human right in opposition to mere numerical equality and in contrast to the primacy of freedom in the Western discourse. In our view, there is no primacy of freedom above numerical equality, but also not to the reverse (real socialism in the USSR). Instead, we conceptualize justice as an inseparable pair of scales of freedom and equality.

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