Can people in a liberal democracy ever feel completely free and equal?


Well-known member
Nov 11, 2010
Liberal democracy has made huge gains for citizens to become more free and more equal - but "completely free and equal" ultimately becomes a contradiction. If you're free to maximise your potential, you end up better off than some, worse off than others. A society manages the worst of these imbalances through redistribution (distributive justice) - which the better off resent and more than occasionally reject (tax avoidance etc.).

Knowing that there is no "completely free and equal" utopia, it then becomes a little easier to understand the conservative position - that we are dealt a certain hand which we must make the best of and not expect others to ease our burden. The best situation for a conservative is one of checks and balances to power, corrective justice (mainly around property rights) and individual resilience.

I'm more of a liberal - conservatives tend to have a "know your place" mentality - but see the value in some elements of the latter.
I agree that the completely free and equal is impossible, since we all to some extent have to compromise in order to be part of society. You can't have 10 million people running aroing in a society all doing whatever they want. Liberal democracy sets the expectation that people will be as free as is possible subject to some agreed norms with respect to human rights.

The thing about conservatives is - and always has been - that they want to "conserve" the system that has worked for them, no matter which human rights it impinged on.

Within the last century we've seen liberal principles result in more power being afforded to workers and women than conservatives at the time would have liked to see.


Well-known member
Sep 21, 2014
More from the author here -

Consider, for example, John Rawls, arguably the most influential political philosopher of the last century. Rawls, to be sure, in at least one key instance in his A Theory of Justice veers in the direction of acknowledging something like the permanent problem of plutocracy, when he briefly admits that similarly talented and motivated children, even in the most well-ordered liberal-democratic regime, will always have their life prospects affected by the socioeconomic conditions of the families into which they are born:

[T]he principle of fair opportunity [with regard to education]
can be only imperfectly carried out, at least as
long as the institution of the family exists
. The extent
to which natural capacities develop and reach fruition
is affected by all kinds of social conditions and class
attitudes. Even the willingness to make an effort, to try,
and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent
upon happy family and social circumstances.
It is impossible in practice to secure equal chances of
achievement and culture for those similarly endowed

(74/64 rev, emphasis added).

[it's on page two in the opening paragraph]
It's a very dense essay for people who aren't used to reading such material but it does outline how radical the programme is - it is the very deconstruction of society because of a felt injustice when meditating on differences of achievement.

Now if you have a cohort of people whose preparation for life has been a series of lessons in self esteem and then they are left to deal with the tricky problem of being useful and successful in the thick of it just how will they react?

Well, when they are young they can continue to economically rely on their parents well into adulthood which gives them a false sense of security but also a panicky sense of doom with the prospect of their parents' decline. There'll be a childish foundation to their adult personality and an expectation of subsidization.

Sexuality will also be a large element in their culture because it's a readily tradeable commodity while they're young and, however much it's fraught with danger and anxiety, it is one of their few assets. It's poor footing though.

Altogether this is a precarious situation for people lacking the fortitude of an upbringing marked by enculturated wisdom. So how is one to make a living - well one makes a living from how one has been brought up to make a living - from other people's efforts justified by right of "special"ness, rationalised by confusion and marked with coercive outbursts of upset.


[Reason clearly makes odd bedfellows]​

Does political society exist in order to serve the human community or should the human community be subject to attempts to bring it to ideological perfection?

That is the central question of political philosophy and where the most significant bifurcation between those active in it occurs.

Can we only be liberated when the family as a social form is unraveled? And while that sounds like a nonsense question there is a very active cohort of people who see this unraveling as their liberation from personal failure.

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