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Reviewed by:
  • Pragmatist Egalitarianism by David Rondel
  • Minna-Kerttu Vienola
David Rondel
Pragmatist Egalitarianism
New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. xvii + 221 pp., incl. index

Topics of equality and justice have been a part of pragmatist discussions from early on. Rondel's Pragmatist Egalitarianism is an important contribution to these discussions. In the book, Rondel reflects on former pragmatists' work, continues ongoing discussions, and provides a new conceptualization of a political-philosophical field called pragmatist egalitarianism. It is a reconciliatory project with a historicist approach to pragmatism, forming a picture of a clear political-philosophical pragmatist tradition. It rejects arguments based on "ideal-theoretical" first principles and questions the value of traditional conceptual analysis. In the course of forming pragmatist egalitarianism, Rondel brings forth claims and arguments concerning both egalitarianism and pragmatism, and brings them into a meaningful dialogue from which more emerges than merely a sum of its parts.

The book consists of two parts. In the first, Rondel presents the field of egalitarianism as split in two conflicting forms that he introduces as "vertical egalitarianism" and "horizontal egalitarianism." The first conceptualizes equality in terms of distribution and power as a 'juridico-philosophical' concept. This form of egalitarianism is represented in liberalist arguments of e.g. Robert Nozick and Ronald [End Page 84] Dworkin. "Horizontal egalitarianism", in turn, consists of emancipatory themes concerning relations between persons and power as something that exists first and foremost within civil society. This field is represented by Marxist thought as well as in feminist philosophy and in critical race theory.

The main argument of the first part is that neither of these forms of egalitarianism is primary or sufficient for investigating the problem of inequality, even if Rondel seems to be more sympathetic towards relational or "horizontal" egalitarianism. Rather, questions of equality should be treated from a pluralist viewpoint. For Rondel, equality is a relation consisting of both distributive and social aspects. Equality as a concept does not have a clear and simple meaning, and therefore, there is no singular or primary route to the achievement of a genuinely egalitarian society. Rondel maintains that the debates that look for answers grounded in "abstract principles or timeless moral axioms" are "unnecessary", and claims that there will be no progress in the pursuit of values like equality as long as egalitarians remain engaged in these debates (p. 203). Rather, according to him, "egalitarianism does not have an essence, and various egalitarian movements and ideals are better understood as sharing in what Wittgenstein famously called 'family resemblance'" (p. 202).

Rondel's argument is provocative in that it implies the falsity of the grounding arguments of both "vertical" and "horizontal" egalitarianism. It pulls the rug from under the Rawlsian argument according to which legislative distribution of "primary goods" is the social base of "self-respect", it empties Ronald Dworkin's argument according to which "equality of resources" expresses the "equal moral worth of persons", and it questions Elizabeth Anderson's arguments of the grounding role of equal relations. At the same time, Rondel's argument provides a way out of these discussions while keeping both relational and distributive equality in view. His argument cannot legitimately be ignored when thinking about equality and egalitarianism. If one is to argue for the superiority, or fundamentality, of either form of egalitarianism one must first prove Rondel's argumentation wrong.

In the second part, Rondel's pluralist view of equality is elaborated by means of pragmatism. This is where Rondel presents his alternative "threesome vision of egalitarianism" in an interesting, creative, and informative way. He constructs his vision by a systematic reading of three classical pragmatists: John Dewey, William James, and Richard Rorty—each representing one of the three "interrelated and mutually reinforcing variables" of pragmatist egalitarianism. The "institutional" variable is presented by Dewey, the "personal" variable presented by James, and the "cultural" variable presented by Rorty. For Rondel, taken together these variables represent the constituents of equality [End Page 85] and thereby include the problematics of both vertical and horizontal egalitarianism. By presenting his vision through these three pragmatists, Rondel provides the reader both with a historical and discursive commentary of the pragmatists and with a contemporary discussion...