Democracy and Equality

Law, Culture and the Humanities, Vol. 1, p. 142, 2005

23 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2005


If democracy is defined as the form of government dedicated to the realization of the values of self-determination, democracy bears a complex relationship to equality. Democracy requires equality of democratic agency. The forms of this equality are contextual. They depend upon how forms of democratic participation contribute to the realization of the values of self-determination. Equality of voting is defined in terms of equality of influence; equality of speech is defined in terms of equal liberty to communicate in ways that citizens deem adequate to their expressive needs. These forms of equality are different than the forms of equality that flow from the values of distributive justice or fairness.

Democracy bears a paradoxical and dynamic relationship to distributive justice. Democracy does not require the realization of the forms of equality demanded by distributive justice. Insofar as these forms of equality are defined by reference to philosophic reason, rather than by reference to democratic self-determination, there is an intrinsic tension between democracy and distributive justice. This tension is reflected in the common conflict between rights and legislative competence. But insofar as violations of the equality required by distributive justice impair democratic legitimacy, democracy requires that these violations be rectified. Changing conceptions of distributive justice may thus fundamentally alter the preconditions of democratic legitimacy.

Keywords: Democracy, equality, self-government

Suggested Citation

Post, Robert, Democracy and Equality. Law, Culture and the Humanities, Vol. 1, p. 142, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Robert Post (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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