Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality

Ronald Dworkin, Author Harvard University Press $37.5 (528p) ISBN 978-0-674-00219-7
In this ambitious investigation into the very bedrock of a democratic society, Dworkin, one of our leading legal thinkers (he teaches at NYU), explores the ""popular but mysterious political ideal"" of equality, looking into its theoretical underpinnings and then showing how a proper conception of equality informs hot-button issues such as campaign finance reform, affirmative action and antisodomy laws. Dworkin (Freedom's Law) advocates a fundamental ""equality of resources,"" arguing that government must provide a form of material equality for everyone. In probing this proposition, he rejects conservative and paternalistic notions of democracy, advocating an ""ethical individualism"" that makes it government's obligation to treat the life of each person as having great and equal importance. Many of the questions Dworkin raises are of grave concern for America as it faces a new century: What form of democracy is most appropriate to an egalitarian society? How much should a nation like ours spend on its citizens' health? What are the ethical implications of genetic engineering? While in places his abstract discussions of liberty and democracy can be slow going, Dworkin also offers refreshingly pointed commentary on the 1996 Welfare Reform Act (""a plain defeat for social justice""), America's lack of national health-care coverage (a ""national disgrace"") and other important issues. Two chapters on affirmative action, in which Dworkin argues that sketchy factual evidence about race-based admissions has distorted the debate, are especially insightful. Whatever one's political convictions, it is difficult not to be moved by this book's final, forceful imperative that human lives be successful rather than wasted. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-674-00810-6
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