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Social contract, Citizenship rights, Forms of equality, American society, Second generation principles, International human rights discourse, Individual autonomy


There are several important questions to ask both our politicians and ourselves as we seek to refine and further define an otherwise abstract commitment to substantive equality with which to replace our current formal version. As with many concepts of historic magnitude, some of the most significant questions to pose about equality have to do with how we should respond to evolutions in understanding and changes in aspiration for the term: ls a mere commitment to formal equality sufficient for a humane and modem state? How should the state respond to the fact that our society is increasingly one in which a privileged few command more resources than the struggling many, and individuals are born into and continue to experience disparities in well being that are built upon existing inequitable distributions of society's resources?

In the United States today, some live in real poverty and deprivation, while a few have more wealth than they could spend in ten lifetimes. Of course, there is also the vast majority, who view themselves as "middle class." These Americans have homes, automobiles, and even small stock portfolios. Most of them, nonetheless, live in a state of insecurity. Given the way things are organized in our system of privatized and individualized responsibility, they are only a few paychecks, a catastrophic illness, or a divorce away from economic disintegration and despair.

The insecurity and unfairness generated in the current political and economic organization of this society suggest that we should fashion a sense of equality that is more concerned with ultimate outcomes. In such a society, a more substantive notion of equality would warrant that the rewards that it and its resources produce are more equitably distributed among its members. This would be a society with some basic guarantees of social goods-a society that would not tolerate any person left behind-left without adequate resources to allow them and their children to succeed to the fullest extent possible.

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Emory Law Journal