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Democratic Equality$
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James Lindley Wilson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691190914

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691190914.001.0001

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Oligarchic Threats

Oligarchic Threats

(p.241) Chapter Ten Oligarchic Threats
Democratic Equality

James Lindley Wilson

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses how the influence of wealth in political processes undermines democracy—despite formal equality in voting rights—by promoting the deliberative neglect of poorer citizens. This conflict between the disproportionate influence of the rich and the appropriate consideration of the poor and economically middling results from general conditions of deliberative scarcity. In these conditions, more speech for some—or, more precisely, more consideration for some, provoked by certain kinds of speech—really does come at the expense of consideration for others. Political equality requires a fair division of responsibility among advocates and listeners for ensuring this consideration is granted. Wealth inequality threatens such fairness. The chapter then defends a reformist response to this oligarchic threat in the form of policy solutions aimed at limiting the use of wealth for political power. The difficulty of truly severing economic and political power, however, suggests that political equality may, as a practical matter, be incompatible with great economic inequality, whatever the formal nature of democratic institutions. When one views democracy as primarily about the distribution of formal political power one ignores this practical incompatibility.

Keywords:   democracy, voting rights, poorer citizens, consideration, political equality, wealth inequality, policy solutions, political power, economic inequality, democratic institutions

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