What Is Political Equality?

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According to Jarrett B. Wollstein in The Freeman, political equality refers to the equality of each citizen’s individual rights and liberty. In a politically equal society, citizens who are unequal socially or financially still possess identical voting rights and have the right to expect equitable treatment under the law.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses philosopher John Rawls’ definition of political equality as being embodied by a society in which each citizen is an equal participant in choosing that society’s governing. The most direct means for providing political equality is through the universal right to vote, no matter the voter’s personal background, wealth or social status.

Rawls sees political equality as one part of a larger theory of justice. His theory includes several elements. First is an assumption that people begin as equals under the law, regardless of their personal talents or the circumstances in which they were born. Next is the assumption that all humans are equally valuable and have a sense of what is good and just. Third is the notion of equality of opportunity. Finally, there is the recognition that no one inherently deserves the talents or socioeconomic position they were born into but that these things are simply circumstantial chance. Often, this specific sort of equality is wrongly conflated with other types of equality, such as equality of outcome or equality of resources.