Challenging Diversity: Rethinking Equality and the Value of
Difference. By Davina Cooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2004. 246p. $75.00 cloth, $29.99 paper.
In the Encyclopedia (1751–65), the Chevalier de
Jaucourt observed that while “natural equality” is the moral
foundation of liberty, “absolute equality” in society is a
“chimera” of fanatic minds. In the social state, he explained,
distinctions and subordinations are necessary, including those attached to
“differences of condition.” Later, as the old order yielded to
democracy, Tocqueville discerned an inexorable tendency toward the
leveling of those very differences. Would it end, he wondered, in a new
Caesaristic despotism in which an atomized populace, deprived of the
protection of intermediate powers, is enslaved by an all-powerful ruler?
In modern societies considered free, the march toward equality of
conditions has stopped well short of this dead end. But how does the
modern conception of equality square with ways of living that challenge
prevailing social norms? That is the subject of this inquiry, which,
somewhat ironically, aims to restate from a leftist perspective the case
put by the Chevalier de Jaucourt for accepting some such differences.