The central divide in traditional political theory runs between those theories that advocate for liberty and those that advocate for equality. On the one side, theories that advocate for liberty argue that the most important human ability is autonomy: the ability to fashion life as one sees fit. In order to do that, people must be free to create themselves. Therefore liberty is the key political value. On the other side are theorists who argue that an unequal society is an unjust one. Societies that countenance inequality are unfair to their members. In addition, they deny real liberty to those who are less than equal, since without resources one cannot fashion life as one sees fit.
There is another way to cast this debate, one that will be helpful in understanding Jacques Ranciére's thought. We can think of the dividing line as one that runs, not between liberty and equality, but within equality itself. Theories of liberty can be seen as a type of theory of equality. What theorists of liberty seek is, in fact, equal liberty for every one. Theorists of liberty do not endorse unequal liberty; they allow inequalities in other things, for example income or resources, in order to preserve equal liberty. For them, since liberty is the key value, we must maximize it for everyone. Moreover, to permit one person to have more liberty at the expense of another is to violate the autonomy of that other person.