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Cover Issues in Political Theory

6. Equality and social justice  

Jonathan Wolff

This chapter addresses equality and social justice. In the 1980s and 1990s, the goal of social justice was challenged both on political and philosophical grounds and was largely supplanted by an emphasis on economic growth and individual responsibility. Although still given little emphasis in the United States, considerations of social justice came back onto the political agenda in the United Kingdom following the election of the new Labour government in 1997. To rehabilitate social justice, it was necessary to decouple it from traditional socialist ideas of common ownership of the means of production. Key debates on social justice concern theories of equality, priority, and sufficiency, and how inequality should be defined and measured. Of particular concern has been the place of personal responsibility for disadvantages causing inequalities. The chapter then considers equality of opportunity and social relations.