Durable Inequality

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the first century of the Common Era, Paul of Tarsus averred that all people are equal under Jesus the Christ—at least insofar as access to heaven was concerned. Yet, Paul did not allot women an equal place in society beyond the religious sphere. Several centuries later, Thomas Jefferson insisted that all men (using the word in a gender specific, not generic manner) were created equal— but he described a measure of legal equality. Thomas Jefferson at his most radical would never accord economic or social equality to African Americans. The idea of giving equal rights to women, needless to say, was completely beyond Jefferson’s view. However, to simply state the historical fact serves to beg an essential question. Why did Paul and Jefferson speak of equality in one instance and not expand the condition to include the rest of the human community?

In the course of DURABLE INEQUALITY, Charles Tilly of Columbia University essays a response. Tilly maintains people establish, intentionally or not, systems of categorical inequality by means of two causal mechanisms: exploitation and opportunity hoarding. In other words, the rich not only live off the toil of others but they maintain a closed shop—no outsiders need apply. Moreover, in consequence of emulation and adaptation the installation of categorical inequality is generalized in its influence. Therefore, categorical inequality results from intersections of the casual and generalizing mechanisms. He further insists that much of the inequality previously attributable to differences in individual or group ability is a consequence of the same causes.

The casual reader will most certainly benefit from this exceptional work. Individuals must periodically subject even their most cherished beliefs to a contrary interpretation.