Does recognising difference contribute to our pursuit of equality or hamper it? We have seen that egalitarians are amuddle on this question, and understandably so. It is now almost a truism to say that the pursuit of equality may require treating different individuals differently. As Dworkin puts it, ‘sometimes treating people equally is the only way to treat them as equals; but sometimes not.’1 When considering how to distribute resources to people in different circumstances, with different needs or capacities, the principled egalitarian will call for an unequal distribution of resources. After all, giving a strapping lad the same-size meal as his bird-like great-aunt treats them both the same, but it will result in unequal levels of wellbeing. It is for the sake of equality that we treat them differently in the matter of the size of their respective suppers. Marx was the first to put the case for treating people differently on egalitarian grounds. Indeed, he was critical of concepts of justice that relied on the idea of treating everyone the same. That will only aggravate their inequality, Marx argued, so that ‘one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal.’ The famous principle of communism, ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,’ is premissed on the idea that equality involves the recognition of difference, in our capacity to contribute, and in our requirements for distributive shares.2 Yet Marx justified differentiated treatment with an ideal of commonality. Under communism, much that divides us is abolished, be it hierarchical arrangements of production, access to leisure and culture, or double standards in sex and love. Thus whilst Marx insisted on the importance of taking individual differences into account to further equality, this was justified with a view of difference as arbitrary and inessential in matters of justice. The muddle emerges, however, once we invoke the idea of difference. As we saw in the previous chapter, this idea came to prominence in the 1990s to accommodate human diversity in public institutions and in the distribution of rewards and opportunities. Such invocations of difference were a response to inequality. However, they sometimes suggested policies that were not just short-term strategies for egalitarian ends, but constituted a wholesale revision of equality that forsakes the idea of universality, even as a goal. Difference

heralds a world divided into different ‘identities’: e.g. blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians; female, male, transgendered; gay, straight, queer, bisexual; and, as they say in Quebec, francophones, anglophones and ‘allophones.’3 Such an emphasis on difference is potentially inegalitarian. Once we see difference as non-arbitrary and essential, we do not just undermine our sense of commonality; we can enthrone inequality itself, the very thing that prompted us to attend to difference in the first place. After all, a canonical version of respect for difference is found in Aristotle, who held that what is just is equal, but that not everyone was to be counted as an equal; the propertyless, women and slaves, for example, were not the equals of the propertied male citizen: ‘if they are not equal, they will not have what is equal . . . this is the origin of quarrels and complaints – when either equals have and are awarded unequal shares, or unequals equal shares.’4