An Anarcha-Feminist Concept of Equality for Realists
Realists in political theory initially focused on criticising, and articulating an alternative to, dominant moralist or ethics-first approaches. Alongside this, realists have formulated new approaches to, inter alia, genealogy and ideology critique, theorising legitimacy, and theorising values like freedom and equality. Contemporary realists continue to develop up-to-date ways of doing realist political theory in practice, often by drawing on the lessons and insights of influential historical thinkers and working to break down the supposed separation between moral and political spheres. This article is a contribution to that project.
In this article, I will draw on historical international anarcha-feminist thought to reconstruct a concept of equality as a political value, one rooted in their collective efforts to diagnose the forms of oppression they’re subjected to and their efforts to cure them. I begin by reconstructing the concept of equality they develop, which I argue is a conception of substantive or relational equality. On this view, equality is taken to be a property of the social relations, which in turn comes down to complicated questions of social power. Historical anarcha-feminists used this concept of equality to diagnose the oppressive forms of power operating in their societies and the intersecting social locations and identities they generate, going on to provide strong critiques of intertwining relations of capitalism, imperialism, militarism, patriarchy, and the state – among others. Once explained, this will reveal the intuitive connections between anarcha-feminists’ concept of equality, and their connected commitments to freedom and mutual aid, as well as how their concepts of freedom can be fruitfully extended in application today.
With this in place, I go on to distinguish this concept of equality from merely formal (legal) conceptions of equality, from equality of outcome, and from important variants of equality of opportunity. More interestingly, I show how the anarcha-feminist concept of equality differs from the liberal relational concept of equality of Elizabeth Anderson and from Robert Jubb’s development of a liberal realist concept of equality. Here I argue that both these conceptions of equality share a set of features that anarcha-feminists would object to. First, they reify contemporary state formations and the broader capitalist division between different ‘spheres’ of society in ways that hinder our ability to critically assess and potentially move beyond them. Secondly, they unduly privilege the state as an institutional site of oppression and potential equality, neglecting others which often have an even greater practical role in determining our lives and lived experiences. Thirdly, they fail to critically assess the modern capitalist state as consisting of social relations that are inherently oppressive and unequal in various ways. In so doing, they express and reinforce a perspective that supports continued oppression. I finish by drawing some general insights these arguments can provide with respect to the relationship between capitalist modernity and the autonomy of the state and corresponding conceptions of politics, and what that might mean for realists working today.