If we are to rebuild a leftist perspective, the first building block can be none other than equality—not as a narrow economic concept, but understood as a regenerative storm that would be an upheaval and a revival for the whole of society.
Equality should not be a punishment, or some kind of burden on those who have a lot—such as a wealth tax—in order to give to those who have less. Such redistribution is indeed necessary, but that’s not the core of the issue. If equality doesn’t become a construct pervading society, a dimension that runs through all of its structures, a custom, a way of thinking, a culture in itself, it will produce negative reactions and it will be rejected—not just by those who are worried about their wealth, but also by those who fear they might be affected by it in the future, or those who feel belittled by being told they are merely equal, or those who think that strict meritocracy should be the organizing principle of society, because—they argue—social differences arise out of how much effort one has put in and how much one has sacrificed.
These deceptive arguments are the manifestations of the prevailing mode of thought nowadays, one that is not aimed at giving us freedom, but at keeping us in a condition of submission—or, moreover, self-submission. This cultural hegemony is what has to be fought, and a culture of equality must be put in its place.
Equality does not mean massification, the reduction of diversity to uniformity. On the contrary, it is the fertile ground on which individuality can fully explore its possibilities and can exult in, and be exalted by, its differences. Equality and individuality must have a symbiotic relationship, and only in this framework can individualism be vanquished.
Equality and freedom have a common path, and must move forward side by side: you can only be truly free if you can see yourself, without shame, in the eyes of others. Equality is the foundation for mutual respect, the absence of social envy and indifference towards material wealth—these are the necessary conditions for everyone to be able to respect the other.
Equality can reward merit, on the sole condition that it should not be transformed into monetary means. Indeed, cash is not the only thing that provides a recognition of merit: social recognition and acknowledgment can be much more rewarding. People are talking about the minimum wage—and I think that’s a good thing—but shouldn’t we also be talking about a maximum wage? Both the one and the other are necessary elements in a perspective based on equality.
Equality also means equality between the present generation and future generations. This is what the major protests happening these days all over the world are telling us.
Equality does not mean generalized misery, but rather a rich life for all: it is not a flattening of all distinctions, but a reasonable structure for society.
Fighting for equality requires a richness of thought and a wide range of actions and practices. This is why subtle and sharp minds are needed for this project, ones who are able to take the longer view. It is a collective task, a general commitment—and, at the same time, the wildest dream there is. It won’t happen all of a sudden, as it can only be built step by step. It must be built starting from the issues preoccupying society today, trusting that the new generations will also join in the project of saving the world.
Inequality is a monster that is destroying every society, including our own. It is corrupting good people and giving free rein to authoritarian ambitions, while making violence at the individual level into a feature of daily life.
We can and we must slay this beast: the people, both men and women, have the intelligence to do it, have the strength of mind to fight it, and are ready and willing to join this battle, but often find themselves lost in the darkness of the dominant way of thinking, which seems to leave no way out. Among all the possible paths through which better forms of thought and action can make inroads, equality is one of the most important.
I don’t think that the reformist left can build a serious edifice if it doesn’t take equality as the lens through which the necessary transformation of society must be seen. Similarly, the scattered shards of the radical left—which might be impossible to put back together—can only make an impact if they also contribute, with unsparing efforts, to the building of a prevailing culture of equality.