chapter  26
22 Pages


Liberal democracies do not consist of identical individuals. It is a random collection of men and women ranging from convicts, millionaires, evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, to hereditary peers or refugees. Each one of these is recognised by others as belonging to a group or groups in society and this recognition determines their status. Hence the importance of the principle that all men and women, whatever group they belong to, should enjoy equal application of the law. This is easy enough to state, but far harder to implement. It is not enough to ensure that the law places no obstacles in the way of different groups of people on their way to the ballot box. This is the purely ‘formal’ notion of equality, espoused by libertarians like John Stuart Mill, who suggested that equality for women could be secured by ensuring their access to education, the franchise and employment. According to the libertarian view, after that was achieved, nothing more needed to be done; women should achieve their goals by talent alone. This model of equality imposes no obligation on society to adopt positive measures to ensure that sectors of the population whose status is irredeemably different are afforded true equality of opportunity. Nor does it impinge on the freedoms of others to live as they desire.