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Sidebar: Pioneers of Egalitarianism

Sidebar: Pioneers of Egalitarianism

2 Mins
September 8, 2010

Sidebar to The Fourth Revolution

Richard Henry Tawney (1880–1962) was a British historian who spent most of his career at the London School of Economics. He wrote widely on economic history, sociology, and current affairs. A Christian socialist, he was a critic of “the acquisitive society”—the title of one of his more popular books.

“If society is to be healthy,” he wrote, “men must regard themselves, not primarily as the owners of rights, but as trustees for the discharge of functions and the instruments of a social purpose.” He was one of the most prominent and influential of the socialist thinkers and activists who moved Britain to adopt the welfare state.John Rawls (1921–2002) was a Harvard political philosopher whose book A Theory of Justice (1971) has had an enormous impact in academic philosophy, political theory, law, and related fields. Rawls devised a complex argument for the welfare state, based on a thought experiment. Imagine that all of us convened to choose the political institutions for our society. But now imagine that each of us were somehow kept from knowing who we actually are—what parents we were born to, what talents or defects we were born with, what things we valued and worked for in life, what opportunities we had. Behind this “veil of ignorance,” Rawls argued, people would have no way to “vote” for institutions that favored their particular interests; they could rely only on a general sense of what is fair in general, fair to everyone.

Under these circumstances, Rawls believed that people would choose a society in which there is a high degree of freedom and equal opportunity, but in which differences in wealth and income are allowed only insofar as the inequalities result in benefits to “the least advantaged.” In defending this stricture, which he called “the difference principle,” Rawls claimed that successful people do not really earn the wealth they produce because they did not produce the native abilities and character traits that enabled them to succeed. As a determinist, he claimed that such people were just lucky in nature’s distribution of talents and traits:

    We see then that the difference principle represents, in effect, an agreement to regard the distribution of natural talents as a common asset and to share in the benefits of this distribution whatever it turns out to be. Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out. (

A Theory of Justice,

    page 101



For an excellent analysis of Rawls’s theory, see the 2001 article " Blind Injustice ," by Eric Mack, in Navigator magazine; and Ayn Rand ’s essay “An Untitled Letter,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It.

The above sidebar appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of
The New Individualist.

David Kelley


David Kelley

David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.

David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Kelley is a professional philosopher, teacher, and writer. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, he joined the philosophy department of Vassar College, where he taught a wide variety of courses at all levels. He has also taught philosophy at Brandeis University and lectured frequently on other campuses.

Kelley's philosophical writings include original works in ethics, epistemology, and politics, many of them developing Objectivist ideas in new depth and new directions. He is the author of The Evidence of the Senses, a treatise in epistemology; Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, on issues in the Objectivist movement; Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; and The Art of Reasoning, a widely used textbook for introductory logic, now in its 5th edition.

Kelley has lectured and published on a wide range of political and cultural topics. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle, and elsewhere. During the 1980s, he wrote frequently for Barrons Financial and Business Magazine on such issues as egalitarianism, immigration, minimum wage laws, and Social Security.

His book A Life of One’s Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State is a critique of the moral premises of the welfare state and defense of private alternatives that preserve individual autonomy, responsibility, and dignity. His appearance on John Stossel’s ABC/TV special "Greed" in 1998 stirred a national debate on the ethics of capitalism.

An internationally-recognized expert on Objectivism, he has lectured widely on Ayn Rand, her ideas, and her works. He was a consultant to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and editor of Atlas Shrugged: The Novel, the Films, the Philosophy.


Major Work (selected):

Concepts and Natures: A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl),” Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021); This review of a recent book includes a deep dive into the ontology and epistemology of concepts.

The Foundations of Knowledge. Six lectures on the Objectivist epistemology.

The Primacy of Existence” and “The Epistemology of Perception,” The Jefferson School, San Diego, July 1985

Universals and Induction,” two lectures at GKRH conferences, Dallas and Ann Arbor, March 1989

Skepticism,” York University, Toronto, 1987

The Nature of Free Will,” two lectures at The Portland Institute, October 1986

The Party of Modernity,” Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003;and Navigator, Nov 2003; A widely cited article on the cultural divisions among pre-modern, modern (Enlightenment) and postmodern views.

"I Don't Have To" (IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) and “I Can and I Will” (The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011); Companion pieces on making real the control we have over our lives as individuals.

Welfare State
Ideas and Ideologies
Political Philosophy