The Public Interest

Welfare and the New Dignity

Clifford Orwin

Spring 1983

ONE hallmark of recent liberal thinking about social welfare has been an insistence on the equal “dignity” or “worth” of every member of society. If this view does not sound wholly new, that is because it is not. Liberalism has always taught that all men are created equal, and has always affirmed the dignity of the ordinary man. But it both has and has not asserted the equal dignity of all men, ordinary or otherwise.  By this I do not mean that the liberal tradition has hedged, but rather that it has made distinctions. It has held, in effect, that as there is a basic sense in which all of us are of equal worth, so there is another in which we are not, and that respect for this distinction is the mark of a liberal polity.

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