A timely review of America’s pursuit of equality and pragmatic solutions to better achieve it.
Tsai (Law/American Univ.; America’s Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community, 2014, etc.) argues that to overcome injustice and inequality, we must be open to “second-best solutions” and “workable alternatives” as a matter of constitutional duty to seek common ground. This approach, writes the author, “practical egalitarianism…entails creating a long-term backup plan to deal with recurring situations where we struggle to enforce equality’s demands. Practical egalitarians take seriously the basic idea of civic equality for all.” Yet “equality,” a loaded word with substantial variations in meaning and emphasis, can be tough to pin down. The author clearly understands this conundrum and addresses the issue with appropriate nuance and respect for diverse ideologies, and he argues that gradual and incremental developments can be just as important as massive legal battles, particularly in the advancement of fairness and free speech. Tsai examines how Americans have wrestled with equality throughout history, from slavery to the most recent ban on Muslim travelers, and the lessons we can draw from these struggles. Much of the book offers practical advice for spreading equality in the legal system, but he mostly avoids legalese, delivering his ideas in vivid prose: “Instead of flying higher and higher into theory in a quest for gorgeously rendered concepts that can solve all of our problems at once, our goal should be to immerse ourselves in the squalor of human existence.” Like a battle “waged on multiple fronts,” equality’s advocates must be prepared to “initiate fresh lines of attack.” The author’s intended audience, however, is not entirely clear. The premise inherent in the subtitle will likely find currency among general readers, but the book seems best tailored for policymakers, scholars, jurists, and activists.
A well-reasoned treatise on the history of equality in America and how best to secure it in the future.