The author traces the long history of the concept of Equality, a history that features bright hopes and painful contradictions. In the ancient world equality was limited by hierarchical differences, as shown by the paradox of Athens, cradle of the most well-known democratic experience in Europe and, at the same time, home to its strictest form of slavery. Later, medieval Christian culture conceived equality in terms of universal brotherhood, even though the latter implies the need to subject humanity to worldly life. Modern political philosophy envisages the State built upon the assumption of natural equality among individuals, but also finds that it has to address dialectic couples such as friend/enemy, citizen/foreigner, savage/civilized, owner/proletariat, master/slave, man/woman. Finally, the present: an age of uncertainty and transition, featuring the violation of spatial and temporal borders (globalizations) that poses a challenge to equality and its contradictory universality.
Riccardo Caporali teaches Moral Philosophy at the University of Bologna.