We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

The politics of masochism.

Reiff, M. R. (2003) 'The politics of masochism.', Inquiry., 46 (1). pp. 29-63.


This essay explores why people sometimes act against their economic interests, and, more particularly, why people sometimes knowingly and intentionally support economic inequality even though they are disadvantaged by it, a phenomenon I call masochistic inegalitarianism. The essay argues that such behavior is an inherent and widespread feature of human nature, and that this has important though previously overlooked practical and theoretical implications for any conception of distributive justice. On the practical side, masochistic inegalitarianism suggests that any theory of distributive justice with more than the most modest egalitarian aspirations is inherently self-defeating (or at least self-limiting) because it will naturally produce the background conditions necessary to trigger masochistic behavior among the very people it is designed to assist. On the theoretical side, masochistic inegalitarianism suggests that there are serious problems with any theory of distributive justice based on the idea of hypothetical consent. This is because people with masochistic tendencies would be unlikely to consent to the distributive arrangements these theories have presumed, and the arrangements to which they would be likely to consent would allow a far greater degree of economic inequality than we are prepared to acknowledge as intuitively just. Either we must rethink our intuitions, or, as I contend, there is something about masochistic inegalitarianism that robs hypothetical consent of its moral force.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Full text not available from this repository.
Publisher Web site:
Record Created:05 Mar 2008
Last Modified:08 Apr 2009 16:33

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitterExport: EndNote, Zotero | BibTex
Look up in GoogleScholar | Find in a UK Library