A. s *» • ••’ itn101 CHRONICLESnVIEWSnEQUAL OPPORTUNITY AND THE LIMITSnOF LIBERALISM by James S. FishkinnThe last two decades have seen a remarkable revival innacademic polihcal philosophy, particularly in thenEnglish-speaking world. A subject which was widely pronouncedndead in the 1950’s has recently produced thousandsnof articles and numerous books of real importance.nOne indicator of the scale of this revival is the length of anrecently published annotated bibliography about just one ofnthose books (John Rawls’s A Theory of ]ustice). It runs tonnearly 700 pages, and all the books and articles listednconcern a book that was only published in 1971.n/. J’n* it’nThis resurgence has been fueled by a single-minded questnfor an adequate theory of the just society—a picture of thenideal liberal society which would place all the untidynfragments of the liberal tradition in their appropriate prioritynrelations. Such a theory would give us a clear picture ofnhow we ought to value liberty compared to equal opportunity,ncompared to individual property rights and othern]ames S. Fishkin is the author of Justice, EqualnOpportunity and the Family; Beyond SubjectivenMorality, Tyranny and Legitimacy; and other works ofnpolitical philosophy. He is professor of government andnphilosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.nnnfamiliar principles. Rather than merely weighing conflictingnprinciples against each other, such an ideal solutionnwould give us a single coherent vision of the just societyn—one which we should attempt to achieve, or at leastnapproach, in our actual public policies over the long term.nI believe that this quest for a single, adequate solution tonthe theory of justice asks too much. Any reasonablenconstruction of the values central to liberalism will not givenus a single Utopian vision in clear focus. Rather, it will givenus patterns of stark conflict requiring hard choices amongnfundamental values. It will give us ideals without annideal—conflicting partial visions, each of which would takenpublic policy in an entirely different direction if givennfurther emphasis.nI would like to develop this point by pursuing in detail ankey part of the theory of justice—the problem of equalnopportunity. In this country we have long been morenconcerned with giving people a fair chance to be unequalnthan with making them equal, as a matter of final result. Ifnthere is a specifically American contribution to the developmentnof Western liberalism, it derives from our preoccupationnwith equal opportunity.nHowever, systematic solutions to the problem of equalnopportunity lead to clearly illiberal conclusions. We havenbeen blinded to the difficulties in a rigorous theory of thenjust society by our neglect of one crucial factor—the familynand the issues of liberty surrounding it. Once we take fullnaccount of the family, our common assumptions aboutnequal opportunity do not add up to a coherent scenario fornthe just society. Rather, they yield only a pattern ofncontradictory results, a pattern I call a trilemma—roughly,na dilemma with three corners.nThis pattern is only disturbing if we expect too much.nDespite our lack of a rigorous theory of equal opportunity,nwe have ample grounds for important substantive conclusionsnwith immediate policy implications. The lack of anrigorous ideal solution does not disarm us from evaluatingnreal problems in the real world.nThe trilemma of equal opportunity is a forced choicenamong three principles. The first principle, merit, requiresnprocedural fairness in the evaluation of qualifications fornpositions and, then, selection of the most qualified. Whethernfrom Civil Service exams, SAT tests, or the NFL draft,nthe basic idea of meritocratic assignment is widely familiarnin this society.nHowever, meritocratic assignment, by itself, is notnenough for a viable theory of equal opportunity. Theren