Can equality and excellence coexist in a democratic society? Can equality and excellence coexist? If we assert that person stands above the rest, can we encourage and ackwledge athletic, artistic, and intellectual achievements? Perhaps equality should merely mean equality of opportunity. But then how can society reconcile inherent differences between men and women, the strong and the weak, the able-bodied and the disabled?In The Playing Fields of Eton , Mika LaVaque-Manty addresses questions which have troubled philosophers, reformers, and thoughtful citizens for more than two centuries. Drawing examples from the 18th century debate over dueling as a gentleman's prerogative to recent controversies over athletes' use of performance enhancing drugs, LaVaque-Manty shows that societies have repeatedly redefined equality and excellence. One constant, however, remains: sports provide an arena for working out tensions between these two ideals. He concludes that, just as in sports where athletes are sorted by age, sex, and professional status, in modern democratic society excellence has meaning only in the context of comparison among individuals who are, theoretically, equals. LaVaque-Manty's argument will engage philosophers, yet his inviting prose style and use of familiar illustrations will welcome n-philosophers to join the conversation.
Mika LaVaque-Manty is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan.