The history of unequal regimes

T. Piketty’s work has undoubtedly launched a wide-ranging reflection. This is highlighted by the three critical articles devoted to it in this issue, to which T. Piketty responds, specifying the way in which he traced the history of unequal regimes.

Thomas Piketty’s work, Capital and ideologypublished in 2019, has been the subject of heated discussions in the French press. Hailed as a major book, which continues the work begun with the publication of High incomes in France in XXe century (Seuil, 2001) and of Capital at XXIe century (Seuil, 2013), the book has essentially been judged through the political measures it proposes in order to construct a new ideology of inequalities. The historical perspectives developed therein and which allow a demonstration of unequalled magnitude have not, however, always been the subject of critical analysis. This issue intends to return to some of these perspectives, by proposing three readings of Capital and ideologysummoning three different angles.

Rafe Blaufarb returns to the interpretation of the French Revolution. As T. Piketty rightly points out, the right to property is not called into question. But it could have been otherwise, and a historical bifurcation was possible. The revolutionaries, explains R. Blaufarb, were very early aware that social inequalities were due to the transmission of property through inheritance.

In Capital and ideologyeducation plays a major role. The massification of education since the 1980s has not reduced social inequalities, because it has not been accompanied by a significant increase in public spending on education. Furthermore, meritocratic ideology tends to legitimize the widening of these inequalities. While emphasizing the major contribution of this reflection, Clémence Cardon-Quint qualifies certain aspects: for example, the increase in school spending has often come up against structural obstacles, which have prevented us from reaping all the benefits of budgetary rebalancing efforts.

India’s unequal regime is the subject, in Capital and ideologyof a deep reflection. T. Piketty thus traces the history of the subcontinent since the XVe century to the present day and this is, Jules Naudet emphasizes, a tour de force, particularly because this panorama allows us not to fall into the idea that India would be exceptional and incomparable, requiring specific categories of analysis. Jules Naudet nevertheless expresses two reservations: on the one hand, the question of property in India would have deserved greater attention; on the other hand, if T. Piketty questions the role of caste in the widening of inequalities, it would have been interesting to compare it to other forms of identity assignment, such as ethnicity, race or religion, which also produce forms of lasting inequalities elsewhere in the world.

In his response to these three articles, Thomas Piketty, praising the quality of the proposed readings, specifies that his object (the history of unequal regimes) required mobilizing a large amount of historical knowledge in order to measure, over the long term, the trajectories and bifurcations. Hence a work of comparisons that is resolutely placed in a global and transnational perspective, thereby allowing the opening of new perspectives. This work is open; it calls for welcome additions, of which the three readings proposed here are perfect illustrations.