Beyond equality of opportunity: from ‘common sense’ to ‘good sense’

Soundings - ISSN 1362-6620
Volume 2021 Number 79

Beyond equality of opportunity: from ‘common sense’ to ‘good sense’
Tony Jefferson pages 78-93


This article addresses the Labour Party’s apparent inability to capitalise on the ready availability of good, progressive ideas. It suggests the key is to be found in the idea that the Labour Party no longer represents working-class people, a disjunction that can be best understood using Gramsci’s distinction between ‘common sense’ and ‘good sense’. Good sense is a more coherent development of everyday, common-sense thinking, based on its ‘healthy nucleus’. However, it must never lose contact with common sense and become abstract and disconnected from life. Using this distinction, a critique of the common-sense notion of meritocracy follows, since the educational disconnect between Labour politicians and their working-class supporters is one of its malign results. This critique builds from the evidence of working-class rejection of meritocracy - the healthy nucleus that recognises the inadequacy of its justifying principle of equality of opportunity. To this is counterposed a good-sense notion of equality - one that embraces equal access to the means for achieving a flourishing life. This notion of equality is then used to explore a number of currently circulating political ideas concerned with equality, both their relationship to common sense and their potential to meet good sense criteria. These ideas include universal basic income, the Conservatives’ proposed ‘levelling up’ agenda, and the demands of Black Lives Matter for racial justice, including the demand to ‘defund the police’. A second thread is focused on the relationship between these discourses of common or good sense and the social forces with which they can be connected.

SORRY - you are not registered as being permitted online access to the full text of this article

You have the following options:

  1. If you are viewing this via an institution or academic library you can ask that your institution takes out a Subscription to this journal.
  2. If you already have a Personal Subscription please login below

    Forgotten your username / password? Click here to locate

  3. Purchase an annual Personal Subscription
    PRINT + DIGITAL personal subscription (£40 / year)
    DIGITAL personal subscription (£30 / year)
    A Personal Subscription provides immediate access not only to the single article you are seeking, but also to all past and future articles in this journal up to the expiry of your annual (calendar year) subscription.
  4. Purchase immediate access to this single article (UK£7.00) - Buy article Coming Soon

To cite this article
Tony Jefferson (2021) Beyond equality of opportunity: from ‘common sense’ to ‘good sense’, Soundings, 2021(79), 78-93

Share this