Last month, Rick Santorum announced that he likes inequality. “There is income inequality in America,” he told the Detroit Economic Club in a much-quoted speech. “There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.”
Many political observers have since ridiculed this stance, declaring Santorum “unhinged,” or at least unfit to conduct a serious presidential campaign. But the positive defense of inequality is not entirely new in American politics. From the moment that social reformers began to “discover” poverty in the 19th century, naysayers were on hand to explain why extremes of wealth and poverty made for a just society. By embracing inequality, Santorum is reviving the politics of our last Gilded Age.