These days, the word “privilege” has been reduced to a trite buzzword. That’s a shame, because it used to mean more than just being born into advantageous circumstances. The word, which means “private law” in old French, originally referred to a system in which different groups of people had different rights under the law.
If there’s one political idea most people agree on these days, it’s the rule of law. We argue endlessly about income inequality, wealth inequality, or inequality of opportunity, but we take it as given that equality under the law is a prerequisite for a just society. And the consequences of private law are dire. The original system of French privilege was one of the main causes of that country’s bloody, chaotic revolution.
Now here’s the problem: The U.S. is looking more and more like it has a real privilege system. We are enforcing laws differently based on race, but also based on class. This is un-American, and it has got to stop.