Le fragile fondement de l'Etat providentiel

Depuis que la démocratie moderne a proclamé le principe de la citoyenneté comme fondement de la légitimité politique, il existe une tension entre la liberté et l'égalité des citoyens qui se retrouve dans toutes les sociétés démocratiques. Il ne suffit pas d'affirmer que " les hommes naissent et demeurent libres et égaux en droits " pour résoudre cette tension. Les efforts déployés pour la diminuer, alliés à l'accroissement des richesses disponibles grâce au progrès économique et technique, ont donné à cette tension fondatrice des formes renouvelées.

La tension entre l'égalité civile, juridique et politique de tous les citoyens et la réalité des inégalités économiques et sociales fut immédiatement perçue lors des débats révolutionnaires en France. L'égalité des droits accordés à tous les citoyens les conduit aujourd'hui à revendiquer l'égalité ou, en tous cas, l'égalisation des conditions économiques et sociales. Elle implique de mener des politiques publiques qui visent à rendre moins inégales les conditions concrètes de l'existence de tous les citoyens - ce qu'on fait des générations de socialistes .

Ce qui caractérise les démocraties contemporaines, c'est précisément leur ambition de conjuguer le respect des libertés et de l'égalité formelles avec des politiques publiques qui donnent à tous ces citoyens les moyens d'existence " convenables ", pour reprendre l'expression du préambule de la Constitution française de 1946. Les démocraties contemporaines fondent leur légitimité sur leur vocation à assurer à la fois les droits politiques et les droits sociaux.

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