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The Inherent Incompatibility of Equality and Freedom

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008

FREEDOM AND GOVERNMENT

All government-civil or otherwise-is a limitation on freedom; and while an absolutely free society may be merely utopian, absolute freedom under government is a misnomer-government means a limitation on absolute freedom. In the restraint and punishment of evil, and in the protection of virtuous citizens, civil government must establish certain clearly marked-out boundaries: If you are not going to crash into and kill people riding in automobiles, then you must obey certain traffic laws; you’re not free to drive as fast as you can wherever you want to. You’re not free to walk into any building you want, even if your intention is perfectly legitimate. You are not free to help yourself to someone else’s food even though you may be very hungry, as you may in fact be perfectly justified in doing if you lived in society in which all men are virtuous.

America has enjoyed a reputation as a freedom-loving country. It has been known almost equally as a stronghold of human equality: in Jefferson’s immortal words, all men are created equal. In the latter half of this century in particular, however, these two ideas have explosively collided. The meaning and manifestation of both freedom and equality have expanded greatly beyond the intention of the founders; as a result, in the name of equality Americans are willing to sacrifice the freedom of others and in the name of freedom, many are denied equality.

EQUALITY AND FREEDOM

As used by theologians, philosophers, and politicians to describe human social arrangements, the term equality can have two very distinct meanings. It can mean equality of condition, that is, that society and government are arranged in such a way as to allow all citizens to live and operate under the same rules; or it can mean equality of results, that is, the arrangement of government and society in such a way that individual citizens receive equal benefits for their actions. The two definitions one may assign to the term issue in two quite different sets of results.

Two forms of human rights violations. About a year ago my wife and I visited the “chamber of horrors” at one of the many Niagara Falls museums. Among the ghastly instruments of murder and torture I saw there, two things stand out in my mind. On display was a huge hook employed during the medieval period for “hanging” people outside for days on end. People were actually impaled with this huge fishhook and suspended from the window of a building.

The only political leader “honored” in the “chamber of horrors” was Adolph Hitler, a wax figure of whose head was propped up behind a small glass window. Underneath it appeared a brief explanation of the atrocities he committed against the Jews.

The human rights violations of Hitler, the medieval church, and past monarchies which the giant hook represented are repugnant. On mere caprice literally millions of individuals have been murdered and tortured because of their failure to adhere to the prevailing political or religious orthodoxy.

But this type of human rights violation is certainly not the only type, and what is most striking is that in the West repugnance toward human rights violations is almost entirely reserved for the type I have just described-human rights violations from the right. In the Niagara Falls “chamber of horrors,” why were wax heads of Mao and Stalin not on display as perpetrators of human horror? Why did we not see South African “necklaces” by which rightist-or supposed rightist-dissenters are burned to death? The reason is that human rights violations on the right emanate from a strong view of tradition, order, and continuity, three presently unpopular ideas in the West, while human rights violations on the left issue from a strong belief in equality and humanism, two very popular notions of the West. For this reason, Communist atrocities somehow escape the notice of good American democrats, while the latter concurrently scourge right-wing governments for atrocities committed against their citizens. Their concern for human rights is so selective simply because they agree with the presuppositions underlying the policy producing violations of human rights on the left, without necessarily endorsing those violations.

Modern American radicals-supporters of equality-don’t want to risk appearing “reactionary” by siding with conservative critics of liberal egalitarianism and the human dignity it tends to efface. Proponents of conservatism are sometimes guilty of not speaking out strongly enough against human rights violations of right-wing governments; but what makes leftists so hypocritical is that they are so professedly in favor of the defense of human rights while simultaneously closing their eyes to violations of human rights committed by governments that share with them a basic political/ideological premise: equality.

Freedom VERSUS Equality

The Old South Man of Roanoke, John Randolph, a stalwart figure in American history, once uttered the famous line, “I love liberty; I hate equality.” That disjunctive sounds strange to the ears of good ol’ American democrats, for whom liberty or freedom is just one aspect of equality, being to them the great hallmark of the American tradition and, especially, of a truly “progressive” government. Randolph, however, was more perceptive, and he recognized the incompatibility of liberty and equality-at least the equality modern defenders of democracy support, an equality of results rather than opportunity.

Disciples of equality envision a society of bland uniformity, economic parity, and benevolent brotherhood. They are insanely passionate in their attempt to fashion that society. Holding (intentionally or unintentionally) to the Marxist dogma that the basic concerns of this life are economic, they seem convinced that economic inequality is the greatest injustice mankind can suffer-and more dangerously, they are willing to permit other injustices (human rights violations, for example) just as long as the truly “just” society of economic egalitarianism follows.

Defenders of freedom, by contrast, love that quality so fiercely that they are perfectly willing to allow the various social inequalities inherent in a free society. They view men as differing greatly among themselves in natural wealth, talent, and virtue (both actually and potentially); and they know that the greatest injustice is not economic inequality (which can never be totally eradicated anyway) but coerced social equality, which subordinates human freedom (a universal human aspiration) for a bland equality (an artificial and contrived ideology).

The modern Procrustean socialistic state is banal and colorless; it penalizes genius and rewards mediocrity; economically, it murders the goose that lays the golden egg; it dehumanizes humanity and sometimes causes it to suffer indescribable pain.

Disciples of freedom, conversely, are content to live in a society dotted with both slums and mansions, poverty and great wealth. They do not in any sense exult in economic inequalities; rather, they are not willing to erase those inequalities at the cost of personal freedom. They would rather be free in poverty than chained in opulence.

While disciples of freedom hate tyranny, disciples of democracy hate a natural aristocracy-and are perfectly willing to use tyranny, if necessary, as means to effect the leveling of society. They are constantly operating at cross-purposes to themselves. For example, while they constantly pout about not having enough money for education, when they do get the funds they want, educational standards decline; and while they advocate elaborate and expensive programs for “reforming” criminals, violent crime soars; moreover, while they claim so vociferously to defend the dignity of the individual, they increasingly rape him of his dignity and individuality by transferring to government responsibilities he as a human should himself fulfill.

Equality and populist aversion to aristocracy. The main reason the founders introduced the democratic process into the Constitution and American way of life was so it would serve as a check on tyranny. They knew first hand from “Mother England” how easy it is for unchecked royalty (or oligarchy or aristocracy, for that matter) to develop into despotism. Therefore, they established a system of government that would more widely distribute the social and political decision-making processes.

Unfortunately, however, democratic processes which were originally seen as impediments to tyranny are now seen as instruments for furthering the democratic ideal that all individuals in society are perfectly capable of selecting the most capable as their leaders and of getting what they want. The founding fathers would have regarded this transformation as abhorrent, as should we.

It is this leveling populism which penalizes diligence, wealth, intelligence, and merit that progressively rots democracies to the core. The democratic mentality does not recognize genuine, inherent differences in individuals and tells citizens that they are in fact truly equal; and when citizens discover that their conditions are not equal to their fellows, they become envious and usually want to enlist government as Big Brother to coerce equality, that is, to bring everybody down to their more mediocre level. I cannot resist pointing out the great inconsistency at the democratic mentality along these lines: democrats are forever encouraging people to “better themselves” and to “vote for the best man” while the leveling effects of the ideology they support punishes merit.

In a chapter titled “The Kind of Tyranny Democracies Have to Fear” of his classic book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville defines that tyranny as “the tyranny of the majority,” a bland uniformity that hangs a pale, inhibiting cloud over men, penalizing or neutralizing ingenuity, erudition, wealth, and diligence. It is a tyranny no less tyrannical than that by members of medieval royalty; for while the common people suffer under the tyranny of high-minded and insensitive royalty, aristocrats and scholars suffer under the tyranny of a democracy. But to the modern democratic ideal, any tyranny may be suffered except the tyranny of inequality.


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Your comments are welcome!

Please be more charitable (or less partial) in your judgment on those who defend humanism through socialism. They are not devils, they are also concerned with humanity and freedom. They might be wrong in their views, but so might you. The ideal is to look at claims and arguments in a more balanced way, not just the paradise you depict through your own view.

Posted by mario on 09/29/2008 04:31 AM #

I’m interested to see if you believe that taxes are an inhibition on ones freedom to be wealthy, and thus believe that the fire brigade, police, etc should all be private enterprises and that the Prime Minister/President should have other jobs as well. I’ve fortunately never had to call out the fire brigade so by your logic I should feel aggrieved that I am paying for it. What do you say?

Posted by C Hayes on 11/11/2008 08:47 PM #

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