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Equality v Liberty

Equality must by necessity yield to liberty. Though by right liberty applies universally and equally, it yields unequal results. Equality—true, absolute equality—is only possible in a world without liberty, for in a world where every citizen is at liberty to make decisions, that leaves every citizen free to make bad decisions, decisions that will leave them worse off than their fellows.

This is a result of human nature. People are different, and while we may be born a ‘tabula rasa’, as we mature we develop different values which subsequently affect our decisions. People make decisions based on their values, and while some decisions are objectively bad no matter what values belie the decision being made, other decisions are good or bad depending on one’s values. A new father may, for example, turn down a promotion at work to spend time with his new born child and to help his wife; while this is a bad decision if one values money over one’s family, it is a good decision if one values family over material wealth.

Thus, if one defines equality as ‘equality of outcome’, then the goal of equality is little more than a chimera. To enforce equality of outcome is to enforce uniformity. Only by forcing upon everyone a uniformity of values, desires, and a uniform definition of what it means to be ‘equal’ and simultaneously denying everyone the liberty to make their own choices, choices which may leave them better or worse off than their peers…only then will there be equality.

Even in such a world, a world without liberty, however, there is no equality. While perhaps there may be some degree of social equality among the majority of the people, a land without liberty is a land governed by a totalitarian state, and as such there cannot be political equality because by definition in such a system some people will wield greater political power than others. Those in the Government Class will hold tremendous power and will be above the law, in effect certainly, if it isn’t encased in law, while those without the Government Class will be politically powerless and easily crushed by the weight of the state, should it be arrayed against them, obscurity being their only protection.

True political equality is only possible in a state of anarchy[1]. In a land without government, all people are politically equal—equally powerless that is, as there is no political power to be held or distributed unequally. On the sliding scale of government then, with ‘anarchy’ on the liberal side and ‘totalitarianism’ on the authoritarian side, there exists more equality the further a society progresses towards anarchy and less equality as it nears the authoritarian end of the scale. It is then a supreme irony (and non-sequitur) that ‘liberals’ (in the American sense, which is distinctly ill-liberal) seek to increase political equality by growing the power of the state, which will only lead to ever greater political inequality as the disparity of political power grows ever wider.

Achieving equality then in any meaningful way is impossible. To achieve social equality would require a system predicated on structural political inequality. To achieve political equality would require the abolition of the state—anathema to most people who rank ‘equality’ as their top political value. The only equality which might feasibly be achieved is equality before the law, but unfortunately if this is possible it is exceptionally difficult.

The United States—the great experiment—has achieved many great things in its 239 years of being, but equality before the law is not one of them. Although we may have gotten close at several points in our history, until there was universal suffrage—1919—and full civil rights for all races (possible only after the abolition of slavery in 1865 and really only put into practice following the Civil Rights Acts a century later), equality before the law was not possible. Indeed, true equality before the law may not have even been possible until this year when the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal across the land[2].

However, despite our significant advances towards legal equality, equality remains a goal only, not a reality. Our misleadingly named ‘Justice’ System still perpetrates many injustices based on race, gender, and class and wealth. Specifically, men are far more likely to end up in prison than women, African-Americans are disproportionately likely to end up in prison compared to the numbers of crimes perpetrated by African-Americans vs. other races, as well as being victims of overly harsh sentencing laws, drug laws, and bad lawyers. More than anything else, the color of justice is not black or white, it’s green. Having more money means better lawyers, more lawyers, and a better ability to resist the power of the state—for better and for ill. And that’s without even touching on the inequality of our tax ‘system’.

So is achieving equality before the law possible? Possibly, but it speaks volumes that in more than 200 years, the only country on earth explicitly founded on the principle has yet to achieve it completely.

Ultimately the only equality that matters is that we are all equally free, hence why equality must yield to liberty. If we are all equally free, then while our outcomes will all differ and some will end up better off than others, the injustices which derive from state imposed inequality—the very reason why humans began striving for equality in The Enlightenment—will not exist. And if we are not forced by the State into a state of inequality, where some men are superior to others simply because the State decrees it to be so, is it really so bad if we are not ‘equal’ in all other ways?

Liberals—so called—strive for equality more than anything else (well, the honest ones at least), but the equality they strive for is an equality of misery. They seek to make us all equally enslaved to the power of the state. True liberals—which I consider myself to be—should strive for freedom, not merely to preserve what freedom we do have but to make us more free. In this quest for greater individual autonomy, there is one duty every individual owes to the collective. We all have a duty to ensure that it is not just ourselves who gain the blessings of freedom but all individuals; no one deserves to be left behind in slavery. Indeed, if anyone remains a slave to the state, is any one of us truly free?


[1] Pardon the apparent oxymoron of ‘state of anarchy’, as state here is used to mean ‘condition of being’ not a synonym for ‘government’

[2] That is a debatable point, because while the government has long been involved in granting marriage licenses, the number and variety of government granted privileges associated with a marriage license has proliferated greatly since the practice began and our modern definition of state sanctioned ‘marriage’ is arguably completely different from normal ‘marriage’ even 50 years ago. So while equality before the law may have been possible in a time before gays were allowed marriage licenses, equality before the law was only possible when marriage licenses were largely meaningless.


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