The View From 1776
Friday, April 23, 2004
Equality vs Liberty
Equality cannot be attained without obliterating individual liberties.
There is an irreconcilable difference between equality and liberty.
Equality is what Freiderich Hayek, Nobel-Prize-winning economist, famously called “The Road to Serfdom.” Equality must be imposed upon society, because people are born with differing talents, energies, and ambitions. Absent artificial government restrictions, some people inevitably will become wealthier than others, some people will develop literary and artistic talents, many people will prefer the active life of sports, etc.
Liberty is the principle that led the colonists to go to war with the British crown in 1776. No one had the slightest notion that equality was the objective. A recent declaration by Walter Cronkite that the Constitution guarantees equality is sheer ignorance. The colonists simply wanted to be left to govern themselves as they had been doing for the preceding 154 years. What liberty does offer us is equality of opportunity, based on talent, energy, effort, and moral character.
Above all, as Samuel Adams wrote, every citizen’s private property must be free from arbitrary confiscation or restriction by government. Quoting John Locke, Adams noted that the fundamental reason for entering into the social compact we call government was to protect one’s property rights, which are the source of all political liberties against the power of government.
In American politics, socialistic equality lurks in calls for “fairness,” and in John Kerry’s promise to “eliminate tax cuts for the rich.”
An amusing report from London newspapers shows the every-day problems of setting equality as the goal of public policy. Reportedly in the UK it will now be regarded an infringement of a woman’s civil rights to call her “honey.” However ridiculous and trivial this seems to most people, it is a logical consequence of worshipping equality as the purpose of political society.
In the utopian paradise of equality envisioned by liberal-socialists, two mutually exclusive articles of social justice operate simultaneously. All formal distinctions of rank must be eliminated, but at the same time, it becomes a civil misdemeanor to say something that offends members of protected classes: women, blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, et al. Some people are permitted to address others as equals, but those others must become mind-readers and avoid offending those who are more equal.
Older formalities of politeness and respect, such as addressing relative strangers as Mr., Mrs., or Miss, or of saying Yes, Sir or No, M’am, have been discarded. Nowadays, teenagers presume to address strangers who are their elders simply by their first names. It goes back to the requirement imposed after the French Revolution that everyone, peasant or former aristocrat, be addressed as Citizen. And to the similar practice under Communism of addressing everyone as Comrade.
Experience in Revolutionary France, the USSR, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and other socialist countries demonstrates that equality can be attained only in a prison or in an army, where everyone is regulated every hour of his life, everyone wears the same clothing, and there is no unemployment, but the jobs are assigned by intellectual planners.
In a liberal-socialist planned society, everyone is equally entitled to goods and services, but the supply of them is less than in a laissez-faire society of individual liberty. The end result of equality is that everyone is equally poor.