“All those who are Equal are not Free; Those who are Free are not Equal” – I have seen this attributed to Milton Friedman but I strangely haven’t been able to confirm. I had been under the impression this was a Thomas Jefferson quote–it is definitely a common axiom thrown around frequently in political discourse.
It is a false dichotomy. These are the two pillars of Liberalism, and two things that people within Liberalism strive for. Milton Friedman himself applies further detail to the discussion of Equality, breaking it down into three attributes: Equality before God, Equality of Opportunity, and Equality of Outcome.
I assert that what that whole dynamic is missing is the concept of Justice.
Equality entered the public discourse along with other Liberal ideals thanks in part due to the Declaration of Independence. “All men are created Equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
This has been bastardized and abused by civil society through the entire duration of America’s life as a nation-state. The ideas themselves are not bad; where we have dragged them is.
Equality, is originally conceived as the idea that All Men are created Equal. All men are created Equal. All men are not equal. We were formed out of the same clay. That is as far as we can go. Milton Friedman accurately diagnoses the modern problem: Equality can be construed as intended, as equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome. Equality of Opportunity and Equality of Outcome cannot be guaranteed and so cannot be derived from God. To clarify: Equality of Opportunity means that if two people apply for a job, they want an equal chance to get the job. If two people bid on a house, the probability that one gets it over the other is 50/50. Equality of outcome is the idea that everyone should be able to own a McMansion if they want. I won’t go into the reasons that is invalid.
All God guarantees is that we are indeed Human, and that to be Human is a gift in and of itself, and comes with a sanctity and dignity all its own. From that point on, we are flying under our own power. [ccc reference]
The next concept is a twofer. We have inalienable rights. To Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Now, the idea of rights has come to mean ‘I want to do this and you aren’t allowed to stop me’. And this is an important piece i’ll come back to [[liberal society is free to self destruct without government intervention to preserve them]]. But let’s look first at Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is seen as unique and innovative because I believe this was the first legal document which was founded on Enlightenment ideals. The first trial run at a political system informed and founded on philosophical enlightenment.
Combining the idea of Rights with these ideals means:
- God gave me my life and Government can’t take it away
- God gave me liberty and Government can’t take it away
- God lets me pursue happiness and Government can’t stop me.
One of these is a statement of natural law (God gave us Life), and the other two are ways of framing Liberalism as Natural Law, and they are rationally incoherent. Government by definition limits Liberty, or Freedom. The pursuit of Happiness is something inherent in the nature of free will, but Government by definition must inhibit the pursuit of happiness where that pursuit is harmful to society.
In short: Equality, Rights, and Liberalism promise three things, and I am intentionally simplifying ad absurdem:
- That everyone is treated the same
- That you can do whatever you want
- That the Government can’t stop you
These cannot all three be true. Either it’s not a government, or we aren’t the same, or we can’t do what we want. We can’t have all three.
As I posited earlier, the missing piece is the idea of Justice. Justice is a Cardinal Virtue, and thus part of Natural Law handed down from God. By which I mean, all men have a sense of Justice, and it cannot be taught but it can be built upon. A Government cannot treat everyone the same, but it can treat you justly, by treating reasonably and in accordance with the circumstances appropriate to a given situation. A government cannot allow all actions, but it can justly decide that certain actions are preferable to others. A government cannot enforce it’s authority arbitrarily, but it can mete out justice in accordance with it’s laws.
And for Justice to be a concept necessary and proper for Government, all men must surely not be equal in fact. For if all men were equal, there would be no need for Justice.
If we enshrined Justice over Equality, it would also diminish this concept of Rights. Rights, as I mentioned before, is (originally conceived as) the idea that God gave us certain things and Government is out of place to infringe upon them. That concept has been warped to a beefed up ‘consent of the governed’ mentality, wherein Rights are limits on Government that prevent any action in a certain field. If we, as a society, favored the Virtue of Justice, then what would matter most is that a Governments decisions are Just.
“I have rights, you can’t do this” does not carry as much weight as “You can’t do this because it is unjust”. The former is confounded by the additional fact that no one can agree what exactly our rights are; whereas the latter can be much more objective by working within the framework of existing law. Liberalism, however, intentionally hamstrings Government and prevents it from acting in the interests of society, because Liberalism is structured as if all government was tyranny. Because Government cannot act to preserve society, society is Free then to pursue the happiness that comes with sin and vice, because they are easy. Government cannot reward virtue, because all men now must be treated equally. Liberal governments are designed to die by suicide because a Liberal government cannot act for it’s own self preservation.
Liberalism, then, is a rationally incoherent rejection of a consequence of Natural Law: That Man naturally orders himself into hierarchies. By rejecting the hierarchies of Man, Liberalism dooms itself to mutilation as it’s lawmakers seek to legislate the cognitive dissonance that is a ‘Liberal Democracy’.