“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Declaration of Independence.
Equality. Most Americans hold an erroneous belief about equality. Indeed our founding fathers had very different ideas about equality than what is now commonly believed. Remember that the founders were most concerned with liberty. They had lived under the tyrannical rule of a far-away monarch and parliament. Their overriding concern was achieving both political and personal freedom – liberty. They wisely recognized that it was not possible for the state to provide equality without sacrificing liberty. These wise men believed that all men were created equal and that they were entitled to equal treatment before the law and by the government. They never anticipated that government would attempt to make men more equal.
For the last one hundred or so years, it has been a goal of many liberals and progressives to bring about economic equality, social equality or equality of outcomes. Their fundamental belief is that it is a terrible thing, both unfair and unjust, for some to be worse off than others through no fault of their own. For a concept that is so widely accepted by the progressive intelligentsia there is little actual agreement as to what attainment of equality actually means (e.g., see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equality/). Most progressives see equality as a concept calling for (a more) equal distribution of wealth and property. They differ only in degree and level of government coercion required for redistribution. Progressives argue that equality before the law (equal voting rights, right of assembly, speech, etc.) is insufficient.
The idea of making men equal is an outgrowth of various failed utopian, populist, socialist, communist, progressive and liberal philosophies. The only way to make men equal is to take away their wealth and redistribute it and take away their freedom and make them slaves to and wards of the state. Sometimes this is accomplished by totalitarian regimes (communism), other times by relative benign social democracies. All such schemes are doomed to failure because it is the nature of man to be free and to crave liberty over everything else. Taking the goods of one to raise up another ultimately diminishes both.
This is not to say that there are not weak-minded individuals who will gladly give up their freedom for a crust of bread and a free circus. However, people, countries and civilizations who do so alway fail. The Declaration of Independence states it best – men are created equal. It does not say that all men are equal and or that they can or should be made equal.
This does not argue that the struggle for equality (before the law) is a bad thing. Indeed it is a very good and important thing. The Emancipation Proclamation is a good example of a necessary law required to ensure equality before the law (i.e., it ended slavery). In this case, prior law denied equality before the law to a large class of citizens – never a good thing. Further, enactment of this law did not deny liberty to others in it enforcement. In fact, and this is a most important point, it provided liberty to the enslaved. Now if anyone would argue that emancipation did infringe on the liberty of the slaveowner, I would simply reply that the slaveowner has no grounds for complaint because his actions denied the liberty of another (the slave). The whole purpose of our form of government is to prohibit both government and/or another person or group from infringing on the liberties of others.
Equality Run Amok. Lets take a rather extreme example – The Equal Employment Opportunity Act. The original goals and purpose of this act were indeed laudable – to prevent employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. All thinking individuals abhor racism, bigotry, religious intolerance, gender bias and prejudice. These are deplorable things and are to be despised in all men. However, this is to beg the question about whether a law like the Equal Opportunity Act is indeed a good law. Now, as we have argued above, any law which diminishes liberty cannot be a good law. Does this law diminish liberty?
There are two interested parties affected by this law. The employer who is hiring a new worker and those seeking a job with that employer. On the surface, it appears that the liberties of neither party are affected. The employer can hire either applicant and both potential employees have the same opportunity for the job. However, is this really true?
Does the employer really have the right to hire whoever he wishes (true liberty) or does the law restrict that? If the employer is a racist, a sexist, or a bigot he obviously cannot because the law forbids it. The law has indeed taken away the employer’s liberty – his right to make his own (ignorant) employment decisions. Now we may not like the employer and we may deem him a miserable human being. But do not miserable human beings have the right to liberty too? Is there a character test one must pass to be entitled to rights? Does one have to be a nice person, a fair-minded person, a right-thinking person, a liberal, a Republican, politically correct or have any other particular mindset to be guaranteed rights? Think about it.
Obviously the answer is no. All men are entitled to equal protection and equal freedom under the law. The blessings of liberty are for both the scoundrel and the saint. Indeed, if our sexist, racist, bigoted employer hires a new employee based on his biases, he is guilty of a thought crime – of not thinking in the approved way. Equal opportunity laws and the associated affirmative action laws merely codify a thought crime – it is the thought crime that precedes the hiring decision.
A Government Moral Code. Moreover, there is something both insidious and dangerous happening here. The government is taking away the freedom (liberty) of the employer (based on his, perhaps flawed moral code) in hopes of forcing him to make hiring decisions that are in keeping with the government’s moral code (i.e.,the government code that abhors racism, bigotry, intolerance, gender bias, etc.). We tell ourselves that we are providing equal opportunity but we are not. At the end of the day, only one person is hired, the other applicant is not. We are simply using government power to take away the employer’s liberty – his freedom to make a hiring decision. The government is using its power to try to change the employer’s behavior at the expense of his liberty.
It is a terrible slippery slope to provide the government with a moral code and make laws based on that moral code. The original Equal Opportunity Act addressed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Subsequent legislation has added creed, age, disability, genetic information, family history, and military history to our list of sins. An effort is currently underway to include sexual orientation on this list.
Now this list is determined by nothing other than the government’s adopted moral code. That is, there is no legal or constitutional basis for putting anything on this list. The list grows based on the popularity and political power of a particular special interest group. This is a dangerous thing because a nation’s adoption of a particular moral code (e.g., accepting slavery, homosexuality, eugenics, fluoride) changes with the times. There is no evidence that our national character or moral code are evolving to a higher plane or approaching enlightenment. This is in fact a dangerous thing to do because some policies that seem enlightened today may be viewed as ignorance later (treatment of the American indian is a good example).
Do not misunderstand me, this polemic is not an argument for repealing the Equal Opportunity Act though it probably should be repealed because it has outlived its usefulness. It and the Commission it created are ultimately only a waste of the taxpayer’s money. Equal opportunity and affirmative action programs now serve only to create racial animosity and do nothing to solve the real problem which is a problem of the human heart and soul. The problem is that we have passively and without thinking come to believe we can achieve equality without giving up liberty. In the end, any attempt to do this will leave us with neither – equality is a chimera impossible to attain, liberty is a precious gift easily squandered.