In the Declaration of Independence a new thing entered the world, a country founded upon the idea of equality. The Old World consisted of societies built upon hereditary class and entrenched privilege. Beginning with words that still burn within the breast of Patriots, this great document proclaims two types of equality.
Based upon the first clause, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the first type is equality before the law. We all stand before the bar of justice on the same footing. There aren’t different laws for different classes. The definition of murder is the same for the homeless person, the mechanic and the billionaire. This equality, a natural part of our creation proclaims that neither classes nor other artificial divisions will ever be recognized in law or enshrined through legislation.
Based upon the second clause, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the second type is equality of opportunity. Everyone is entitled to their life and the fruits of it. Each of us has an equal right to the liberty of action, the freedom to choose our life’s path and to make our own decisions. And each of us has the right to pursue happiness. In almost all other lists such as this from the period, many of them written into state constitutions by the same people who wrote the Declaration, this is the right to own property and the happiness here is assumed to mean the right to use our own talents and the things they gain for us for our own benefit as long as we do not injure nor hinder others.
These rights and the equality they express were later protected by the Constitution. Congress shall not confer titles of nobility. Congress shall not pass bills of attainder convicting groups or individuals without a trial. Through the use of these and other negatives the Framers sought to secure Americans the possession of the equality proclaimed by the Declaration. The Bill of Rights went even further in declaring what Congress could not do in the attempt to guarantee the continued exercise of the equality granted by our Creator. The mechanism the Framers used to keep freedom alive was limiting government for they knew governments gain power by subtracting freedom from individuals.
However, it needs to be noted that the limitations placed upon government as a means of securing the equal rights of citizens in no way states that there should be a leveling of all people or that there will not continue to be distinctions and differences among them. This was never stated and never intended for the belief in or vision of a population with standardized talents, inclinations and goals does not match reality. There are as many different sets of these as there are people. In each individual, life should be open to choice. The only boundaries being that we do no harm nor proscribe the choice of others. This is the level playing field of creation, a pure equality of opportunity to be harvested in proportion to the Creator’s gift of talents and our investment of time and effort.
As long as the role of government is limited, and as long people are free to operate within the informal social arrangements of a non-regimented, non-stratified society there’s no tension between equality of opportunity and liberty. This quest for equality of outcome has become a social goal adopted as a reason for destroying society as it is in the name of society as a small cadre of radicals thinks it should be. In the aftermath of economic or societal collapse, revolutionaries, or in the case of the American Progressives “Evolutionaries,” will seek to erect in the place of popular government a bureaucratic tyranny devoted to leveling all to the lowest common denominator. Except of course for the levelers themselves who rise by deciding who gets what, and it’s the deciders who always seem to get the most. For, some perceive that equality of all is not the same as the equality of some, or as the ruling pigs in George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm declare, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This reflects the subversion of equality of opportunity into equality of outcome or as it’s termed by Progressives equal opportunity.
To build this monument to mediocrity the philosophers of progressivism subtly change the meaning of equality. Instead of the opportunity for all to succeed it becomes the certainty of everyone getting a trophy for showing up, a diploma for attendance or a check for not working. Built upon the premise that if all are created equal all should end up equal thus denying the goal of equality the chance to go as far and as fast as talent and hard work can lead.
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. http://drrobertowens.com © 2010 Robert R. Owens [email protected]