April 29, 2010

Equality in the American Revolution and the French Revolution

In “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature” Rothbard points out the fallacy of equality in ways that shock the reader. In the political sphere equality is viewed as a dream, a goal we could reach if only we were all willing to get along. Rothbard points out that the conservative argument against equality will lead to the destruction of the conservative movement by saying, “what the Conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat” (1). Conservatives are wrong to concede to the proposition that equality is an ideal. By granting that equality is an ideal, conservatives ensure a gradual movement towards equality. Step by step America will move closer to the ideal, because step by step parts of the population can be made equal.

The president of the National Organization of Women, Patricia Ireland, is currently arguing for an amendment to the United States Constitution. The purpose of the amendment is to proclaim that men and women are equal. This is only one example of the current craze for equality in America. But will the triumph of equality bring happiness to Americans?

Rothbard contradicts modern thought when he presents the idea that equality is more of a nightmare than a dream. Rothbard quotes Kurt Vonnegut, “They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General” (7). For example, a person with a higher than average intelligence would need to be handicapped in order to prevent him or her from tampering with the equality of the society. Few high school students enjoy wearing uniforms, so imagine if everyone in the United States was forced to comply with uniformity regulations. Not only would we all wear the same clothes, we would all have the same height and facial structure. A line cannot be drawn between what is the right amount of equality and what is too much equality.

Examples of the terrors of equality do not only exist in literature. What seems to me to be a prime place to look is the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

At the Constitutional Convention Alexander Hamilton said, “inequality will exist as long as liberty exists. It unavoidably results from that very liberty itself.” The men and women who fought to create America did not desire equality, they wanted freedom. A desire for equality cannot be found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Proponents of equality are forced to use the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence to justify their views. However this phrase was based on the writings of George Mason who proposed that “all men are born equally free and independent.” The idea that men are equal in the sight of God and under the law is related to the idea that all men “are born equally free.” The Founders of America believed in equal protection under the law but not in equality.

On the other hand the cry of the French Revolution was “liberty, equality, fraternity.” In the quest for equality the French abandoned regime after regime, sending the losers to the guillotine. The problem with the French Revolution according to Lord Acton was “its theory of equality...with this theory of equality, liberty was quenched in blood.” The French tried to achieve the perfect amount of equality, but they could not. The optimal amount of equality cannot be measured or attained. Like in the French Revolution, someone always wants more equality and someone always wants less. Not everyone can be satisfied.

The French thought that if they made everyone equal, then everyone would be a king. If everyone is a king then everyone is also a pauper. Equality cannot be achieved without limiting the freedom of individuals. Equality and freedom cannot coexist. Amendments to the Constitution are not needed to promote equality and conservatives should not be afraid to stand up and say that in reality equality is not an ideal.

Pittman, R. Carter. “Equality Versus Liberty: The Eternal Debate.”
Rothbard, Murray. “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature.”

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