Equality: The Unknown Ideal

I was chastised recently that I should "respect my betters".

There was a time when this sort of insult would have required a dawn meeting with pistols in the name of honor; but since shooting the random boor in the face from 20 paces isn't in fashion any longer, I was forced to rely upon my wits. As usual, I think they failed me.

My betters? That's a laugh. I run into my equals all the time, but haven't met 'my better'. Probably has something to do with a little known concept called equality.

Imagine my surprise when I'm told:
"equality is a failed concept and an attempt at the impossible. Socialists and communists both failed with it and still are trying to fit that square into a circle."
Pardon my ignorance. Here I was thinking that Jefferson had said something like "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal" I had no idea that equality was a one of those 'bad Commie' things that we wouldn't ever want to support, and I certainly wasn't aware that we had trashed the Declaration and discarded all those outmoded ideals like equality.

Here I've been thinking that rights and liberties were all founded on the idea that we are all equals. I guess I need to get those leg shackles back on, eh? Imagine the effrontery of someone thinking they had rights and freedom in this day and age? Boggles the mind doesn't it?

Or maybe I shouldn't take other peoples misguided notions too seriously. From the lecture transcript of the same name, at Mises.org:

For the answer to th[e] question ["in what sense can it be from our equal creation that we derive our right to liberty"] we must turn from Jefferson to Jefferson’s source, John Locke, who tells us exactly what "equality" in the libertarian sense is: namely, a condition

wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection. . . .[3]

In short, the equality that Locke and Jefferson speak of is equality in authority: the prohibition of any "subordination or subjection" of one person to another. Since any interference by A with B’s liberty constitutes a subordination or subjection of B to A, the right to liberty follows straightforwardly from the equality of "power and jurisdiction." As Locke explains:

[B]eing all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions. . . . And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.[4]

This is a notable pre-Kantian statement of the principle that human beings are not to be treated as mere means to the ends of others. (Observe, too, how Locke and Jefferson both invoke independence as a corollary of, or a gloss on, equality in authority.)

Well, that makes me feel better. I guess I don't need to go apologise to that guy with the whips who keeps telling me I've got to get back to work, and can instead give him the finger he so richly deserves...

One amongst equals. Live it. Love it.

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