Equality vs Freedom
“All men are created equal.” Those immortal words from our Declaration of Independence were no more true then than they are now. I first learned this in the locker room in junior high school. It’s a nice idea, an aspiration about people’s potential or every infant’s starting position under God.
The writers of that document limited their ideas of equality to white male landowners. It’s taken a couple of centuries and several constitutional amendments to extend that idea to everyone else. The end result can at best be called “equal opportunity” or “equal treatment”…
Naturally once that ideal gets filtered through fallible human institutions things break down. We all know situations where the law or government or society has inequalities. But much of that result goes back to my opening premise: people are anything but equal in their intelligence, ambition, parental rearing, and a hundred other factors that influence outcomes.
Now let’s look at the whole “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” thing, more or less defined as “freedom.” Another admirable aspiration, although certainly not originally intended for women, slaves, or landless people. But even in these more enlightened times, efforts to improve one conflicts with the other.
As an example, look at busing. To force equality on previously segregated public schools, many parents lost the freedom to choose which school their child attended. Others exercised their freedom to send their kids to blatantly unequal “white flight” private schools. Arguments still rage as to the effectiveness of forced busing.
Another example came to mind this weekend as I was selling fresh-picked grapes at our local farmers market. (Aside: far too few vendors and even fewer buyers are taking advantage of this facility.) In a socialist country, I’d have no freedom to set my prices, all grapes would cost the same, and only the government would buy them. Equal pricing, zero freedom to sell.
So does this mean our country is founded on a pair of lies? To those obdurate few who reliably jerk their knees at any perceived shortcomings, maybe. A more optimistic interpretation is that our Founding Fathers did the best they could for the times and moralities they lived in. The smartest thing they did was make their final document malleable. The amendments that followed have served to update and improve the Constitution as society and ethics change.
So when the loudest among us push for more equality or more freedom it’s important to understand the necessary balance between the two.
Equality vs Freedom