The Destructive Obsession With Equality

Posted: Sep 01, 2020 9:24 AM
The Destructive Obsession With Equality

Source: Dougal Brownlie/The St. Joseph News-Press via AP

Today in the United States there are many who not only push for “equality” but actually work to force it on all citizens but themselves. The Founders embodied equal rights, not equality, yet collectivists continue to demand equality. Economist Richard Vedder stated, “This obsession with equality is very destructive for the human race.” He goes on to say, “I have never understood the appeal of a goal like “equality.” People are inherently different. They have different talents, different interests, and different degrees of marginal productivity. This is what makes exchange possible. It’s what makes life interesting and complex. Variety is the spice of life.”[1]

Our Founders distinctly recognized this, and as a result empowered equal – inalienable – rights as granted by God. Moreover, as Dr. Vedder explains, we are all unique – each given individual gifts from God. Thus, we have equal rights to use our gifts; but certainly not equality, since by default of each individual being unique, we all will accomplish different goals and levels in life.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII addressed this notion head-on, in response to Communist activities of the late 19th century. “Neither justice nor the common good allows any individual to seize upon that which belongs to another,” declares Leo, “or, under the futile and shallow pretext of equality, to lay violent hands on other people’s possessions.” Pope Leo is rightfully and artfully tying together the evil push for material equality with the fundamental right to property. He continued by aligning his argument directly to God’s purpose, writing, “No man may with impunity outrage that human dignity which God Himself treats with great reverence.”[2] He is directing his argument to the communists, but his same argument applies to collectivists today.

President Calvin Coolidge stated that, “With [freedom] went the principle of equality, not an equality of possessions, not an equality of degree, but an equality in the attributes of humanity, an equality of kind.”[3] A few years prior, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Vice President Coolidge defined the American theory of equality when he said, “A people gather, grow strong under adversity, weaken under prosperity, and fall, first victims of weakness within and then victims of strength without. Nor need it unduly alarm us… The American theory of society is founded in part on this condition. It asserts the equality of men. That means equality of kind. All are endowed with the same kind of mind, for it is mind alone that makes man, the capacity to know the truth… To some is given one talent and to some many talents, but each is equal in the fact that he has talent. Some know one truth, others know many truths, but all know the truth.”[4] It should also be noted that Coolidge couched American theory of equality in the characteristic of virtue.

John Adams wrote specifically in this regard. Though Adams rejected equality of ends, he fully embraced man’s equality under God’s rule and as His creation. He writes that:

Nature, which has established in the universe a chain of being and universal order, descending from archangels to microscopic animalcules, has ordained that no two objects shall be perfectly alike, and no two creatures perfectly equal. Although, among men, all are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government, yet no two men are perfectly equal in person, property, understanding, activity, and virtue, or ever can be made so by any power less than that which created them.[5]

[1] Interview with Richard K. Vedder, Spring 1999, “A Passion for Economics,” (The Austrian Economics Newsletter Vol. 19, No. 1), [].

[2] Pope Leo XIII, 1891, Rerum Novarum, (The Vatican), [].

[3] Calvin Coolidge, 2001 (Originally published 1924), The Price of Freedom:  Speeches and Addresses, “The Price of Freedom” speech given on January 21, 1923 in Evanston, IL, (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Fredonia Books), p. 233.

[4] Calvin Coolidge, 2001 (Originally published 1924), The Price of Freedom:  Speeches and Addresses, “The Power of the Moral Law” speech given on October 11, 1921 in Springfield, MA, (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Fredonia Books), p. 72.

[5] John Adams, 1851, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams, 10 Volumes, (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.), Vol. 6, “Defence of the Constitutions Vol. III cont’d, Davila, Essays on the Constitution,” Discourse on Davila, XV, [].  Also referenced in Thomas G. West, “The Political Theory of the Declaration of Independence,” in Ronald J. Pestritto and Thomas G. West, ed., 2003, The American Founding and the Social Compact, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books), p. 113.