The Pathos of Politics (81) Equality


Material equality is the moral issue at the heart of ideology. The idea of civil rights is ultimately of property rights: of the person (the body as property), personal expression (the property of ideas), claim upon some material asset (private property), and the ability to dispute a property claim (the property of justice). The ideological treatment of equality is inevitably the basis for equity as a societal metric.

No one disputes that people vary widely in shrewdness and skill. Neither can one reasonably argue against that Nature belongs to no one, nor that its claim as human property is anything more than an expression of ideology, not a natural right beyond ‘might makes right’. The key question then is: what justifies inequality?

From conservatives to authoritarians of all stripes, those on the right wing view individual differences as justifying material inequality. This comes down to clutching ‘might makes right’.

Some slyly contend that inequality is the reward of hard work. They do so ignoring that inequality is invariably institutionalized to the degree that no amount of hard work can overcome the built-in, systemic inequities of a stratified society. More simply, they ignore how much harder poor people must work to survive than rich ones.

Modern liberals are schizophrenic in their regard of inequality as justified. Irrespective of ability, they view everyone as deserving legal equity and equal opportunity, but fear that social equality might penalize talent and threaten individual freedom. This oxymoronic ideology is an abstract house of cards. Material and social status determines access to opportunity and justice in any society that is stratified. Liberals disavow ‘might makes right’ while furtively fondling it.

What is repulsive is not that one man should earn more than others. It is that some classes should be excluded from the heritage of civilization which others enjoy, and that human fellowship, which is ultimate and profound, should be obscured by economic contrasts, which are trivial and superficial. ~ English economic historian Richard Tawney