Equality is a pernicious and dangerous political policy, but that’s exactly what Obama declared in full voice in his second inaugural speech as the cause and preoccupation of his government for the next four years.
He explicitly promised equality for women, gays, illegal immigrants, the middle class, “the growing many [who] barely make it,” the poor, and, by suggestion, blacks – or what the Associated Press’s lead story called “the wider struggle for equality for all.” He began by declaring, in a decidedly Lincolnistic fashion, that “what makes us American is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,’ and so on. That’s hardly one idea, to begin with, but in any case it is stretching the truth to argue that this “makes us American,” since the document in question was not part of the Constitution and was not by any means a central idea in the Founding Fathers’ concept of government. You’ll recognize this as the same weasily argument that Lincoln made when he said our government was founded “four score and seven years” before 1863, or in other words, 1776, when it was not only not founded but wasn’t even conceived while colonies were in the beginning of a long war just to make their governments independent.
But both presidents found it a useful myth for an activist Federal government to declare to live by, and Obama clearly wants to use it as a justification for all-out government intrusion and alteration. Of course, it is not entirely clear of what this equality should consist, other than the implication that the “shrinking few who do very well” are people who have too much and hence must be brought lower to be equal with everyone else in wealth. But what to make of this Obamian idea of equality: “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another should be equal as well”? I cannot parse that for you, but if we are committed to a government creating a world where everyone loves everybody equally I’m constrained to say that I feel this will have about as much success as Christianity has had in this task for over two millennia, and I hope we’re not planning to spend much money on it.
But whatever one means by “equality,” this surely is a most dangerous and improper goal for a government to seek – for not only can it not be achieved in human society, it would not be desirous for it to be achieved and certainly not for a government to try to work for. It is one thing to be born equal, as the Declaration said, but quite another to be made equal. A government with that as its purpose would be an Orwellian nightmare and of course still leave some “more equal” than others.
The business of making a society equal is one of those terrible ideas inherited from the French Revolution, and has no more chance of coming about than liberty and fraternity. It hardly matters that no French government, then or now, has come anywhere near providing these, nor has any spent much time in trying to achieve such impossible goals. It was, however, and continues to be for some, a useful banner under which to build and solidify a centralized “modern” state aligning powerful centralizing government with large capitalist institutions, as France went on to do in the 19th century, as Lincoln would do as well, as most 20th century American Presidents have done down to this one. (We seem to have scrapped liberty and fraternity along the way, and Obama is doing a good deal to see that they do not try to surface on his watch, but equality still works sufficiently as a supposed cause for government.)
It is possible, true, to think of “equality before the law,” at least as an ideal in our kind of “democratic ” society, though no one doubts that no such thing actually exists, as the testimony of the overwhelming disparity of blacks in our prisons amply attests. And in recent years we have tried to believe in “equality of opportunity,” with a set of laws to attempt to create it, though inadequate education for the great majority of people in this country, most especially the very blacks whom the concept it supposed to benefit, and an economy based on mental rather than manual skills, assures that no such thing could ever be.
But “equality for all”? What could that be? And would you want to live in such a place?
And would you want to live with a government that says it is dedicated, and clearly thinks it has a good deal of weaponry to hand, to trying to achieve it?
January 24, 2013
Kirkpatrick Sale [send him mail] is the author of a dozen books, including Human Scale and Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution, and is the Director of the Middlebury Institute for the study of separation, secession, and self-determination. His most recent book is Emancipation Hell: The Tragedy Wrought by the Emancipation Proclamation 150 Years Ago.
Copyright © 2013 Kirkpatrick Sale