Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Varieties of Equality - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3
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The Varieties of Equality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1981, vol. 4, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Varieties of Equality
“Four Kinds of Equality.” The Politics of Procrustes. Prometheus Books: Buffalo, New York, 1981, pp. 20–64.
Equality, although a most influential political term, is confusing and suggests different meanings to different people. The prominence of equality as a powerful motivation is evident through many examples. Thus, in his Political Violence Ted Honderich regards it as distressing that some people die earlier than others. Sociologists such as James Coleman assume without argument that the detection of inequality in a social program is automatic grounds for doing something about it.
We can distinguish four different meanings of equality; the first meaning describes a fact, whereas the others advocate an ideal. In its first meaning, equality suggests that no important biological differences exist among people and races. Advocates of this view have demanded the suppression of psychologists such as H.J Eysenck who ques their equalitarian contention. We err, however, believing that claims to rights depend upon the truth of a premise about the extent to which people are factually equal in ability. Moral rights are the rights people ought to have and do not depend upon their physical characteristics. It is true, however, that when someone claims to possess a moral right, he must also recognize the similar rights of all other persons, unless he can show a relevant difference between other persons and himself. Also, even if claims about different races being biologically unequal turn out to be true, individuals of any race might be equally intelligent. Ethically, people should be treated as individuals rather than as a member of a race or caste.
The second meaning of equality involves equality of concern or respect. This meaning is virtually a restatement of the second version of Kant's categorical imperative: Act to treat everyone not solely as a means but at the same time as an end. This ideal does not lead to the imposition of socialism. On the contrary, respect for everyone's autonomy requires that people ought to be able to pursue their own goals without coercive interference. It is a mistake to claim that everything people may want is a right which must be provided for them by the state; thus, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights errs in claiming that everyone deserves a paid vacation as a right. By contrast, a conception of rights in accord with equality of respect is the Lockean approach that allows individuals to own property not at the disposal of the state.
The third meaning of equality is a narrower but still legitimate concept of opportunity. In this view, jobs and educational chances should depend on ability and be open to all through competition. In order not to conflict with equality of respect, this type of equality concerns only governmental institutions. Civil service positions, for example, should be made available to those scoring highest on impartial tests. Although in the given circumstances this meaning of equality is morally permissible, it does presuppose an inequality of results. Why compete for posts at all if, no matter what the results, one will still come out the same as one's rivals? Further, equality of opportunity applies at a specific time. If as in England, childdren are tested at age eleven to determine what kind of school they will go to, the fact that they all have a chance to go to a top-level school does not mean that they were equal in opportunity before the test. Some persons obviously had better chances than others because of family backgrounds. This does not negate equality of opportunity.
The final meaning of equality refers to equality of result. To be equal in this sense, people's lives must be subjected to total control, in a way entirely at odds with equality of respect. In spite of the totalitarian implications of equality of result, it is very influential. The demand that people be made equal leads to elitism since its advocates claim that they must exercise this awesome equalizing power. Equality of results leads in practice to a self-contradiction. Everybody is to be equal except the “leaders.”