Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI: Equality - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
VI: Equality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The ambiguous slogan of Égalité has become the hallmark uniting numerous modern social trends. Oftentimes the conflicting claims of equality are advocated by rivals (e.g., the Bakke case). Sometimes we witness a striving to make persons equal in contradictory ways.
Can individual freedom, human diversity, and personal rights be reconciled with an equality in incomes, status, education, that is achieved by coercive means? How is equality of condition or result related to equal liberty and equality before the law?
Problems with Inequality
“The Presumption of Equality.” Australiasian Journal of Philosophy (Australia), 53 (1975): 46–53.
If you treat people unequally, you must justify your actions. If you treat them equally, no explanations are necessary. This is the presumption (take something as established until you have contrary evidence) of equality. It differs from the Aristotelian formula of justice (treat equals equally, treat unequals unequally). And it contrasts with the egalitarian belief (based on Aristotle and “empirical belief”) that it is relatively uncommon to find unequal persons who deserve unequal treatment.
There is no a priori principle which says we should presume people are equal. Thus, we should not presume at all. There is no a priori reason for treating A and B differently—or the same.
Since the egalitarian believes his empirical evidence shows that only in exceptional cases are people unequal, we can see why his theory of justice requires equal treatment. This is not an a priori presumption but a conclusion based on faulty inductive generalization.
The Victorian jurist, James Fitzjames Stephen, in his Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, disallowed the claim that the “presumption principle” is a normative principle deduced from a priori premises. Following Stephen, it is stated that decisions will depend on inductive knowledge of a particular situation.
Stephen writes: “The notion that apart from experience, there is a presumption in favour of equality appears to me unfounded. A presumption is simply an avowedly imperfect generalization, and this must, of course, be founded on experience.... In precisely the same way, the presumption (if any) to be made in favour of equality must be based on experience....”
Only a man blinded by the imaginary glare of Egalite could suppose that there were relatively few grounds justifying discrimination. At the very least, the occasions on which justice demands unequal treatment are just as common as those on which it demands equal treatment.
Equality, Power, and Values
“The New Left and the Libertarian Right: Notes for a Reappraisal of the Convergence Thesis.” Nebraska Journal of Economics and Business 15 (1976): 21–36.
The Chicago-Virginia school's version of free market libertarianism (e.g., Milton Friedman, Gordon Tullock, and James Buchanan) criticizes the Establishment in a fashion resembling the collectivist New Left radicals. This has prompted various theorists to seek common ground between each movement. These “convergence theorists” believe that the two camps display an underlying unity in their discontents, and to a degree even in their policy objectives.
We need to examine this “unity” alleged by convergence theorists such as Mancur Olson and Christopher Clague. [See “Dissent in Economics: The Convergence of Extremes,” Social Research 38 (Winter, 1971): 751–776.] Our conclusion from assessing such significant issues as equality, power, decentralization, the market, and the origin of values, is that libertarians and New Leftists advocate fundamentally diverse ideologies.
A study of equality discloses how libertarians and Left egalitarians cherish radically divergent values. For the New Left, “equality” connotes government-sponsored egalitarianism. Ideally, state coercion (graduated taxation) is employed to institute various welfare schemes. In contrast, the libertarian distrusts government income maintenance and promotes the moral right of each individual to compete equally in a laissez-faire market that achieves inequality of results.
Different “images of power” also divide the New Left and libertarianism. Whereas the New Left suggests that coercive power in America emanates from private property ownership (and thus one's position in the capitalist system), libertarians analyze oppressive power as primarily governmental. Such fundamental differences in the conception of power lead to contradictory, rather than compatible, cures for social ills. Some of the New Left insist that the power and wealth of privileged capitalists must be “decentralized” from private hands, confiscated by the government, and redistributed. Libertarians, however, propose that in order to achieve economic growth and individual freedom, we must curtail central planning and public sector ownership.
The Chicago-Virginia school's libertarianism differs finally from the New Left in its view of the origins of values. In utilitarian fashion these libertarians concern themselves only with the scale of values reflected in the market. The New Left interprets this as meaning that there are no evaluative grounds to object to the market's allocation of resources, no matter how uninformed the consumer's choice is.
It is doubtful that the mutual political cooperation envisaged by convergence theorists for libertarians and the New Left will ever occur. For, as the divergent notions of equality and power indicate, deep, unnegotiable differences separate the two movements. Implicit in the libertarian ideology is a dominant faith in individualism and the free market system. The libertarian couples this with the recognition that governments exert a coercive force which interferes with the interaction of supply and demand. Opposing this doctrine, New Left values distrust free markets, prescribe governmental interferences, and advocate collective, rather than individual goals.
The New Left and libertarianism exhibit fundamentally different values, goals, and radically opposed ideals of the good society.
“Income Distribution in Two Experimental Economies.” Journal of Political Economy (USA), 85 (1977): 1259–1271.
Empirical studies show that distribution of income and earnings reveal virtually nothing about socioeconomic structure in which the observed distribution was generated. We can study two institutional structures and populations that significantly differ from national economic systems and from each other. Yet between these two empirical measures of income, distribution was not dramatically different.
In two experimental economies, we focused on the income distributions which occur. In these studies, the only sources of income differences were individual tastes for income/leisure and individual abilities to perform work.
The first experimental economy was set up in a female ward for chronic psychotics at Central Islip State Hospital in New York. There, the inmates were rewarded for doing primarily custodial work by receiving tokens which they could use to buy goods not otherwise supplied by the hospital, such as cigarettes, coffee, candy, and additional recreational facilities. The jobs they could perform were simple enough so that each inmate could do any of the jobs available; wage rates were announced and set to clear the market; and each inmate could work as much or as little as she desired.
The second experimental economy was set up to study the socioeconomic effects of marijuana consumption. Here, subjects had to purchase all their consumption goods (except their bed space) with money they earned from selling their handwoven woolen belts. Again, each participant had unlimited access to the looms and materials for making the belts and could sell all that he or she made at an established price.
In both these experimental economies, then, the differences in income which occured could only be attributed to differences in the individual's desire to work and his or her ability to perform the jobs available. After five weeks of study, the income distributions which resulted in both these economies closely resembled the income distributions found in the United States and other market economies.
In conclusion, those who assert that incomes in developed countries would be more equally distributed if all sources of income inequality, except abilities and taste differences, were removed are incorrect. The experimental studies support the contention that differences in real property ownership, luck, access to capital markets, discrimination, and nepotism are not major causes of income inequality in the United States. Such inequalities seem natural and inevitable irrespective of socioeconomic structures.
“Competitive Equality of Opportunity.” Mind (UK), 86 (1977): 388–404.
One version of equality of opportunity is “competitive equality of opportunity.” This refers to principles that insure fair competition and that guide persons in distributing scarce opportunities. Two such principles are advanced. The first principle specifies that we must limit the criteria of selection in awarding these opportunities to those characteristics relevant to taking advantage of any opportunity. For instance, being a Catholic is not relevant to whether or not we admit someone to a university. The second principle requires that we guarantee all persons equal possession of all factors that affect the success of the competition and which are open to human manipulation.
The second principle is the crucial and questionable one. If persons compete for college enrollment, they compete unequally, on this principle, if their secondary education—whose quality is open to human manipulation—was unequal. Equal competition for some opportunity depends on an entire network of past opportunities which, on this view, we must make as equal as humanly possible.
Two basic flaws appear in this notion of equalized competition. The first problem surfaces from the following consideration. Suppose at time T-1, when the persons competed, all the relevant factors which affected one's success were as equal as possible, that is, the competition was conducted “fairly.” But at time T-2, following this competition, some win the opportunities this competition provides and some do not. However, the stated principle sees this as just since everyone competed fairly. But further suppose, as is likely, that the next generation then receives unequal benefits which result from the fair competition at time T-2. When this next generation competes at time T-3 they do so with unequal factors. These inherited unequal factors which affect the success of these competitions are now unfair according to the principle in question.
Thus, the second principle stated above is incoherent. At time T-2 the distribution of benefits is just; yet once competition is conducted following the principle of competitive equality of opportunity, the distribution of benefits at time T-3 becomes unjust because it achieves a distribution of benefits which violates the second principle. This incoherence continues as long as one generation relates to the next.
The second problem arises since equality of opportunity, as described, inevitably conflicts with liberty. The opportunities which a person enjoys largely depend on the choices of others. The only way to equalize opportunities for any competition is to infringe upon the choices of those who have the opportunities to dispense (unless, of course, the dispensers voluntarily choose to be egalitarians). Some might object that it infringes on no one's liberty if those dispensing the opportunities are doing so among those who have achieved equal opportunities. But this objection ignores, once again, the historical nature of the problem. In order to consider the competitors equal in their opportunities at the time when the dispensers of opportunities conduct the competition, one would need to equalize past relevant opportunities. This equalization entails infringing on the liberty of those who earlier dispensed opportunities.
“The American Ideal of Equality: The View from the Founding.” Review of Politics (USA), 38 (1976): 313–331.
One may question the conventional historical view (Beard, Parrington, Smith) that America progressed via sporadic overcomings of an antidemocratic constitution. Seen from the perspective of the Founding, the Declaration of Independence does not entail economic equality but rather that all men are equally entitled to liberty. Consent is necessary only to institute, not operate the government. Accordingly, the Declaration is neutral as to the form of government.
The American Constitution embodies the decision to secure equal liberty under a democratic government. Democracy is not the end but the means for securing liberty.
Such an arrangement contrasts with Jacobin democracy and Leninism which see democracy as the end of human existence. While the Founders departed importantly from ancient political beliefs that natural human inequalities constitute an entitlement to rule, they were also skeptical of democracy. Unrestrained democracy was an invitation, they thought, to disaster. They expected no transformation of human nature such as would warrant untrammeled majority rule.
Since inequality of excellence is rooted in human nature, it will manifest itself in society. Thus, the Founders intended a political order in which natural excellence, rather than artificial privilege and pretense, would flourish. The issue was not how to extinguish inequality, but rather it was how to decide best to cope with it, how to allow inequality its ambit, and above all, which inequalities to let flourish.
Equality of Condition
“The Fatal Ambivalence of an Idea: Equal Freeman or Equal Serfs?” Encounter (UK), 47 (1976):10–21.
Equality before the law differs critically from equality of condition or result. The concept of condition or result has reached extraordinary power with intellectuals; John Rawls's egalitarianism and distributionism theories are the root of much of this. As these intellectuals influence the political mind, liberty and authority will continue to decline.
Unless free men soon discern the distinctions between the two concepts of equality, Western Civilization is headed irreversibly towards a peculiar form of despotism.
The “servile state” is upon us. The secret of its achievement is simple: “By concentrating upon the inequalities which exist in any more or less free society, especially the inequalities observable in the economic sphere,” redistributionist legislation and bureaucrats produce forms of inequality greater than those eradicated. This process is rendered more or less painless by the rhetoric of egalitarianism and social justice.
The Egalitarian State
“Introduction” to the Liberty Classics reissue of Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1977; original edition, 1913.
Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953) was part of the “libertarian Catholic” tradition that had such illustrious nineteenth-century predecessors as Lemennais, Lacordaire, Montalembert, Newman, Manning, and Lord Acton. Belloc's strong personality wedded catholicism to the radicalism of William Cobbett and the French Revolution. He also shared the earlier intellectual humanism of Sir Thomas More whose Utopia describes a form of society advocated in Belloc's classic, The Servile State.
In his 1913 prophetic book, Belloc anticipated and dissected the contours of the emerging egalitarian welfare state which he trenchantly labels the “Servile State”:
That arrangement of society in which so considerable a number of the families and individuals are constrained by positive law to labor for the advantage of other families and individuals as to stamp the whole community with the mark of such labor we call the servile state.
Indeed, in the 60-odd years since the publication of The Servile State the liberty of the individual has suffered continuous erosion. Two world wars intervened with their collectivizing of nations and the trends towards totalitarianism and bureaucratic centralism, which divided people into two castes: workers and drones.
Increasingly, more families and individuals in the United States and the West are harnessed to a semiservile status. This servile caste is legally constrained (through the progressive income tax and other requirements) to labor, not for themselves, but “for the advantage of other families.”
Historically, Belloc celebrated the Middle Ages as the abolition of slavery and servile status. It brought the only remedy he saw for the inroads of servility: wide distribution of individual property-tenure to promote economic independence. He saw the Reformation as a backward step politically, economically, and socially, which unleased personal economic insecurity and modern despotism. The propertyless masses, helpless and dependent, were ripe for paternalism and lent a willing ear to the seductions of socialism and the servile state.
Belloc's and G.K. Chesterton's solution to the servile state was their economic-political doctrine of “distributivism.” This prescribed that everyone should own property, be self-supporting, and, since independence, would be immune to government promises. Such freeman would have no need to abandon individual freedom in the name of welfare paternalism.
“Sexuality and Civil Liberties.” Political Quarterly (UK), 48 (1977): 313–327.
We need to untangle the complex web of issues surrounding sexual conduct in relationship to civil liberties, legal rights, state imposed “equal opportunity,” and private toleration. This becomes clear when we consider the law relating to homosexuality. Clear dangers appear inherent in reformist attempts to legally guarantee and sanction full equality for all forms of sexual conduct. As a saner alternative to legally imposed acceptance of minority (e.g., homosexual) lifestyles we might consider private social tolerance and compassion.
A recent example of “discrimination” involved a Canadian university against a college teaching assistant who publicly associated with the “Gay Community Centre.” The university dean ordered the assistant removed from his duties as a supervisor of student teachers. Significant in this case are the general points raised rather than the individual personalities involved. Most importantly, we must scrutinize tinize the legitimacy of the argument from the “Committee to Defend” the gay assistant. It demanded the dean reverse his decision and, in the future, prohibit all “discrimination” on the grounds of sexual orientation in the university.
Such protagonists are not content with legal reforms passed in the 1960s that forbid criminal prosecution against private, voluntary, adult homosexual behavior. Such legitimate reforms rest on the sound classical argument by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty (1859), who distinguished the sphere of private morality from public legality: “The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, over his own body and mind the individual is sovereign.” But the more recent reformers now argue: “Legal acceptance does not necessarily mean social acceptance.” They seek to remedy this defect by further legislation that coerces conformity and “tolerance.”
Such demands that the law prescriptively recognize homosexuality and give it full parity with other forms of sexual expression are misconceived. Such demands, if legally enforced, would strain the fabric of law, endanger the bases of toleration, and lead to a proliferation of unfounded legal “rights.”
We can clarify the unwarranted escalation in the reformists' program. In the 1960s they advanced the argument that it does not follow that because something is immoral, it should be made illegal. Next, they argued that if it is not illegal, how can anyone say an act is immoral? This dialectic culminates in the argument of the 1970s, that since antihomosexual beliefs can only be subjective and bigoted opinions, the law should prevent persons from acting on them. Thus, people liberated from one legal imposition (criminal prosecution of private sexual acts), attempt to burden others with new legal impositions. The new reformers seek to exact compliance in the attitudes of nonhomosexuals. They concern themselves with status rather than true liberty. They wish for official recognition and legal enforcement of their normal status.
In sum, the reformers of the 1960s sought change by excluding the state from private bedrooms. The new sexual reformers of the 1970s turnabout and invoke the state and its power of imposition, compulsion, and coercion through such bureaucratic machinery as Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissions. The state's role has enlarged and circumscribed the individual's role and choices.
Undue reliance on the state and law still bring both into disrepute and pose a threat to freedom. The reformers now urge the law, once concerned with only the necessary minimum of moral conformity (no violence, fraud, etc.) to seek out heterosexual dissenters. Individual choice, found wanting by the new reformers, must yield to the new statism.
By multiplying newly discovered legal “rights” (e.g., the homosexual's “right” to teach despite the moral concerns of administration and parents of other students) we must necessarily violate other individual rights. A sounder way to win social acceptance for homosexuality is through private compassion and tolerance. Legally coerced acceptance can only cause polarization, resentment, and intolerance. Since state law was once the instrument of oppression, are homosexuals prudent in entrusting their protection to a growth in state power?