Why Political Equality is Impossible and How Its Pursuit Leads to Tyranny and Poverty
It is taken for granted in Western liberal democracies that equality is a positive thing and should be pursued. But it is a paradox of modern history that the political program to achieve more equality has often lead to tyranny and poverty.
How can the aim to bring about such a desirable thing as equality result in such unequal and undesirable ends?
The classical liberal understanding of equality, pertaining to the universal applicability of the law to individuals, was a revolutionary Enlightenment ideal that proved conducive to promoting freedom.
But more recently, equality has expanded to mean a comprehensive political program where everyone has equal means, and thus, equal political power. This more modern conception of equality is consistent with the redefinition of democracy away from electoral accountability of the government to the people to the theoretical state where the collective has political power through the government, and in turn, essentially becomes the government.
Equality has thus come to describe the proportionate interrelationship between individuals in the economic, societal, and political spheres. These spheres are theorized to be interlinked and inseparable; inequality in any sphere is understood to be inconsistent with democracy. Herbert Marcuse, for example, believed power relationships were inescapable and extended to all aspects of human life.
What the modern left craves is the absence of class boundaries and fuller equality for all human beings. The belief in this presumably ideal state of affairs can lead to disastrous consequences if any agenda to bring about its culmination entails empowering the state.
One of the most egregious errors left-leaning thinkers tend to make is that they misunderstand the causes of inequality. They assume that inequality is a result of the economic system, and that humans otherwise would be equal if not for that system. But inequality is an aspect of nature: people are more or less talented as an aspect of their unique genetic makeup; they are born in different environments and not one homogenous “environment”; and are necessarily raised differently by individuals. No two human beings are equal in reality, not even twins.
Because of this reality, the left desires, as a matter of its political agenda, to make “the environment” uniform and thus more equal in a very abstract and particular sense; in other words, we are all global citizens who are essentially equal and should unify to overcome shared problems such as manmade climate change, poverty, etc.
The left’s political agenda necessarily means limiting choice and therefore restricting freedom; this despite the veneer of diversity along such trivial lines as skin pigmentation, and aspects of its agenda like cultural relativism and thus equivalence. It may not be the left’s intention to make our political community less free; on the contrary, they believe their program will lead to human beings being more united in common interest due to shared experience and ideology, and thus more free in the long run.
By extension, progressives want more uniformity in education, and additionally, to restrict certain unsavory ideas through political correctness. They think this will result in more equality, and thus more freedom, since we will disagree less with one another, and be less likely to fight.
To sum up, the left wants freedom from dissent, freedom from conflict, and freedom from burdens in life. This is not the way leftists would describe their goals, it should be noted.
Today’s left generally cannot see or understand that it is promoting unfreedom in the interest of equality, because the theoretical aim of leftism is that it will lead to ultimate freedom. Only there will be no such freedom. There can be no “withering away of the state,” as Engels put it, and the following is why.
If equality is not a natural state, but rather an abstract condition that must be enforced by the state, then we must assume that without the state there would be some kind of inequality; or at the very least, the potential for inequality. Therefore, the state as a coercive body must never “wither away” and must be inherently unequal to those whom it is coercing to be equal or may need to coerce to be equal.
Ironically, when the left advocates for more equality through the state, the effect of its success is that it actually creates greater inequality. When the left empowers the state to make things more equal among less powerful agents, through the mechanism of wealth redistribution, for example, the state is yielded more arbitrary power to make things “fair” and “just,” is granted more of its own resources, and itself grows more powerful and unequal.
Perfect equality between all men in a state of nature is impossible; and thus, political equality through the state is impossible. When equality is strongly pursued through the state in the interest of furthering freedom, the only end-run results can be anarchy (in no way consistent with equality, as weaker men are more vulnerable to becoming prey of the stronger) and tyranny or unfreedom.
Perversely, the radical pursuit of equality leads to the successful being penalized for their successes, the unsuccessful being rewarded for their failures, the criminal and corrupt reaping benefits for their crimes, and the moral and noble being victimized for their virtues. The inevitable result is demoralization and poverty.
The socialist left may have all the best intentions in the world by their own esteem. But their misunderstanding of nature, the state, and freedom are a plague on humankind that must be remedied.
As posted on Political Crush.