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Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

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Liberty Leading the People (1830)  Eugene Delacroix   Louvre Paris

Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity

By Richard Girard

"Equality is the public recognition, effectively expressed in institutions and manners, of the principle that an equal degree of attention is due to the needs of all human beings."

Simone Weil (1909--43), "Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations" (published in Selected Essays, edited by Richard Rees, 1962)

The differences between progressive and conservative world views are so great one might almost think the two world views belong to two different species.

Conservatives believe that nature itself is hierarchical; incorrectly pointing to the male lion and his pride for their example. They fail to note that in reality the male lion, except when called upon to fight for his own position or the pride's survival has little say in the pride's management. That is left to the dominant females of the pride, who do the majority of the hunting, and decide when it is time to leave an area for better hunting grounds.

In fact, democracy seems to be more the rule than the exception in nature, as stated by University of Sussex Professors Roper and Conradt in their paper "Group Decision-Making in Animals," published in the January 9, 2003 edition of the prestigious scientific journal Nature. (This was first brought to my attention by Thom Hartmann in his 2003 book, What Would Jefferson Do? See my June 2, 2011 OpEdNews article, "Honi Soult Qui Mal Y Pense" for a further discussion on this subject.)

Too many conservatives believe that democracy and equality are the enemies of individual liberty, misusing or misunderstanding quotes from Washington, Adams, Jay, Franklin, Madison, and other Founders and Framers to prove their point. Part of this is a misunderstanding by the Founders and Framers of what Aristotle meant by democracy in his Politics, which is to say rule of the poor or mob. Part of this is the misapprehension--shared throughout the political spectrum--that democracy and complete equality in every phase of life are co-equal terms.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Democracy in its modern form (representative democracy) in no way demands complete equality anywhere but in the attempted application of a nation's laws. Nor are liberty and equality mutually exclusive principles. However, equal application of a nation's laws, regardless of one's wealth or station, is imperative for either liberty or equality to exist in a society.

Extreme individual liberty, as promulgated by some libertarians and conservatives, leads to a narcissistic selfishness, which admits no responsibility for anyone in society but themselves, and perhaps, their families. This extremist concept leads to society's abandonment of orphans, the disabled, and the elderly, as well as the eventual subjugation of the politically weaker or less astute members of that society by the strongest or most cunning. The laissez faire, capitalist utopias imagined by individuals like Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek , Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan have--when taken to their logical conclusion in a reductio ad absurdum argument--only one poorly working, modern example: organized crime in the 1930's and early 40's.

Extreme collective equality is also fraught with peril. A true communistic society has only been shown to effectively exist where small numbers of like-minded individuals are involved, such as in an Israeli kibbutz. Human nature makes us compete and, if we are successful, expect rewards that are commiserate with that success. Even Israeli kibbutzim compete with each other, with one collective trying to outdo the other in terms of production, creature comforts, and other improvements.

Human nature is such that without some form of competition for rewards and recognition, humankind has a tendency to founder. Unfortunately, there are at the same time people who believe that the freedom to compete is also a license to win by any means necessary, regardless of the cost to other human beings. These individuals will make use of every advantage they can, whether those advantages are acquired by merit or deception.

I believe that mankind's quest for both liberty and equality are two horses pulling the chariot of human progress. The progress of humanity is best served when our development as individuals are the primary basis for measuring humanity's progress. This measurement should be based solely on our individual character and talents, not on who our parents were, the wealth our family had, our race, our philosophical or religious creed, or the color of our skin.

A person cannot be considered truly free in a hard-line hierarchical society. In such a society, history has shown that the "upper" class will always enjoy certain legal rights and prerogatives --what most of us would understand as liberties--that the other "lower" classes do not.

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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