Tuesday

November 21st, 2017

Insight

Down with equality!

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published April 13, 2016

How fares the good ship U.S.S. America in these tumultuous times and roiling waters? Our current captain seems to grow more insistent on following the course he's set even if it leads to failure after failure. Maybe that's why his signature accomplishment is becoming his signature failure. See the continuing misadventures of Obamacare, a tax disguised as a social-welfare program.


If there were maps and charts to consult on this voyage, they might include a notation found on old depictions of the seven treacherous seas: Here there be monsters. Yet our heedless captain sails on, like a Columbus without an astrolabe, as the inevitable storms arise.


Our president's latest obsession and political appeal (with him they are much the same) would seem to be a determination to assure equality in American life "whenever and wherever" he can, no matter what Congress or the Constitution may have to say about it. If his goal and compulsion were noted on a sea chart, it might be designated "the shoals of equality."


As attractive as equality sounds in any democratic society, the passion for it can lead that society into deep and dangerous waters. The concept of equality itself has undergone a sea change since it was used to mean equality only before the law -- a shining ideal bequeathed to the world by Western civilization.


But equality seems to have lost its earlier pristine meaning and now refers to an only material equality -- an equality of income, of property, of spoils. And when words are degraded, so is society. If only the word still meant an equality of opportunity, not of results, the Jeffersonian ideal of an aristocracy of merit arising out of an equality of opportunity might be born again.


A keen and always prescient observer of democracy in America, the indispensable Alexis de Tocqueville, saw that Americans are forever torn between a desire for liberty and an equal but opposite longing for equality. Each has its great benefits and great dangers, and the objective of a great leader must be to guide us safely between them. But our captain seems to have set his sails only for one. Indeed, he's called inequality of income "the defining challenge of our time."


Forgotten is de Tocqueville's warning: "Democratic institutions strongly tend to promote the feeling of envy." Which leads to now


here good. As another foreign observer once said: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." --Winston Churchill. That's another warning to inscribe on the charts: Beware the shoals of equality.


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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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