News & Politics

Conservatives, Stop Selling 'Equal Opportunity'

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All men are created equal. Most Americans nod in agreement whenever those words are uttered. Yet equality often means different things to different people. For some, equality requires an equal share of wealth. For others, equality means starting the rat race from the same point. In truth, meaningful equality means neither of those things.

The following meme was recently posted to social media by commentator Bill Whittle. It conveys a typical conservative message regarding equality. We should not promise equal results, the argument goes, but strive instead toward equal opportunity. It’s an attractive notion, but full of folly.

equal-opportunity

We cannot guarantee equal opportunity for the same reason that we cannot guarantee equal results. Opportunities emerge from a vast array of circumstances, many of which government has no rightful ability to control. If your father is rich, and mine is poor, how can we be born to equal opportunity? What must be done, in practical terms, to equalize those circumstances? It takes us full circle, doesn’t it? To provide children with equal opportunity, you must redistribute their parents’ wealth. It’s the same effect as if mandating equal results, just applied at a different point in the process. Thus, every time conservatives talk about “equal opportunity,” they provide rhetorical ammunition to the left. Like results, opportunities are not equal and never will be.

Consider the concept of “white privilege.” The complaint regarding privilege is that certain people are afforded unequal opportunity on account of factors beyond merit. If you’re a white heterosexual male, you will generally have an easier go than a black lesbian. We often get stuck arguing whether or not such generalizations prove true. But that’s the wrong argument.

The real question is: Why does privilege matter? Why should we care whether certain people have it easier than others? Does the mere presence of unequal opportunity present a problem that needs to be solved?

It matters not whether people proceed from unequal opportunity. What matters is why opportunities prove unequal. If the inequality manifests from accidents of nature and the exercise of rights, then there is nothing which government should do about it. Being born to a rich father should not be a crime. Neither should being rich and having a child. People should not be penalized because they were born white, or straight, or with the genes for height or beauty. They should not be punished for having means which others lack, unless it came through force or fraud. Nor should they be punished for being something which others are not. Existing is not a crime.

Is it true then that “all men are created equal?” Yes, but only in the true sense which Jefferson actually meant. Jefferson was not implying an equality of attribute. The equality he noted was legal. Each man should be treated the same under the law, not be made the same by the law. All men have equal right to their life, not the lives of others.

The left has no interest in this Jeffersonian equality. They don’t believe in it. It leaves them with nothing to do. If all men are created equal, then that’s that. No further action is necessary. The left’s entire governing premise is that men are not created equal. Their every prescription attempts to impose an equality which does not innately exist. Obviously, though both use the word “equality,” the left and Jefferson are talking about two different things.