We Have an Equality Problem in America
The collective outrage this week over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education secretary and the interest in Bernie Sanders taking on Ted Cruz in a CNN debate over Obamacare show just how far Americans prefer equality of outcome to freedom.
After DeVos’ confirmation, I tweeted her a simple message: “Go bring freedom back into education.” I was talking, of course, about allowing for school choice, getting the federal government out of education, putting 100% of that power back to the states and local school boards, and once again respecting the role of parents in the education of their children.
The backlash to this tweet was insane as my Twitter feed was deluged all day with confused tweets about what does freedom have to do with education, what an evil person I am for wanting freedom in schools, and what could I possibly mean with such a stupid tweet.
I’ll save you from the nasty tweets, but here are a couple that capture the mob sentiment.
I got the same backlash when I tweeted out the following in response to Sanders telling Cruz America should have universal healthcare just like other nations.
He also went after capitalism because of its unequal outcomes.
The responses to my tweets were similar to those I received on the DeVos thread — they showed a disdain for liberty.
I realize this is just a sampling of the electorate, but with half of the country voting for Hillary Clinton in the election, high numbers of millennials saying they’re for socialism, and continued protests across the nation against anything Trump does, even when it is constitutional, I think we have an “equality problem” in America.
I know that might be a strange way to put it. Maybe I should say we have a "lack of freedom problem," but that doesn’t quite capture it. We have a problem with equality. I realize that flies in the face of a culture that is crying about inequality at every turn, but I think the root problem in our nation isn’t inequality at all. It’s too much equality, or to put it another way, too much of a mindset focused on equality of outcomes.
I make the distinction between equality of outcomes and equality before the law, because you can’t have freedom if you don’t have equal treatment before the law in code and in practice. We have both (however imperfect it might be). What we don’t have is equality of outcomes, but this is what our nation is obsessed with right now. Americans have been taught that everything should be equal. Equal opportunities. Equal results. Equal genders. Equal. Equal. Equal.
Before I chide people too much, let me just say, this is a natural tendency in a democratic society. What made America different from its aristocratic brethren across the ocean was its equality of conditions among the people. We didn’t have class systems or social constructs that kept people in one level of society. There weren’t the aristocrats who knew better than everyone else. We were all equal — we were all Americans. We love this value, and we should never relinquish it.
The problem is that we are out of balance. Our most defining feature has become a blot on the landscape. That which should be a strength has become a great weakness. We are now worshipping equality instead of loving liberty. That’s because liberty accepts and even embraces inequality of outcomes. Everyone is different, with different abilities, different backgrounds, and, yes, even different opportunities.
In the beginning, Americans understood this. Equality, for most of them, meant that society didn’t peg you into social classes and keep you there. The government especially did not prevent anyone from the opportunity to climb to the top of the heap. Success was a matter of will, ability, and circumstance, and nothing got in your way. Now, we’ve exchanged free responsibility to act for passive entitlement.
Americans today prefer equality, even if that means losing freedom. It’s to the point that I wonder if people even understand what liberty means — that it’s freedom from coercion, from having your earnings taken and given to another for things they have no right to, that it’s determining what you do with your own property, not being forced to give it to someone else in the name of equality and fairness.
In healthcare, that means we pay for our own doctor’s visits and medicine. Only in life-saving emergency situations are there exceptions — Americans don’t leave people dying in the streets. It means some people will get more and better care than others because they can afford it. Freedom is intrinsically unequal regarding results.
In education, it means that some states will provide different levels and types of education. One local school board will have one curriculum because that’s what the taxpayers in that district want compared to those in another district. Some parents will want to send their kids to one school and not another — they have that right because they’re taxpayers too. Local school boards and states — not the equalizing force of the federal government — will decide what curriculum to teach and the rules for individual schools. Yes, that means people will get different types of education in different settings across America. That’s what freedom looks like.
Why is this so important? It’s because we are a diverse nation of individuals and individual states. We are not a single organism, a collective, a unified, equal whole. Individuals are not free when they are forced to be one equal part of the whole. If they are, they are forced to move with the majority will, think like the majority, conform to the opinions of the majority, and obey the majority. The individual becomes enslaved. Not to a king or a despot but to the majority. And it’s all in the name of equality.
Alexis de Tocqueville understood this clearly in his brilliant work Democracy in America. In his second volume, he wrote that when the “absolute majority” overtakes the individual mind, despotism is present. It isn’t a monarch, but it is just as much a tyrant.
Men would not have found the means of independent life; they would simply have invented (no easy task) a new dress for servitude. There is — and I cannot repeat it too often — there is in this matter for profound reflection for those who look on freedom as a holy thing, and who hate not only the despot, but despotism. For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke, because it is held out to me by the arms of a million of men.
During such times as these, when people stop thinking for themselves as individuals, when they put being the same as everyone else on a pedestal, they make a religion of equality. They put their faith in public opinion, not in right principles of liberty — principles rooted in our Constitution, natural law, and religion.
This worship of equality makes them have little taste for liberty. Freedom is just too hard, and its inequalities too apparent while its benefits are too intangible to be valued — until they’re lost. As Tocqueville wrote, the opposite is true with inequality. We see inequalities every day. He has more, she has less. It’s in our faces. So we want it fixed. We will even give up our liberty to bring about equality.
The evils which freedom sometimes brings with it are immediate; they are apparent to all, and all are more or less affected by them. The evils which extreme equality may produce are slowly disclosed; they creep gradually into the social frame; they are only seen at intervals, and at the moment at which they become most violent, habit already causes them to be no longer felt. The advantages which freedom brings are only shown by length of time; and it is always easy to mistake the cause in which they originate. The advantages of equality are instantaneous, and they may constantly be traced from their source.
Freedom is hard. It takes work to achieve and effort to turn away from envy and jealousy. Acceptance of differences takes maturity and trust in an objective reality that puts value on all, despite their differences. When that objective reality and value is rejected, when all we see are individuals as part of a human collective that must be equal, we devalue those same individuals because of their subjective inequality. This makes us cry out for fairness and justice. We will become enslaved to make it right.
We see this passion, this longing for equality, reaching great heights as the old system is being challenged from every social sphere. This is leading us into greater demands for equality and less respect for freedom. Again, Tocqueville offers insight.
Democratic nations are at all times fond of equality, but there are certain epochs at which the passion they entertain for it swells to the height of fury. This occurs at the moment when the old social system, long menaced, completes its own destruction after a last intestine struggle, and when the barriers of rank are at length thrown down. At such times men pounce upon equality as their booty, and they cling to it as to some precious treasure which they fear to lose. The passion for equality penetrates on every side into men's hearts, expands there, and fills them entirely. Tell them not that by this blind surrender of themselves to an exclusive passion they risk their dearest interests: they are deaf. Show them not freedom escaping from their grasp, whilst they are looking another way: they are blind — or rather, they can discern but one sole object to be desired in the universe.
I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality, their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery.
This is what we’re seeing today as protesters set fire to streets throughout America, voices ring out across the land demanding equality in everything, and freedom hangs from a noose in the city square. We care no longer about the individual liberty, about the differences between us, the beauty of our real diversity. We reject that because we reject the ties that bind those differences in a truly equal way — our founding principles, the Constitution, and a common faith that looks to God as our unifier, the definer of our equal value.
Unless we return to these foundations and value individual liberty over the majority’s demand for equality, we will wake up in chains one day. The evil of equality, to which we had been blind for so long, will have shown itself. What will we do then, when the joys of liberty are but a memory?