Attorney Steve Grow
December 25, 2012
Now I know of only two methods of establishing equality in the political world; every citizen must be put in possession of his rights, or rights must be granted to no one. ….
[T]here exists … in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. --Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
The core self-evident truth in our Declaration of Independence is that all men (a word meant by the writer to include both men and women and little boys and little girls) are “created equal.” The Declaration of Independence goes on to indicate that each individual is endowed by the Creator with “with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The words “among these” make clear that there may be others. The word “liberty” makes clear that our Creator endowed us with the inalienable right not to be enslaved or tyrannically ruled by any other person. No one is more equal than anyone else in this sense. The words right to “the pursuit of happiness” does not guarantee one will achieve it or that all will have equal outcomes, but everyone has the right to pursue it. (Of course, a sensible meaning of “happiness” is meant.)
It is most understandable that the word “equality” has a strong pull on us, but many versions of “equality” pass before us in life. The essential equality enshrined in our Declaration of Independence is that each person (no matter how low or high born, no matter who his parents or ancestors were or are or how they make their livings, what they did, or how much wealth, education, power, poverty or powerlessness he has or what, if any, political office he holds or does not hold) is equal in the sense that no other equal person (no matter how low or high born, no matter who his parents or ancestors were or are or how they make their livings or how much wealth, education, power, poverty or powerlessness he has or what, if any, political office he holds or does not hold) has a legitimate claim from birth or because of the any of the foregoing factors to run any other person’s life and to interfere with his sovereignty over his own life as an individual in the fundamental core sense. Each equal person, must respect the equal fundamental right of each other person who was “created equal” in this sense—and this plus the enlightened self-interest of the society implies and imposes many legitimate constraints upon each of us—and everyone is equally subject to those constraints.
In all tyrannies or autocracies, hard or soft, whether by individuals or groups or governments or ruling classes or families or business owners or social butterflies or scientific, medical or other experts, those running the game almost always come to regard themselves as “more equal than others”. Recall that in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, the notion was that all the animals were equal but some of the animals were more equal than others. Properly understood this core equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence does not admit of anyone being more equal than you, or of your being more equal than anyone else.
Many very foolish and irrational modern criticisms of the Declaration of Independence and the founding generation criticize the “created equal” language with various silly remarks to the effect that it is absurd to regard us as created equal when we are each obviously unique in various ways. Now Thomas Jefferson certainly realized he was not George Washington or Abigail Adams or King George or William Shakespeare, and that various people, by their talents, habits, character and ways of life (some of which are due partly to luck) differ markedly, as their lives unfold, in their worth to themselves and to the human race. Some deserve jail. Others deserve honor and reverence. It is equality in the core sense I describe above that was meant. The phrase “equality before the law” is a phrase that partly, but not entirely, captures this.
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Of course, the generation of the Founding Fathers and Mothers did not yet live in an America that fully lived up to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration (Thomas Jefferson himself had slaves), and the America of today is not there fully yet, but many, many both then and thereafter, fought hard (including at the Constitutional Convention) to bring us closer to living up to those ideals. Many paid with their lives, and not only in the Civil War generation and in our time. In one of the last public actions in his long and remarkable life, Benjamin Franklin founded an abolitionist society dedicated to bringing an eventual end to slavery in America.
© 2012 Steve Grow - All Rights Reserved
Steve Grow holds degrees in physics, law and philosophy. He is a retired lawyer who practiced business law for many years. He studied philosophy and cognitive psychology at the graduate level, including working with one of the world’s leading scholars on the work of Aristotle. He was co-editor in chief of his college newspaper. He has observed and wondered about history, psychology, religion, politics, journalism and good (and bad) government since childhood.
He believes that, now and always, the central problem in politics is monitoring and governing those in political positions—so that ordinary people are the ultimate governors and can hold those in office fully accountable. Ordinary people deserve, and need, full legal protection of their privacy. In contrast, all activities of those in government should be open to full scrutiny at all times. In a certain sense, ordinary people should be “ungovernable” and accorded a broad measure of privacy – on the other hand, politicians and their actions should be open to monitoring, closely watched and constrained. Anyone with a contrary view, he believes, is an enemy of freedom—wittingly or unwittingly.