Unanswered Inequality Challenge

I was asked a number of pointed questions on the topic of monarchy and equality, but from too many directions, given my limited time, to answer all. In this column I hope to gather my thoughts into a general response.

A wise and venerable commentor on my blog remarked here recently that it was xenophobia for the Know-Nothing party of the Nineteenth Century to wish to “bar Irish (and German) Catholics from becoming naturalized US citizens because, being subservient to the Pope, an absolute monarch, they were unable to understand democracy and thus to assimilate into a democratic society.”

For what it is worth, I think it goes without saying that, by and large, many Catholics are fine fellows and understand democracy just fine.

Except on my blog.

I would have thought that there were the same number of Americans yearning for the bonds and stripes of having a king and haughty nobles lording it over them, and serfs and fawning slaves under them, as there were astronomers still adhering to geocentrism, or chemists to the phlogeston theory.

Nonetheless a good number of readers routinely comment here that it is not self evident that all men are created equal, and that they are not endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are the rights to life, liberty, and property.

The idea of monarchy is apparently alive and well, and the history of all mankind back to prehistory about the corruptive influence of monarchic power holds no lesson for the advocates of abolishing equality and returning to a class system or caste system.

Ironically, as best I can guess, all these modern day monarchists of my acquaintance are Catholics.

I call it a guess because have not polled them, so I might be wrong on this point, but they seem to be using a typically Catholic approach.

Let it be emphasized that I am not supporting the Know-Nothings in their fears. But it would be untoward to fail to point out that sometime fears which seem at first glance to be the product of hysteria or hatred or psychopathology may have some basis in fact, tenuous or otherwise.

There are those who suffer a pathological fear of spiders, heights, or closed spaces. This does not mean that all spiders, heights, and closed spaces are free of all danger.

Let me also say I have nothing against the Irish, and indeed, very much I admire in that unbroken people, still free in their hearts after centuries of misrule and oppression. They saved civilization during the Dark Ages, and colonized the best parts of Virginia. If I were allowed to select a race other than my own, to be Irish would be second on the list after Jewish. To be of a race of poets is the next best thing than to be of a race of prophets.

I say these commentors do not understand democracy rather than that they are regarding the same facts and coming to different but reasonable conclusions.

It is an observation, and not an accusation, and one I find (and continue to find) shocking to contemplate.

Whenever the idea of equality comes up, as it has done frequently here of late, none of the opponents to equality use the word correctly, and none of them are able to distinguish inequality from those daily differences between man and man which have no legal effect.

It is difficult to argue a proposition that has been part of Western History for as long as there has been a West. The Greek word for the concept was isonomia, literally equal-law. It is found in the Bible, which alone among all surviving law codes from the Bronze Age does not list separate laws and penalties for highborn and lowborn. God is no respecter of persons.

In Europe, when Saint Patrick overthrew the Druids, he was forced to write a law code for that barbaric people. What he wrote was based directly on the Bible, including the Biblical principle that all men are created in God’s image, hence equal. When the Archiboship of Cantebury (at that time, a Catholic) drafted the Magna Carta, when the barons at Runnymede forced King John to agree to limits on his government, the inspiration of the Irish law was present.

Certain of the provisions of this law remain in effect to this day. Allow me to quote two of them:

  • We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.
  • No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers.

While most modern historians scoff at the role of the Magna Carta in the history of liberty, but these provisions of religious liberty, of trial by jury, and of habeus corpus not only are central to the Common Law, they do not appear in any form in any ancient or pagan legal code.

The effect of the Magna Carta on later charters of rights, on the Glorious Revolution, and on the Bill of Rights of the American Revolution should be known to all educated citizens in America.

The ideal of equality is behind the provisions quoted: if the king does not outrank the Church, he has no authority to interfere in her internal matters. Likewise for trial by jury. The ideal of equality is not an invention of atheist French radicals, nor Jacobins, nor a sinister Jewish plot, but rather an ideal that comes directly from the central trunk of Anglo-American law, gathered from the roots in Biblical law, Roman jurisprudence, and Greek philosophy.

But even someone entirely unfamiliar with law, religion, philosophy and the history of the West should recognize that if rights at law exist at all, they must be based on natural rights, or otherwise the word is simply a synonym for present power to accomplish one’s will.

To say “all men are created equal” is to say that they have rights which are neither earned nor alienable.

Since these include the rights to life, liberty and property, is it the same as saying that it is innately wrong to murder, to enslave, to rob and defraud. Innately means that it is wrong to murder or to enslave or to steal even if a manmade law says one may. This is the means by which we judge whether or not a law code is just or unjust: namely, whether the manmade law protects these rights from trespass.

Since these rights are given to all men by the mere fact that they are men, the statement “all men are created equal” is a logical deduction from the statement “all men are men.”

The reason why Jefferson called the proposition self-evident is because it is. It is a tautology.

It is difficult, even for a philosopher, to argue in favor of a self evident proposition. Once you have stated a tautology, and pointed out that A is A, an unconvinced audience has nothing more to hear. If the obvious will not convince, why should the obscure?

Equality means all men are born with the same natural rights to life, liberty, property. This logically implies that there cannot be that difference at law which protects the rights of some while trampling the rights of others, which is the inevitable by-product of inequality of rank, class, caste. Indeed, an equality of the protection of innate rights is the very definition of inequality.

In a caste or class system, the elite get to say what your rights are and when and how you may exercise them. Hence, by definition, they are not rights at all, but permissions, that is privileges extended by the grace of the elite.

Hence, equality means no one is born a ruler with an natural right to command; and no one is born a servant with a natural obligation to obey.

Any position of leadership, or any loss of liberty, is due to the merit or fortunes of the individual, not the history of his race or bloodline.

Due to endless and effective propaganda designed to obscure this point and render rational conversation impossible, the definitions of equality, of class, of rights, have been surrounded by smokescreens of nonsense. To be clear, several tangential concepts must be distinguished.

Equality does not mean no men differ in any way whatsoever. It does not mean that, it has never meant that, no one has ever used the word this way except as part of an attempt to undermine the meaning of the concept without confronting it.

To say two men are equal does not mean they have the same wealth, prestige, fame, or any other quality aside from rank. Rank specifically means the rank bestowed by class or caste at birth. We are not speaking of ranks in the military or in a business concern.

To say two men are of the same class here means legal class, that is, serf, burger, yeoman, knight, baron, king. The word class is often used to refer to income levels or economic status: obviously this has nothing to do with rank. Penniless noblemen are in the lowest class economically, but they still have the right to bear arms and to be tried by Parliament.

To say that one man has achieved wealth or stature though sheer good luck or because his father was successful and passed his goods through inheritance, does mean good fortune comes to him by birth, but this is not a class system.

A man born wealthy is not born into the purple. He does not have the right to wear a crown or sit on the throne.

Technically speaking, his are not the rights being guarded at law: his father’s rights are. His father is the one who has the right to dispose of his property as he will, and the law assumes the natural passion and duty of a father toward his legitimate children should control the disposition of his property should he die intestate.

Note again that when a rich man dies, he passes his wealth to his child, but not his right to property. That right comes from God. It is God, not any property found in one’s genetic heritage, who establishes the moral law saying it wrong to steal the legacy from a child.

The submission to an elected representative, or winning an election, is not the same as being born in service or born into leadership. One is by birth, hence unrelated to merit; the other is based on the ability to persuade voters to vote for you.

While birth or luck or some other factor may place some men in a better position to gather votes than others, the law is not one of those factors.

In America, not even a member of the famous Bush or Kennedy family is assured of a position in elected office. Even if the voters are inclined to grant such families a sinecure, this is the voter’s will, and not a matter of law.

Innate drive, charisma, intelligence, or magnanimity is not a class system, even if one child enjoys a magnificent genetic heritage and another is unlucky. These differences between men are due to nature, and have nothing to do with the law.

God selecting the Jews as the Chosen People has nothing to do with the natural equality of the Rights of Man. If anything, additional burdens and duties to abide by minute ritual laws have been imposed on the Sons of Israel, in addition to the natural duties springing from the Rights of Man which are binding on all the descendants of Noah.

The natural inequality of parent and child or the inability of a madman or a coma victim to exercise his rights does not render those rights moot, nor make them of unequal legal force and effect. This is a practical matter of the inability of the young or incapacitated to exercise rights which are nonetheless their own.

What is owned, or what is spoken, is covered by an equal right to property or right to free speech between rich and poor, eloquent and awkward, but that difference is one of which the law takes no account.

A poor man has the same natural right to own his hovel as the rich man his mansion, and your natural freedom of speech is not less or more if you speak folly or wisdom.

As said above, one’s right to own a cottage or a mansion is the same whether one owns a fine house or a humble one. The right to own property is like a sack: the property is what is inside the sack, be it great or small. If one man has the legal right to take property out of his neighbor’s sack and place it in his own, the sack does not exist. It does not delimit what one owns from what one does not. Likewise for civil rights, as the right to free speech, free press, freedom of assembly.

The presence or absence of unjust laws that trample the natural rights of man in nowise disproves their existence. Indeed, without the natural law, we would have no logical basis to condemn some laws as unjust, and to laud others as just.

So much for what equality is and is not.

One argument in favor of assigning leadership by birth, not by merit, is that the process of selecting among the several candidates for supreme political power is so fraught with ambition and danger, that it is a grim necessity to limit the candidates to a few men in the immediate royal family, or to one heir apparent, lest the lust of a plethora of candidates for power create tumult in society.

This is not a frivolous argument: it was exactly the unlimited nature of the candidates to the Roman purple which created tumult, riots and civil war in that polity. Since anyone at all who won the favor of the Praetorians, including, at one time, a barbarian and a camel driver, could win the Imperial power, the ambition of all were inflamed.

Some, however do make a more frivolous form of the argument.  The idea is that solely the highborn have the right to life, liberty, and property, and hence also solely have the civil rights to free speech, worship, press, and arms needed to defend the natural rights from encroachment. The low born enjoy no innate rights, but only those privileges the high see fit to bestow, which can be withdrawn or revoked at will.

This is the result of the philosophy claiming that rights come from government, not from God, or that God distributes the moral order of the cosmos unequally, so that only the happy few persons have rights, and all others are rightly subject to their rod and fetters.

On the other hand, the argument in favor of allowing free men to select their leaders by their own assessment of his merit is that a ballot box is at hand, rather than an armed rebellion, to replace leader proven not to be worthy of the public trust. In other words, it is the same argument as given above: that this method reduces the risk of public tumult, and the anarchy of periodic revolts.

Another form of the argument is to point out that it is self evident that all men are created equal, and therefore the form of government rests on their consent, or else it is unjust. Where men are equal, the process of changing the form of government can be accomplished peacefully; whereas those who profit from an unequal form rarely if ever surrender power peacefully.

This argument is pertinent only when dealing with brave, free and honest men, who are too proud to bow to any mere mortal as king. The studied policy of the Left for several generations has been to eliminate as far as possible those things which encourage bravery, freedom, and honesty from our lives.

The public school system teaches conformity, non-competition and girlishness to drive out bravery; the popular entertainments preach and the welfare state pays money to encourage selfishness and self-indulgence to drive out freedom; and the news preaches political correctness to drive out honesty.

A people who are craven, slavish, and dishonest not only yearn for superiors to rule them, they require it.

Both of these arguments are conditional, and depend on the habits and the character of the people, to make the correct assessment as to where the greater danger rests.

That is why, while the argument that all men are created equal — equal in their natural rights to life, liberty, and property — is an abstract tautology impossible to refute, the question of which form of government best secures those rights is not a moral question but a pragmatic and prudential one.

If the vices of the people do not allow them to maintain a republic, then monarchy may indeed be the better option, better than civil disorder and war.

Likewise, most nations for most of history consist of a ruling class peopled with the descendants of conquerors. Maintaining their hold over the conquered requires a class division. The abolition of civil rights among the conquered, in order to prevent their arming themselves, speaking of uprising, or gathering in assemblies, is needed to police their discontent and prevent mutiny. Such states, however, do prevent anarchy. The overthrow of such states is not a matter to be undertaken for light or transient reasons.

Hence, even when among a slavish and undisciplined people whose disorders demand a despot’s iron scepter to crush their excesses, the natural rights of one and all are equal, and the legal inequalities are still a moral evil, excused by the necessity of keeping the public order.

More generally, the argument in favor of equality is that equality is just: each man rises or falls due to his circumstances, merit, or good fortune, due indeed to anything else except a predetermined legal privilege that he never earned.

The matter has been debated many times in this space.

I have defined the term “equality” and used examples with endless patience, and the strange reaction I get back is not that these commentors think I am defining the word incorrectly, or not in keeping with several thousand years of legal terminology going back to Athens: they simply do not react at all, as if they have not the least notion of what the topic is.

Again, it does not seem to be a difference of axioms leading to different conclusions, nor a difference of experiences leading to different value-judgments. The counterarguments so far heard betray a lack of understanding as to what concept is allegedly being debated.

If one man says it is as wrong to rob the rich as to rob the poor, and in rebuttal his interlocutor demands of him how dare he say rich and poor are the same height and weight, it is clear that the misunderstanding is fundamental. No one has agreed on what words point at what concepts.

In frustration, I have often asked any man propounding the elitist or monarchist view what he thinks Jefferson meant when he penned the words “all men are created equal”?

Was Jefferson referring to all men being the same height and weight, or some other mathematical measurement of a physical quantity?

Was he opining all men were equally endowed with the same fortune, same lands and rents, same genius, same talents, same education, same moral fiber?

This would be odd indeed for Jefferson, since he was not only taller than most men of his era, and richer, and better educated, and a genius among a generation of geniuses. How could he not notice that men differ in these various ways?

And, indeed, if one were penning a document to justify a rebellion against the English Crown, on the grounds that the Crown had been trampling the natural and innate rights of the colonists, why would one pause to assert that the various difference  between man and man, of height and weight and fortune and education and talent and moral fiber, did not exist? This would have nothing to do with the topic of liberty and tyranny.

So far, only one gentleman attempted to answer the question, and that so feebly that it was clear he did not understand the question, or the concept involved.

He thought Jefferson was speaking of aspirations, not facts: that Jefferson meant men one day should be equal, but in fact are not. The creator is not the source of man’s natural rights, but the state is, and thus the state should one day grant all the rights of man to men, but in fact presently it does not.

This is a gross misreading. By this logic, the word equality refers to all those ways in which individuals lack individual distinctions: which, by definition, is a null set.

Logically, if we reach the conclusion that the word equality means nothing, or means men being homogeneous in all respects, but especially in those respects where the law has no bearing, then we must further conclude that Jefferson in fact said nothing at all, and that the American Revolution took place because of a mistake. Perhaps was brought on by a moment of mental disorder among the Founders.

The mental disorder model of the universe does not fit the facts. If we reach this conclusion, we err. It were best to go back and check our premises, and, more to the point, check our definitions.

If the American Revolution meant anything, and if Jefferson was not uttering gibberish, then the word equality in this context cannot mean homogeneous. That we use the same word in other contexts, such as to mean a mathematical identity, does not alter this fact.

In the final desperation of a man whose arguments are not being heard, I resort to a simple and clear challenge:

Do those who yearn for inequality wish to be placed in the political order above me, to give me orders from an unearned position of authority; or do they wish to be placed below me, to take orders in an undeserved posture of submission?

I say that if it is the first, claiming to be above me, then as  a Virginian, I hereby give notice that the assumption of unearned lordship, rule and mastery over my person is presumption that breaks the social contract binding men to peace: and I am prepared to defend my liberty by force of arms.

So far, no one has stepped forth and said he was willing to kill and die for his love of tyranny as I am willing to kill and die for my love of liberty.

This puts their claim in its due perspective: they are in the same stance a a pirate or robber eager to cast law aside in order to ravage, plunder and rob.

But, even were so hardy a man to be found, all it would mean is that the debate would be over. Once a man says I have no civil rights, he says I have no right to speak. But the right to speak is a presupposition before speech begins. Logically, one can debate all other topics but this: because what is being debated is the right of the debate to exist.

I say that if it is the second, claiming to be below me, then as the superior, I here and now order and command silence on this point. As an inferior in political rank, political matters are beyond your ken. Without any showing of merit on my part, or any reason given, I am allowed to silence all further argument: you are by birth born obligated to obey me. So shut up.

I believe one respondent argued that this proposal was unfair, because a highborn man should be highminded enough to listen to wisdom from any source, even from a slave.

My answer is that this is quite the democratic sentiment coming from a monarchist: but the judgment as to when and where to listen rests with he who has the right to speak, and not with he who lacks that right.

A general can debate a private if he wishes, but the private cannot debate a general without his superior’s leave. (And even so, the general is not allowed to hold such a debate if and when it risks detracting from unit discipline, by encouraging familiarity, fraternization, or insolence.)

This is all meant to show one point: these people do not really wish for inequality. If they wished for inequality, they would wish it on themselves as well as on others.

If they did wish it for themselves, they would not debate the topic. The act of debating the matter presupposes them to be addressing their words to equals.

They would either glory in the chance to shed blood to establish dominance over slave races, as any good follower of Nietzsche, or they would welcome the servile obedience and humiliation the recognition of one’s own inferiority commands.

Were they sincere, they would either fight, or fall silent.  Instead, they keep talking. This speaks volumes about their ability to grasp the real-world implications of the doctrine proposed.

They are in the same position as an ardent communist forever criticizing the capitalist West, but who never makes up his mind to move to Red China or North Korea.

My strong suspicion is that none of them know what inequality entails. I suspect a romantic attachment to tale of King Arthur is to blame, or a misreading of the Book of Samuel, or perhaps a disgust with savages at home and abroad who lack or seem to lack the capacity for self-rule.

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