“There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality which excites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.”
—Alexis de Tocqueville
In his famous admonition about the tyranny of the majority, Tocqueville went on to warn that “Liberty is not the chief and constant object of their desires; equality is their idol: they make rapid and sudden efforts to obtain liberty, and if they miss their aim resign themselves to their disappointment; but nothing can satisfy them except equality, and rather than lose it they resolve to perish.”
If we keep Tocqueville’s advice in mind, we can appreciate why and how the present war against personal liberty in service to mandated equality may become the greatest danger of the 21st century. The theaters of battle already extend to every segment of American life; and every weapon is employed, from government coercion to the progressive media to the Orwellian effort to change the meaning of language itself.
Millions of Americans have lost the liberty to select their own type of health insurance, purchased on their own volition to best match their own assessments of their particular needs. Obamacare — the federal government’s redistributive effort to equalize health care for all — sought to destroy the liberty of many millions in order to ensure a state-directed sameness in care for all. Note also how a redistributive plan that spiked costs, reduced care, and so far has taken away more health coverage than it has provided is named the “Affordable Care Act.” Better to call it the the “Unaffordable Uncaring Edict.”
Most initiatives that Obama has embraced are characterized by going after a suspect group or tradition — targeting particular businesses deemed not sufficiently socially sensitive to workers, focusing on legal gun owners, eroding the military tradition in infantry service of restricting women to non-combat roles, coercing schools that would discipline trouble-makers in class, promoting the suppression of interest rates by the Federal Reserve to reward the many who owe money and punish the fewer who saved some — all on the notion of helping the proverbial “people.” Such a thoroughgoing effort at enforcing ideas of fairness covers both the important and the trivial: The government renames terrorism “man-caused disasters”; the fight against it is merely “overseas contingency operations.” The Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular.” If need be, we can jail an obscure video maker on trumped-up charges of parole violation to serve the larger need not to show bias against anyone.
The universities are probably society’s worst offenders. Under the guise of seeking race, class, and gender equity, they have denied free expression through “speech codes.” They have undermined traditional liberal-arts curricula on the grounds that they were not sufficiently sensitive to these same gender, race, and class issues. And they have placed their institutions — from the selection of graduation speakers, to the hiring and promotion of administrators and faculty, to the criteria for admitting students and the scale on which they are graded — in service not to academic excellence or even civil liberties, but to a perceived equality of result.
The effort to take away freedom, both violent and insidious, in order to ensure equality of result has a sad history, from the degeneration of Athenian democracy in the late fourth century b.c. to the French Revolution to, in the postwar era, the Sovietization of Eastern Europe, the destruction of civil societies in Africa and Latin America, the implosion of the European Union, the current mess in François Hollande’s France, and chaos in American cities like Detroit.
As the ancient poet Hesiod noted, there are two sorts of human jealousies: the positive one of a free society in which citizens are impressed by the singular works of some and thus redouble their efforts to match or exceed them (“She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plow and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth”), and a destructive envy (“foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face”) in which the many resent that the few have something they do not, and thus redouble their efforts to either destroy them or take away what they have acquired.
The problem with destroying liberty in service to mandated sameness is obvious, driven by Hesiod’s second, destructive envy: It has never worked, because it is contrary to human nature — both man’s acquisitive habits and the fact that we are not all born into the world equal in every respect. Instead, forced equality erodes personal initiative, undermines the rule of law, ruins the honesty of language, and requires a degree of coercion antithetical to a free society.
Gun-control laws and the use of the bully pulpit and government protocols to prevent law-abiding citizens from obtaining traditional firearms did not curb the murder rate in Chicago or Detroit. It only drove up the price of bullets, created panic buying, and ultimately will result in more, not fewer, guns in the hands of citizens who are now angry that their government slanders them as quasi-criminals.