The Myth Of Equality

by Rebecca Bynum (June 2008)


One of the most striking results of modern democracy has been the gradual but steady erosion of all classes of distinction and the subsequent leveling of society to the point where everyone is expected to treat everyone else in exactly the same way. We must make no distinction between young and old, male or female, distinguished or dissolute. As a result, common courtesy is at an all time low and an unhealthy reservoir of resentment at an all time high. Every person suspects he is not receiving his due and is suspicious that deference in the form of courtesy on his part will be mistaken as submission. Authority is suspected to be nothing but the unfair abuse of power and yet people seem to be seeking true sources of authority amid the ruling relativism by following fads and the ever-changing gurus of the self-help industry. The pressure to conform to pop-culture standards is also immense, so much so, that individuality itself is threatened.

The entire eighteenth century revolt of the rationalists against hereditary privilege and ecclesiastical power is crystallized in the founding document of the United States, specifically the Declaration of Independence, in which human equality was first described by Thomas Jefferson as “sacred and undeniable” and subsequently changed by Benjamin Franklin to “self-evident,” substituting reason alone for Jefferson’s religious sentiment of sacredness. The result was our founding myth: human equality. And yet, true equality is discovered only on the highest level of transcendence in the sense that our souls, quivering and naked, will someday stand equal before God. On the material level, obviously, and at the risk of sounding trite, no two human beings are alike and are therefore unequal. Furthermore, the ideal of liberty dictates that a certain kind of inequality, social and economic, shall increase, rather than decrease, over time. The ideal of equality militates against liberty and exerts pressure toward conformity in the direction of mediocrity.

While it is true that justice requires equality before the law (in this sense, just as in Islam, the law is a stand-in for God), if the state should attempt to treat every person completely equally, the result is injustice for all, coupled with the gradual lowering of standards for all. When the ladder of cultural distinction (once constructed of virtue and wisdom) is removed, mankind is thrown back into an animal level of materialism where force and money are power and power alone rules. Hierarchy will still exist, but it will be based on the crudest of criteria, appetites and passions. And as the common man is increasingly celebrated, the trend in all aspects of public life, the arts, literature and music, will lead inexorably toward mediocrity.

The modern dismissal of honorifics, even disposing of Mr. and Mrs., on down to the shortening of names is indicative of the modern attitude toward the individual “Dick and Jane.” Human beings are now routinely discussed in terms of units of consumption and production. As consumers we are analyzed and dissected as to preference and taste as no other people in history. Our politicians prostrate themselves before the idol of The Economy and continually churn out programs designed to cushion the already complacent middle class, a class whose purpose in life seems to be that of busy consumption.

Rather than engendering happiness, this loss of place in society for he individual has led to resentment, envy, suspicion and bitterness. It seems there was actually less resentment in an ordered hierarchical society than one in which distinction is removed. The peasant and artisan, soldier and tradesman, priest and aristocrat, all knew their places and could easily interact with courtesy and without shame. To work with ones hands at a satisfying craft is an enobling experience which has been largely erased from modern life along with agrarian pursuits. Inflated titles have increased as has the drudgery of work life. And the strong sense of belonging that used to come from fulfilling a vital role in society is missing: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker are gone now, replaced by giant concerns employing the cheapest and most expendable labor possible. As a result, the bonds of trust and loyalty between men have been loosed.

We live with a dichotomy where class mobility in term of economics is fluid, but the ladder to other kinds of distinction has been removed and replaced with the emptiest of measures: one’s bank balance. Virtue is suspected of being a conspiracy to cheat people of their rightful share of pleasure and wisdom has been pushed aside by overgrown children in their University playpens, the academics who push knowledge toward ever greater specialization and dissociation.

Underneath it all is a simmering cauldron of potentially explosive resentment. As Richard Weaver put it, “If we attach more significance to feeling than to thinking, we shall soon, by simple extension, attach more to wanting than to deserving.”[1] Stanley Kurtz explored one outlet for this resentment, Black Liberation Theology, in National Review:

James H. Cone, founder and leading light of black-liberation theology, is the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York. [Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah] Wright acknowledges Cone’s work as the basis of Trinity’s perspective, and Cone points to Trinity as the church that best exemplifies his message. Cone’s 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power is the founding text of black-liberation theology, predating even much of the influential, Marxist-inspired liberation theology that swept Latin America in the 1970s. Cone’s work is repeatedly echoed in Wright’s sermons and statements. While Wright and Cone differ on some minor issues, Cone’s theology is the first and best place to look for the intellectual context within which Wright’s views took shape.

Cone credits Malcolm X — particularly his famous dismissal of Christianity as the white man’s religion — with shaking him out of his theological complacency. In Malcolm’s words:

The white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze upon a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We’re worshiping a Jesus that doesn’t even look like us! Oh, yes! . . . The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that’s his God, the white man’s God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter . . . while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars here on this earth!??

In the late 1960s, Malcolm X’s criticisms (Wright calls them “devastating”) were adopted by the founders of the black-power movement, such as Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers, and Ron Karenga. Shaken by Malcolm’s rejection of Christianity and taken with the movement for black power, Cone, a young theologian and initially a devout follower of Martin Luther King Jr., set out to reconcile black power with Christianity. He did not reject Malcolm’s disdain for a “blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus” — rather, he came to believe that Jesus was black, and that an authentic Christianity, grounded in Jesus’s blackness, would focus with full force on black liberation. Authentic Christianity would bring radical social and political transformation and, if necessary, violent revolution in the here and now.[2]

In an obvious parallel to Islam, Black Liberation Theology divides the world between black and white, in the same way Islam divides the world into believer versus non-believer. Black Liberation Theology can even be said to subvert Christianity by erasing the basic Christian concept of the Fatherhood of God, subsequent brotherhood of man and replacing the obligation for brotherly love with an obligation to hatred. This is Christianity turned upside down and a real question exists as to whether this kind of belief system should be considered Christian at all.

There is also a question as to whether if, in the mainstream Christian churches, the zeal for equality has not replaced the much more fundamental concept of brotherhood. Brotherhood carries responsibilities simple equality does not. With brotherhood the focus is on others, with equality the focus is on oneself. The resulting egotism that pervades modern society is well laid out in Theodore Dalrymple’s book, In Praise of Prejudice, and need not be gone into here, but it may be commonly observed that when equality is raised to such heights as to destroy all sources of authority, mankind quickly reverts to the animal level of might makes right.

Whereas equality militates against distinction and authority, fraternity does not do this. Brotherly affection is unaffected by varying levels of capacity and ability and this is as it should be. Fraternity is a much superior concept upon which to base society than a mythical and unattainable equality. Society may treat different men fairly, but it cannot treat all men equally without destroying the very structure of society. Society must have structure, or it does not exist. Mankind becomes simply a mass of individual economic units and the only thing separating them is economic success, the natural result of the Darwinian state.

Culture, on the other hand, is a uniquely human product. It is not the simple result of economic causes and effects. It is the creation of human imagination, the result of a shared metaphysical dream. That dream has been maintained by belief in a loving Creator who desires all his children to love one another as brethren. We are losing that dream and the culture that has been its creation, largely as a result of the contending myth of equality.

[1] Weaver, Richard, Ideas Have Consequences (University of Chicago Press, 1948) pg. 37

[2] Kurtz, Stanley “The God of Black Power” National Review May 19,2008

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