The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Problem With ‘Equality’

Posted on | March 21, 2022 | Comments Off on The Problem With ‘Equality’


In the mid-1970s, in an attack on [Wilmoore] Kendall, [Harry] Jaffa published an article, “Equality as a Conservative Principle,” the very title of which served to mark him as a latter-day Jacobin in the eyes of many conservatives influenced by Edmund Burke. (“Believe me, Sir, those who attempt to level never equalise. In all societies consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The Levellers, therefore, only change and pervert the natural order of things,” etc. — Reflections on the Revolution in France.)
Jaffa has the obnoxious habit of denouncing as “nihilists” all who dispute his particular philosophy, which can best be described as an eclectic (or, perhaps some would say, peculiar) stew of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Abraham Lincoln. Considering that both Kendall and [his ally Frank] Meyer were close associates of William F. Buckley Jr., it is difficult to understand why their antagonist Jaffa was embraced by Buckley, but he was.
— from “Angelo Codevilla, Conor Friedersdorf and the Straussian Time-Warp,” The American Spectator, July 18, 2010

We keep having the same arguments about “equality” because so few people bother to study the arguments we’ve already had. Another factor is that many of the people involved think of themselves as being so intellectually and morally superior to the rest of us that our opposition to their enthusiasm for Equality (with a capital “E” denoting its status as a religion to some people) makes it unnecessary to rebut our arguments. We’re all just a bunch of ignorant bigots in the eyes of the High Priests of the Cult of Equality, and therefore our objections can be ignored or dismissed as expressions of hateful prejudice.

It should not be necessary for me to explain what is wrong with Equality — why a fanatical cult-like devotion to this abstract ideal is harmful and erroneous — because such eminent thinkers as Burke have already made the argument with such clarity that no honest and intelligent could fail to grasp the point, and yet here we are in 2022, dealing with David French.

Dear God, how I wish we could all resolve to ignore that fool, but someone quoted him in the Hot Air headlines, and there goes my whole morning. Whatever else I might have blogged about must be laid aside so I can administer the kind of bitch-slapping he deserves.

While I hate to keep my quoting myself, it’s helpful to illustrate how persistent the egalitarian error is when I show you that I was arguing about this more than 13 years ago in January 2009:

Are men and women equal in the fullest sense of the word? If so, then equality implies fungibility — the two things are interchangeable and one may be substituted for the other in any circumstance whatsoever. (La mort à la différence!) Therefore, it is of no consequence whether I marry a woman or a man.

The fantastical project of yesterday, which was mentioned only to be ridiculed, is to-day the audacious reform, and will be tomorrow the accomplished fact.

This is why so many of those who would defend traditional marriage find themselves unable to form a coherent argument, because traditional marriage is based on the assumption that men and women are fundamentally different, and hence, unequal. Traditional marriage assumes a complementarity of the sexes that becomes absurd if you deny that “man” and “woman” define intrinsic traits, functions, roles.

Insofar as any two things are different, they are not equal. This is a fundamental principle of mathematics, and its application to human affairs seems logical enough that further explanation should be unnecessary. And yet, there goes David French:

For those who haven’t followed, a trans woman named Lia Thomas just won the women’s 500-yard freestyle championship, and the race wasn’t close. Before this year, Thomas raced as a man in both high school and college. While competing as a man, Thomas was a fine swimmer, but nowhere near the NCAA championship level.
Here’s where I am on the dispute. In the vast majority of life circumstances, I do not believe that a trans person should face discrimination because they are trans. But there are limited circumstances where biological realities mean that some distinctions are not only wise, they protect other classes of Americans from both unfairness and intrusion on their rights. . . .

Where to start? Permit me to risk the accusation of transphobia by saying that a man is a man and woman is a woman and that anyone who thinks otherwise is in the throes of “strong delusion.” For French to say that those who suffer from such a delusion should be treated as if they actually were what they think they are — i.e., that the rest of us are obligated to play along with this make-believe, or else be accused of wrongful “discrimination” — is a perfect example of how hopelessly confused French has become. He imagines himself to be a defender of the True Principles™ of conservatism, a belief every bit as delusional as the belief that Will Thomas is now a woman named “Lia.”

If you’re going to be a conservative, you have to accept the reputational damage you will suffer as a result of character assassination by liberals who need little or no actual evidence to accuse you of racism, sexism or some other prejudice. Sic semper hoc — “Now listen you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered,” as Bill Buckley replied to Gore Vidal. The Left’s habit of trafficking in ad-hominem smears as a substitute for argument was noted a century ago by Ludwig von Mises:

Marxism criticizes the achievements of all those who think otherwise by representing them as the venal servants of the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels never tried to refute their opponents with argument. They insulted, ridiculed, derided, slandered, and traduced them, and in the use of these methods their followers are not less expert. Their polemic is directed never against the argument of the opponent, but always against his person.

It does not behoove a conservative to waste much time denying such smears, and it’s always a bad idea for a conservative to go out of his way to show how “not racist” (or “not sexist,” etc.) he is. This is the real root of French’s problem; he fears that actually being against whatever liberals demand would injure his reputation as a pious Christian. While I don’t want to get into a theological discussion here, French seems to think that bluntly telling liberals “no” is sinful, and thus he twists himself into knots of self-contradiction by, on the one hand, ceding every premise of liberal syllogisms (e.g., transgender people are “valid” substitutes for whatever it is they pretend to be) while trying to deny the conclusion of their arguments (e.g., Will Thomas should be an NCAA women’s swimming champion). Conservatives are generally too polite to question the bona fides of leftists — considering it rude to doubt their sincerity — but I was born and raised a “yellow dog” Democrats, so I’m under no illusions about this. Democrats really only care about one thing — winning — and they don’t consider any political tactic to be unfair, so long as the result is Democrats winning. This is why political conflict in America is so often one-sided, with the GOP trying to fight by the Marquis of Queensbury rules against Democrats who roll like the Crips vs. Bloods.

Returning from that digression, however, when I speak of egalitarians as having a religious devotion to Equality, this is scarcely an exaggeration. Consider this passage of French’s argument:

To understand my reasoning, let’s go back to the founding and guiding texts of the American republic — texts that don’t just create specific legal doctrines but embody a particular biblically-informed morality about the dignity and worth of all people.
The founding declaration can be quoted by heart: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Note that this sentence proclaims not just people have equal status (equality isn’t enough), but also possess inherent dignity, which is recognized and protected through our unalienable rights.

As with so much of what French writes, the question is, where to begin? As more eminent writers than I have explained, the lofty prose of the preamble to the Declaration had a specific authorial intent — in particular, appealing to Whig sentiments in England — that attenuate the claims of egalitarians who view it as a promise of a utopian ideal that we are obligated to pursue as a matter of federal policy. You will often find this “all men are created equal” phrase from the Declaration compounded with the phrase “a more perfect Union” from the preamble to the Constitution to create a sort of Permanent Revolutionary Mandate, by which we are compelled always to measure ourselves against some imagined ideal condition of Equality, and to pursue whatever crazy measures are necessary to achieve this “perfect Union” — immanentizing the eschaton, as Eric Voegelin would say. This is an error based upon a misreading of the Constitution. Why, after all, were the delegates representing “We the People” gathered in Philadelphia in 1787?

The faults of the Articles of Confederation had become manifest, and the “Union” of the several states was so imperfect that it was universally agreed that something had to be done to fix these problems, or else the whole thing might go flying asunder. In avowing their intent “to form a more perfect Union,” the authors of the Constitution were merely saying that they meant to make possible a greater cohesion of the different states under a common government. This is why, for example, that they specified that “regulation of interstate commerce” as a federal power, because under the Articles the different states had been slapping tariffs and other trade restrictions on their neighbors. Many of the other provisions of the Constitution, including the federal assumption of debts from the War of Independence owed by the state governments, can be viewed in this light, i.e., as seeking to bring about greater unity (i.e. “a more perfect Union”) than was the case under the Articles.

David French is worshiping in the Temple of the Cult of Equality, and thinks of this political idolatry as “biblically-informed morality,” so that those of us who fail to join along in singing his peculiar hymns to the Fourteenth Amendment are just a bunch of retrograde sinners. While I could go on fisking his argument for hours, I’ve already wasted most of the morning on this project, and it’s now past lunchtime, so I’ll let the commenters chew over the rest of it. In the bowels of Christ I beseech you, can we agree to ignore David French from now on?



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