Progressivism's Equality Paradox Smothers Freedom
With the historical record of the last century and a half of political and social experimentation behind us, the fundamental question for Western civilization has come down to this: How free do people want to be? Partially free or completely free? Furthermore, is it even possible to be considered truly free if one is only partially free? Democratically based societies around the globe need to decide which they value more -- liberal/Progressive equality or freedom. There is no happy medium that will sustain both. One need only observe the contention, the hyper-partisanship, and the social and economic decline of societies that have attempted to balance the two concepts to recognize that it is a fool's errand.
The concept of freedom used here means that each individual owns his or her own life (body and mind, including that which he produces with his body and mind) while existing in a condition in which voluntary courses of action can be chosen without physical compulsion, coercion, or interference from others.
It is obvious that freedom is meaningless in a society without rights to protect it. A right has, therefore, been defined as a moral principle defining and sanctioning a person's freedom in a social context. Past Supreme Court justice George Sutherland stated it eloquently when he said, "The right to life, liberty and property are bound together to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but to deny him his liberty is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To give him liberty but to take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty is to still leave him a slave."
Both freedom and rights are futile without the principle of equality of rights. Though people possess a vast array of individual differences, all members of a free society should be treated equally in two respects: in the equality of their individual rights, and in their equality of treatment before the law. Freedom cannot exist for those whose rights are subordinated to the rights or objectives of others. Observing the equality of rights also means that any alleged "right" of one person, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. For example, no person can have the "right" to impose an un-chosen obligation, an unrewarded duty, or involuntary servitude on another person. Armed with this understanding, we can begin to clear the fog of Progressivism and understand how its agenda of collectivism and redistribution is corrosive to freedom.
In order to be acceptable in a culture that valued individual liberty and self-reliance, Progressives realized that collectivism had to be cloaked in "the common good of society," and egalitarian redistribution disguised as "fairness" necessary to achieve "social justice." Unconcealed, these objectives are offensive to a free society in which individuals follow their own values and preferences and are not bound to follow someone else's. This principle is founded on the belief that adult individuals of sound mind are the ultimate judges of their own well-being and that their own views should be paramount in governing their actions.
The proponents of liberal/Progressive equality, on the other hand, want to govern the actions of others in order to organize society and its resources to achieve their specific objectives, which are often loosely defined as the "common good." The writings of several renowned modern thinkers have pointed out that, in a free society, the common good can mean only the sum of the various goods of all of the individuals involved. When the common good is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual good of its members, it means that the good of some takes precedence over the good of others. A free society does not require the sacrifice of anyone's interests, be it to another powerful individual or even to a majority. It leaves no possibility for any person to serve his or her interests by subordinating the interests of others.
Herein is the Equality Paradox, the central contradiction of liberal/Progressive ideology. Though the Progressive version of equality is presented to society as "fairness," it paradoxically requires unequal treatment by the force of government to subordinate the rights of some to the dictates of others in order to facilitate the latter's aims. The objective rule of law is bent to accommodate preferential treatment of chosen groups who, in turn, reward their government benefactors with electoral support.
Once established, a "system" such as this eventually becomes the inverse of the one prescribed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A democratically based, constitutionally limited republic is replaced with statism, where authoritarian government mandates know few limitations and obedient citizens are cultivated through increasingly restricted freedom of action and a diminution in the protection of individual rights. The consequence, which is lost on many good-intentioned people who support Progressive policies, is that it matters not if individual rights and freedom of choice are subordinated to the arbitrary whims of a monarch, a dictator, or to a government under the banner of societal good -- they are subordinated nonetheless.
Committed Progressives will often concede that the rights of some may be subordinated and freedoms abridged, but they defend this as necessary in the transformation into a fairer society. Once the transformation is complete, they say, everyone will enjoy equality and live in a society where material needs will be met through cooperative effort guided by benevolent government action. Their assertions demand an answer to these questions: Of all the societies that have attempted similar transformations, are there any examples where this has gone to successful completion? Furthermore, does the modern Progressive welfare state represent such a completion?
Interestingly, social scientist and author Charles Murray has referred to the last century of experimentation with collectivism and egalitarianism as modern civilization's era of adolescence -- an era when parental advice, based on the practical lessons learned through life experiences, is discounted as irrelevant to the "modern times" in which the adolescent and his or her cohorts live. Intellectual immaturity, hubris, naivety, and the youthful rebellious desire to be uninhibited by conventional standards eventually give way to an appreciation of the value of one's parents' timeless wisdom.
Will America mature in a parallel fashion through this Progressive-influenced phase of societal development and regain an appreciation for the timeless wisdom of her founding principles? Or will America venture farther away from freedom and down the path toward liberal/Progressive equality?