Which would you prefer: Equality or Freedom?

I’ve been reading Alexis DeToqueville’s Democracy In America, and came across an absolutely brilliant depiction of Americans and democratic peoples in general.

I wasn’t sure I agreed with him. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was, and is, quite correct.

He writes (emphasis is mine) —

I think that democratic peoples have a natural taste for freedom; left to themselves they will seek it, they love it, and they will see themselves parted from it only with sorrow. But for equality they have an ardent, insatiable, eternal, invincible passion; they want equality in freedom, and, if they cannot get it, they still want it in slavery. They will tolerate poverty, enslavement, barbarism, but they will not tolerate aristocracy.

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2 Responses to Which would you prefer: Equality or Freedom?

  1. thelyniezian says:

    Well, first and foremost: whilst the concepts of freedom and equality (as with their unmentioned cousin, rights) are noble, they are also to a good degree nebulous. For example, when considering equality, what is it that you want: equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? One critique of libertarianism could be that it essentially leaves the poor and the underdog to the mercy of the free market, and hopes the removal of red tape and whatever enables the oligarchic interests to obtain government favour. Yet those who hae more money, more capital, to start with will often have the advantage over those who do not. they can obtain the better educations, have more money to invest, probably are a lower credit risk, and more. The former equality is no good without some assurance of the outcome. Of course, on the other hand, the reverse critique of socialism (in the loose sense of the term) is that it allows people’s needs and also wants to bbe met without having to put in much if any effort. Or, in the case of Soviet-style socialism, uniform austerity and semi-misery for all (unless you’re a loyal Party member, of course!)

    (And what of aristocracy? Does it matter what the social order is as long as people are satisfied? Does having a title or nominal status need to affect it? Take the UK- we still have an “aristocracy” but it doesn’t mean much- people don’t treat them as their “betters” and bow and scrape so much, the House of Commons take precedent over the Lords, and Royal Assent is pretty much rubber-stamping. Yet some of us still see an advantage in having a still-unelected Lords- it allows otherwise stupid measures to be properly scrutinised rather than being pushed through by people who only care about their standings in the polls).

    The same goes with freedom. The only absolute “freedom” in one sense could come from anarchy- and without a strong mutual understanding between all members of society as to what is acceptable, it won’t work. Moreover, it would be no “freedom” at all- not much freedom to go abut your daily business if you risk being shot at the minute you step out of the door, or if someone more powerful could simply take your property by force (reminiscent of certain Western movies, it seems!) Such freedom is provided only in the framework of proper laws to ensure it is obeyed. And to what extent is freedom to do what is morally wrong necessarily a good or welcome thing? (Think about abortion, say). And is it universally wanted by all people?

    Likewise can freedom and equality not go hand-in-hand, indeed perhaps they must do, rather than be a separate thing as your title suggests? I recall reading a quote from some random East German saying that whilst it’s good travel restrictions (as were in place under communism) were lifted, freedom of movement doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford a car. (Of course you are more likely to get a car than under communism, at least without having to wait over 10 years for a car like the Trabant, whose roadworthiness was questionable at best). Likewise, as regards, say, racial equality- how many opportunities, say, were effectively denied to people on the grounds they were black? Similar happened with class in the UK of an earlier era.

  2. friendmouse says:

    Equality is, here on earth, an impossibly attainable concept. It is too “all-encompassing.” It must be narrowed down into measurable terms like “equal pay for equal work.” And even that is difficult and generally subjectively arrived at. Unless it is on a “piece-meal” basis, and even there, quantity is usually impacted by “quality,” so then is it truly “equal” work? If a worker is to be paid $1 per widget produced, what if one man’s widget is beautifully crafted and another’s is barely within tolerances? Equal work?

    Are we “equal” in God’s eyes? Isn’t that all that (truly) matters? Are we? I believe, again, it depends upon the measure or on the parameters. The value of the life may truly be equal (I believe it is), but doesn’t the Bible teach us that “To whom more is given, more is required?” [parable of the talents]. Where’s the “equality” there? It isn’t equal.

    The same goes with true freedom. In the broadest sense, there is no complete freedom. Adam and Eve were not completely free. Freedom is widely define as “no constraints.” There is no such thing in this universe this side of heaven.

    True freedom and true equality: two terms which are too nebulous to really comprehend.

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