This speech was originally delivered to an online meeting of Libertarian Party members on 18 July 2020.
Is equality a good thing? I wish to frame my analysis by differentiating between two main types of equality. There is natural equality, and there is artificial equality. Specifically, only natural equality is in my view a good thing. When we say equality, what are we referring to? Social equality, political equality, economic equality; equality has in many ways become a suffix for a practice of philosophical moralising and historical revisionism.
Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt outlined what he considered the four principles of natural equality among men were in a 1755 edition of Encyclopédie, an encyclopaedia published in the mid to late 1700s edited by French philosopher Denis Diderot; he stated ‘that all men are naturally free and that the faculty of reason could only make them dependent for their own welfare’, ‘that in spite of all the inequalities produced in the political government by the differences in station, by nobility, power, riches, etc., those who have risen the most above others must treat their inferiors as being naturally equal to them by avoiding any insults, by demanding nothing beyond what is required, and by demanding with humanity only what is unquestionably due’, ‘that whoever has not acquired a particular right by virtue of which he can demand preferential treatment, must not claim more than others but, on the contrary, allow them to enjoy equally the same rights that he assumes for himself’, and ‘that anything which is a universal right must be either universally enjoyed or alternately possessed, or divided into equal portions among those who have the same right, or allotted with equitable and regulated compensation; or finally if this is possible, the decision should be made by lot: a quite suitable expedient that removes any suspicion of contempt and partiality without diminishing in any way the esteem of those people not immediately favoured. Finally, to go even further, I base on the incontestable principle of natural equality, as did the judicious [Richard] Hooker, all the duties of charity, of humanity, and of justice which all men are obliged to practice towards one another, and it would not be difficult to demonstrate this’. This view of natural rights is not dissimilar to that which was later expressed in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which was collaborated on by Thomas Jefferson or in the writings of John Stuart Mill, particularly his principle of one’s liberty ending at the moment of harm against another individual.
Look at any dictionary definition of the word and it will list adjuncts such as racial equality, gender equality, income equality. Typically, policies and ambitions focused on achieving such notions of equality are enforced by state legislation.
The Equality Act 2010 remains one of the most horrendously discriminatory pieces of legislation the British parliament has ever passed. It lists nine ‘protected characteristics’; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Who decided upon these labels, and what was the justification for each? What right does the state have to enforce them as ideals above myself as an individual? Who is really being protected by this legislation, but more importantly, who is being harmed by it?
This, and similar legislation, legitimises labels and suffocates natural rights and liberty. It therefore plays easily into the hands of the political hard left. It erodes the efficiency and prosperity and human value produced in a meritocracy. This has significant implications in the social, political and economic realms – and in ways more subtle than one might imagine.
Equality doesn’t generate freedom, it kills it. Businesses must now comply with equality and diversity regulations that stifle their enterprise and freewheeling ingenuity; an assault on freedom of association and freedom from the state. There are so-called ‘hate speech’ laws in which someone can be arrested for making a subjectively biased comment in the domain of an affected person; an assault on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The BBC, by way of example, has in recent years adopted an Equality & Diversity Strategy that actively discriminates against certain individuals in favour of others by setting quotas for the representation of certain demographics. The Labour Party has at various times introduced similar discriminatory policies, particularly in relation to attendance at their party conferences.
Those from state-identified minority groups, particularly those from the BAME community and LGBT+ community, titles symptomatic of a labelling culture that seeks to categories individuals and reduce them down to their lowest common denominators, are given a leg up – yet everyone else is given a hand down. It is equality that has led to a toxic culture of no-platforming and safe spaces in universities and college campuses. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the National Union of Students, a partisan organisation which favours the indoctrination of the many over the education of the few.
When politicians in recent years have talked of ‘working people’, the ‘squeezed middle’ or some other group of oppressed individuals, are these terms individuals are typically willing to associate themselves with? People are so much more than their age, their height, their gender, their colour, their race, their wealth. These labels do nothing to service the broader interests and ambitions of individuals above their fundamental characteristics, many of which are unalterable. State attempts to combat what they perceive as injustices only seeks to perpetuate the grievances of affected individuals further. Positive discrimination is still discrimination. Reverse racism is still racism. These terms seek to moralise what is innately evil. These detrimental labels lead to detrimental processes, and these detrimental processes lead to detrimental outcomes.
To conclude, the only true equalities we possess as individuals are those natural equalities; that we are all human, that we are all free, that we all possess inalienable and universal rights. All other equalities are subjective and consequently artificial. All other equalities are the manufactures of those who wish to infringe upon those natural rights; in their labelling language, they wish to set white against black, young against old, poor against rich, gay against straight. Instead of championing equality, we ought to be respecting diversity. We as individuals are all different in many ways – no two people are the same, and it would be impossible to achieve sameness if tried as the human experience is entirely subjective from person to person.
The libertarian philosophy acknowledges the destructiveness and divisiveness of such an infringement of our natural equality. It is natural equality that gives us equality before the law, as no one person is placed above or below another. It is natural equality that gives us equality of opportunity, as we have the right and freedom to pursue our interests and fulfil our potential as far as it will take us.