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The Irony of Egalitarianism

The Hammer and Cicle

Ironic, but this is what came up when I image searched "egalitarianism symbol." I can't make this stuff up!

First of all, I want to thank Larry for allowing me to contribute to this patch of internet space.  Secondly, I want to assure those of you who have visited me at Christian Fearing God-Man, that I will keep my posts clean here.  Fear not, for I will spare the vitriol for another audience.

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I am an idea man.  I majored in American History in college, and my area of focus was intellectual history, or the history of ideas.  So today I want to bring up an idea that has created a counterintuitive effect on America, and that’s the idea of egalitarianism.

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Although some of the Founding Fathers were slave owners, they still espoused the notion that “all men are created equal.”  Even though they might not have truly believed it in their hearts—to some of them, Africans were certainly inferior to white men—as Gordon S. Wood noted in Revolutionary Characters, men like Jefferson “reasoned that they must be equal.”  To them, every person had the same basic worth as a human, and each man had the same God-given, inalienable rights that could not be taken away (unless he breaks the social contract).

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Egalitarianism is part of what historians like to call the “American Mind.”  Frederick Jackson Turner in his “The Significance of the American Frontier,” posited that it was in the American frontier that the American Mind was born; there it was where egalitarianism was pure and true.  Out in the west, where American civilization had yet to be formed, a man could strike out on his own to build his own fortune.  There was nothing but raw nature, pristine and ripe with opportunity, and it was up to each man to build for himself a place in the world he could call his own.

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The beauty of it was that there was no one to stop him but himself.  Eventually there would be rivalry and conflict, but for a while there was only the man and his potential.  If the man had the guts and the know how, he would be successful; if he was timid and inexperienced, it was likely that he would fail.  No man was more entitled to stake his claim than the next, because every man’s humanity was worth as much as the next; every man had the same inalienable rights.

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But somewhere along the line, the understanding of egalitarianism changed.  Instead of believing as Lincoln did, that “equality” meant equality of human worth, people started to believe that equality mean we all have to be the same.  Egalitarianism in America used to mean that every person has the right to live their lives the way they want, and to strive to be the best at what they do.  Now, instead of having the right to be the best, egalitarianism seems to mean that everyone has an equal chance at being just as good as the next guy.  Egalitarianism, as people understand it, is actually doing more harm to America than good.

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In the 1950’s philosopher Hannah Arendt, a woman who escaped the snare of the Nazis, posited this same idea, that egalitarianism has hurt America.  In her book Between Past and Future, she did an analysis of why American education had declined.  Progressivism in education, in an attempt to level the playing field so that every child would receive the same education, actually ruined American education.  Because people concluded that every man is equal, they further decided that meant that every man must be equal in ability and opportunity.  Instead of opportunity being decided by one’s individual talents, abilities, and merits, Progressives sought to eliminate the stratification of meritocracy by making sure that everyone’s talents, abilities, and merits were the same.

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American education has “[struck] from [student’s] hands their chance of undertaking something new.”  They reached the conclusion that in order to make education “fair,” and “equal,” that education must be dumbed-down so that everyone eventually will be equal.  They understood that every person has only a maximum potential that they cannot transcend.  So the solution?  Well, we can’t make the dumb kids smarter, but we sure can make the smart kids dumber!

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So instead of each kid being pushed to reach his or her maximum potential, they’re pushed to meet the standard requirement, all because we want to say that everyone has “equal opportunity.”  American society has forgotten the true meaning of egalitarianism: that although we are not created equal in the sense of ability, talent, or intellect, we are all equally allowed to better ourselves and be the best that we can be.

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Egalitarianism, for all its goodness, has been twisted and misinterpreted by fools that believe in a highly politicized notion of “equal opportunity.”  I submit that everyone does have equal opportunity.  No one should stop you from doing your best based on race, class, or gender, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the best.  That doesn’t even mean that you’re going to be just as good as the next guy.

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Soon, it will mean that you get to be just as good as the next guy, because we’re slowly phasing out any notion of competition or inequality of ability.  I weep for the future, because standards everywhere will be so low that even the biggest failure will be perceived as just as good as the next guy.

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As a society, we need to stop being afraid to tell people that they’re no good at what they do.  We need to stop being afraid to allow others to be the best.  We need to raise our standards in education, return to placing high expectations on our kids, and stop telling them that they’re all equal in intellect.  Warped egalitarianism has ruined American education; what’s next?

About Jack

Jack Camwell has written 14 posts in this blog.

I spent four years as a cryptologist in the Navy, and I graduated summa cum laude with a BA in History and Political Science. My research focus in American history was the characters and theory of the American Revolution. In political science I focused on American government, the Constitution, and the political theory of how democratic thought gave way to totalitarianism in the 20th Century. I don't claim to know everything, but I do know that it's possible for two smart people to arrive at vastly different conclusions. To know that opens one's mind to the true pursuit of Truth. Afterall, "an unexamined life is a life not worth living."

  • Country Thinker

    Excellent piece, Jack. I’ve written on this subject, although couched in slightly different terms. I tboils down to the definition of fairness. There is a psychologist who studies political thinking who has found that conservatives and libertarians believe what he calls “karma” fairness, which is equality of opportunity, and your successes and failures will largely be dependant on the efforts you put into things.

    Liberals, however, believe in equality of result. So if one country is more successful than another it is because the successful country has an unfair advantage that must be equalized.

    “Equal opportunity” then becomes a very ironic term as it is used today. “Opportunities are unequal so we will enforce equal results.” Equivalent outcome is a more accurate term.

  • Jack Camwell

    “Equality of result . . . ”

    I hadn’t thought to put it that way. You’re exactly right on that one.

  • John Galt

    I have always defined the differences between the Progressives, Liberals and Socialists (the Democratic Party) and the conservatives (The Republican and Libertarian Parties) as the difference between the emphasis in equality and the emphasis in freedom.
    Equality is advanced by sacrificing freedom; freedom is the essence of individualism; individualism cannot help but quarrel with equality.
    The essence of the formation of the American Mind was individualism – Hayek says as much in his “Individualism and Economic Order”. America is changing because its individuals are decreasing and more and more people are becoming dependents of the state.

    • Jack Camwell

      Yes, that’s something that Jackson talks about as well: fierce individualism. I believe Obama mentioned that in his budget proposal thing.

      I clearly see the logic in what you’ve said, and I agree with it. The Democrats would rather everyone just be the same. Those of us who realize what America is all about are glad that there are people who blaze their own paths in life, and aren’t content to just eat up the status quo.

  • LD Jackson

    Well done, Jack. I have to admit, I have never looked at equality in the manner you describe, but rest assured that I will never look at it the same again. Clearly, the term “equality” has been twisted into meaning something that is completely unfamiliar with the standards under which our country was founded.

    • Jack Camwell

      Thanks Larry. You should really consider reading that book of Arendt’s, or anything she’s written. I warn you, though, she is really tough to read. That woman was ahead of her time.

  • Steve Dennis

    Great first post Jack, and thank you for your service! It seems as if over the years the nation has decided that everyone should be equally average instead of letting people excel at what they are good at. Just because America provides everyone with an equal opportunity of success it doesn’t mean that the outcomes will be equal, yet that is what the left is trying to accomplish.

  • John Carey

    Welcome Jack and thank you for your service. I look forward to many more thought provoking posts as this. It was simply outstanding. You nailed it.

  • Jack Camwell

    Thank you all =) I’ve set the bar high for myself it would seem.

    • LD Jackson

      With posts like this, what do you expect? I will be looking forward to your next post.

  • Harrison

    Stopping the handing out trophies for 7th place might be a good way to start.

    • Country Thinker

      I’ve got a 4-year old, and I’m already dealing with that issue. Our conversations often go like this: Why are you good at soccer? Becasue I practice. Why are you good at math? Because I practice. Why don’t you write very well? Because I don’t practice.

      Mind you it hasn’t gotten him to work harder at writing (he gets frustrated and quits almost immediately) but I’m not letting him off the hook. His peers are better at him when it comes to writing, and I make sure he knows why. He’s better at addition, and ditto. I know a 4-year old needs some affirmation, but not for poor performance that is the result of insufficient effort.

      A trophy for 7th place? If he’s my son, he won’t accept it.

  • Martin

    Jack, wow! Great writing, and kudos to Mr. Jackson for bringing you aboard PR. I’ve read Wood’s book and you’re spot on.

    People are of equal value (in God’s eyes), but definitely not of equal ability. Jesus himself pointed this out in his parable of the talents. It is impossible to make everything “fair.”

    BTW, thanks for your service. My wife is a former “Crippie.”

  • Jim at Conservatives on Fire

    Fairness is a formula for misery. Take a boy who finds one apple in the refrigerator and decides to enjoy it. At that time a friend shows up ans so he cuts that apple in half so they each have a fair share. Before they can begin eating two more friends drop by an so the two boys each cut their piece of apple in half so now all the boys have an equal share but the four more friends arrrive. Each piece of of apple is cut in half again and everyone enjoys a miserable but fair piece of apple.

    • Jack Camwell

      I would argue that that’s a flawed definition of fairness. I buy into the Aristotelian notion of fairness that we should “render unto each what each is due.” Some would think that means that everyone gets the same, but that’s flawed and ridiculous as illustrated by your example.

  • ferris

    Sorry Jack, but it is you who has misinterpreted the meaning of American egalitarianism. Listen I’m not gonna argue with you. I’ll let you argue with Thomas Jefferson:

    I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.… Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.-Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison 1785

    Clearly he’s not advocating for equality of results, that’s a misconception of the right, and a talking point it loves to push out of a definition of the aims of the right, but that’s wholly incorrect. It takes into account that results will not be equal, however it explicitly states that government has a role in making sure that the have nots aren’t totally neglected. The right wing abandonment of the egalitarian ideals expressed by the founders while attempting to wrap themselves in the flag of patriotism is shameful in as much as it is unamerican.
    Good day

    • Jack Camwell

      I don’t disagree with what you’ve said here, but I think perhaps you missed the point I was trying to make.

      This was entirely about education and why edcuation in America has been severely dumbed down. Educators figured out that you can’t make the have nots just suddenly be the haves in education. Every person has a maximum potential for education. You can’t make all the kids come out the same.

      Thomas Jefferson and all the founding fathers agreed with my interpretation of egalitarianism in this sense. They knew that not everyone was capable of being a scholar. They knew that in terms of talent, ability, and station in life that not everyone is born equal.

      In fact, I’m advocating that we stop lowering education standards, and instead try to get these kids to push themselves. Not every one of them is going to succeed as well as the other, but such is life. Education is useless if it’s just a meaningless confidence booster.

      Advocating for tougher standards and better quality of education is 100% in keeping with the beliefs the founding fathers espoused. How can we be free, how can someone partake in his or her natural rights if we’re keeping him stupid for the sake of making sure that everyone gets a trophy?