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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?