Column on What Kind of Equality

What kind of Equality?
Tibor R. Machan
So called progressives–who wish to sell us on the idea that their
rejection of the principles of the Declaration of Independence amounts to
moving forward whereas it is, in fact, blatantly reactionary–like to make
fun of the American Founders’ and Framers’ ideas. One of those ideas that
has come in for some drubbing is where we are told that “All men are
created equal.” In fact, several elements of this statement have received
much ridicule. One is that it talks of “men,” another that even if it is
taken more honestly as referring to adult human beings, it is plainly
false. There is, of course, yet another part of it that is often derided,
namely, that human beings were created by God, even though by “create” one
can mean both something religious and secular.
What about the idea that human beings are created equal? Aldous Huxley is
reported to have dismissed this as follows: “That all men are equal is a
proposition which at ordinary times no sane individual has ever given his
assent.” Yet, Huxley and all whose who gleefully join him in his attempt
to debunk the Founders seem not to have been paying sufficient attention
to the actual words of the Declaration. Immediately following “That all
men are created equal” is the sentence “that they are endowed, by their
creator, with certain unalienable rights.” Which pretty much implies that
this is where all of us are equal, namely, in our possession of the
unalienable rights–among others–to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
What is clear from this is that the Founders didn’t believe something
ridiculous like Huxley suggests they did, namely, that “all men are
equal.” Just look at any group of human beings and it is patently absurd
that they are equal. We are all individuals, with a great variety of
unique, distinct, different, and even special attributes that make up who
we are. Despite this, however, we are also equally in possession of our
Just consider this: all marathon runners differ from one another yet they
are also equal in having to start from a certain spot and having to finish
at another. But this equality is very limited and contributes just
minimally to their status as marathon runners. The students in my
university classes are clearly unequal on many fronts yet they are equal
in having to pass certain tests, write certain papers, take part in class
So the equality that the American Founders identified about human beings
makes perfectly good sense: however much they all differ–however unequal
they may be in their talents, opportunities, physical prowess, wealth,
health, and beauty–they are equal in having fundamental, unalienable
individual human rights to their lives, liberty, pursuit of happiness and
many others not possible to list.
Yes, the Founders proposed that human beings have many more than just
those basic rights. That is why when the Bill of Rights was crafted, it
included the Ninth Amendment which states that “the enumeration in this
Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or
disparage others retained by the people.” The Framers worried that listing
some of the most basic rights may mislead folks into thinking that they
meant human beings have only those, whereas in fact human beings have
many, many more rights than what the Declaration or the Bill of Rights
could possibly list.
This is not difficult to grasp. Neither the Declaration nor the Bill of
Rights states that human beings have the right to, say, laugh, sing, play
billiards, or to get on their knees and say prayers yet, of course, every
adult human being has the right to do these things. And how do we tell
that the Founders and Framers thought so? Because they listed very broad
principles only, such as the rights to life and to liberty. If one has the
right to one’s life, it clearly means that one has the right to a whole
bunch of peaceful, non rights-violating undertakings, given that life
consists of innumerable such undertakings. Similarly, to have the right to
liberty means to have the right to act in innumerable ways that do not
violate anyone else’s rights. But a brief, succinct declaration, or a
brief list, cannot possibly mention all the rights human beings have. The
terms used are abstract ones, indicating a great many more concrete
elements–just as when one uses the term “furniture” to indicate all those
chairs, tables, beds, sofas, drawers, etc., that is meant by it.
My suspicion is that in the battles for people’s minds and hearts a lot of
people who find it inconvenient that others would have the rights the
Founders and Framers indicated wish to make it appear the American
Founders and Framers were confused and what they proposed can be simply
dismissed. Well, they are very wrong about this.

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21 Responses to Column on What Kind of Equality

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