The Olympics and Politics

The Olympics and Politics

Tibor R. Machan

Strictly speaking sports and politics should be separate, just as should be religion and politics. Of course folks with strong religious convictions will often be guided by them as they make political choices. So people who hold to the pro-life or pro-choice position on abortion will choose candidates and policies accordingly, although they could just as easily be guided by their convictions apart from their link to their faith. In other words, whatever is one’s source of values will make a difference to how one aligns oneself in public policies. But the best option is to keep one’s personal values at home. And rooting for people on political grounds pretty much corrupts athletics.

The substance of athletics is performance, never mind why one wants to perform well in some event. Yet there are some political lessons to be learned from competitive athletics. One is just how irrational is egalitarianism, the view that the best social arrangement is where everyone enjoys equal advantages and disadvantages in life–the same income, the same health insurance, the same emotional state, etc.–with no one better or worse off than anyone else. This is the egalitarian doctrine that motivates a great many political theorists.

The most extreme version of this idea was advocated by Jean Jacques Rousseau who thought it is a natural and proper state of human society, one toward which every actual society should strive. In our time President Obama has been a vocal advocate of egalitarianism, so much so that he thinks public policy should be guided by it, at least when it comes to what he considers important matters like securing health insurance for everyone, at least in the country of which he is president, or “distributing” income.

The best fictional criticism of egalitarianism occurs in George Orwell’s short novel, Animal Farm. Another fictional scrutiny of the system may be found in Kurt Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron which treats the two sides of the debate quite evenhandedly but ultimately reveals just how egalitarianism distorts human affairs.

The Olympic Games come in very handy for those of us who find egalitarianism morally and politically intolerable. The Games show how little appeal there is to forcing everyone into the same mold, how much violence and coercion it would–and where attempted does–take to even toy with bringing about an egalitarian society.

The only place where equality has a decisive role in human social affairs is when it comes to protecting everyone’s basic rights. This is the way the Declaration of Independence finds room for equality. Once everyone’s basic rights are secure, from that point on no room exists for equalization in a just human community.

Sure, there can be special areas where equality can be of value, for example in the application of standards and rules, as shown in athletics. But even there equality will apply in highly diverse ways–one way in the classroom, another in the legal system, and yet another at a beauty contest. General equality belongs only in the protection of individual rights, period.

Elsewhere it is just as it’s illustrated by the Olympic Games, with variety and differences breaking out all over. As long as these are peacefully obtained, as long as ranking comes about without corruption, there is nothing objectionable about inequalities in human affairs. Furthermore, attempting to make things equal achieves the exact opposite since those doing the attempting will enjoy the worst kind of inequality, namely, power over their fellows as they try to manipulate everyone to be equal.

Just as elsewhere in most of nature, in human affairs, too, inequality is the norm. But since human beings are free to establish various rules in their societies, they have the option, which they ought to exercise, to preclude all coercion from human interactions. Beyond that, it is futile to try to exclude inequalities in human affairs.

It is not inequality that needs to be abolished but coercive force. With that achieved, at least substantially, let diversity and difference be the norm. As that old saying goes, “Vive la difference.” Any serious examination of the prospects of an egalitarians polity should reveal just how insidious the idea is. Just consider requiring that all outcomes of the Olympic Games be equal!

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