The Libertarian Basis of Equality

By Ujwal Batra

Equality- Perhaps there exists no other word that stirs up as many emotions. It is the standard cry of all politicians, the cornerstone of all rhetoric. A lot of the socialist propaganda is done in the name of equality.

(Classical) Liberalism is often accused of being cold and ruthless, with its principles favoring a certain section of society. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Liberalism is not a fixed dogma or ideology, it is not the ideology of the so called ‘bourgeois class.’ It is simply a science which proceeds from the recognition of facts about how people act and interact with each other. Starting from there, it seeks to create conditions in which human interactions can flow unimpeded.

Equality is a word that has been captured and corrupted by the socialists. Socialism seeks to establish and legislate equality, and do away with conditions that it believes lead to inequality-mainly, the institution of private property.

But neither are men equal, nor can equality be imposed on them. Any such attempts to ‘legislate’ equality among men must necessarily make everyone worse off. I don’t remember who said this, but nothing captures this point better-
‘Capitalism leads to an unequal distribution of wealth and prosperity. Socialism, to an equal distribution of misery.’

So is equality an ideal worth chasing? And does there exist a Liberal basis for equality?
Stripped of all socialist romanticism, we see how absurd the notion of equality is. Men are not equal-they differ in their capacities, nature and talents. This is not to negate the individual or to dehumanize them. It is the simple acknowledgement of a fact.
To quote Ludwig Von Mises-

‘..Nature never repeats itself in its creations; it produces nothing by the dozen, nor are its products standardized. Each man who leaves her workshop bears the imprint of the individual, the unique, the never-to-recur.. Men are not equal, and the demand for equality under the law can by no means be grounded in the contention that equal treatment is due to equals..’
But equality must exist in other terms. Men must be free in their pursuits, and it is this that liberalism recognizes and seeks to establish. Men are not equal, but they are to be treated equally.

To quote Mises again, ‘..It is therefore quite unjustifiable to find fault with the manner in which Liberalism puts into effect its postulate of equality, on the ground that what is created is equality before the law, and not real equality..’

Equality before the law, therefore, is a necessary condition for men to freely pursue their interests and occupations. Equality can only be established and maintained on these grounds.

And here’s the crux of the matter- For men are to be equal before law, law must be equal before men. It is to be neutral, with its scope well-defined and limited.

Relevant, too, is what Swami Vivekanand had to say about Equality. He maintained that ‘Inequality is the very basis of creation.’ –
‘..True equality has never been and never can be on earth. How can we all be equal here? This impossible kind of equality implies total death. What makes this world what it is? Lost balance. In the primal state, which is called chaos, there is perfect balance. How do all the formative forces of the universe come then? By struggling, competition, conflict. Suppose that all the particles of matter were held in equilibrium, would there be then any process of creation? We know from science that it is impossible. Disturb a sheet of water, and there you find every particle of the water trying to become calm again, one rushing against the other; and in the same way all the phenomena which we call the universe — all things therein — are struggling to get back to the state of perfect balance. Again a disturbance comes, and again we have combination and creation. Inequality is the very basis of creation. At the same time the forces struggling to obtain equality are as much a necessity of creation as those which destroy it…

…Absolute equality, that which means a perfect balance of all the struggling forces in all the planes, can never be in this world. Before you attain that state, the world will have become quite unfit for any kind of life, and no one will be there. We find, therefore, that all these ideas of the millennium and of absolute equality are not only impossible but also that, if we try to carry them out, they will lead us surely enough to the day of destruction…’

Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, too recognized this, when he said that ‘differences are a basic principle of the world.’ He proceeds to say that real differences are to be acknowledged, but artificial (man made) differences, like the differences between the various castes and various nations, must be done away with.

The acknowledgment of these ‘real differences’, has thus existed in Indian thought as well. Liberalism acknowledges ‘real differences’ and seeks to do away with man made ‘artificial differences.’ Here thus lies the Liberal basis of equality, and it is this that makes for the moral basis of Liberalism.