II.2: Liberty or Equality – a False Choice?

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liberty or equality

If you had to choose either liberty or equality for America, which would you choose?

Of course, that begs a more important question: Do we have to choose between them at all? Do we even have to compromise between them? I argue that this is simply another way of looking at the false choice between conservatism and liberalism.

Given the limits of knowledge about government in the 1780’s, it is amazing that the U.S. Constitution has provided so much liberty and equality for so long. But of course, those are only relative terms, and this world has seen precious little of either throughout its history. Is it beyond our ability to imagine a world with a whole lot more of both liberty and equality?

There is a common but false belief that liberty and equality are opposites.

In fact, this false choice lies at the very heart of the modern war between conservatives and liberals. And everybody knows that America is becoming more and more divided along those lines, even violently so. But I claim it is possible to defuse that war.

Conservatives generally believe that the use of government to impose equality seriously restricts liberty. And liberals generally believe that if liberty is not restricted by something, it will seriously restrict equality. Both conservatives and liberals are correct and they’re both also wrong. Liberty versus equality is a false choice based on false underlying assumptions.

Where did this problem begin? America’s founders made it clear that they designed our government to provide liberty for a people who are more or less on an equal footing with each other. But that condition was not true even in their day, and is totally absurd today. Now we live in a world that runs on crony capitalism, which is a severely warped version of what capitalism should be. And the alternatives offered almost always turn to time-worn failures like socialism. But I can show you that we have far better choices.

The problem with crony capitalism is not the “capitalism” part; it’s the “crony” part.

Can we accept that America’s founders failed to create a perfect system? Can we learn from their failings while holding onto their successes? I argue that even the founders began to see those failings after experiencing the workings of the government they created. In their writings they provided great insight into what worked and what didn’t work. But the volume of their writings is staggering. Some believe that Thomas Jefferson alone wrote between 40,000 and 50,000 letters! That’s about 3 letters a day every day for 40 years. Nearly 250 years later, a complete count of his letters has still never even been accomplished. And The Works of John Adams is a ten-volume set.

Everyone, except racists, agrees with equality of opportunity. But some insist on equality of outcome, though that is ridiculous since we do not have equality of talent, ambition, perseverance, or even desire. Likewise, everyone agrees we should be free to live our lives as we choose so long as we don’t deny our neighbors the same liberty. But we will never all agree about where to draw the line between your liberty and your neighbor’s liberty. That’s where the courts come in, but because of inequality some people can afford better lawyers than others.

The right and left each blame all our problems on the special interest groups in the opposite camp.

What a waste of time! Why don’t we pull the plug on all special interest groups?

Will you give me a chance to show that this is possible? Can you believe that liberty versus equality is a false choice?

This site is for discussing how to improve our political system. It is NOT for discussing party politics or political figures. So if you have a non-partisan question or comment, feel free to leave it below.

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