EQUALITY -- WHAT IT IS NOT
by Ted Honderich
This is a survey, in six sections, of almost all the main ideas of equality. It takes into account fierce critics of them, almost all of these critics being from the political tradition of Conservatism. This survey was not written yesterday, but it is not about history. The tradition of Conservatism did not wither away with the departures of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan. Its main continuation, however, is its contribution to the politics of centrist or supposedly centrist parties, some of them calling themselves New Labour, some Social Democrats, and others Republicans and Democrats. The survey is in fact a chapter of my book Conservatism , and contains a reference or two to what preceded it in that book. In a world of perfect websites, the survey would be more revised. It might also take account of the fact that the principle it leads in the direction of, The Principle of Equality, turns up later as the Principle of Humanity in my 2002 book After the Terror.
John Adams reported in one of his letters in 1814 that he had seen fifty infants in one room of the Hospital of Foundlings in Paris and that they were all different. He went on to declare that what other Americans had to say about equality was as gross a fraud as ever was practiced by such un-American persons as monks, Druids, Brahmins, priests of the immortal Lama, and, worse than all of them, the self-styled philosophers of the French Revolution. To Burke, what was put about by those philosophers on the subject of equality, and by their English sympathizers, was no better. It was "that monstrous fiction, which, by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality, which it never can remove...."
Burke had been inoculated against the monstrous fiction of our common equality, of course, by his formative experience of encountering the true and wonderful superiority of some of us, in the person of Marie Antoinette before she came to the throne of France, and before the Revolution overturned it.
"It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in -- glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! What a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall!"
There has not been much change nor much lull in Conservative denunciations of egalitarianism in a wide sense, or, what comes to the same thing, the politics of the Left. Egalitarianism in this sense consists in a number of political traditions opposed to Conservatism and having to do with equality, notably democratic socialism and what in the United States was called liberalism before the name was claimed by the New Right.
Peregrine Worsthorne in one of his pieces lets us know, in the words of its heading, "How Egalitarianism Breeds Robbery and Yobbery", the latter being a form of loutishness peculiar to the British Isles in the time of Thatcher governments. David Cooper begins his book by recalling that just as Tom Wolfe, on whom we are to depend for a judgement of abstract painting, was given the revelation at a particular moment that there is nothing to it, so he himself, while ploughing through yet another egalitarian tract, experienced a similar moment of perception about doctrines of equality. There is nothing in them. They lack, among other things, any real unity.
William Letwin, bringing the resources of the Dismal Science to bear on his endeavour, finds that egalitarians of all shades are pursuing a fetish and will-o'-the-wisp, are deluded by loose thinking and utopian fantasies, and that their convictions suffer from internal contradictions and rest on no coherent intellectual foundation. There is no determinate ideal of equality.Keith Joseph and his collaborator Jonathan Sumption, discover in their contribution to restrained political philosophy that egalitarianism consists in muddled thinking, logical incoherence, semantic chicanery, screens of verbiage, emotional arguments, confusions that a few moments of honest reflection can save us from, and misconceptions of facts. The last-mentioned misconceptions prevent egalitarians from seeing, for example, that the entrepreneurial manufacturer of electric cocktail shakers may have spent many penniless years seeking a market for his goods before being rewarded by prosperity.
To revert, as Burke would have us, to our betters, there is also His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, whose book of speeches Mr. Worsthorne had in mind when he wrote in another column that the idea of equality had become so broadly comical a notion as now to be open even to royal jocularity, jocularity by a royal house which takes care not to offend. In his "Men, Machines and Sacred Cows", in between thoughts on fuel technology and on being a vice-chancellor in Wales, and not far from the truth that horses are horses, the Duke provides a reflection on helicopters. Are they socially unjust because only a few people own one? Since there is not an equality of helicopters, are they all to be put down? His Royal Highness evidently feels he has not come to the end of his flying time.
This tutorial refrain
on the part of Conservatives will come as no surprise, given what we
have learned already of their politics: its opposition to social and
civil freedoms, its commitment to private property and to incentives, its
coolness about democracy and resistance to more of it, its condescension
to the swinish multitude and awareness of a natural aristocracy, its
inclination to racism and the like. (Those facts about Conservatism
far outweigh what we also noticed, that it has sometimes prided itself
on a fact of legal equality having to do with property-freedom.) Still,
the general refrain against equality is distinct from all of that. To
see what use it is to us in characterizing Conservatism, and what justice
there is in it, we need to do one thing at a time. We need to look
at each of a rather large number of propositions about equality, or
families of propositions. Most of them are assigned by Conservatives
to their various opponents within the Left. They themselves take
different views of them.
Section 1: Natural Equality, Spiritual Equality, Equal Respect, Equal Political Rights, Formal Equality, Equality Before the Law, Equality of Opportunity, Fair Equality of Opportunity, Real Equality of Opportunity, Equality of Treatment, Equal Pay
The first has to do with what can be called natural equality, and is much belaboured by Conservatives. It, unlike most of the other propositions in question, is a factual proposition, something true or false in the plain sense, and hence not recommendatory or evaluative.
What John Adams declared to be so false was "that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life". His countryman, James Fenimore Cooper, carried forward the same cause of enlightenment some years later. `Men are not born equals, physically, since one has a good constitution, another a bad; one is handsome, another ugly; one white, another black.'
Anthony Flew reminds us, similarly, that Abraham Lincoln was right in his comment on the Declaration of Independence.`The authors of that notable instrument,' said Lincoln, `did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say that all men were equal in colour, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity.' Anthony Flew also feels called upon to remind us that Thomas Jefferson had the suspicion that the blacks are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. Indeed he voiced other opinions about them, which our author in his delicacy is reluctant to repeat, but to which he can bring himself to allude. William Letwin seeks to instruct us by denying that we are all genetically equal, and by letting us know that genetic differences give rise to this or that eye colour, more acute hearing, and such oddities as vestigial fingers.Keith Joseph points out that in fact we have different wants, and that `it should not be necessary to devote much space to making the point that mankind is not, in fact, as homogenous as the egalitarian must perforce assume.'
It is plain indeed that it is not just one proposition of natural equality that Conservatives assign to the Left but many, an awful bundle. One that is implied, and may have had some small effect on innocent readers, would require for its truth that we have been living a dream. It is that each of really is the same, down to the colour of our identical non-vestigial fingers. Another is that we are equal in fundamental respects, perhaps what can be called powers and faculties. A third is that we havesame wants, not generally speaking but nearly at the level of wants as specific as those for electric cocktail shakers. A fourth is to the effect that there are no significant racial differences between us.
Four questions arise about this collection. The first is whether the propositions are true. The answer, at any rate if we take a little care in their formulation, particularly the last, is that they are false. The second question is whether they are in fact asserted by the opponents of Conservatives. The short answer is that they are not. A longer answer would take into account another of Anthony Flew's useful reminders, that the U.S. Department of Labour said in 1965 that blacks are potentially as intelligent as whites. Jefferson, we are to understand, knew better. The third question, more interesting, is whether other propositions about equality, recommendatory ones, do in fact depend on or presuppose any of the various absurdities. Are egalitarians in fact committed to some of this nonsense? We shall keep that question in mind in what follows. The fourth question, in fact separable from the third, is why Conservatives have been so persistent in assigning propositions of natural equality to their opponents. We shall come to an answer to that.
A second sort of proposition about equality has to do with what can be called, for want of a better name, spiritual equality. Here again we have a factual claim, something true or false in the ordinary sense -- or anyway an approximation to such a thing. In one form, perhaps the oldest, it is to the effect that we are equal in the sight of God. In Russell Kirk's brief summation, we will be equal when we turn up for the Last Judgement. Is it this fact, perhaps, that is implied in the Declaration of Independence when it is asserted that we are all `created equal'? In another form, owed to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the proposition is to the effect that each of us is an end-in-itself, something that has value for itself and not as a means to anything else. In yet another form the proposition is plainer, and to the effect that each of us is alike in having autonomy, which is to say a unique capability of deciding things for ourselves, including right and wrong. This is not far from the assertion of Free Will.
Conservatives assign such a conviction to their opponents, but are quick to point out that it does not distinguish them. Conservatives themselves, they declare, do not disdain the conviction, but share it. Burke, by the way, avows something related, which is `the true moral equality' of mankind, consisting in the fact that we can all be happy in following virtue in whatever condition of life we find ourselves, however disagreeable. Conservatives are not much less quick to point out, and with good reason, that what follows from such a conviction is not too troublesome to them.
One thing that follows from it, and indeed is not wholly distinguishable from it, is the recommendation of equal respect: each of us is to be accorded an equal respect. In Kant's version, which is fundamental to his moral philosophy, and has the name of the Categorical Imperative, it is this: `Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end'. Not a great deal of sense has ever been made of that except perhaps by transforming it into something mundane, perhaps that no one's interests should be left out of consideration in deciding on a course of action. No one should be forgotten about, whether or not one concludes that anything should actually be done to their benefit.
It may be supposed, differently, that what follows from our spiritual equality is a principle of equal political rights. That is, each of us ought to have certain political rights. These may be summed up as the right to have a government to which one consents, the right to minimally democratic government. Perhaps Captain Rainborough asserted no more than this in the Putney Debates after the English Civil War.
"Really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it is clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do believe that the poorest man in England is not at all bound to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."
If Conservatives do not have the splendid Captain Rainborough among their favourite people, they are, as remarked, willing at least to tolerate the recommendation of equal political rights as conceived and also the recommendation of equal respect -- at any rate equal respect when also minimally conceived. More to the point, they can insist with some reason that in Britain, America and like places, we have at least for the most part acted on these recommendations. Here, they say, is no cause for dispute. Egalitarianism is in this respect morally truistic. They add, further, that in none of this is there a principle which could justify anything in sight of the depradations of the socialist state. Here there is no fundamental principle of equality, with such a thing taken to be a principle which would sanction robbing the rich to give to the poor.
Various questions arise, including the question of to what extent egalitarians of the several kinds do depend on spiritual equality and whether they assert, about respect and democracy, only what is said to follow from it. But let us press on, and look to a proposition which is in one respect similar. It is the principle of formal equality. It is owed to Aristotle, and is that we are to treat like cases alike, and different cases differently. Or, as comes to much the same thing, we are to treat cases differently only if we are able to cite a relevant difference between them. The principle might, at first sight, seem to be something useful to various adversaries of Conservatism. This is so since it might be thought to have the upshot, say, that equally hungry people are to have equal amounts of food, and unequally hungry people to have unequal amounts.
As Conservatives have been fond of pointing out, however, the principle by itself has no such unique outcome. We can abide by it as readily by treating alike those who are hungry to whatever extent and can pay for food, and treating differently those who are hungry and cannot pay. Indeed, South Africans can abide by it by treating blacks one way, the way they do, and whites in another way, the way they do. All depends on how cases or people are compared, or what is taken to be relevant in considering them. The principle says nothing at all about that. As has often been remarked, the principle reduces to no more than an injunction to be consistent, to follow some rule or other, however dismal. Here there is no foundation for any politics in particular. Nor, by the way, has anything different been supposed by any egalitarian who has come to my notice. Conservatives are inclined to pay a little attention to R. H. Tawney's book Equality, indeed to accord it a kind of respect. So far as I can recall, Formal Equality does not get into it. Aristotle appears only with respect to his well-known views on the fittingness of the institution of slavery.
Is there hope for the Left in equality before the law? This is not a matter of the Last Judgement but, so to speak, the lower courts. If any egalitarian thought so, he is disabused of the idea by a line of Conservatives from Burke onwards. He is rightly disabused unless he or she is under the misapprehension that the equality in question consists in an equal freedom to use and be defended by the law, a freedom in the sense settled earlier. Equality before the law, as Conservatives and indeed the usual run of lawyers have it, consists only in every citizen being subject to law, none having special privileges or disabilities in terms of what the law says, all being able to have a fair trial -- where none of that involves a reassurance for someone who cannot raise the legal fees or, say, has been engaged in a miners' strike which a government has enthused its judges to punish.
It is the Conservatives, rather, who can be most enthusiastic about their support of equality before the law, as traditionally understood, and fit it effectively into their politics. You may wonder, of course, if equality before the law might be construed differently, so as to be something that might enter uniquely into a politics different from Conservatism. Indeed it might -- as equal respect might -- but let us leave that aside for a time. Our present concern is the outlook of Conservatives with respect to equality, and it behoves us for a while to stick to their terms.
What of equality of opportunity? What is said here, first, is that there is a plain kind of it that is defensible. This kind of equality of opportunity arose out of the French Revolution, and is the only mitigation of that disaster. What is in question was conveyed by the demand for `la carriere ouverte aux talents', which is to say open competition for certain careers, with the results of the competition being determined not by rank, money or family connections but by talent or ability shown in a common entrance examination. This, say Conservatives, with whatever degree of good faith is consistent with their traditional commitment to an old boy network, and a true natural aristocracy, is all right by us. This is not something owned by our opponents. In this instance too egalitarianism as something both sane and distinctive evaporates.
However, say Conservatives, our opponents now go further, for two reasons. First, they have discovered a flat contradiction in their doctrines. Plain equality of opportunity does not contribute to a larger and vaguer thing they also want, so far unmentioned. It does not contribute to what can be called an equal society, but to its opposite. For a start, it contributes to greatly unequal material rewards, attached to the higher careers. As Keith Joseph reminds us, all Englishmen in the early years of this century had an equal opportunity of founding Morris Motors, but only one of them did, and he became very rich.
Secondly, there is the question of who gets the greater material rewards, the members of what social or economic class. Our opponents explain this, say Conservatives, by the proposition that some of the persons taking the common examinations can still be said to have unequal and better opportunities. They are better prepared for the exams, by having come from better schools or from homes with books in them. What we now need, they say, is equal opportunity where that is not only the common exams but equal preparation for taking them, equally good backgounds. This fair equality of opportunity , they suppose, is right in itself and also will issue in or contribute to an equal society.
Conservatives have much to say against fair equality of opportunity. One thing is that a good background isn't really needed for success. After all, as Keith Joseph informs us, the founder of Morris Motors was of humble origins, little education, no inherited wealth, and began life as a bicycle repairer. It is no surprise to our informant, we may assume, that he didn't do quite as well as John D. Rockefeller, since, as we are also informed, he was brought up by a quack medicine salesman and a mother who used regularly to tie him to a post and beat him.
That is not all. If we were really to secure equal backgrounds for all those entering the common examinations, we should have to follow Plato's mad dream and abolish the family. We should have to have, as William Letwin sees, infant-farms. That is not all either. There is a yet madder dream to which thinking about equal backgrounds leads.
Is it not the case that some of the candidates from the local infant-farm would do better than others in the exams? Some would have greater powers of concentration. They, surely, could thereby be said to have a greater opportunity of success. Something would have to be done about this, to secure equal powers of concentration. We would need to secure real equality of opportunity. The least that Conservatives have to say against this proposal is that egalitarians have now collapsed the distinction with which they began, and on which all this reflection depends if it is to be sensible. That is the distinction between opportunity on the one hand and talent or ability on the other. What we have is a mess, says David Cooper, and a perversion of that original good thought about opportunity at the time of the French Revolution.
Nor are we near to finished with the disgraces of the Left. Another of them, according to Conservatives, is that it involves the injunction to treat everyone alike -- equality of treatment. But that, as Lincoln Allison is not alone in supposing, would issue in our dimwittedly providing the same amount and kind of food for all, irrespective of age, size, nature of work, appetite, vegetarianism and so on. He might have added, with the Duke of Edinburgh in mind, that equality of treatment commits us to helicopters for everybody, or at any rate equal flight time. Further, if we try to find something more sensible for the egalitarian to say about treatment, we come up with too many possibilities: allocating food according to age, allocating it according to size, allocating it according to work, and so on. There is no particular policy that can be called the egalitarian approach. Conservatives have in fact spent too much time arguing against egalitarianism, and not quite enough to see what is true, that there is nothing much to argue against.
William Letwin sees
what he takes to be yet more fundamental difficulties with equality
of treatment, and in particular the utopian recommendation of equal
pay. Is the latter the recommendation of the same rate of pay per
hour of work? If so, and if workers happen to work different numbers
of hours per week, some will be paid more than others per week. Is the
idea, maybe, that everyone should get the same annual pay? If so, and
if they work different numbers of weeks per year, as may happen for
one reason or another, they will again be getting unequal weekly pay.
We have it, in short, that any equality of pay for a particular period
of time involves inequality of pay for another period of time. To
set out to produce equality is necessarily to produce inequality as
well. Egalitarianism is no less than internally incoherent.
We have so far looked at natural equality, spiritual equality, equal respect of a kind, equal political rights of a kind, formal equality, equality before the law, equal opportunity, fair equality of opportunity, real equality of opportunity, equal treatment -- of which more will be said -- and equal pay. In none of these, it seems, whatever else is to be said of them, have we found a fundamental principle or set of principles of equality, a foundation for the politics of the Left. That would be something that is distinctive and defensible, and takes first importance -- it underlies all other egalitarian principles, rules and maxims, which are brought into conformity with it. It may well entail the rejection of one or more of them. Is such a thing to be found in a large and impressive book which has a very great deal to say of equality, John Rawls' A Theory of Justice?
It advocates some principles of justice, ranked in a certain way, and also an argument for those principles of justice as ranked. The argument has to do with an imaginary social contract, one which is made by contractors who are ignorant of their personal advantages, and we may excuse ourselves from considering it. It has been belaboured by some Conservatives, and something will be said of the belabouring later. The principles, by one method of counting them, are three in number. They can be considered independently of the argument for them.
The first is the Principle of Liberty, that in our societies each of us is to have as much liberty as is consistent with each other member having as much. There is to be an equality of liberty at the highest possible level. The second principle is that there is to be a kind of equality of opportunity to get into any positions of favourable socio-economic inequality in our societies. The third is the Principle of Socio-Economic Differences. It is to the effect that we can have, and indeed we must have, only exactly as much socio-economic inequality as has a certain recommendation. It must, on one reading of the principle, make the worst-off members of the society better-off than they would be without that degree of inequality. As for the ranking, the first principle takes precedence over the second, and the second takes precedence over the third. A society should aim first at realizing the first principle, and preserve it rather than the others in any case of conflict -- it cannot be that any departure from greatest equal liberty is justified by a gain either in opportunity or in connection with socio-economic advantages. So with the second principle in relation to the third. Do we here have a unifying set of principles for egalitarianism?
Do we here have the means of bringing order into the egalitarian muddle? Conservatives have not been much alarmed at the threat, for what seems to me good reason, better reason than they themselves have supplied in any clear way.
What are the liberties or rights of which the first principle speaks? It is curious, and can be a source of reassurance in itself, that Rawls does not not use many of his 607 pages in specifying them. In fact he does not use one. What we are told is not much more than this:
`The basic liberties of citizens are, roughly speaking, political liberty (the right to vote and to be eligible for public office) together with freedom of speech and assembly; liberty of conscience and freedom of thought; freedom of the person along with the right to hold (personal) property; and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the concept of the rule of law.'
No doubt it can be assumed, from the rest of A Theory of Justice, that Rawls is not himself inclined to that particular right to hold personal property that enters into Conservative property-freedom. Still, what he says leaves it open to others to interpret 'the right to hold (personal) property` as they like, and he does not declare himself against Conservative property-freedom or argue against it. Something the same is true, to mention something else of importance, of the mentioned political liberty. It is left open to interpretation. It must also be reassuring to Conservatives that what we are to have in each case is only maximum equal liberties or rights, which is not to say freedoms in the sense settled earlier in our inquiry. Conservatives have long allowed that we ought to be equal in those, which does not come near to committing them to the proposition that we ought to be equally able, say, to acquire private property.
That is not the only ground for reassurance. A second one is that if the kind of equality of opportunity favoured by Conservatives is a more minimal one than is favoured by Rawls, his is not out of sight. The third and main ground has to do with the Principle of Socio-Economic Differences. What it says, to repeat, is that we are permitted and obliged to have any inequalities of wealth, power and standing that improve the lot of the worst-off: the worst-off are made better-off than they would be without them. The fact of the matter is that until more is said, we have no idea of what society we get from the operation of this principle.
Imagine a society where socio-economic goods are shared in perfect equality, and it is also true that allowing some members to become rich, powerful and respected, relatively speaking, would result (a) in others being worse-off in absolute terms than they were before, or (b) would leave them exactly as they were before in absolute terms. The Difference Principle certainly has it that the society is to persist in its perfect egalitarianism if (a) is true. Depending on a common reading of the principle, it has the same consequence if (b) is true -- we are not to allow some members to become better-off even if no members become worse-off.
On the other hand, imagine a society where there are such socio-economic differences as have not so far been dreamed of in the philosophy of the New Right. The distance between rich and poor is greater than the distance between the estate of a prince or the ranch of an oil billionaire and the cardboard box of someone whom inheritance and the market have not favoured. Imagine that it is also true of this society that any reduction of the well-being of those on the top of the pile would in some degree worsen or would not improve the lot of those on the bottom. The Difference Principle certainly has it that the society is to persist in its perfect inegalitarianism on the first assumption and perhaps on the second.
A Theory of Justice
does not give attention to the essential and battered question of whether
our actual societies are like the first or the second of these two imagined
ones, or like others in between. It does not open the question of whether
incentives in terms of income and wealth are necessary, or to what
extent they are necessary, if the worst-off are to be better-off than
they would be without them. As a consequence, to come to the conclusion
of these reflections, it is entirely open to Conservatives to embrace
this fundamental part of the given theory of justice, then to argue
that great incentives are necessary, and thus emerge with a justification
of society as it is. It is open to Conservatives to conclude, yet again,
that egalitarianism in so far as it advocates something sensible,
advocates no more than they do. What the egalitarianism of Rawls comes
to, when the argument about incentives is added to it, is something
about which we can all fall into contented agreement.
Section 3: Equality of Results or Outcome, Six Objections
There is something more distinctive, another idea or sort of idea on which the Left is said to attempt to rely. It was in view earlier when `the equal society' was mentioned. It was in view too when we earlier touched on social and civil freeedoms. It calls for more attention than anything considered so far, as do the many objections made to it. It is sometimes called equality of results or outcome, sometimes equality of condition or circumstances. Let us settle on equality of results.
Keith Joseph uses the term and speaks of `what the great Victorian jurisprudent Dicey pithily describes as "the equalization of advantages among individuals possessed of unequal means for their attainment"'. It is what is sought, we are told, by those who wish to organize societies so as to make all men equal, and perhaps part of what was in the mind of the alarming priest John Ball in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. `Things never shall go well in England,' he said, `until all things are in common and all of us are of one condition.' It is the principle, I take it, which brings to the mind of several of our Conservatives a recollection of Procrustes -- `a celebrated Greek highwayman who used to tie travellers to a bed, lopping off their legs if they were too long for the bed and stretching their spines if they were too short for it'.Procrustes now, of course, is the welfare state, also known as the ever-expanding state machine, the central enforcer of equality of outcome, and so on.
For Milton Friedman, apparently not too mindful of the history of the 20th Century, let alone the Peasants' Revolt, equality of results is something that has emerged in the United States in recent decades.
`In some intellectual circles the desirability of equality of outcome has become an article of religious faith: everyone should finish the race at the same time. As the Dodo said in Alice in Wonderland, "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes." ... "Fair shares for all" is the modern slogan that has replaced Karl Marx's "To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability'.
William Letwin is distracted by his obligation to deal with the confusions of egalitarians, and so cannot spend much time on bringing equality of results into clear view. He has it in mind, perhaps, when he concerns himself with the bare injunction `All persons should be equal', and speaks of the idea that people should be equal in respect of certain general and vital goods. These include income, wealth, esteem, political power, legal rights, and education.
Conservatives, in attending to equality of results, generally have Tawney's Equality in mind. He speaks of `equality...of circumstances, institutions and manner of life', and equality of `social and economic environment'. To seek this equality is to allow that individuals may differ profoundly in capacity and character, but to maintain that `they are equally entitled as human beings to consideration and respect, and that the well-being of a society is likely to be increased if it so plans its organization that, whether their powers are great or small, all its members may be equally enabled to make the best of such powers as they possess.' The idea is that it is regrettable `that different sections of a community should be distinguished from each other by sharp differences of economic status, environment, education, culture and habit of life.' The idea, again, is that
`it is the mark of a civilized society to aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source not in individual differences, but in its own organization, and that individual differences, which are a source of social energy, are more likely to ripen and find expression if social inequalities are, as far as practicable, diminished.
It is noticeable that what is called equality of results is not wholly distinct from equality of treatment, at any rate if we think of equality of treatment in something other than the idiotically specific way proposed by some Conservatives. We can take it, that is, as having to do with treatment or provision more generally conceived -- education rather than this or that specific sort of education, travel rather than rides in helicopters, and so on. The close relation between equality of results and equality of treatment is reflected in what Conservatives say of it. Procrustes, if he can be thought about in terms of results, certainly goes in for treatment.
What can be argued to distinguish equality of results and equality of treatment is that the aim of equality of treatment does indeed concern only activity with respect to people, what is done to or for them: giving them food, giving them pay, providing the means to travel. This treatment or provision is itself to be equal, whatever is the case with the upshot of the treatment or provision. The aim of equality of results can rather be taken to be about, fundamentally, the upshot of treatment or provision, which treatment or provision may be other than equal. What we are to be equal in is satisfaction of hunger, or what comes of our weekly pay, or comes of such aids as old-age pensions. One thing that brings equality of results and equality of treatment into connection, despite what has just been said, is that it is very often an ideal policy, and yet more often the only practicable or realistic policy, to pursue the end of equality of results by the means of equalities of treatment.
It is to be allowed, perhaps, that Tawney did not succeed in giving fully effective and economical expression to his recommendation of equality of results. Let us take it to be this:
`A society should seek to secure, as far as is practicable, lives of equal satisfaction for all its members. It should do this by in general seeking to secure, as far as practicable, equality of income and wealth, equality of respect (where that is other than what was noticed earlier, the mere recognition of the relevance of all persons), equal political and legal freedoms, the full development of the different potentials of individuals by means of education and in work, equality in housing and environment, equal medical care and provision for old age.'
That is not so clear and determinate a recommendation as we might like, but it will do for our present purposes -- which are to look at Conservative objections to equality of results, of which there is no shortage. Almost all Conservatives, certainly, take what we have as sufficiently clear and determinate so as to be open to conclusive refutation. They do not put it aside as unclear, but as wrong.
The first of ten objections -- here it will be worthwhile being thorough -- has to do with the actual facts of inequality in our societies and hence the appositeness or urgency of the recommendation. George Saintsbury, who is introduced to us by Russell Kirk as, among other things, a genial essayist, could bluffly inform Englishmen of the lower orders, about 1922, that they had no great need to think about inequality. `The goods you have are real, and the ills, in all probability and experience, to a large extent imaginary -- certainly bearable in that they have been borne.' Keith Joseph, on a page where he accepts the need for a welfare floor or minimum standard of living, so that the poor do not sink into a condition in which they would prefer well-fed slavery to indigent freedom, also has something to say about the facts or extent of poverty.
`A family is poor if it cannot afford to eat. It is not poor if it cannot afford endless smokes and it does not become poor by the mere fact that other people can afford them. A person who enjoys a standard of living equal to that of a mediaeval baron cannot be described as poor for the sole reason that he has chanced to be born into a society where the great majority can live like mediaeval kings.By any absolute standard there is very little poverty in Britain today.
Those words were written for a book that was published in 1979, the first year of Thatcher governments. They would not, I fancy, have been written a decade later, after the immiseration of a part of the British people by those governments, with the writer of the words to the fore in them. But that is not the main point, which has as much to do with the genial essayist.
Nor is the main point one that might attempted by the miserably impoverished, that the tradition of Conservatism is not unique, but has liars in it. They would be the counterparts of those of their opponents who assert that there is no way whatever in which socialist governments restrict freedom or engage in coercion. The lie on the part of these contemplated Conservatives, to put it one clear way, would be this proposition: the inequality which exists in Britain or America is such that if people generally had a real awareness of its reality, they would not take it to be sufficient to make the recommendation of equality of results arguable or worth consideration -- that is, the facts of inequality are such that people if well-informed would not feel any need to go on to consider what else can be said against the recommendation of equality of results, since they would take its presupposition about significant factual inequality to be a fiction.
It is not of much importance whether either our genial essayist or our politician is a liar by this test, or whether such a proposition is their main concern. The main point is that their words, when taken to suggest the given proposition, as they can be, are not worthy of consideration. They are not made so, certainly, by any additional content having to do with absolute and relative deprivation or the fact that mediaeval barons lacked vacuum cleaners or anything else. Nor would we do justice to the large tradition of Conservatism by assigning the offensively false proposition to it.
There is not much more need to linger over a second kind of objection, if that is what it is, to equality of results. This consists in ad hominem retorts of two kinds, the first kind directed to proponents of this equality who are themselves decently well-off. We shall believe them to be honest enthusiasts, says Burke, and not as we now think them, cheats and deceivers, when we see them throwing their own goods into common. Paul Elmer More, he who wished Rockefeller not to be mealy-mouthed about shooting strikers, knows that if you hear a man talking overmuch of egalitarianism, you can be pretty sure he will be slippery or dishonourable in his personal transactions; Anthony Flew reminds us that Bernard Shaw, although in favour of equal incomes, remained representative of his prosperous co-believers in not surrendering the part of his own income that was above average; Milton Friedman points out that while equality of outcome has become almost an article of religious faith among intellectuals, from whom he evidently distinguishes himself, they do not go off to live in a commune or a kibbutz.
The ad hominem objections of the second kind are directed to those who would themselves benefit from a society's securing something like equality of results. They, in their present unfortunate state, are charged with the sin of envy. The support for equality of results by these possible beneficiaries is the product of their resentment of those who are better-off. Keith Joseph, it is true, has a word to say for envy, or for the possibility that it can be aroused or increased in people. `Envy is capable of serving the valuable social function of making the rich moderate their habits for fear of arousing it. It is because of the existence of envy that one does not drive Rolls-Royces through the slums of Naples....'Most of his fellow-Conservatives, while no doubt as prudent, are more given to pointing to envy as a means of discrediting the idea of equality under consideration. Elsewhere in his reflections, Our politician perhaps moves towards joining them, announcing as he does that equality of results has something to do with naked class interests.
We shall eventually come round to the general subject of naked class interests. For the moment, not greatly more is required with respect to the ad hominem retorts than the reminder that it is widely accepted that the worth of a recommendation or principle is not a function of the personal morality, whatever that may be, of its proponents or its beneficiaries. Also, there is the consideration that a well-heeled proponent of equality of results, while advocating that unachieved state of things, can in the meantime properly be restrained in disposing of his income by certain comparisons -- between himself and his family on the one hand, and, on the other hand, others than the worst-off. His sons and daughters and their aspirations can be regarded in terms of more comparisons than one. Proponents of equality of results need not be saints, and certainly cannot be called to that condition by Burke and his epigoni.
To reflect for a moment on the envy of the poor, the extent and gravity of their sin is unclear. I take it with that the lawful owner of a Rolls-Royce is not to be much abused for envying the now advantaged state of the Neapolitan who stole it from him. What he mainly feels, he will say, is something different from envy, not merely righteous but rightful indignation. And, if he also owns up to envy, he is unlikely to be so paralysed with guilt as to come back from his holiday a broken man. He will in fact not take his envy as greatly culpable.
So -- not all resentment having to do with the advantages of another person is to be much condemned. In particular, if it is the case that we ought to achieve equality of results, and hence that our present unequal distributions are wrong, and, furthermore, that the wealth of some enters into the explanation of the poverty of others, then the feelings to which the poor are subject are partly in the category of rightful indignation, and, for the rest, the envy is human enough. Even if it is supposed there is a connection between principles and certain feelings of those who hold them, Conservatives cannot effectively proceed from the charge of envy to the refutation of the principle of equality of results. They must rather proceed in a way which is not easy, and not of the greatest use to them, from a refutation of the principle to the slight addendum of a charge of culpable envy.
A third sort of response to equality of results is that a society which achieved it would not be natural, as egalitarians are supposed to believe, but unnatural. Alas there have been egalitarians given to such stuff, in some cases conjoining it with a certain optimism. Matthew Arnold of the Victorian Age was one of these: `A system founded on inequality is against nature, and, in the long run, breaks down.' No doubt he has some 20th Century successors who also have recourse to the ineffective notion of the natural. Let us leave them to contend in some safe place with those of their Conservative opponents who are also attracted to the notion.
There are a good many of the latter, as we already know. They are, differently described, advocates of the organic society, or certain of the societies named as organic. They advocate certain of the societies that have grown rather than been constructed, certain of the societies which are tree-like and which alteration will destroy, another the society of inheritance. Advocacy of any of them is what might be called naturalistic opposition to the the principle of equality of results. Let us not go back to all that. To recall the essential fact about attempts to defend a thing as natural, it appears that the defence reduces to claiming that the thing exists or will persist if not interfered with, from which nothing follows as to whether it ought to exist or persist, or the defence is already the judgement that the thing ought to exist or persist, which is the conclusion for which support is supposed to be being provided. Resort to the natural is the resort of a true believer who finds himself short of an actual argument.
A fourth objection to equality of results is the regular one that a society will in fact never achieve it. We earlier noticed in another connection Burke's dictum about what egalitarians, when they get into power, do with it.
`Believe me, Sir, those who attempt to level, never equalize. In all societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The levellers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things; they load the edifice of a society, by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structure requires to be on the ground.'
To take a later example, from 1948, there is Bernard Braine's prescience in Tory Democracy . Within a very short space of time this new equality will have vanished into the mist. Some men will be rich, some will be poor. Some will be masters, some will be servants. A few will lead, the rest will follow.
A part of a reply to this sort of thing is that to achieve equality of results would not in fact be to achieve anarchism, where that is an absence of government. Nor would that be the aim. As Conservatives are all too ready to insist, as we shall see soon, equality of results could only be achieved by government, and hence through the inequality of power that all government involves, including fully democratic government. That inequality, however, is consistent with various fundamental equalities on the part of the governed and to some large extent the governors. The fact of government, too, whatever bureaucracy it involves, is consistent with an absence of such ascendant classes as now exist in our societies. As for Bernard Braine's certainty that there will always be the rich, it must come to mind that there do now exist societies, whatever else is to be said for or against them, which plainly are without a class of the rich as we know them. I trust that he can be brought to tolerate what has hitherto been thought to be a pretty firm proposition, that what is actual is possible.
To bring together two more small but persistent objections to the recommendation of equality of results, a fifth and sixth, Conservatives manage to suppose that the recommendation rests on the factual premise that we are all equal, and that acting on the recommendation would produce a terrible uniformity. The first idea, that the recommendation rests on one of the bundle of propositions about natural equality, should not survive reading Tawney's sentences about our differences in capacity and character, our greater and smaller powers. Whatever the recommendation rests on -- and there is more to be said of this -- it does not rest on some kind of blindness as to the actual differences between us.
Nor, in any fatal
sense, would equality of results issue in uniformity. It is not, if
English retains its sense, the proposal that everyone should be made
the same. It is better described as the proposal that we should
be equal in the worth of things rather than the things themselves, that
we should have lives of equal value rather than the same lives. Having
said that, it remains true that the proposal of equality of results
is indeed the proposal of equality of income and wealth and
so on, as far as is practicable. In another sense, then, it is
the proposal that we have certain uniformities. To object to it as
such, evidently, is to be engaged in this ungripping line of argument:
the proposal of certain equalities or uniformities is mistaken because
it proposes certain equalities or uniformities. Is there something
else in the objection of uniformity? Is there something, incidentally,
which takes into account the very real uniformities in our existing
societies of inequality? Perhaps there is, but not enough to detain
Section 4: Equality of Results and the Objection about Liberty
We come now to what a seventh and the most used set of Conservative objections to equality of results or the equal society. They will need little illustration. They are to the effect that equality of results is inconsistent with freedom or liberty, that we cannot have both, that such equality reduces, threatens or destroys freedom or liberty. We need to pay them somewhat less attention because we have in fact encountered them already, in other settings, differently expressed.
(A) One liberty-objection is that equality of results carries the risk of or issues in totalitarianism. We in fact encountered and took a view of something close to this objection in considering the argument, in our inquiry into Conservatism and freedom, that to abandon Conservative property-freedom and market-freedom is to run the risk of totalitarianism or be fated to succumb to it. This latter claim as to the risk or result of not having Conservative economic freedoms is close to the objection that equality of results runs the risk of totalitarianism. This becomes clear as soon as it is supposed that giving up the Conservative economic freedoms is on the way to embracing the principle of equality of results. If that supposition is not quite true, it is certainly true that many of the serious adversaries of Conservatism, in opposing Conservative economic freedoms, do indeed propose and attempt to replace them with an equal society or something like it.
We concluded that giving up Conservative economic freedoms very definitely has not been shown to issue in totalitarianism. We can conclude now, by the same or similar arguments, that embracing equality of results would not necessarily issue in totalitarianism. The latter conclusion might be modified by our making further distinctions, but not upset. If the argument for the earlier conclusion was sound, as certainly it seemed to be, something like it is as effective here.
(B) We also considered, some way back, the closely related matter of whether Conservative economic freedoms can be recommended as securing or preserving what was called `a liberal-democratic political order'. We drew two conclusions. The first was that Conservative economic freedoms do indeed serve as more effective means to the end of such a political order when it is defined as consisting in just those limited political and civil freedoms proposed by Conservatives, but that restricting such freedoms to those particular ones needs justifying. The second conclusion was that Conservative economic freedoms do not serve the end of `a liberal-democratic political order' when that is taken to be a matter of greater and more widely supported political and civil freedoms.
We can as readily draw certain conclusions about a second liberty-objection to equality of results, that it conflicts with what can be called, again, `a liberal-democratic political order'. We can readily allow, first, that the equal society or equality of results is not an effective means to, or does not contribute to, just the limited political and civil freedoms allowed or proposed by Conservatives. We can as readily argue, second, that the equal society or equality or results can be the effective means to or can contribute to greater political and civil freedoms. The short story, then, is that equality of results does not issue in what very many people do not want, and it may issue in what they do want. Equality of results does not lack but rather may have precisely the recommendation which Conservatives imply that it lacks.
(C) There is a third thing that equality of results may be said to have as a consequence, something that perhaps can be regarded as in between totalitarianism and just the sort of infringement we have had in mind of political and civil freedoms.Ül Ü This too is at least close something noticed earlier. We noticed that Conservatives are in fact not wholly opposed to revolution, but only to a kind of it. They are well capable of contemplating revolution to overthrow governments to which they are radically opposed, including governments of their own nations, notably governments which are excessively democratic or have no reverence for private property. Burke could contemplate a different sort of Cromwell, and Macaulay a despotism that would save civilization. We may add in Lord Salisbury who in 1883 had a fear, in particular, of the growing strength of the trade unions. If England were to succumb to them, he wrote, `we would welcome the military despotism that should relieve us.'
As will be clear enough, this third thing to be said of seeking equality of results is that it will issue not in the totalitarianism of the Left or any totalitarianism, but an undemocratic regime of the Right, most probably a military regime. Conservatives, partly because of their determination to present themselves as good constitutionalists, are unlikely actually to specify as a third liberty-objection to equality of results that they themselves, or those who share their commitments, and in fact are distinguished from them only by their uniforms, would resist its achievement by resort to force and military government. What they are reluctant to announce, however, is something which they are capable of leaving in the air, indeed putting into the air.
It is evidently more a threat than an objection of principle. It is not, at least in the ordinary sense, a moral objection to eqality of results, but a grim prediction that the thing will be resisted by force. The prediction, no doubt, has for good reason done more to restrain ambitious socialist governments than any argument they have had to meet. Our present concern is argument of principle. What is to be said, then, is that no argument of principle against equality of results is provided by saying that if a democratic argument is lost, the loser will in the end reply with tanks.
(D) To turn instead to what can be regarded as an argument of principle, it is provided for us by Robert Nozick, and beloved by those who swear by him, or did for a time. It stands in some relation, which we need not look into, to the second libertyªobjection to equality of results. The argument is directed against more things than equality of results, but certainly against that.
Contemplate the equal society, a society that has in fact achieved equality of results. The distribution of goods, and the upshot of that distribution, is just what is called for by the idea of equal results. The pattern is in accord with that idea. For one thing, there is the required distribution of income and wealth. In the society there exists a basketball player, one Wilt Chamberlain. He is, as Professor Nozick explains, a great gate attraction, and makes a certain contract with his team. The result is that people cheerfully buy their ordinary tickets to games and also drop a separate twenty-five cents into a special box with his name on it. Wilt Chamberlain winds up, in one season, with $250,000, far greater than the average income. It gives him, too, far greater wealth than is had by others in what was the equal society. We are not to forget, and Professor Nozick is in no danger of letting us forget, about the fans, that `Each of these persons "chose• to give twenty-five cents of their money to Chamberlain. They could have spent it on going to the movies, or on candy bars, or on copies of "Dissent• magazine, or of "Monthly Review•. But they all...converged on giving it to Wilt Chamberlain in exchange for watching him play basketball.'
Nozick implies a good deal about all of this, and introduces some talk of justice that is likely to confuse matters. But his main purpose is clear enough. It is to assert that if the equal society or any like society is to be maintained, this must be done by infringing freedom or liberty. The fans must be stopped from making Wilt rich. To preserve the pattern of distribution in the equal society the liberty of both the fans and Wilt must be violated. `Liberty,' we are to see, `upsets patterns.' No such principle as that of equal results `can be continuously realized without continuous interference in people's lives.'
Shall we join the thinkers of the New Right and some other suggestible persons in their awe of this argument? We need not rush.
We have a tolerable idea of what, in general, a freedom is. It is, in one manner of speaking, perhaps the most ordinary, "being able to act on a desire•. To have a freedom with respect to something is to have a certain power to do it or to get it. There are, as we saw, and will see again, other ideas of freedom, but none that could alter our present line of reflection. It could be pursued exactly as well, although perhaps not as neatly, in terms of those other ideas and various supplements. To come to a first point, then, are all freedoms in the given sense powers that ought to be possessed, abilities that persons rightly possess? Very evidently not. I should not have, and my society does what it can to prevent my having, the power to harm others in certain ways. It strives to limit or indeed to destroy the freedom of the rapist, the car thief, and, perhaps, the fraudulent broker.
Would the equal society, if by law it stopped the fans making Wilt rich, because of apprehensions about further developments, be affecting their freedom and his? Indeed it would. There is not the slightest doubt about that. But would it be wrong to do so? Would it be wrong to take steps, such as the one in question, to preserve itself as an equal society, one where private wealth does not result in closed wards in public hospitals? Would a democratic majority who voted for preserving that society be acting wrongfully? Would a democratic majority who voted for preserving what are of course the "freedoms• of that society be acting wrongfully? That is the only question of interest, of any interest whatever. In the political folk-tale we have before us, it is of course assumed that it would be wrong to infringe a freedom which would issue in the destruction of an equality or of certain freedoms, but "no reason at all• is given for that assumption. What we have is not an argument of any significance against equality of results, but rather a certain amount of persiflage.
There is the same conclusion if we turn our attention to the idea of liberty. What is a liberty? Well, it is at least natural to say that the fraudulent broker may unfortunately have been free to defraud the widows, but that he had no liberty to do so. A liberty, in this common way of speaking, is a freedom to which one is entitled, or better, a defensible or justified freedom. Would the equal society, if it ruled against Wilt's box for the twenty-five cent pieces, be infringing his liberties and those of his admirers? Nozick says yes. Others say no. The trouble is that our professor, who is conducting this seminar, only "says• so, and does not explain in his folk-tale what entitles him to his usage.
Elsewhere in his book he is attracted to reflections on the subject of rights , which subject we have already noticed. Such reflections lead to the idea that what the equal society must do, in order to maintain itself, is to violate the non-legal rights of the persons in question. But to say someone's non-legal rights to do something have been violated, if we leave out a certain amount of ancient or sacred obscurity, is to say something of this sort: as follows from some moral principle of worth, he ought to be able to do the thing. There is no avoiding the question of what the principle is, and of what is to be said for it. There is no argument on hand in the absence of answers.
What we have so far with respect to equality of results in connection with liberty, putting aside the military threat, is that this equality cannot be said to issue in totalitarianism, does contribute to our having political and civil freedoms which have a wide appeal, and is not to be put aside by way of the folk-tale. It is possible, on the basis of these and others of our reflections, to come to several summaries. Both of them demonstrate the inanity of supposing that there is a simple opposition between equality and freedom, and, perhaps more important, that either side in the dispute has the possibility of simply claiming that it is more virtuous with respect to freedom.
On the one hand, it would be absurd to say that equality of results would not conflict with or destroy certain freedoms. It is inescapable that any such programme or policy, like any legislation, will not only give powers to people but also reduce or take away powers from people, sometimes the same people. A society which secured equality of income and wealth would in so doing go against Conservative property-freedom and very likely Conservative market-freedom. Similar concessions, if that is what they are, need to be made with respect to every element in the conception of equality of results -- with respect to education, for example. Further, in so far as the point is a separate one, and as was granted in what was said of the `liberal-democratic political order', equality of results would have an adverse effect on precisely those constrained political and civil freedoms which Conservatives allow. It would replace them or tend to replace them. On the other hand, to come to have an equal society would patently be to come to "have• certain freedoms. Nothing is clearer. It would be to come to have a property-freedom of a certain kind. Similar and more important propositions are indubitably true with respect to every element in the conception of equality of results. The equal society would give us freedom from kinds of disdain, freedom to work, and so on. Further, to revert to `the liberal-democratic political order', in so far as the point is a separate one, equality of results would secure or contribute to political and civil freedoms greater than those supported by Conservatives.
So much for one summary. A second one makes use of our earlier categories of freedoms.It divides freedoms into political freedoms and non-political freedoms, and divides the non-political freedoms into economic, social and civil freedoms.
Equality of results, as we have conceived it, is itself nothing other than a matter of certain freedoms of all these kinds. It would secure certain freedoms in each category. With respect to economic freedoms, to give an example, it would no doubt allow for certain goods to be distributed by a market, not so many as Conservatives would like. With respect to social freedoms, it would secure freedom to have a job, and, with respect to civil freedoms, perhaps a considerable freedom of information. With respect to political freedoms it would secure greater democracy.
It is exactly as true, if we are charitable in connection with what is sufficient to count as a social freedom, that Conservatism can be said to secure freedoms of all the kinds. It provides for an extended market. A welfare-floor can be regarded, charitably, as a beginning on or a form of social freedom. Conservatism obviously secures lesser civil and political freedoms than would exist in a society of equality of results.
The fundamental questions, of course, are what in fact unites each of these two arrays of freedoms, the Left or egalitarian array and the Conservative array, and what can be said for and against each. An effective answer to the first or analytical question in each pair is essential to an effective answer to the second or evaluative question. An effective summation of what unites the Conservative array would be what we have been pursuing for some time, a rationale of Conservatism. Something will be said below of the rationale of the freedoms involved in equality of results -- or, at least, something will be said of what Conservatives claim it to be.
Before leaving what we have been calling liberty-objections to the equal society, there is need for a little more repetition, of another sort. Believe me, dear reader, there is need. Equality of results, it was said a moment ago, would involve freedom to work. Conservatives, whom we know pride themselves on not being quick to learn, will be prone to a certain reply. It is a denial that what is in question is properly called a freedom. So too with other elements of equality of results.
What indubitably is in question, as all must agree, since it is part of the definition of equality of results, is the securing of a state of affairs where everyone, with some obvious exceptions, is in fact able to act on a desire, the desire to have a job. Conservatives, as I say, will persist in the view that this is not properly spoken of as a freedom, and that to speak of it in this way is to seek to gain an improper advantage in argument. Indeed it is to be dishonest, to go in for the sort of thing to be expected of persons who are slippery or dishonourable in their personal transactions. That it is dishonest is said by Keith Joseph, in his role as moralist and linguist, at the end of the section in his book called "Property Is Not Unfreedom". In a proper and honest way of speaking, we are to understand, freedom to work is no more than something like this: "a state of affairs consisting in the absence of legal barriers to getting a job, or the absence of coercion in this regard, or the absence of coercion by other specifiable individuals•. Hence, what our egalitarians are demanding, with respect to jobs, and what we are contemplating, is more than a freedom.
How tedious it all
is. Suppose we take up the preferred usage. What we now say is that
equality of results would secure (a) freedom to work, and (b) whatever
else is needed in order to get a job. We call the latter thing something
or other -- power, means, real opportunity or whatever. We follow the
same sort of distinction with every other item of equality of results
-- say in connection with housing and medical care. We then do the
same with each item in the array of Conservative recommendations.
Nothing whatever is affected with respect to the answers to
the fundamental questions except their expression. They become: What
unites the egalitarian array of freedoms and also powers or whatever,
and what can be said for and against it? and What unites the Conservative
array of freedoms and also powers or whatever, and what can be said
against it? We will proceed in the simpler way in due course, but not
Section 5: Equality of Results -- More Harm than Good?
We now leave behind liberty-objections to equality of results, or what can be called equal freedoms, and not too soon. We turn to an eighth kind of objection which often seems to be offered to all of the recommendation of equality of results, but, at least in the first instance, pertains only to part of it. The whole of the recommendation, to recall, is that so far as is practicable all members of a society should have equally satisfactory lives secured for the most part through equalities in income, wealth, respect, political and legal freedoms, housing, environment, medical care and provision for old age, and the full development of the different potentials of individuals by means of education and work.
The objections to which we turn, at least in the first instance, are that to enforce equalities of income and wealth will somehow do more harm than good with respect to income and wealth. This has to do with the claim that such equalities deprive us of incentive. Not enforcing such equalities, and therefore allowing incentive, will somehow improve matters in terms of income and wealth. The objections, further, since typically they are offered as objections to the entire recommendation of equality of results, are presumably also to the effect that not enforcing equalities of income and wealth will somehow improve matters in terms of the other elements of the recommendation. There will be benefit, for example, in terms of respect and self-development.
We have already spent time with this kind of argument, having to do with incentive. We first considered whether it could be other than a piece of theory , as Conservatives wish it to be, and concluded it could not. That left open the possibility that it is a true piece of theory. Subsequently we looked at Conservative incentive arguments as based on a premise about human nature, and in particular our low or self-concerned natures. Here we did not find what end-result it is that a system of incentives is supposed to have, whether described as `economic well-being' or in some related way. A description of the end-result in terms of such economic totals as Gross National Product, it was remarked, is consistent with various distributions of goods. So too the description of it as a situation where everybody is better off. Finally we looked at incentive arguments as defences of Conservative propertyªfreedom and market-freedom. Our difficulty about the proposed end-result persisted, and was not resolved by considering the Hidden-Hand Vindication of Conservative economic freedoms, itself a form of incentive argument. Shall we do better now?
Keith Joseph declares on one page that the opulence of one's own way of life, in contrast to the drabness and squalor of others' lives, arouses one's feelings of guilt, but that to think that the opulence of the rich has anything to do with poverty is in fact to be emotional and subjective rather than logical and objective. On the next page, however, it comes over him that there is, on the contrary, a very good connection, one which is certainly to his taste.
`The relief of poverty has not in the past been thought to require an equal society and it is difficult to find any necessary connection between them today. On the contrary, everything in the experience of this country since the last war has combined to demonstrate that you cannot make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. You can only make the poor richer by making everyone richer including the rich.'
Harold Macmillan, for a time leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, was not of the New Right, and is to his credit not so definite. `...it is only by giving their heads to the strong and to the able that we shall ever have the means to provide real protection for the weak and for the old.' Friedrich Hayek strikes a related if less concerned note.
`If today in the United States or Western Europe the relatively poor can have a car or a refrigerator, an airplane trip or a radio, at the cost of a reasonable part of their income, this was made possible because in the past others with larger incomes were able to spend on what was then a luxury. The path of advance is greatly eased by the fact that it has been trodden before. It is because scouts have found the goal that the road can be built for the less lucky or less energetic. ... Even the poorest today owe their relative material well-being to the results of past inequality.'
William Letwin is keen to prove there is but a grain of truth in the Argument of Diminishing Marginal Utility. That is the argument for the view that the goal of the Utilitarians, sometimes called the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number, and less misleadingly called the Greatest Total Satisfaction, is served by an equal distribution of goods. According to the argument, if we have three similar persons on hand, and three English breakfasts, each of the persons will get less satisfaction from a second breakfast than a first, and still less from a third than a second -- therefore, to secure the Greatest Total Satisfaction, we must see that each person gets one breakfast. For various reasons, according to Letwin, it doesn't work that way with incomes. In fact, to secure a more equal distribution of incomes would depress the absolute level of everyone's income, including the incomes of the badly-off.
Milton Friedman, his fellow economist, is a little more cautious in his conclusion. The Conservative alternative to equality of results `enables almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a fuller and richer life'. Not everyone, but almost everyone. He also informs us why attempting to implement equality of results will not work, as it did not in Britain after the Second World War.
`The drive for equality failed for a...fundamental reason. It went against one of the most basic instincts of all human beings. In the words of Adam Smith, `the uniform, constant and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his conditions' -- and, one may add, the condition of his children and his children's children. When the law interferes with people's pursuit of their own values, they will try to find a way round. They will evade the law, they will break the law, or they will leave the country. ... When the law contradicts what most people regard as moral and proper, they will break the law -- whether the law is enacted in the name of a noble ideal such as equality or in the naked interest of one group at the expense of another.'
Anthony Flew does not try to tell us why equality of results has not been achieved, but does have feelings that it should not. There is, he says, a strong case for concluding that
`if what you want is indeed to improve the absolute rather than the relative condition of the less and the least advantaged, then you should go for overall growth, rather than for those confiscatory taxes on the more advantaged which give so much satisfaction to procrusteans. Even if it is not strictly true -- to borrow words used by President Kennedy in recommending across-the-board cuts in income taxes -- that `a rising tide lifts all boats', still it does make larger resources available for possible transfer, whether voluntary or compulsory.'
Various related questions are raised by all of this, and they must have brief answers. The answers taken together give an evaluation of the given sort of Conservative objection to the equal society. They also provide a response to the idea that we have come upon the rationale of Conservatism in what is offered as an alternative to the equal society, which is said to be one in which everyone is better-off.
(1) Are incentives of greater income and wealth the only incentives, as Conservatives in general seem to suppose? Clearly they are not. As against these extrinsic incentives, there are intrinsic incentives, which are of at least as great importance to very many people in many occupations and professions in our societies as they are. They would be of greater effect in an equal society. They would compensate greatly for the lack of greater economic incentives, whatever is said in advance by those who are wedded to the results of extrinsic incentives.
(2) Would the equal society involve no incentives at all of greater income and wealth? That is not written into the recommendation, which specifies that we are, "so far as is practicable•, to have equal income and wealth. As for the question of how much greater a possible income must be in order to serve as an incentive, we have no argument at all for what is assumed by Conservatives, that it must be large. It is worth adding that they commonly say that it is not the money that matters, but what it signifies, which is recognition or achievement. But it is wonderfully plain that a society might be of such a nature or such attitudes as to effectively confer recognition by only slightly greater incomes. If I alone among my peers was known to have a "higher• salary, or for that matter some significant speckled beads, that would do nicely for my morale.
(3) Would those of us who have refrigerators and cars lack them, as Hayek declares, if our societies had in the past achieved equality of results? To say the least, that is unproved, as are like propositions about the future. That our societies were not in the given way equal, and that we have the refrigerators and cars, is one thing. That if our societies had been different in the given way, we would not have them -- that is another thing. But suppose, even, that it is true that avoiding equality of results has given us the items in question. The proposition is consistent with something else, that avoiding equality of results has also given us ongoing extreme poverty and of course ongoing immense inequality of fundamental kinds. The historical proposition is also consistent, by the way, with a car now being of nothing like the value of the car in which Hayek's scout made his forward progress.
(4) As the rich got richer, in the Britain of the New Right, did the poor get less poor? No tolerable definitions of either group have the slightest chance of making the answer yes. As the rich got richer after 1979, the poor got poorer. Indeed, living in the time in question, with the facts impossible to overlook or manipulate, no Conservative said otherwise when in danger of hearing replies. Nor was this historical episode unique.
(5) Is it established as a general truth that making the rich more rich makes the poor less poor? Given only the history of Britain during the period of the New Right, no such generalization is conceivable. It is no surprise, and no doubt to their credit, that Milton Friedman cannot bring himself to say that further enriching the rich makes all groups better off, and that Anthony Flew falls notably short of saying the thing. Harold Macmillan too was honest.
(6) Relatedly, does making the rich less rich make the poor poorer? Given only another recent period of history, the history of Britain after World War Two up to 1979 and the rise of Conservative governments of the New Right, no such generalization is conceivable. This period was one of which it was true that wealth was somewhat affected, and poverty was greatly and honourably reduced.
(7) More precisely, is it established that it is only by having the incentives which go with Conservative economic freedoms -- by having a society as remote as that from the equal society -- that we can have the possibility of alleviating the condition of the badly-off? It is notable that not even Conservatives can be found who specify or state plainly the extreme inequalities that are or would would be involved in the fully-realized Conservative society, and argue that those equalities are or would be necessary to alleviating the condition of the badly-off.
(8) Do Conservatives in fact believe, let alone prove or establish, a view of human nature from which it follows that the incentives which go with Conservative economic freedoms are required if there is to be economic progress? It is more than difficult to suppose so. It is one thing to argue, as Milton Friedman does, that Conservatives break the law in order to defend what they have, and quite another to take their behaviour as the inevitable result of an unchangeable human nature. They may be resolute, and not so much given to law and order in this instance as in others, but they are no more the creatures of a curious biological fate here than elsewhere in their lives. If they took themselves to be so, they would be deprived of other arguments of which they are fond, and indeed of what we shall finally come to see is their rationale.
(9) Suppose the argument about Diminishing Marginal UtilityÜl Ü fails -- does that show that the equalities of treatment called for by the principle of equality of results or the equal society will not achieve their goal? Certainly not, since the egalitarian goal never was the Utilitarian one of the largest possible total of satisfaction. It has long been clear to all but a sorry rump of Utilitarians, and one or two others, perhaps including William Letwin, that the Greatest Total Satisfaction is not identical with justice, and more particularly with equality of results. Many of those who support the latter ideal do so precisely because it does not have the traditional fatal weakness of Utilitarianism, which is unfairness. There is no reason to confuse egalitarianism or the Left with Utilitarianism.
(10) If we accepted, as our Conservative spokesmen imply, that their own goal may be the one which equality of results is supposed not to achieve -- everybody being better-off -- would that give us a rationale underlying Conservatism? It would not. One reason is that there are many conceivable moves from our present distribution of incomes and wealth that would make everybody better-off. Suppose we now have five occupational classes of greatly different incomes, with the top class getting ten times the income of the bottom. One move that would make everybody better-off would be to increase the income of the top class very little indeed, and the incomes of the other classes more, and differently in each case, with the income of the bottom class lifted dramatically -- the upshot being an approximation to equal incomes among the classes. It does not need saying that no living Conservative, or dead, would support that. It is inescapable, then, that the rationale of Conservatism is not given by talk of making everbody better-off. To put much the same point differently, any Conservative who does want everyone better-off also wants, consistently with that, to have us very unequally better-off. What is it that justifies that?
It is of interest in itself that when Conservatives are not faced with talk of equality, not on guard, they tend to specify their own end-result as other than everybody better off. When they are not concerned with an egalitarian challenge, their end-result is spoken of, mainly, in terms of individuals having the rewards of their labour or of the risks they take with their money. Things are only different when the moral challenge of egalitarianism needs to be met. Here is a related question of interest. If God, weary of our confusions about human nature, opened the heavens and dispensed the truth that greater income and wealth do not serve as incentives, would Conservatives be a whit less resolute in justification and defence of what they have? We have no need of another divine dispensation for the answer.
(11) Do Conservatives, in their commitment to incentives taken by itself, somehow reveal a rationale? Well, for a start, are Conservatives devoted to the same sort of incentives for the badly-off as for the well-off? Consistency requires of them some movement in this direction, and such movement sometimes suits them. But, as the excellently egalitarian John Baker points out, there is a large division in their feelings. If a production manager would get only £5000 more per annum if he were promoted to managing director, and someone has the idea that that is not an incentive for him, the Conservative conclusion is likely to be that managing directors should be paid more. If an unemployed labourer would get only £10 more a week if he gave up living on the dole or welfare and got a job, and that is not an incentive to him, then what is given to the unemployed should be lowered. In short, one sort of incentive is created by raising the higher of two incomes, and another by lowering the lower. What principle gives the answer that the first sort is right for production managers and the second for unemployed labourers? Answer comes there none.
(12) Would a commitment
to having everyone somehow better-off accord with commitments we know Conservatives
actually to have? Some of the latter commitments are to a true
natural aristocracy, less democracy, an extreme institution of property,
economic freedoms as against social and civil freedoms, authoritarianism,
a lesser standing for minorities, an amount of racial condescension,
the rewarding of those superior persons who can respond to incentives.
None of these could be said to issue from a communal impulse.
None could be said to reflect a concern with the brotherhood of man,
leave alone the sisterhood of women. It would be bizarre if, in the
middle of this collection of sentiments, there was to be found a generalized
beneficence of any great significance.
Section 6: Equality of Results, Justice, and the Objection of Mere Relativities
We leave behind the objection having to do with everyone's being better-off under a Conservative dispensation, and turn to the ninth and tenth objections to equality of results. The ninth has to do with justice, in two ways. Conservatives protest, first, that egalitarians and in particular those of them who propose equality of results are guilty of something or other in speaking of equality as justice.
`...to those who are in any way in the business of enforcing equality of outcome, it is extremely important to be able to see themselves, and be seen by others, as engaged in the hot pursuit of justice. For it is only and precisely in this perspective that their activities are legitimated, both in their own eyes, and in those of the rest of the world.'
Thus Anthony Flew, who goes on to argue that the activities of the persons in question are not legitimated. If we take him to be insisting merely that any egalitarian who claims that `justice' means `equality', or that equality is the only thing that can be called justice, he is on to a good thing. No doubt there have been such misguided persons, as indeed there are very many Conservatives who have identified justice with the propertyªfreedom they favour or whatever.
The other Conservative line of thought having to do with justice may be thought to be more consequential. It is to the effect that something called justice is what Conservatives propose or defend, and it is the ground of their opposition to equality of results. What is this justice, and also, to ask the inevitable question, do we find in it the rationale of Conservatism?
David Cooper, like some others, depends for his answer on Robert Nozick.
`The justice or otherwise of a distribution has to do with how the distribution came about. ... Suppose a number of pioneers hack out equally valuable chunks of property from previously unowned, virgin territory; and suppose that two of them die, leaving their property to another of the pioneers, under no duress and without violating any claim anyone else might have had to their land. The lucky pioneer will now have three times as much property as any other; but there can be no injustice in this.
What that comes to, in the way it must be understood, is that justice consists in something close to Conservative property-freedom. The just society is the one which has been and is governed by that particular ideal. Whether or not the society governed by the ideal is called the just society is of little importance. One of two important things is whether we here have an objection to equality of results, the equal society. Do we? It must seem not. We are already too aware that what Conservatives oppose to the equal society is, at bottom, one of Conservative property-freedom. What we are supposed to be getting is a reason why the latter society is preferable to the former. There is no reason given at all, certainly, by declaring that the latter society is one of freedom or dubbing it the just society. Nor, to remember, were we successful in our attempt to find a justifying basis in Conservatism for the kind of society in question.In the objection from justice to the equal society, the objection as just understood, we evidently do not come to have a justifying basis or rationale of Conservatism.
Other Conservatives have something else in mind in maintaining that they are for the just as against the equal society. Milton Friedman, in place of equality, would have equity, which thing he does not trouble to explain. Since he could not usefully have in mind just one of the legal notions of equity, he leaves us in the dark. If we turn to the dictionary, and find that equity in an ordinary sense consists in fairness, or recourse to principles of justice, we shall get no more light from his reflections.
Anthony Flew for his part is inclined to take justice to consist in what is suggested by a fine old legal maxim: Honeste vivere, neminem laedere, suum cuique tribuere, that is, To live honourably, to harm no one, to allow to each other their due. ...this lawyers' tag contains as good a definition as we are likely to get.
The resolute John Lucas, to remember the titles of his articles, was Against Equality in 1965 and Against Equality Again in 1977. Furthermore, there is his book, On Justice. Still, he is not the greatest help either. If Friedman says too little, Lucas says rather too much. Justice, in accordance with the ancient idea, is everyone's having his due. But that is a matter, as it turns out, of quite a lot: at least rights, desert, guilt, retribution, agreements made, entitlement, status, rank, need, and reasonableness. Justice is not doing people down. Justice is somehow being concerned with the underdog but not forgetting what is named the plight of the overdog. We must not avoid the truth that justice is complex. `Instead of seeing justice as a simple static assignment of benefits, responsibilities and burdens, we should see it as a dynamic equilibrium under tension, wanting to treat the individual as tenderly as possible, yet being prepared, for sufficiently compelling reasons, to take a tough line.' If we go for tidiness in our conception of justice, indeed, we reveal a tendency to a totalitarian view of society.
Both Lucas and Flew, in one respect, are aimed in the direction of what can be contemplated as the rationale of Conservatism. They do not do anything like expound it. We shall return to them but what we can conclude at the moment is that they do not provide us with a clarified objection to equality of results, or, what would come to much the same thing, the rationale for which we have been looking.
The tenth and final objection made by Conservatives to the equal society does not have to do with justice -- at any rate, we need not drag it in. It is to my mind, as may come as a surprise, a telling objection. It can be laid out briefly. The equal society, to recall once more our conception of it, seeks as far as is practicable to secure lives of equal satisfaction for all its members, mostly by securing equalities in income, wealth, and so on. The objection, plainly put, is this: What is good about exactly equality, about individuals being related in a certain way to one another? No doubt it is a good thing that I get enough to eat, and a drink before dinner, but what is the recommendation of my being equal or roughly equal to others in that respect -- or in any other respect, however generally described? This is the question raised by what is unique and fundamental to the conception of the equal society. The conception, if we do not confuse it with anything else, and in particular with what might be called humanitarianism, is precisely about no more than one possible relationship as against others.
David Cooper says that egalitarians suppose it to be self-evident that we should be equal. It is not self-evident to him. Why should it be thought that a reason for my having something is the amount that someone else has? Does not the reason have to do with me? My being hungry is a reason for having something, but is there a discernible reason in my being as hungry as you? Why should my relative position with respect to someone else matter, as distinct from my absolute position -- as distinct, that is, from whether my needs are satisfied and so on? Why should I receive more because others receive more, or less because they receive less? What matters is what I have got, or have not got. One Mr. Astbury, a striking lorry-driver, seems to have said `If lorry-drivers are unable to afford food to eat, why should anyone else?' He had a right to nourishment, David Cooper might allow, but that has nothing to do with the state of the stomachs of others.
Keith Joseph, at long last, can also be reported as being in sight of something that does need attention by the Left. `What is it about the mathmatical process of dividing a thousand apples by a hundred persons which confers a special legitimacy on the possession by a particular individual of ten as opposed to some other number of apples?', Anthony Flew is of the same puzzlement. Equality of results treats `mere relativities' as goods in themselves, but why should it be supposed that they are?
The objection may be a bit elusive. It becomes clearer when what seem to be several consequences of equality of results are considered. Suppose, with William Letwin, that we have a choice between two states of affairs in a society.One involves all members having equally satisfying lives. We could say of them, if we were able to quantify satisfaction in terms of new and useful units rightly called Benthams, that in this state of affairs each of them would get a balance of 5,000 Benthams over the course of his or her life. The other state of affairs is one in which some members get 5,000 Benthams and some 10,000. (Those that get 5,000, by the way, may get that number partly as a result of being made a bit unhappy by their awareness of the better condition of the others. Nonetheless, everything taken into account, they do get 5,000.) Equality of results, which has to do only with securing an equality of satisfaction, commits us to the first state of affairs. In the second, however, some people are better-off and no one is worse-off. Surely it is the better state of affairs.
A second and related consequence of equality of results has to do with waste. Suppose that one class in a society of two classes is flourishing for the reason that it possesses certain goods, certain means to satisfaction. It is not easy to think of such goods which could not be transferred to members of the other class, thereby improving their lives, but suppose that there are some. (There is the unwinning idea that the goods might be books.) Then, in order to secure equal satisfaction between the two classes, the goods in question must be subtracted from the flourishing class and put to no use at all. As some Conservatives will say, the equality-commissars must destroy the goods for fear that the once-flourishing class will regain them and destroy the new equality.
The whole objection, including the two consequences just noticed, may be named the objection of mere relativities. It is that the principle of equality of results is intolerable because it recommends or defends mere relativities, whose recommendation is at least obscure, and which can involve consequences which all of us, if we see the matter clearly, will take to be irrational or worse.
Will my non-Conservative readers reply that the objection somehow misconceives the principle of equality of results? Will they say there is more to equality of results than `mere relativities'? Will they say they had something else in mind in the course of contemplating all the previous Conservative objections to equality of results, and in taking those objections to be weak ones? They will indeed, but for what reason? Is it not the case that the principle is indeed about securing a certain "relationship• between people?
What is there in it, to come to a third and yet more annoying consequence, to enable its proponents to avoid the charge that they are committed to having everyone equally satisfied -- in possession of the same number of Benthams, maybe very few -- when there is the happy alternative of having "everyone• better-off, if unequally so? What is there in the principle of equality of results to stop us from making a worst-off class of persons yet worse-off if this secures that all classes are in equal if terrible circumstances?
It is sad to have to allow that whatever the intentions and feelings of Tawney and those who think and feel like him, what they propound is open to the understanding which faces the objection of mere relativities. Indeed it is difficult to avoid the feeling that this vulnerable understanding of the principle of equality of results has been part of their understanding and of their inclination. We shall return to the matter of equality, but let us end this inquiry into it with some conclusions.
One is that we have a further large distinction of Conservatism. It is the ideology which is most firmly opposed to the principle we have latterly been considering and also to certain other propositions about equality, including the related proposition of equal treatment, and those about fair and real equality of opportunity. Further, it is the ideology most committed to yet other propositions of equality, including a limited kind of equality of opportunity, and limited kinds of equality of respect and equality before the law.
A second conclusion is that those attitudes having to do with equality do not reveal to us a rationale of Conservatism. Those who speak against equality do not state their own fundamental position, and it cannot easily be inferred from what they do say. It cannot by any means be read off what is said of justice or against mere relativities. It is no help to be told, as we are by some Conservatives, that if they are against equality, this does not mean that they regard inequality as an end-in-itself.
A third conclusion is that we cannot be said to have found a fundamental principle of the Left, something that is both arguable and gives unity to it. Such a thing is necessary to any final judgement on Conservatism. Conservatives, as we have seen, speak much nonsense about equality. They have had right on their side, however, in declaring that at least an arguable understanding of the principle of equality of results, the only real candidate for a fundamental principle that has been much in evidence in the history of egalitarianism, appears in the end to be a disaster, at any rate when understood in an arguable way. It might be added that if Conservatives do allow it to be clear and refutable, it is not what you might call an exemplar of lucidity.
Postscript to a disappointed reader: Turn to " What Equality Is". Postscript to a reader who would like page references, and the text actually to be quoted for any purposes: Get the book Conservatism , Chapter 7.