A Dubious Dichotomy

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May 271990

A society—any society—is formed by entities too weak to bear their environment and who must band together to survive. An embryonic society, struggling forth from non-existence, invariably must address certain key issues of coexistence and then develop mechanisms by which these issues may be met. Providence clearly is the first matter requiring attention, because it is some failure to adequately provide for themselves that has brought these forlorn entities together in the first place. How, then, is the
society to provide for them?

It can be presumed that each entity brings some commodity or good into the congress, but lacks other goods necessary to survival. Since a thriving conflagration of entities is the goal, and not a bunch of starving, exposed independent entities, each one throws their particular good into a communal pot and then begins drawing necessary and desired goods from the same pot. Here is this embryonic society’s second challenge. How will the goods of the society be distributed?

I must now make a supposition about our group of entities; I must postulate that they are primarily egalitarian in their distributive theories. If one considers this for a moment, however, it is not that difficult a premise to swallow. Each entity came to the congress lacking some things and having others. Therefore, since each comes into this political debate equally lacking, we can presume that each will be satisfied by equal benefit; I would even be so bold as to claim (as John Rawls did) that equal benefits is the only condition which will satisfy all of the individual entities. Clearly, then, the society’s first accomplishment will be an egalitarian theory of both social contribution and providence.

The third issue before the society will crop up almost immediately; it will be a question of liberty. Certainly, the communal atmosphere will relax many of nature’s challenges and burdens. The challenges of living together, however, will force a decision concerning an individual’s liberties within the society. The first time two individual actions come into conflict, the Entity Congress must once again be called. Their question: what, if any, liberties do we entities have?

Of course, it will be agreed that liberties are due to the entities; otherwise, what one of them would have freely entered the society? Therefore, some decision concerning the nature of these liberties must be reached. It is at this point that the Nozickian entities in the congress will leap to their appendages and vehemently shake their heads in denial that liberty can be realized in the equal state. They must be silenced for the nonce; a clear understanding of liberty must first be reached. There are, like most human concepts, two perspectives from which one can view liberty.

In the negative perspective, society is viewed as a champion of sorts, a champion which must tear down the interferences to individual action, then step back to insure it does not begin mastering those whom it endeavored to free. This perspective has an element of nearsightedness to it because it assumes that the interference will not crop up again in another form. Obviously, this is a possibility; but the champion has stepped down, right? In other words, the governing body of society will be gone (to allow maximum freedom), so there will be no resistance to future interference. This leads the society to turn to the positive perspective, a perspective which views the governing body as more of a guide through the boundless interference of existence. Now, however, the liberal entities are stomping about the congress in intellectual rapture, certain of their opinion that liberty and equality are incompatible, because society has, with the positive perspective, been severely restricted by their guide. In adopting a positive perspective, a whole range of actions are lost (namely, actions which cause others interference). After all, what guide would let those he leads trip and turn others aside?

Well, I am here to tell those frolicking liberal entities at the congress who are willing to sacrifice equality for freedom to sit down and be quiet. The whole of their argument rest upon the idea that being truly free (in a society) means having all of the freedoms possessed in nature, coupled with the freedoms garnished by removing nature’s interference. This is a clear-cut case of wanting to eat your cake and still have it as well. The core premise of a society is the betterment of the whole, of each and every individual in the society. Allowing any individual to exercise their (natural) freedom of murder means drastically reducing the freedoms of at least one member of the society. Remembering that providence (e.g. survival) is the only motivation to form a society and also remembering that the only acceptable providence for all members is an equal one, it is evident that liberty in a society is wholely different from “natural liberty”, but is in no way lesser. Certainly no one in a society possesses the freedoms that chaos allows, but they are likewise not limited by the whims of others in that chaos.

Therefore, when liberals claim that equality and liberty are conflicting concepts, when they try to construct a dichotomy with those two, they are making a major flaw. By trying to make social liberty include all natural freedoms, they fail to give proper weight to the motivation for the society. That motive is, by definition, to release the society’s members from nature’s bonds, bonds which are trying and difficult but which also, in their isolation of the individual, allow the maximum range of options at any given time. This is the yin and yang of societies in nature. Entities operate between the yin of social automation working solely for overall, sociological longevity and the yang of fiery, independent, selfish abandon which will be snuffed like a candle in the first strong wind of chaos. Like a man in a keel-less boat, no one would choose to embrace one side or the other in stormy waters, but would rather find a balance in the middle somewhere. Evidently, that balance would have to accept equality within society; but, it must also ensure maximum self-determination for each individual. Apparently though, when my self-determination takes away yours (as in the case of murder), I am breaking equality. Yet when I hold off on murdering you (or when I am prevented from doing so) I am losing autonomy. Am I in the same predicament as when I started?

No. No, of course not, because there is a co-maximization occurring; I seek to maximize equality and liberty. When one tries to co maximize two different states, one must decide any conflicts between these states in favor of one side or the other. In the murder example, there seems to be a conflict between liberty and equality; but, in fact, the conflict is between natural actions and social responsibility. Since we are operating within a society, this conflict, clearly, must be decided in favor of social responsibility (the “equality side”, to put the debate back into the liberal’s inaccurate terms).

Therefore, liberals need to be careful when they say that liberty and equality are in conflict with each other. Natural liberty and social equality are in conflict, true; but that is a given, is it not? That is, once we embrace the need for society, we must put aside natural freedoms in an effort to work together. Never are these freedoms gone, simply ignored for longevity’s sake. I can still murder; doing so simply forfeits my membership in society (because I re-embraced natural freedoms) and will, most likely, drastically affect my longevity. The dichotomy, then, is not liberty and equality, but, rather, nature and society. Noone who concerns themselves with these issues enough to have read this far will doubt that society wins that dispute, hands down.

March 1, 1990