Equal Equality

In my interminable discussions on equality (or the lack thereof), there has been a frequent conflation of natural equality and legal equality on the part of those who wrongly claim that “all men are created equal.”

Legal equality is man-made. In a society which allows slavery, some may be born a slave, and therefore are legally unequal.

Natural equality is (supposedly) God-made. The existence of this form of equality is the justification for doing away with all formal class-distinctions at birth and treating all men as equal before the law.

In modern America we have formal, legal equality. In 1700s Britain, they did not. This formal-legal equality is present sometimes and not present at others.

The “natural equality” is unchanging. Either it exists everywhere and always, or it does not exist at all. If it exists, it makes laws that treat men of different classes differently before the law unjust. These men may not have legal-equality, but they ought to. If it does not exist, there is no basis for the claim that “all men should be treated equally before the law.”

In what sense are men naturally equal?

Obviously not physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually; the four individual characteristics of any man. Are men naturally social equals? Not really. All men are born into (some kind of) a family, and some families are naturally higher up the social hierarchy than others.

Mr. Wright, and other defenders of the status-quo take as a given this natural equality, and use it to argue in favor of the existence of legal equality. But I do not see any evidence for the existence of this natural equality. I will not assume it exists merely on their word. They must demonstrate why men are equal. In what sense?

The best answer anyone has yet given to my question is: “All men are created in the image of God.” Here we have a powerful argument that there is a minimum baseline of dignity due to all men. But to treat a shared minimum as proof of universal equality is a mistake. This minimum-baseline approach shows why something like slavery can be inherently evil, while something like monarchy or feudalism is not. Chattel slavery treats a man as an object, and not as a man, which is wrong. Bowing to the King treats one man as greater than another, which might be wrong in a particular instance, but might very well be right.

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