Jewish World Review April 1, 2014 / 1 Nissan, 5774
The shoals of equality
By Paul Greenberg
JewishWorldReview.com | How might a captain's log of the good ship America read? The pages would surely include accounts of halcyon skies and smooth sailing, however turbulent the times seemed at the moment. As well as episodes of peril, even shipwreck, as the grand old lady was tossed and turned, even torn asunder. See 1861-65.
There would be notations in the log by the greatest of her captains and commanders, the Washingtons and Lincolns, whose service to the Republic even now can be summed up by only one word: indispensable.
The roster of skippers would include the near-greats, too, however much they might have veered off course from time to dangerous time, like
Yes, there were glory days -- when the Revolution was won and the nation founded, and its liberty confirmed in law, specifically the Constitution of
Others besides the great and near-great have occupied the captain's quarters from time to time, and some almost steered the great ship onto the rocks -- disasters like
Our current captain looks increasingly like one of those nondescript Others -- not because his ideology tends to outrun his understanding, though it does, but because, like
If there were charts and maps to consult on this voyage, they might include a notation found on old depictions of the seven treacherous seas: Here There Be Monsters. And yet our heedless captain sails on, like a Columbus without an astrolabe, as the inevitable storms arise.
Our president's latest obsession and political appeal (with him they are much the same) would seem to be a determination to assure equality in American society "whenever and wherever" he can, no matter what
As attractive as equality sounds in any democratic society, the passion for it can lead that society into deep and dangerous waters. The concept of equality itself has undergone a sea change since it was used to mean equality before the law -- a shining ideal bequeathed to the world by Western civilization. But equality seems to have lost its earlier, pristine meaning and now refers to an only material equality -- an equality of income, of property, of spoils. And when words are degraded, so is society. If only the word still meant an equality of opportunity, not of results. Then the possibility of an aristocracy of merit arising out of an equality of opportunity might be born again.
A keen and always prescient observer of "Democracy in America," the indispensable Alexis de Tocqueville, observed that Americans are forever torn between a desire for liberty and an equal but opposite desire for equality. Each has its great benefits and great dangers -- and the objective of a great leader must be to guide us safely between them. But our captain seems to have set his sails only for one. Indeed, he's called inequality of income "the defining challenge of our time."
Forgotten is Tocqueville's warning: "Democratic institutions tend to promote the feeling of envy." And where it leads, which is nowhere good. As another foreign observer once said: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." --
That is something else to inscribe on the charts. Along with: Beware the Shoals of Equality.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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