The American myth of equality | Rich Elfers

Most Americans value equality because of the ringing words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”

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  • Tuesday, January 6, 2015 10:50pm
  • Opinion

Most Americans value equality because of the ringing words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”

These words form part of the thesis of America – it’s the code we profess to live by.

The problem with using the word “equality” is that most of us do not really understand its full implications.

Equality, according to Robert D. Kaplan in his April 17, 2013, Stratfor article called, “Anarchy and Hegemony,” can create instability and anarchy. Hierarchy – the ranking of individuals and nations – is what creates order and stability. There is relative stability in the world because the U.S. has been accepted as the hegemon, the one viewed as the leader in the world. And as that hegemony has eroded in recent years, order and stability have diminished. China’s rise means more instability in the Pacific because the order of power is changing.

When great empires collapsed, so did stability. That is true of the ancient Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I and the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“Democracy itself implies an unequal, hierarchal order, albeit one determined by voters,” Kaplan writes. There is “equal protection under the law” according to the 14th Amendment, but that is where equality stops. Even the concept of equal protection is limited because the rich and powerful can afford better justice than the poor and weak.

I’m musically handicapped, so how can I be equal to someone who is a virtuoso? Russell Wilson is gifted physically. Am I equal to his athletic prowess? Obviously not. The whole idea of equality can only exist where there is hierarchy and order – someone to inspire or force people to act in a certain way. Pure equality equals anarchy (chaos) and, as Kaplan’s article notes, “the opposite of anarchy is not stability, but hierarchy.”

In every relationship and social situation someone must be in charge or dominant; therefore, there will always be some form of inequality. Without hierarchy there is chaos and confusion. In the most stable marriages a form of hierarchy and division of labor is established and agreed upon by the couple, either through discussion or silent acquiescence. If there is no hierarchy, arguments will develop over every small issue that arises, whether it is deciding who cooks, who cleans or who takes out the garbage.

Parents, are you equal to your minor children? If you say yes, does that mean their ideas are equal to yours, or do you have authority over them? Try reasoning with a 2-year old to find the answer.

Age, experience, education and power create inequalities, but they also help to create order in a chaotic world. As 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes so aptly noted, life in a state of nature (anarchy where all are equal) “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutal, and short.”

I believe “all men (and women) are created equal” but I also believe that without authority and hierarchy there is no stability or order. Any public school teacher, parent,

boss or government leader will agree with me that those in authority must be able to impose order by example, trust and reasoned persuasion, and/or by threat or use of coercive force to be able to lead others.

Those who understand the tension between equality and hierarchy tend to learn more and go further than those who constantly challenge authority because they believe they are equal. They also lead more tranquil, stable and rewarding lives.


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