Equality is not Justice and Justice is not Equality
Western civilization in its classical and Christian manifestations saw the Good as being the chief end for which human beings, individually and as a collective whole, were to strive. Goodness, like the closely related ideas of Truth and Beauty, was what it was in itself rather than whatever we decided it to be, and it was something we were to seek after and discover. Justice, the condition and act of being and doing what is right, was the particular aspect of Goodness that was the end for which man organized his societies politically, that is to say under law and government.
Today, Western civilization has passed through its Modern era into what is called the Postmodern age, although Übermodern would probably be a more apt term for it as it takes the traits of the modern and magnifies them to the nth degree. In these eras, Justice has been supplanted by a usurper. The name of this usurper is Equality although it sometimes tries to steal the name of Justice as well as its position. Whenever, for example, you hear “Justice” spoken of with “Social” as a modifier then you can be sure that it is this modern Pretender that is being spoken of and not true and legitimate Justice.
The superficial similarities between Equality and certain aspects of Justice are such that the differences between the two need to be made absolutely clear so as to avoid confusion. Equality is the idea that in some way or another people either are or ought to be all the same and therefore should be treated the same way. Justice is the idea that all people ought to be treated right.
It is easy to see how the confusion between the two concepts can arise. If we start with Justice’s assertion that all people ought to be treated right we can see that it is saying in a sense that all people ought to be treated the same way, that is to say, rightly. It is when we start with Equality’s assertion that all people ought to be treated the same way that a problem becomes apparent because we cannot from this assertion derive any sense of the idea that all people should be treated right. This is because treating people right and treating people the same are not identical concepts. Often to treat two people right means to treat each differently.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean by this. If you were to come across a stranger in need and welcome him into your home, treating him as if he were a member of your family, your actions would meet with widespread acclamation and you would find yourself toasted for your generosity, liberality, warm-hearted humanity, and countless other virtues. If, however, your own father, who begat you and lovingly raised you, who provided you with everything you need and gave you your start in life, were to come to you and you were to turn him aside and treat him as a perfect stranger, you would find yourself rightly condemned as a cold-blooded ingrate. In the latter instance as in the former you will have treated people the same way whether they were family members or strangers. In the second instance, however, you will not have done right by doing so.
This, by the way, is the difference between the image and the reality of Equality. Equality projects the image of treating strangers like they were family, but its reality is the treating of family members as if they were strangers.
Equality is sometimes confused with the idea that within a country the law should be the same for all people, governors and governed alike. This idea is a fundamental principle of our legal tradition. Although the principle is often spoken of as isonomy or “equality under law” there is an important difference between it and the concept of Equality. The difference is that whereas the latter asserts that all the people under the law are the same, the principle asserts that the law is the same for all people. This is not a matter of semantics. When we say that the law is the same for all people we are saying that the law is one and it is this, the unity of the law, that is the essence of the principle. To assert that it is the people, who are many, that are the same is to assert nonsense.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident”, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal.” No greater statement of utter tripe and poppycock has ever been penned. To say that all men are created equal is to say that all men are created the same. Apart from the most peripheral and trivial of matters – that we are all born and all die, that we all have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes, etc. - this is patently untrue. In matters of ability, both physical and mental, personality, quality, and character human beings are like the proverbial snowflake – no two are identical. Nor would any sane person want them to be.
“We are all equal”, those who have been conditioned to accept without question the doctrine of Equality might object to my reasoning above, “in terms of our worth or value.” While that sounds very nice and may give us warm, fuzzy, tingly feelings inside, it does not bear up under scrutiny. The words “worth” and “value” are marketplace words. They can refer to the amount that you are willing to pay for something if you are a prospective buyer, or the amount that you are willing to receive in exchange for something if you are a prospective seller. They can also refer to the intrinsic qualities of the objects upon which the buyer and seller base their decision as to how much they are willing to pay or accept. (1) To say that all people are of equal value, therefore, is either to reduce all people to the level of commodities for sale in the marketplace, which is hardly in keeping with the humanitarianism professed by most egalitarians who in other contexts would most strenuously object to the objectification of people, or to assert them to be equal in terms of some intrinsic quality that is unobservable to ordinary human beings for in all observable intrinsic qualities people are definitely not equal.
That unobservable intrinsic quality is sometimes further described as being our “worth in God’s eyes”. This is tautological, providing us with no new information about what that quality might be, for if it is unobservable to the human eye, who else can see it but God? More importantly, one would be hard pressed to find evidence for this concept in authoritative divine revelation.
The God Who revealed Himself in the words of the Christian Scriptures and in the Person of Jesus Christ is a God of Justice not of Equality. While He holds men accountable to the single standard which is His Law, He holds them accountable in varying degrees in accordance with whether they have received His Law in full or only partly through their consciences. (2) He has given men One mediator through Whom grace, mercy, and salvation can be received because it is only through the cross of Jesus Christ that He can be “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (3) In the Church which is His body, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female”, not because these distinctions are unimportant or are to be eliminated but because “ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. (4) As with the concept of the “one law for all” in our legal tradition, it is unity – the unity of God’s Law, His Gospel, and His Church and, of course, of the One True and Living God Himself – that is taught in those passages and verses that are sometimes misconstrued as teaching egalitarianism. The God of the Christian Scriptures created people differently, giving each their own abilities, qualities, talents, and gifts, and while He holds all people accountable to one Law, He holds each person accountable for the use made of what was given him in particular. That is the difference between Justice and Equality.
(1) The difference between these two meanings of value is what Oscar Wilde alluded to in his famous quip about the cynic who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
(2) Romans 2
(3) Romans 3:26
(4) Galatians 3:28
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca