A Defense of Inequality

Where do true dignity and excellence reside?



When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the 1830s he was struck by just how faithful Americans were to their “self-evident” credo that “all men are created equal.”  He was overwhelmed by the preponderance of what he called the “equality of conditions.”  Americans loved equality, so much so that everywhere he looked, he found forces of equality at work.  These forces excited some men towards excellence “elevating the humble to the rank of the great.”  But for the most part he encountered a demon in equality, a perverted love that treated it as an end rather than a means.  It was a love that made “equality their idol…[because] there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom” (Democracy in America, Book 1, Chapter 3).

One could hardly argue with the prophetic character of Tocqueville’s comments given the society in which we find ourselves.  Everywhere we look, we find equality.  And when we don’t find it, we create it.  In a Screwtapian verbal sleight of hand, rather than “all men being created equal”, “equal men are being created.”  That is, after all, what gods do—create equal men.  No differences will be tolerated.  Men and women are equal which really means women must become men and men women.  The poor must become rich which really means the rich must become poor.  Love is love.

Equality becomes a tool, or more accurately a weapon, in the hand of the powerful.  The Orwellian principle that some pigs are more equal than others is always lurking.  Equality is like gravity, pulling all those who desire to soar down to the ground with those who can’t or won’t fly.  It breeds mediocrity masked in platitudes like “Make America Great Again” rather than “Make Americans Great Again.”  Excellence is mocked and “normality” praised.  We no longer have heroes, only celebrities.

Even the Church has fallen prey to the trap of equality.  She is the first to preach the dignity of the human person, the inherent worth that all of us have as creatures made in the image of God and redeemed by the Word Made Flesh.  But hardly ever do we hear that dignity is actually something that must be fulfilled, or as Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum¸ “true dignity and excellence in men resides in moral living, that is, virtue.”  Peter and Judas were both made in the image of God, but equal in dignity they are not.  One keeps the keys of heaven while the other wishes he was never born (c.f. Mt 26:24).

Fabricated equality leads to the grossest inequality.  When we all pretend there is no inequality, we fail to recognize real equality when we see it.  Just like when I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, you can do nothing but, when we try not to see inequality that is all we see.  We assume true racial equality is another of those fabricated equalities, especially because the men look so different.  We fail to grasp true gender equality by failing to grasp ways in which they are truthfully and inherently unequal.  These inequalities are good and make up part of the truth about what it means to be a man and a woman.

A jug and a shot glass can both be equally full even though their capacity is very different.  Unequal as they are, they are both perfect for what they are—the shot glass holds just enough liquor to raise a man’s spirit and the jug holds just enough water to quench a man’s thirst.  The shot glass could never be the jug and the jug can’t pretend to be a shot glass unless they want to make everyone gloomy and thirsty.  “Celebrate equality,” we are told.  But that is the song of worship to the idol they have forged.  In Heaven the angels and saints celebrate inequality.  Each is fully what they were made to be, but not equal in any other way, because everyone is perfectly fulfilled as God made them individually.  I think I prefer to join the celebration of inequality instead.


Rob holds an MA in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, with a concentration in moral theology. He has a passion for spreading the joy of the Catholic Faith through teaching and writing.

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