February 29, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Equality vs. Liberty: You Can’t Have Both
The March 2020 issue of The New English Review contains a new essay that I’ve authored, a bit longer than what I send out usually via this Blog format. It is titled: “Facing the Egalitarian Heresy of the 21st Century.” It’s the fifth piece I have written for NER, and essentially it makes the point, historically and practically (and from Divine and Natural law), that the application in society of equality is antithetical to liberty, that the more “equality” is imposed, the less liberty you will have. My argument goes against the sacred “talking points” of current conservative elites, the conservative establishment, who have bought into a Leftist narrative. That template is distinctly not conservative, not traditional, and in fact, not really tenable. A major and central tenet of historic conservatism is that it is resolutely “anti-egalitarian.”
Whether you cite Edmund Burke or any of the American Framers, even Thomas Jefferson, you will not find equality held up as a founding principle. Yes, there is wording in the Declaration of Independence about “all men created equal,” but understanding that document (which lacks constitutional status) demonstrates that the equality meant was one of fair and equitable representation of the colonists in the British government. The Declaration, in a real sense, is a kind of propaganda document, and obviously did not address such topics as slavery, property-determined voting, or women’s rights: those things were individual state issues. That was not its purpose. To attempt to incorporate it into our constitutional fabric and perversely read it is truly destructive of the republic. I won’t go on further.
My essay addresses some of the essential philosophical aspects. I pass it on to you today with the hope that you will read it:
Facing the Egalitarian Heresy of the 21st Century
by Boyd Cathey (March 2020)
Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in The Masque of Pandora, writes, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” He was not the first to use a version of the phrase, which is found in Sophocles’ play, Antigone. But the meaning has been fairly consistent for over two millennia.
Aren’t we witnessing this today?
A large number of our fellow citizens seem possessed by a kind of madness. They seem to exist in a kind of parallel universe, with its own set of beliefs, its own standards of truth and particular narrative of facts. In almost every respect this universe represents the contrary, the negation, of the inherited, rooted foundation on which our historic Western and Christian civilization is based.
This contrary reality did not all of a sudden spring up, it has existed and been cultivated and nurtured for centuries. Its founding ideologues understood that their premises and desired objectives ran up full force against the ingrained traditions and historic legacy of a culture and civilization that traced its origins not only to the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews, but also to the highest art, philosophy and statecraft of the Greeks and Romans.
Encouraged by the Emperor Constantine at the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and two centuries later by the Emperor Justinian the Great, the empire both East and West recognized the primacy of Divine Positive Law—the laws and revealed teachings of God and His Church. But not only that: this transformation signaled the explicit foundation of Europe based not only on Revelation, but also upon the reality of Natural Law, those rules inscribed in nature and integral to it that also have as their Author, God Himself. The Christian civilization that came about was built securely and firmly not only on Holy Scripture but also the traditions and the legacy of those ancient cultures that were not destroyed by the Faith, but fulfilled and completed by it.
In the incredibly rich inheritance of ancient philosophy there was a recognition that there were discernible “laws” which govern the orderly operation and functioning of the social order and make possible a harmonious communal existence within society. What the Christian church did was to confirm the existence of those laws while adding a capstone, a divine sanction and specificity derived from Revelation and the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church. Thus, this transformation of ancient society was prescriptive, conservative in the best sense of that word.
Is this template not the exact opposite of the modernist, progressivist revolution which seeks to cut society off from its inheritance, depriving it of the accumulated wealth of that heritage?
No doubt, change and reform, in some degree, always must occur in society. But these changes do not affect the necessity of our acceptance of the unaltered and unalterable higher laws given by God or the laws inscribed in nature. Rather, they occur on a practical level in any well-functioning society. There is a quote from Prince Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s famous novel describing the revolutionary turmoil of mid-19th century Italy, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo): “Things will have to change in order that they remain the same.” In 1963 director Luchino Visconti directed an exquisite film of the same name based on that novel, starring, quite improbably, Burt Lancaster. The film vividly portrays the tensions between the immemorial past and the circumstances created by political and social change.
What Lampedusa’s principle character, the Prince of Salina is saying is that no society—no culture—can completely denude itself of its inheritance and its history and actually survive. And more, a denial of natural law and the Divine Positive Law ends catastrophically. Such experiments in total revolutionary transformation have inevitably ended in violent bloodshed and incredible destructiveness—in the massacres of the French Revolution, and more recently, in the Gulag and the concentration camp, or in blood-soaked Maoism.
Over the past half century and more we have witnessed a different kind of revolution; it does not employ as weapons of choice the tank and bayonet, nor the Gulag as the final destination for unrepentant opponents. It leaves nothing of substance behind in its wake. It is an unfolding, all-encompassing cultural movement, subverting and then incorporating in its service diverse extreme revolutionary elements injected into our educational system, into our entertainment industry, into our politics, even into the very language we use to communicate with each other. The “violence” it metes out is mostly of a cerebral nature, not of the physical kind, but rather predicated on shame, humiliation, and the fear of the loss of a job or reputation. It plays on the natural human desire for conformity, while steadily upping the ante in our laws—constantly moving the goalposts of what are acceptable and unacceptable. It is the kind of intellectual “violence” now writ large that once impelled people to look the other way when their neighbors were hauled off to Siberia under Comrade Stalin, or to Dachau under Hitler. But, arguably, it is worse, for it denies the very existence of those immutable laws that govern the universe.
It has been highly effective, utilizing as its major weaponry the terrifying twins, the inexpungable accusations of “racism” and “sexism,” and a whole panoply of sub-terms that accompany such charges: “white supremacy,” “historic white oppression,” “colonialist imperialism,” “misogyny,” “toxic masculinity,” and increasingly expanded to incorporate terms like “anti-migrant” or “anti-transgender” bigotry.
The overarching desire of this progressivist revolution is, in fact, not reform—not what Lampedusa’s Prince of Salina says consolingly about some things changing so that other things can remain the same. No, it is incredibly “post-Marxian,” making the older Communist and Marxist revolutionary dreams seem tame in comparison. It invokes and demands a total transformation in which nearly all, if not all, of those institutions, those traditions, and that inheritance vouchsafed to us from our ancestors is rudely discarded, rejected, and condemned as racist, sexist, fascist—in other words, our remembered past is cut off from us.
This progressive revolution is predicated on the idea of equality. Yet, in fact, the equality as envisaged does not exist and has never existed in nature. For revolutionary “equality” is a slogan, in reality an exercise in guile and subterfuge employed to shame and cajole a weak-willed and gullible citizenry into eventually dissolving the traditional social bonds and inherited natural (and moral) laws that have governed our culture for two millennia. Its true objective is domination over and power in society.
As an increasingly independent outgrowth of an historic cultural Marxism formulated decades ago and insinuated into our educational systems and entertainment industry, this assault on our historic culture makes the template of the old Soviet Communists appear conservative. Josef Stalin would never have, and never did, put up with same sex marriage, transgenderism, or the kind of feminist extremism we see around us today. True, the Soviets talked of equality, and women occupied some professional positions, but for the Reds a strong family and observance of supposedly “outdated” traditional morality were still important.
Revolutionary equality, in the form of egalitarianism, is not only a rebellion against the Divine Positive Law, but also against Nature, that is, against the way things are and function naturally in our world, those workings and that usual consistency observed as prescriptive laws for thousands of years.
There is a parable in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30; The Parable of the Bags of Gold/NIV), which both mirrors and confirms those laws. The three servants of the Master are given unequal amounts and told to be faithful stewards and invest the talents wisely. The first two, those with the largest amounts, comply and double their accounts; but the servant with the least amount fails to use his one Talent, and thus is condemned: “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? . . . So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents . . . As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The parable’s message is that men are created unequally in abilities, in status, in kinds and types of intelligence, in physicality, in position. We must not compare our status invidiously with those around us, for we are not judged by the talents or positions of others, but by our own God-given unique capacity, our own talents, and how well we measure up and fulfill our own specific roles in society. Thus, perhaps ironically and to emphasize this point, the servant with more Talents is blessed, but the servant with the fewest is condemned, not because of rank or possession but because of non-compliance with the mandate of the Master.
Egalitarianism as a movement is, as the late Mel Bradford termed it, a heresy, fraught with extreme consequences for Western society: “Equality as a moral or political imperative, pursued as an end in itself—Equality with a capital ‘E’—is the antonym of every legitimate conservative principle…there is no man equal to any other, except perhaps in the special, and politically untranslatable, understanding of the Deity. Not intellectually or physically or economically or even morally. Not equal!” (Modern Age, Winter 1976, p. 62.)
It is in the realm of morality and the observance of moral law that the effects of egalitarianism have been most aggravated. Indeed, the destruction of masculinity and emasculation of men has been a disastrous consequence of the “women’s movement.” For centuries—indeed, not that long ago—an inherited code of honor, deference and respect on how to treat women, prevailed in Western society. While, it is true, certain functions and roles were generally not open to women historically, that in no way diminished or lessened their critical importance and special position in society. Indeed, as child bearers and mothers it was they who most uniquely governed the essential running of the family and were the substantial foundation of society.
The Church understood that women were not the same as men, that women were different and that they had unique God-given roles. Like the Blessed Virgin in Bethlehem who cared for the Cradle in the Stable and nourished the Son of God who would bring grace and salvation to the world, the primary role of women was the nourishing of familial offspring and the continuation of the human race. There could be no more significant role than this and, in that sense, women occupy in Christian teaching an exalted and unequalled position, modeled on that of the Blessed Virgin.
What folly, then, to even discuss “equality” in this sense.
Our present culture is filled with raging egalitarian revolutionaries—many political, many academic, many in entertainment, many in media. They are, to quote T. S. Eliot, “destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.” (Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, 1948, p. 108.)
These revolutionaries tell us that they strive for “correcting historic inequality” and “freedom from oppression.” But their program—their revolution—is a dystopian nightmare which pushes the unobtainable goal of egalitarianism. That program destroys true liberty and succeeds in enslaving millions in unrequited passions and envy, unbound and unreasoned, cocooned in a pseudo-reality. In their quest for an abstract equality they destroy the historic liberties which define and give texture to human society.
The late author-essayist, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, in his classic volume,Liberty or Equality, wrote:
. . . it suffices to say that the artificial establishment of equality is as little compatible with liberty as the enforcement of unjust laws of discrimination . . . ‘Nature’ is anything but egalitarian; if we want to establish a complete plain we have to blast the mountains away and fill the valleys; equality thus presupposes the continuous intervention of force which, as a principle, is opposed to freedom. Liberty and equality are in essence contradictory. (Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality, 1952, p. 3.)
And again Bradford: “The only freedom which can last is a freedom embodied somewhere, rooted in a history, located in space, sanctioned by a genealogy, and blessed by a religious establishment. The only equality which abstract rights, insisted upon outside the context of politics, are likely to provide is the equality of universal slavery.” (Bradford, A Better Guide than Reason, 1979, “Preface,” p. xii.)
In their frenzied revolt against the laws of nature and nature’s God, the revolutionaries qualify as what the great English writer G. K. Chesterton called “lunatics.” In his volume, The Poet and the Lunatics (1929), Chesterton’s character Gale asks the question: “What exactly is liberty?” He responds, in part:
First and foremost, surely, it is the power of a thing to be itself. In some ways the yellow bird was free in the cage . . . We are limited by our brains and bodies; and if we break out, we cease to be ourselves, and, perhaps, to be anything.
The lunatic is he who loses his way and cannot return. Now, almost before my eyes, this man had made a great stride from liberty to lunacy. The man who opened the bird-cage loved freedom; possibly too much . . . But the man who broke the bowl merely because he thought it a prison for the fish, when it was their only possible house of life—that man was already outside the world of reason, raging with a desire to be outside of everything.
Our modern egalitarian revolutionaries have, to use Chesterton’s parable, gone mad. In their frenetic quest for abstract equality and a freedom not rooted in place, family and history, they are men and women “already outside the world of reason,” enslaved by an unrestrained rage to destroy the edifice of Western Christian civilization which is grounded on both Divine Positive and natural law. That destructive rage is matched only by their profound inability to create anything of real and lasting value to replace what is destroyed.
This is where we find ourselves in America today.
It is no exaggeration to state that millions of our fellow citizens have been infected by an ideology that posits a mythical, egalitarian “counter-reality” which has poisoned their thinking and worldview to the point that co-existing with them in the same nation, in the same geography, becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible. Their template is highly aggressive and contagious; it must increase and grow, or it dies. And, if opposed, it fights back viciously and with total war.
The nightmare scenario described by Chesterton nearly a century ago has arrived today with full force: it surrounds us, it cajoles us, it demands total subservience . . . especially if we have the slightest inclination to think for ourselves, to doubt the new dogmatic and constantly advancing egalitarian templates on feminism and racism. What was perhaps tolerable five years ago is now met with demands for the execution of a social and political death sentence, and what may be tolerable today will soon be seen as a sin against the triumphant and ever-evolving social justice warrior mantra of truth.
That is, until men stand and forcefully oppose this lunacy, completely, honestly, rationally, and without hesitation.________________________
Boyd D. Cathey was educated at the University of Virginia (MA, Thomas Jefferson Fellow) and the Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain (PhD, Richard M. Weaver Fellow). He is a former assistant to the late author, Dr. Russell Kirk, taught on the college level, and is retired State Registrar of the North Carolina State Archives. Has published widely and in various languages, and is the author of The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage (Scuppernong Press, November 2018). He resides in North Carolina