The doctrine of equality is a key one in modern politics. Yet it is fairly ambiguous. Does it mean equality of wealth or equality of opportunity or equality under law or something else? The doctrine is widely held as a given, a primary, as something that needs no justification. Is it really a primary or can it be derived from more fundamental principles?
Men are born with widely varying abilities (both mental and physical) and are brought up in widely varying environments and circumstances. These differences are metaphysical. They are not open to human choice.
In what way are men equal then? They are equal in that they have the same nature. They all have a need of knowledge to survive and they have the same (and only) means of obtaining that knowledge – a rational mind. They all have free will. They all have a mind that must think and judge on its own. This equality too is metaphysical, not open to choice. No man can think for another nor can he force another’s thoughts.
Man’s nature requires that he be free to act on his thoughts, his mind being his sole source of knowledge and sole standard of judgement. A man who acts under force (or the threat of physical force) acts against his nature.
The only way for a society to be civil is to outlaw the initiation of force since the only proper response to an initiation of force is retalliation to end it. It is man’s nature that is the source of his right to be free of force. Since men are equal in their nature they all have this right equally. That is the only moral doctrine of equality and the only one that is achievable in practice.
What is the nature of attempts to enforce other forms of equality? They are a revolt against the nature of existence and the nature of man. They are attempts to change that which is not open to human choice. They are a revolt against the fact that sustenance is not free, that man must produce in order to live, that the extent of his ability (and favorability of circumstances) will determine his success.
Attempts to enforce equality of wealth have led to disastrous consequences in the last century in about half the world and now stand mostly discredited. Attempts to enforce equality of opportunity, however, are very popular today. They can be observed in policies such as progressive taxation, affirmative action, social security, socialized medicine, subsidized goods etc. “Opportunities” such as the “opportunity to a good education” or the “opportunity to a good job” or the “opportunity to health care” are not free. They are created by the efforts of men (such as the efforts of investors, educators, entrepreneurs, doctors, etc) and must be paid for (by one’s own efforts or by ones’ parents’ efforts or by charity). Asserting a right to equal opportunity is asserting a right to enslave the men whose efforts create the opportunities in the first place. Since these attempts are not as radical as attempts to enforce equality of wealth, their consequences are milder but not different in nature. If an attempt to enforce equality of wealth is murder (and not just figuratively, as history shows), then the attempt to enforce equality of opportunity is murder by slow torture.