List Of Contents | Contents of Equality by Charles Dudley Warner
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preserve himself, so he is bound to preserve the rest of mankind, and
except to do justice upon an offender we may not impair the life,
liberty, health, or goods of another.  Here Locke deduces the power that
one man may have over another; community could not exist if transgressors
were not punished.  Every wrongdoer places himself in "a state of war."
Here is the difference between the state of nature and the state of war,
which men, says Locke, have confounded--alluding probably to Hobbes's
notion of the lawlessness of human society in the original condition.

The portion of Locke's treatise which was not accepted by the French
theorists was that relating to property.  Property in lands or goods is
due wholly and only to the labor man has put into it.  By labor he has
removed it from the common state in which nature has placed it, and
annexed something to it that excludes the common rights of other men.

Rousseau borrowed from Hobbes as well as from Locke in his conception of
popular sovereignty; but this was not his only lack of originality.  His
discourse on primitive society, his unscientific and unhistoric notions
about the original condition of man, were those common in the middle of
the eighteenth century.  All the thinkers and philosophers and fine
ladies and gentlemen assumed a certain state of nature, and built upon
it, out of words and phrases, an airy and easy reconstruction of society,
without a thought of investigating the past, or inquiring into the
development of mankind.  Every one talked of "the state of nature" as if
he knew all about it.  "The conditions of primitive man," says Mr.
Morley, "were discussed by very incompetent ladies and gentlemen at
convivial supper-parties, and settled with complete assurance."  That was
the age when solitary Frenchmen plunged into the wilderness of North
America, confidently expecting to recover the golden age under the
shelter of a wigwam and in the society of a squaw.

The state of nature of Rousseau was a state in which inequality did not
exist, and with a fervid rhetoric he tried to persuade his readers that
it was the happier state.  He recognized inequality, it is true, as a
word of two different meanings: first, physical inequality, difference of
age, strength, health, and of intelligence and character; second, moral
and political inequality, difference of privileges which some enjoy to
the detriment of others-such as riches, honor, power.  The first
difference is established by nature, the second by man.  So long,
however, as the state of nature endures, no disadvantages flow from the
natural inequalities.

In Rousseau's account of the means by which equality was lost, the
incoming of the ideas of property is prominent.  From property arose
civil society.  With property came in inequality.  His exposition of
inequality is confused, and it is not possible always to tell whether he
means inequality of possessions or of political rights.  His
contemporary, Morelly, who published the Basileade in 1753, was troubled
by no such ambiguity.  He accepts the doctrine that men are formed by
laws, but holds that they are by nature good, and that laws, by
establishing a division of the products of nature, broke up the
sociability of men, and that all political and moral evils are the result
of private property.  Political inequality is an accident of inequality
of possessions, and the renovation of the latter lies in the abolition of
the former.

The opening sentence of the Contrat-Social is, "Man is born free, and
everywhere he is a slave," a statement which it is difficult to reconcile
with the fact that every human being is born helpless, dependent, and
into conditions of subjection, conditions that we have no reason to
suppose were ever absent from the race.  But Rousseau never said, "All
men are born equal."  He recognized, as we have seen, natural inequality.
What he held was that the artificial differences springing from the
social union were disproportionate to the capacities springing from the
original constitution; and that society, as now organized, tends to make
the gulf wider between those who have privileges and those who have none.

The well-known theory upon which Rousseau's superstructure rests is that
society is the result of a compact, a partnership between men.  They have
not made an agreement to submit their individual sovereignty to some
superior power, but they have made a covenant of brotherhood.  It is a
contract of association.  Men were, and ought to be, equal cooperators,
not only in politics, but in industries and all the affairs of life.
All the citizens are participants in the sovereign authority.  Their
sovereignty is inalienable; power may be transmitted, but not will; if
the people promise to obey, it dissolves itself by the very act--if there
is a master, there is no longer a people.  Sovereignty is also
indivisible; it cannot be split up into legislative, judiciary, and
executive power.

Society being the result of a compact made by men, it followed that the
partners could at any time remake it, their sovereignty being
inalienable.  And this the French socialists, misled by a priori notions,
attempted to do, on the theory of the Contrat-Social, as if they had a
tabula rasa, without regarding the existing constituents of society, or
traditions, or historical growths.

Equality, as a phrase, having done duty as a dissolvent, was pressed into
service as a constructor.  As this is not so much an essay on the nature
of equality is an attempt to indicate some of the modern tendencies to
carry out what is illusory in the dogma, perhaps enough has been said of
this period.  Mr. Morley very well remarks that the doctrine of equality
as a demand for a fair chance in the world is unanswerable; but that it
is false when it puts him who uses his chance well on the same level with
him who uses it ill.  There is no doubt that when Condorcet said, "Not
only equality of right, but equality of fact, is the goal of the social
art," he uttered the sentiments of the socialists of the Revolution.

The next authoritative announcement of equality, to which it is necessary
to refer, is in the American Declaration of Independence, in these words:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to
secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their
just power from the consent of the governed."  And the Declaration goes
on, in temperate and guarded language, to assert the right of a people to
change their form of government when it becomes destructive of the ends

Although the genesis of these sentiments seems to be French rather than
English, and equality is not defined, and critics have differed as to
whether the equality clause is independent or qualified by what follows,
it is not necessary to suppose that Thomas Jefferson meant anything
inconsistent with the admitted facts of nature and of history.  It is
important to bear in mind that the statesmen of our Revolution were
inaugurating a political and not a social revolution, and that the
gravamen of their protest was against the authority of a distant crown.
Nevertheless, these dogmas, independent of the circumstances in which
they were uttered, have exercised and do exercise a very powerful
influence upon the thinking of mankind on social and political topics,
and are being applied without limitations, and without recognition of the
fact that if they are true, in the sense meant by their originators, they
are not the whole truth.  It is to be noticed that rights are mentioned,
but not duties, and that if political rights only are meant, political
duties are not inculcated as of equal moment.  It is not announced that
political power is a function to be discharged for the good of the whole
body, and not a mere right to be enjoyed for the advantage of the
possessor; and it is to be noted also that this idea did not enter into
the conception of Rousseau.

The dogma that "government derives its just power from the consent of the
governed" is entirely consonant with the book theories of the eighteenth
century, and needs to be confronted, and practically is confronted, with
the equally good dogma that "governments derive their just power from
conformity with the principles of justice."  We are not to imagine, for
instance, that the framers of the Declaration really contemplated the
exclusion from political organization of all higher law than that in the
"consent of the governed," or the application of the theory, let us say,
to a colony composed for the most part of outcasts, murderers, thieves,
and prostitutes, or to such states as today exist in the Orient.  The
Declaration was framed for a highly intelligent and virtuous society.

Many writers, and some of them English, have expressed curiosity, if not
wonder, at the different fortunes which attended the doctrine of equality
in America and in France.  The explanation is on the surface, and need
not be sought in the fact of a difference of social and political level
in the two countries at the start, nor even in the further fact that the
colonies were already accustomed to self-government.

The simple truth is that the dogmas of the Declaration were not put into
the fundamental law.  The Constitution is the most practical state
document ever made.  It announces no dogmas, proclaims no theories.
It accepted society as it was, with its habits and traditions; raising no
abstract questions whether men are born free or equal, or how society
ought to be organized.  It is simply a working compact, made by "the
people," to promote union, establish justice, and secure the blessings of
liberty; and the equality is in the assumption of the right of "the
people of the United States" to do this.  And yet, in a recent number of
Blackwood's Magazine, a writer makes the amusing statement, "I have never
met an American who could deny that, while firmly maintaining that the

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