From Murray Rothbard’s lengthy essay, which is published in a volume of fantastic essays, we read the following regarding “egalitarianism.” My particular motivation for posting this, is the continued rise of the “left-libertarian” brand of libertarianism, which seeks to emphasize things like “egalitarianism” and acceptance of “alternative lifestyles,” which nowadays is considered biased and bigoted to refer to as “alternative.” The left-libertarians are vocally upset with “later Rothbard,” or Rothbard in the late 80’s and early 90s. For it was this Rothbard that completely abandoned any hope that the New Left would have the cultural foundation of providing for a robust liberty movement. Rothbard, as one might discover by reading Justin Raimondo’s remarkable biography, has sought strategic alliances throughout his career with whomever would listen. But toward the end of his life, he came to the realization that the cultural left had obliterated itself, and he sought alliance with the rising populist right, which centered around “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan and the anti-Bush caucus.
It was here that Rothbard penned the short articles on culture and politics during the so-called “Paleo-libertarian” phase of the Rothbardian Libertarian movement. It was here that Rothbard created a brand around himself that the more culturally liberal libertarians became frustrated with. And it is here that I found a Murray Rothbard that I knew would always embrace as an example of a logically radical libertarian who is undeniably conservative in his cultural and social outlook. This is a rare breed today, especially as the Online Libertarian movement has taken up a different flavor of libertarianism, which of course I constantly roll my eyes at. The purpose of posting this is not to say that it is Rothbard against the left-libertarians, but rather to pinpoint a type of essay that today would largely be rejected in pop-libertarian circles. It is Rothbard at his best.
Let us proceed, then, to a critique of the egalitarian ideal itself – should equality be granted its current status as an unquestioned ethical ideal? In the first place, we must challenge the very idea of a radical separation between something that is “true in theory” but “not valid in practice.” If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory. The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith. To put it more precisely, if an ethical goal violates the nature of man and/or the universe and, therefore, cannot work in practice, then it is a bad ideal and should be dismissed as a goal. If the goal itself violates the nature of man, then it is also a poor idea to work in the direction of that goal.
Suppose, for example, that it has come to be adopted as a universal ethical goal that all men be able to fly by flapping their arms. Let us assume that “pro-flappers” have been generally conceded the beauty and goodness of their goal, but have been criticized as “impractical.” But the result is unending social misery as society tries continually to move in the direction of arm-flying, and the preachers of arm-flapping make everyone’s lives miserable for being either lax or sinful enough not to live up to the common ideal. The proper critique here is to challenge the “ideal” goal itself; to point out that the goal itself is impossible in view of the physical nature of man and the universe; and, therefore, to free mankind from its enslavement to an inherently impossible and, hence, evil goal. But this liberation could never occur so long as the anti-armfliers continued to be solely in the realm of the “practical” and to concede ethics and “idealism” to the high priests of arm-flying. The challenge must take placeat the core – at the presumed ethical superiority of a nonsensical goal. The same, I hold, is true of the egalitarian ideal, except that its social consequences are far more pernicious than an endless quest for man’s flying unaided. For the condition of equality would wreak far more damage upon mankind.
What, in fact, is “equality”? The term has been much invoked but little analyzed. A and B are “equal” if they are identical to each other with respect to a given attribute. Thus, if Smith andJones are both exactly six feet in height, then they may be said to be “equal” in height. If two sticks are identical in length, then their lengths are “equal,” etc. There is one and only one way, then, in which any two people can really be “equal” in the fullest sense: they must be identical in all of their attributes. This means, of course, that equality of all men – the egalitarian ideal – can only be achieved if all men are precisely uniform, precisely identical with respect to all of their attributes. The egalitarian world would necessarily be a world of horror fiction – a world of faceless and identical creatures, devoid of all individuality, variety, or special creativity.[…]
The horror we all instinctively feel at these stories is the intuitive recognition that men are not uniform, that the species, mankind, is uniquely characterized by a high degree of variety,diversity, differentiation; in short, inequality. An egalitarian society can only hope to achieve its goals by totalitarian methods of coercion; and, even here, we all believe and hope the human spirit of individual man will rise up and thwart any such attempts to achieve an ant-heap world. In short, the portrayal of an egalitarian society is horror fiction because, when the implications of such a world are fully spelled out, we recognize that such a world and such attempts are profoundly antihuman; being antihuman in the deepest sense, the egalitarian goal is, therefore, evil and any attempts in the direction of such a goal must be considered evil as well.
The great fact of individual difference and variability (that is, inequality) is evident from the long record of human experience; hence, the general recognition of the antihuman nature of a world of coerced uniformity. Socially and economically, this variability manifests itself in the universal division of labor, and in the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” – the insight that, in everyorganization or activity, a few (generally the most able and/or the most interested) will end up as leaders, with the mass of the membership filling the ranks of the followers. In both cases, the same phenomenon is at work – outstanding success or leadership in any given activity is attained by what Jefferson called a “natural aristocracy” – those who are best attuned to that activity.[…]
Since egalitarians begin with the a priori axiom that all people, and hence all groups of peoples, are uniform and equal, it then follows for them that any and all group differences in status, prestige, or authority in society must be the result of unjust “oppression” and irrational “discrimination.” Statistical proof of the “oppression” of redheads would proceed in a manner all too familiar in American political life; it might be shown, for example, that the median redhead income is lower than nonredheaded income, and further that the proportion of redheaded business executives, university professors, or congressmen is below their quotal representation in the population. The most recent and conspicuous manifestation of this sort of quotal thinking was in the McGovern movement at the 1972 Democratic Convention. A few groups are singled out as having been “oppressed” by virtue of delegates to previous conventions falling below their quotal proportion of the population as a whole. In particular, women, youth, blacks, Chicanos (or the so-called Third World) were designated as having been oppressed; as a result, the Democratic Party, under the guidance of egalitarian-quota thinking, overrode the choices of the voters in order to compel their due quotal representation of these particular groups.
In some cases, the badge of “oppression” was an almost ludicrous construction. That youths of 18 to 25 years of age had been “underrepresented” could easily have been placed in proper perspective by a reductio ad absurdum, surely some impassioned McGovernite reformer could have risen to point out the grievous “underrepresentation” of five-year olds at the convention and to urge that the five-year-old bloc receive its immediate due. It is only commonsense biological and social insight to realize that youths win their way into society through a process of apprenticeship; youths know less and have less experience than mature adults, and so it should be clear why they tend to have less status and authority than their elders.But to accept this would be to cast the egalitarian creed into some substantial doubt; further, it would fly into the face of the youth-worship that has long been a grave problem of American culture. And so young people have been duly designated as an “oppressed class,” and the coercing of their population quota is conceived as only just reparation for their previously exploited condition.
Women are another recently discovered “oppressed class,” and the fact that political delegates have habitually been far more than 50 percent male is now held to be an evident sign of their oppression. Delegates to political conventions come from the ranks of partyactivists, and since women have not been nearly as politically active as men, their numbers have understandably been low. But, faced with this argument, the widening forces of “women’s liberation” in America again revert to the talismanic argument about “brainwashing” by our “culture.” For the women’s liberationists can hardly deny the fact that every culture and civilization in history, from the simplest to the most complex, has been dominated by males. (In desperation, the liberationists have lately been countering with fantasies about the mighty Amazonian empire.) Their reply, once again, is that from time immemorial a male-dominated culture has brainwashed oppressed females to confine themselves to nurture, home, and the domestic hearth. The task of the liberationists is to effect a revolution in the female condition by sheer will, by the “raising of consciousness.” If most women continue to cleave to domestic concerns, this only reveals the “false consciousness” that must be extirpated.
Of course, one neglected reply is that if, indeed, men have succeeded in dominating every culture, then this in itself is a demonstration of male “superiority”; for if all genders are equal, how is it that male domination emerged in every case? But apart from this question, biology itself is being angrily denied and cast aside. The cry is that there are no, can be no, must be no biological differences between the sexes; all historical or current differences must be due to cultural brainwashing. […]
Another widening rebellion against biological sex norms, as well asagainst natural diversity, has been the recently growing call for bisexuality by Left intellectuals. The avoidance of “rigid, stereotyped” heterosexuality and the adoption of indiscriminate bisexuality is supposed to expand consciousness, to eliminate “artificial” distinctions between the sexes and to make all persons simply and unisexually “human.” Once again, brainwashing by a dominant culture (in this case, heterosexual) has supposedly oppressed a homosexual minority and blocked off the uniformity and equality inherent in bisexuality. For then every individual could reach his or her fullest “humanity” in the “polymorphous perversity” so dear to the hearts of such leading New Left social philosophers as Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse.[…]
Similarly absurd fantasies are at the root of the Marxian utopia of communism. Freed from the supposed confines of specialization and the division of labor (the heart of any production above the most primitive level and hence of any civilized society), each person in thecommunist utopia would fully develop all of his powers in every direction.17 As Engels wrote in his Anti-Dhring, communism would give “each individual the opportunity to develop and exercise all his faculties, physical and mental, in all directions.” And Lenin looked forward in 1920 to the “abolition of the division of labor among people…the education, schooling, and training of people with an all-around development and an all-around training, people able to do everything. Communism is marching and must march toward this goal, and will reach it.”[…]
Of course one way to try to resolve this dilemma is to fantasize that the New Communist Man of the future will be a superman, superhuman in his abilities to transcend nature. William Godwin thought that, once private property was abolished, man would become immortal. The Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky asserted that in the future communist society, “a new type of man will arise…a superman…an exalted man.” And Leon Trotsky prophesied that under communism:
man will become incomparably stronger, wiser, finer. His body more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice more musical…. The human average will rise to the level of an Aristotle, a Goethe, a Marx. Above these other heights new peaks will arise
We began by considering the common view that the egalitarians, despitea modicum of impracticality, have ethics and moral idealism on their side. We end with the conclusion that egalitarians, however intelligent as individuals, deny the very basis of human intelligence and of human reason: the identification of the ontological structure of reality, of the laws of human nature, and the universe. In so doing, the egalitarians are acting as terribly spoiled children, denying the structure of reality on behalf of the rapid materialization of their own absurd fantasies. Not only spoiled but also highly dangerous; for the power of ideas is such that the egalitarians have a fair chance of destroying the very universe that they wish to deny and transcend, and to bring that universe crashing around all of our ears. Since their methodology and their goals deny the very structure of humanity and of the universe, the egalitariansare profoundly antihuman; and, therefore, their ideology and their activities may be set down as profoundly evil as well. Egalitarians do not have ethics on their side unless one can maintain that the destruction of civilization, and even of the human race itself, may be crowned with the laurel wreath of a high and laudable morality.