Yes, There is a Good Equality

With all my (I think deserved) criticism of equality and even human rights as a concept, it isn’t true that their is no way the words can be used correctly. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses them here:

I. RESPECT FOR THE HUMAN PERSON

1929 Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.35

1930 Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy.36 If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.”37 No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.

II. EQUALITY AND DIFFERENCES AMONG MEN

1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.40

1936 On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth.41 The “talents” are not distributed equally.42

1937 These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures:

I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others. . . . I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one. . . . And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another. . . . I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.43

1938 There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel:

Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.44

I think that the Catechism is making a mistake in using these terms because of the metaphysical and historical baggage surrounding them, and how easily they are skewed by liberals; see my conversation with John C. Wright for a lesson of how easy it is for highly intelligent and faithful Christian to equivocate between equality of human dignity (the “Good” kind) and equality of authority, which is utterly impossible in any case.

“Rights” is another highly confusing term. The Catechism seems to use the term “right”…actually, I’m not sure what it means by right. There is no such thing as an absolute right: There are situations in which the right to life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness, and whatever else you want to add can all be reasonably denied a person depending on the circumstance, and what’s more almost nobody disagrees with this. Maybe the Catechism is saying that rights are just another way of talking about the moral, natural law that all men know in their hearts? If so, again, using the term “rights” here is a mistake the gunks up the works with faulty enlightenment thinking.

I’m just saying this to make the point that every single time somebody talks about “equality” or “equal right” they aren’t necessarily using the words in a way that’s expressly incompatible with reality or morality. But I think we should question the wisdom of using these terms.

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5 Responses to Yes, There is a Good Equality

  1. John says:

    Actually, as the Habsburg Restorationist points out, there are ways in which even liberty is a legitimate goal of authority, as under the limits of natural law liberty can indeed flourish in a rightly ordered society, it’s just not defined in the same way as liberalists define it.

    In the same way, some equality, or rather solidarity, can be a good thing, but it does indeed have limits of neccessity, lest it destroy the society.

    So I would disagree with the strictly Zippy-type traditionalist view.

    Another important thing that I think needs to be pointed out is that a right to anything necessarily implies obligation as well. The right to the pursuit of happiness that a certain individual has also implies a moral obligation on others to not tamper with it. The right to life of a person imposes the moral obligation not to kill on any and all other human beings as well, and so on.

    Basically, rights and obligations are two sides of the same coin, and one cannot talk about either one of them without also admitting the other, so I don’t think that using the language of rights in discourse is as problematic as you think it is.

    There is no such thing as an absolute right: There are situations in which the right to life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness, and whatever else you want to add can all be reasonably denied a person depending on the circumstance, and what’s more almost nobody disagrees with this.

    Interesting observation. Most people would in fact agree that allowing liberty for individuals is a good thing, but at the same time and if pressed, they would also agree that the right to liberty can no longer hold if the reasons are serious enough to ignore it.

    • I don’t have an issue with liberty as a concept full stop but with liberalism – liberty as the final end of government as opposed to thr common good.

      • Zippy says:

        Liberal apologists of the right/traditionalist variety are always trying to reframe political liberty as meaning empowerment to choose the good. But this is a vacuous motte: no political theory or doctrine rejects empowerment to choose what it’s adherents conceive to be the good. The essence of every political doctrine is an expression of what justifies the discriminatory authoritative empowerments and constraints advocated by its adherents.

        When political liberty is taken to mean empowerment of what ought to be empowered (and corresponding constraint of what ought to be constrained) it is vacuous. Naturally people don’t want their cherished ideals
        to be vacuous though; so the vacuous understanding always (in the context pf real life and real human beings) morphs into a substantive, incoherent understanding of political liberty as justification of political acts which distinguishes liberal regimes from illiberal regimes; that is, liberalism.

        Conservatives and trads who defend political liberty – whatever their sincere convictions – are playing the role of useful idiot.

      • The weirdest part of the Catechism seems to be the discussion of rights. I am unclear how the term is useful in that context; you can much less confusingly simply state that all authorities are bound to respect the natural law known in the hearts of all men and get at the same thing without vagie talk of undefined rights.

      • Zippy says:

        In my view supposedly illiberal rights talk is a way of saying sometimes-valid things using overly vague and complex language in an effort to try to avoid offending modern sensibilities.

        Or something like that.

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