Discuss the View That Liberty and Equality Are Incompatible

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Discuss the view that liberty and equality are incompatible

In this essay I aim to discuss the view that Liberty and Equality are incompatible. This view was put forward by Lord Acton when he said “the passion for equality made vain the hope of freedom”. However, the issue of compatibility relies on how you define the terms Liberty and Equality because, in the words of W.B Gallie, both liberty and equality are “essentially contested concepts” and there are therefore different interpretations of each concepts meaning. The contemporary political thinker Isaiah Berlin in his book, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, distinguished between a positive concept of freedom and a negative concept of freedom. Equality is split into three interpretations and they are Formal Equality, Equality of Outcome and Equality of Opportunity. I will conclude that in the words of Hobhouse “the struggle for liberty, is the struggle for equality”, hence the two concepts are more compatible than they are different.

The first interpretation of Liberty is Negative Freedom which is concerned with ‘freedom from’-the absence of restrain, interference or impediment and believes that you are only free to the extent you are not being constrained. The first strand of Equality that I will compare Negative Liberty with is Formal Equality which argues that because we are all human beings we are all equal because of a shared human essence and therefore we are entitled to be treated with equal respect and dignity. Formal Equality is based around treating individuals with equal dignity, in the words of Immanuel Kant individuals should not be treated as a ‘means to an end, not ends in themselves’. Clearly the sweeping redistribution of income would use individuals for a wider aim of providing an equal start in life for all and hence undermine the Kantian Dictate that underpins Formal Equality. Similarly, Negative Liberty is a not a distributive ideal as it believes in a minimal state and laissez faire...
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