Are liberty and equality compatible?
“All humans are born free and are born equal in dignity and rights”1 this is article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - given that it is so central a premise of what the UN does, it implies that the ability to be free and equal is surely attainable, perhaps currently occurring in developed countries today. Yet in other places of the media, it is often assumed that the two are not compatible. For example, the cold war between “the West” and the USSR often was summarised in the ideologies of liberty versus equality.2 The core of this thesis will seek to do three things. It will firstly define and justify the terms equality and liberty. Secondly it will argue that theoretically, the two may be compatible yet finally it will conclude that practically, they cannot work in conjunction with each other. A crucial distinction
Liberty is often used vaguely and a clear definition is critical to answering this question. Isaiah Berlin in his “Two Concepts of Liberty” defined the distinction between positive liberty and negative liberty. He defined positive liberty as the ability to fulfil one own potential.3 This is typified by the phrase “I am my own master”. For example, if I really want to become an economist, then I would be positively free if not discouraged. Negative liberty is defined as “freedom from external constraint”. The Implications of Positive and Negative Liberty
A sketch by Eddie Izzard entitled “Cake or death”4 offers to people exactly that. We might think that be fully free but even the most ardent of fitness fanatics would of course pick cake. Alternatively, a feared, violent and ruthless highwayman offering you “your money or your life”5 may illustrate the point. Assuming that we know the highwayman not to be bluffing, not even Scrooge himself would keep his money. Whilst the above two examples are possible to envisage, it is clear that they are not part of your average society and a more realistic example may be prudent. Many prostitutes can and do hate their jobs, however, they often have no alternative to it, even when not forced to do so. There are several reasons why a prostitute would continue to remain in the trade. A study by London South Bank University identified 9 barriers to exit6 including drug addiction, lack of education and social stigma. The implications are that we are sometimes faced with decisions where there is only one realistic possible option. Indeed, a determinist would go as far to argue that we are faced all the time with decisions where there is only one possible outcome and we do not have free will at all and everything is - in principle - predicable. It is clear that we cannot mean free to mean negatively free. However, the argument that freedom is possible becomes much less tenuous when one considers being positively free. It is defined as the ability to maximise one’s potential, given the current state of resources available to people. “Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one's life and realize one's fundamental purposes.7 This has more feasibility – for example, if somebody desires to become a teacher, then he would be positively free if he is able to realise his aims. In short, he is able to maximise his potential. A misconception of Equality
Some of the more pedantic among us could argue that equality is possible. Certainly in areas such as mathematics this is true. A simple example such as 8 +7=15 shows that equality can exist. However, it is very clear that this is not what one means by equality in this sense. Many would assume that perhaps equality should be defined then as the equal allocation of resources. However, in the context of animal ethics, Peter Singer argued that it this kind of equality is impossible and should not be defined as such; it seems impractical and perhaps immoral for this to be the case. “Humans...
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