Oct 082000

Freedom is usually thought to be opposed to equality, because, when everyone has freedom of selection, some are selected, while others excluded, thus society becomes unequal. So, those who prefer equality tend to hate free competition.


1. Freedom is compatible with equality

But freedom is not necessarily opposed to equality. The purpose of free competition is to select the excellent. If the condition of competition is not equal, you cannot judge who is the most excellent. When each runner doesn’t run an equal distance, how can we judge which runner is the fastest? Therefore, free competition is premised on equal opportunity. What is opposed to free competition is not equality of opportunity, but that of result. Let’s name those who insist on the latter socialistic egalitarians.

The socialistic egalitarians point out that the excellent and good does not always survive competition, namely some win by foul play. But the system that does not adopt the fair competition cannot survive for a long time. This indicates the way of competition itself must evolve through competition.

The socialistic egalitarians assert that, even if competition can select the excellent, free competition necessarily produces losers and the society where some must always be unhappy cannot be ideal. Somebody must lose competition, to be sure, but the issue of the competition is always decided by a certain criterion. So many criteria, so many winners. Suppose there are three members in a community, and that one is the best mathematician, another is the best musician and the third is the best runner. All of three can be a winner of his favorite field.

Of course, the society where all are winners is just theoretically possible. There are many losers-in-all-respects in the actual society. The socialistic egalitarians condemn the society as barbarous and inhuman where these losers-in-all-respects cannot survive. In many cases, however, the excellent are called excellent because they can make the society where those who are not excellent can survive. Khmer Rouge, which liquidated intellectuals, collapsed, with the result of miserable famine, though the entire nation became farmers. When the non-elite bring down the elite from jealousy, it is the non-elite that must suffer its harmful influence.

2. Are efforts are powerless?

The losers-in-all-respects can also be winners, if they make efforts to be winners. The socialistic egalitarians say, "We are born unequal and personal efforts cannot overcome this inequality. There are many disadvantageous factors to the weak which are not their own responsibilities, for example genetic inheritance, family circumstances, social background and so on. It is even inherently decided whether someone is lazy or not. It is against social justice that those weak are possessed by inferiority complex when they lose in a competition."

It is true we are born unequal. Thanks to this natural diversity, our species can hedge the risk of extinction by a special cause. The necessary efforts to make in order to win the free competition is not to make this rich diversity uniform with a prevailing criteria but to make the best use of the diversity as such.

There are three levels of efforts to succeed:

  1. mere efforts to use physical energy
  2. efforts to devise methods for making efforts
  3. efforts to find a new criterion that evaluates my individuality

What are usually meant by efforts are those on the first level. This kind of ability may be innately decided. If, however, even the third ability were also decided by nature, then we could have no freedom. The fact of the matter is that we are free, because we are conscious beings.

It is quite foolish to deplore that you are not in accord with established values. It would be better to find new values and environment that evaluate your demerits as merits than to adapt your characters to the established values and environment. Anyone can make such an effort, if he or she will.

3. Toward post-industrial society

The opposition, freedom versus equality, was the ideological difference between capitalism and communism. Communism pursued uniform equality, while capitalism pursued uniform competition. Communism and capitalism were both sides of one coin, the uniformity, which characterized all the industrial society. Now that we live in post-industrial societies, we must overcome the old paradigm of uniformity.

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  8 Responses to “Are Freedom and Equality Compatible?”

  1. Your point concerning the individual’s lack of rights at birth is not necessarily valid. My point comes from the writings of Locke and Jefferson, who believed that all are born with natural rights; i.e., life, liberty, and property (or the pursuit of happiness as Jefferson put it). You further stated that those on the extreme left (socialist egalitarians I think you called them) attempt to balance the playing field by making it easier for the underprivileged to get access to the American dream. By so stating, they do not assume that all men are created equal; indeed, those who are born without should be given more of a head start. This, I feel, defies the founding father’s maxims. There are so many in this nation who feel that the government owe them something; what this does, however, is to destroy self-initiative. Why should I bother with getting ahead if the government is going to provide for me anyway? So, to get back to your point about being born, or not being born, with natural rights, while we in America brag about our liberties, they are being curtailed by the very same government which says them support them. Please write back, in that this is one of my favorite subjects! How do they feel about civil liberties in Japan?

  2. We are born unequal. But this inequality is not that of rights, but that of talent. We all have rights to compete on equal conditions, but no rights to demand equal results except the minimum living standard from the Government. You said socialist egalitarians were extreme left. As there are many socialist egalitarians here in Japan, they are not extreme. I am rather minority.

  3. I would have to concur. The welfare state tends to have the effect of destroying personal initiative. I see this first hand every Friday when I volunteer at a charitable organization called Christian Assistance Ministry here in San Antonio. A number of the clients who come in looking for free food actually drive new cars. Some of them get angry when I insist that we simply do not have a certain size of pants. There initiative has been badly damaged, and they continually look for a free handout. That is not to say that there are not needy people in the world. Many are truly grateful for what they get and seek means of supporting themselves and their families. Those are the ones who should get government assistance, albeit temporarily until they get themselves back on their feet again.

  4. In Japan, most of charitable organizations are run by the public sector and people have little freedom to donate. Not a few public organizations are corrupt. The Government says, “We must help the weak.” That’s right. But the Government does not have to help the organizations directly that help the weak. Part of tax we pay must be used direct donation and charitable organizations should compete in the donation market.

  5. You said: “The socialistic egalitarians point out that the excellent and good does not always survive competition, namely some win by foul play.” Some (but not me personally) would say that in truly free competition no one can play outside of the rules. These rules are an inherent effect of our society’s drive for equality. The excellent can therefore be defined as those which win, regardless of how they do it. What is your opinion on this matter? I would also be interested to hear your opinion on whether a truly equal or truly free society is possible.

  6. I said, “In many cases, the excellent are called excellent because they can make the society where those who are not excellent can survive. ” I added the proviso, “in many cases”, because there are many definitions of excellence. You seem to regard excellence as an absolute concept, but who is excellent depends on the rule of competition. Of course, the rule itself must be excellent so as to select the excellent competitor. You are right in pointing out the meta-competition of rules, but excellence is originally a relative concept. The truly free society with truly equal opportunity is an eternal ideal that we must strive for.

  7. You said that: “The truly free society with truly equal opportunity is an eternal ideal that we must strive for.” Do you think such a society is actually possible or is this just an ideal to strive toward, without ever actually expecting to attain it?

  8. OK. I will revise my proposition as follows: The completely free society with completely equal opportunity is an eternal ideal that we must strive for. A free society with equal opportunity is possible, I believe.

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