On equality

Full equality is nowhere to be found in the world of men.  The predestined and the reprobate, the baptized and unbaptized are not equal in the eyes of God; nor are industrious and lazy employees equal in the eyes of their employers; nor are the homeowner and the burglar equal before the law.  Citizens and aliens do not have equal rights.  The noble and the degenerate are not equal in dignity.  No one treats strangers and friends equally.

The believer in “equality” will insist that this is not what he means, that he only condemns iniquitous inequalities, and that, for example, judging employees solely by their unequal productivity is treating them equally in this refined sense.  And indeed it is a part of justice that organizations should only discriminate according to qualities relevant to their function.  In a modern business corporation, two employees with the same work history should get the same promotion.  Things like that.  Note, though, that this sense of “fairness” cannot be elevated into a fundamental political principle.  It’s only once the purpose and structure of an organization is given that we can distinguish relevant from irrelevant qualities.  In a family business, ownership does not pass meritocratically to the best employee but by inheritance, and this is justified by the purpose and structure of the business.  Similarly, only once the structure of an organization is given and spheres of sovereignty established can we speak of freedom within these spheres.

Contour plots are a useful way to visualize multidimensional functions.  Each organization defines a status function on the space of personal qualities, and for each of these functions one can define isostatus contours which in general will differ for each organization.  “Equality” only deals with people on one of these hypersurfaces, and it is a derived concept.

Thus, we cannot say a priori that a hereditary aristocracy is unjust because unequal.  The isostatus contours defining “fairness” can only be known after the state is fully understood and the status function defined.  The aristocrats may have some useful role; they may serve some identifiable good; their existence may be somehow tied to the state’s self-understanding.

This is what conservatives mean when they claim to be non-ideological.  Political abstractions like “freedom” and “equality” are not considered to be fully formed principles existing apart from society, able to judge them “from the outside”.  They are analogical, not univocal, and their concrete meanings only emerge within an existing society.  Within the social order, there is plenty of room for moral critique using the emergent political concepts, but these tools of critique cannot be turned against the order itself, which is what makes the non-ideological position conservative.

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