Can We Integrate These Two Concepts?
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.
The Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said that
the unexamined life is not worth living. With all
due apologies to that great thinker, I would like
to suggest that unexamined concepts or ideas are
not worth having and, in fact, may cause great
harm. What do I mean?
The rhetoric is heating up in the political
arena these days, particularly since some of the
social changes being suggested involve such "basic
rights and entitlements" as welfare, Social
Security and affirmative action. Underlying these
"basic rights and entitlements" are some key
concepts or ideas which allegedly justify them and
provide the arguments for their existence and
promotion. It is these key concepts and ideas that
I want to briefly discuss in this article.
The Concept of
The concept of equality appears in the
Declaration of Independence in the phrase "all men
are created equal." What did that mean to the
framers of our government? The clue to the meaning
appears in the next phrase: "endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among
these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
The Founding Fathers were not stupid men. They
knew that individual persons were not equal in
personal characteristics and abilities. They knew
that some people were more intelligent than others,
some were disabled in some way or other, and some
people had artistic or mechanical talents which
others lacked in significant ways.
What was meant by the concept of equality was
"equal before God" and "each individual is an end
in himself." Each individual is entitled to serve
his own purposes and pursue his own objectives. An
individual is not to be treated simply as an
instrument to promote someone else's purposes.
The men who wrote the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution knew that
individuals are not identical to one another. Each
person has different values, different capacities,
and different tastes. As a result, individuals want
to live different lives and they want different
things. The concept of personal equality demands
that these differences be respected.
Regardless, however, of what particular
circumstances one was born into or what specific
characteristics one possessed, each individual was
"equal before God (or the Creator)." The Founding
Fathers accepted this as a basic principle or axiom
of American political philosophy.
The concept of equality was further expanded to
include "equal before the law." Individuals who are
wealthy are not to be treated differently from
those who are poor, and individuals who are
intelligent or talented are not to be treated
differently from those who may be lacking in mental
ability or limited in talents, as far as the law is
concerned. In other words, each individual stands
before the bench of justice on an equal footing.
That, at least, is the ideal, regardless of the
fact that sometimes that ideal is not reached in
Eventually the concept of equality expanded even
further to include "equality of opportunity." What
this meant was that an individual should not be
prevented by arbitrary obstacles from using his
capacities, talents, and so forth, to pursue his
own objectives and goals. This does not mean
"identical" opportunities (that is impossible), but
simply that one is not denied his right to Life,
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, on the basis
of birth, color, religion, gender, and so
The concept of equality in the sense of equal
before God, equal before the law, and equal access
to opportunity, has served this country well. It is
the basis for a society of free minds and free
markets. It is the cornerstone of the right to
Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Many decades ago the concept of equality was
revised, and with disastrous results. The new
meaning of the concept of equality became "equality
of outcome." The goal of equality under this
meaning is "fairness," a radical departure from the
traditional concept of equality. And one of the
real difficulties with "fairness" is that it is not
an objectively determined notion. After all, what
is fair? Or what is a fair share?
The most insidious thing about the idea of
"equality of outcome" is the extent to which it
reduces another key concept in American political
philosophy, the concept of liberty. The concepts of
equality before God, before the law, and equality
of opportunity, enhance liberty. On the other hand,
equality of outcome, in the name of "fairness,"
leads to arbitrariness, subjective determinations,
differences in the treatment of individuals, and a
general reduction in personal freedom.
If what individuals acquire is determined by
"fairness" and not by what they actually do, who is
to determine what an individual gets and who is to
determine from whom that acquisition comes. It
means that those who work hard and produce will
have to give up part of their production so that
others who may not work and produce will,
nevertheless, have a "fair" share of what is
produced. It also means taking from those who have
earned and giving to those who have not earned. It
means everyone finishes the race at the same time,
even though some may run faster than others.
This irrational concept of equality of outcome
is the foundation for all the policies of the
Welfare State. It is the sole justification for
forcibly depriving individuals of what they have
gainfully earned and giving the fruits of that work
to those who have not earned them. Or, in other
words, it is the basis for stealing from the haves
and giving to the have-nots, simply because they
somehow "deserve" a fair share.
We have seen all too well where this concept and
the programs it supports has led us as a nation.
And so now, finally, after decades of failure, the
welfare system and its corolaries are under attack.
It is unfortunate, however, that the attack is
being made for economic reasons, the high cost of
the present welfare system and the fraud it
involves, rather than because it has reduced
individual freedom and the welfare system is
incompatible with the traditional concepts and
ideals of the American political philosophy as
envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
And that brings us to the next key concept to be
The Concept of
Americans have traditionally been proud of
living in the "land of the free." Unfortunately,
today that should read the "land of the somewhat
free." The entire concept of freedom that our
Founding Fathers accepted as a principle to guide
the new nation they created has been turned on its
The change in the concept of liberty that took
place was very subtle; so subtle, in fact, that few
citizens at the time took notice. Whereas the
original meaning of freedom meant "freedom to," the
new meaning of freedom meant "freedom from." That
slight change in wordage has spawned one of the
worst disasters in American history.
The original intent of the framers of the
American government was that all individuals would
be "free to" pursue their own Happiness, work
toward their own goals, and reap the benefits of
their hard work. Americans were "free to" speak
their own minds, read a free press, create wealth,
build businesses, farm the land, raise their
children, and so on.
About six decades ago a new concept of freedom
was promoted. This was the notion of "freedom
from." This notion was based on a number of false
assumptions, including the assumption that
"security" was paramount as a value. The argument
went something like this.
Everyone likes to feel secure. Life is full of
insecurities. There are a lot of risks out there in
the real world. People need food, shelter, jobs,
education, and so forth. None of these things are
guaranteed in the normal course of living. So what
to do about it? Why, of course, use the government
as an instrument to provide security. The
government will guarantee food, shelter, jobs, and
But security and "freedom to" are not compatible
concepts. The notion of "freedom to" involves
risks, such as the risk of failure and the
possibility of mistakes and errors. The notion of
security includes the idea of "freedom from,"
freedom from, that is, failures, mistakes, errors,
and risks. Eventually, to have "freedom from," an
individual has to give up "freedom to." And that's
what has been happening in this country. Let me
illustrate by pointing out a few recent
According to the proponents of this new concept
of "freedom from," everyone should be secure from
insults, ethnic jokes, and politically incorrect
speech. In fact, a new policy of so-called "hate"
crimes has been widely promulgated, partly based on
this idea. In order to enforce this new security or
"freedom from," what has to go? Well, of course,
the "freedom to" speak (or write, or think)
whatever is on your mind. Freedom of speech and
freedom of press are thereby diminished.
Now let's look at "freedom from want." The
proponents of the new concept of freedom argue that
everyone should have the basic necessities of food
and shelter. In one sense, I agree, everyone
should. That is certainly a laudable ideal. I would
argue instead, however, that everyone should have
the "freedom to" pursue whatever enterprise they
desire to provide themselves and their loved ones
with food and shelter. The proponents of the new
concept may not disagree with that but they argue
that somehow, should someone not be willing or able
to provide food and shelter for themselves, that
somehow this puts an obligation on others to
provide such for them. From whence does such an
obligation arise? Why am I obligated to provide for
some stranger the so-called necessities of life?
Why does "freedom from" put a claim on my "freedom
Now, on to a last illustration which will lead
into another key concept much abused these
At this time, everyone of adult persuasion has
the "freedom to" smoke tobacco. This freedom is
increasingly coming under attack because of the
notion of "freedom from" so-called secondhand
smoke. This has led to legislation prohibiting
smoking in "public" places, such as restaurants,
offices, and so on. In this case, "freedom to"
appears to be in conflict with "freedom from." But
is it? I answer in the negative. The reason it
appears to be in conflict is because of the new
concept of "public" place.
Public Places and
Once upon a time there was an enterprise called
the private business. It could be a restaurant
where the owner provided food services to customers
or a private office where professionals saw their
clients. We have all seen the signs in restaurants,
for instance, that say "We reserve the right to
refuse service to anyone." We are aware that a
lawyer or an accountant can refuse to represent
anybody they care to. They are "free to" do that,
at least for now.
Let's deal with restaurants for now. A
restaurant has always been considered to be a
"private" business serving its customers who
"choose" to use its services. The restaurant owner
decides what's to appear on the menu and what sort
of ambiance the restaurant will provide. The owner
has financed the business, worked hard, taken the
risks of success or failure, and generally made all
the important decisions inherent in the running of
any business. If the restaurant is popular and
makes money, the owner reaps the benefits. If the
restaurant doesn't succeed, the owner takes the
Over the past few decades, this "private"
business has now become a "public" place. How?
Simply by definition and a changing concept of what
"public" means. There is no business now that is
truly "private." The government has decreed such.
And this means that the owner of the business can
no longer make all the decisions so critical to the
success or failure of the business.
Now that there is no such thing as a "private"
business, all businesses are now "public" places,
the government can pass whatever legislation it
wants to regarding the conduct of the business. The
concept of "private" property as seen by our
Founding Fathers has undergone a radical shift.
Essentially there is no such thing as "private"
property anymore. And that brings us to the tobacco
More and more restaurants are being subjected to
a ban on smoking in their establishments. The
general trend seems to be toward federal
legislation prohibiting smoking in all businesses.
This phenomenon can only come about by declaring
that all businesses are "public." The owner has no
choice. The decision is taken out of his hands. The
customer has no choice, either.
So what is next? Now that there is (by
government decree) no such thing as a "private"
business, the next step may well be the menu of the
restaurant. Already there are forces out there
complaining about the dangers of certain foods that
are high in fat content and other "bad" things.
There is pressure to clean up the American diet.
Since restaurants are now "public" businesses, the
logical place to start would be there. From now on,
no more breakfasts can be served which contain
eggs, sausage, bacon, or beef. No more hashbrowns,
either. Lunches of hamburgers and fries are out.
Dinners will be only government-approved foods.
I know some of you may think this is an obvious
exaggeration. But think again! Look back and see
how far things have come. A farmer in California
can no longer plow his "private" land because of a
mouse. A man in New York is arrested for killing a
rat at his "private" home. A farmer cannot dig a
ditch on his "private" farm because it is now
declared a protected wetland. Some jurisdictions
prohibit you from smoking in your "private" office.
And there may be more to come.
The concept of private property or private
business is no more. A "public" place is now almost
everywhere that once was private. The change in the
concept has been, as I've said, very subtle. But
that's how totalitarian governments and
dictatorships work. They start out with promises of
"freedom from" and "security" and "equality of
outcome." They redefine "private" and make it
"public." And the Founding Fathers look down from
above in tears. They gave us an idea and an ideal.
We sold them out for the security of thirty pieces
Your Life With a Philosophy