Equality on Independence Day

Chris Lowe

In the rousing beginning to the substance of the Declaration of Independence, the first political idea and value introduced is equality.

The rights that follow, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rest on a foundation of equality.

The purpose of government, to secure those rights, with powers derived justly from the consent of the governed, can only be carried out by securing the means to enact them. Securing the right to life means securing to the governed the means of life, of livelihood. Securing the right to liberty means securing to the governed the means of living freely. Securing the right to the pursuit of happiness means securing to the governed the means of pursuing happiness.

A great deal of the history of the United States, subsequent to the Declaration, has involved struggles over tensions between the foundational principle of equality, and the right to livelihood, without which liberty and the pursuit of livelihood are meaningless, versus the rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, when those rights in the hands of persons who possess the means of livelihood, conflict with the right to life and livelihood of persons who don't fully possess the means to that right, making contingent their own rights of liberty and pursuit of happiness.

The Declaration rejects permanent inequality.

In 1776, that meant rejecting hereditary aristocracy, which justified denying the right of pursuing happiness and the means of doing to most of the people, and denying the right of liberty and the means of living freely to most of the people, and even denying the right of life and the means of securing a living to persons, if it conflicted with established inequalities.

In our time, there are twisted arguments that the liberty of some to acquire great wealth justifies permanent class inequalities, including denying the means to the right to life and the means to the right to pursue happiness to many. These twisted ideas purport to elevate the right to liberty above the foundational principle of equality on which it rests.

These twisted ideas have been systematically promoted for the past thirty five years, while conjointly the principle of equality has been systematically denigrated, driven to the margins, passed over in silence, and ignored.

Those ideas are wrong. It is time to raise up the centrality of equality in our intellectual, cultural, and political life as a nation again.

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