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Typos — p. 67: possilibities [= possibilities]

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Chapter III

"We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men were created equal; that they were endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." — Thomas Jefferson ( * Declaration by the Representatives of the United States).

From whichever quarter the principle of human equality is approached, it appears to recede into ever deeper dimness and obscurity the more hotly it is pursued. What does this elusiveness signify? Has the principle any reality at all? That is to say, is it something that can be realised? Or is it the most unscrupulous lie that has ever been sewn as a device upon the banner of a faction? In any case it seems to provoke very real emotions. Thump your fist hard enough, and shout from a public platform: "Ladies and gentlemen, what we want more than anything else to-day, that which our birth, our common origin, our common shape and stature — aye, even our common spark of Divine Spirit — most surely guarantees us, is Equality, ladies and gentlemen, the blessed condition of Equality!"
        Pronounce the words emphatically enough,

        * Perhaps it is only fair to remind the reader that Jefferson was the United States minister plenipotentiary in Paris in 1785, and that he had, therefore, imbibed deeply much of the nonsense that was current in France at the time.

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as your exordium, and your whole audience will cheer and applaud as with one voice.
        Not one of the assembled crowd will protest indignantly that you have been talking nonsense. Everybody will really believe that your words have some meaning, and a beautiful meaning.
        We have already seen, however, that a word does not require to have any precise meaning, or any definite association whatever, in order to excite pleasurable feelings in those who hear it pronounced, or in order to provoke these people to energetic action. Is Equality perhaps one of these empty, inflammatory words?
        It is originally a term borrowed from mathematics. The mathematician says: — "Two and two are equal; this triangle and that are equal; this length and that length are equal; this weight and that weight are equal."
        He is dealing with mere ciphers, symbols or abstractions, and consequently the mathematician has everything his own way, and so long as he abides by ciphers, symbols and abstractions we have no wish to interfere. He can carry his egalitarian principle right through the English weights and measures, viâ the decimal system, into geometry. He is speaking of pure abstractions, arbitrarily supposed to be identical, and if it amuses him to postulate equality as their characteristic, nobody cares. They are his abstractions, his ciphers, he can postulate what he likes about them. We have the feeling that it does not matter. It is only when the mathematician, who, as a rule, is a hopeless psychologist, begins to apply

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the lifeless notions he has learnt in his study, to the world of activity and reality; it is only when he begins to speak of things that are not his own abstractions — things that really have an existence known to us — that we immediately begin to feel that he is taking liberties with reality.
        For instance, if he say that a certain 2,000 pear leaves are equal to another 2,000 pear leaves, we who know that no two leaves have ever been known to be exactly the same, straightway call him to order and say: "No, sir, abide by your abstractions! That statement of yours is not true." Likewise, if he say that a certain 2,000 cows are equal to another 2,000 cows, we feel that he is either taking too much for granted, or else that he should try to enlist our confidence by specifying the precise weight and individual qualities of each cow in each set, before inviting us to acquiesce in his assertion. And even if the two sets of 2,000 cows weighed exactly the same amount and were of the same race, we should still feel that there were differences in the quality and supply of milk in each set, as also in the vitality of the respective cows in each set, etc., which ought to be taken into account and which it would hardly be possible to estimate with perfect accuracy.
        But let us think of things which have less individual divergence from the common type. Let us think of screws, bolts, plates, chain links, etc. After these have been made with the utmost care by means of machines capable of almost mathematical precision, and when once they have been accurately weighed and found equal both

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as regards size and ponderability, you would think that you had groups of things or individual things as between which you would be justified in postulating the attribute equality. But if you should ask anyone accustomed to dealing with such things, he would tell you that one bolt in ten or in twenty usually splits, that one screw in a hundred or in a thousand usually strips, and that one plate in fifty usually cracks. Thus here and there, even when enormous pains have been taken to attain uniformity, marked differences become apparent. What about those differences that are not sufficiently marked to be noticeable until some considerable time has elapsed?
        Can equality be postulated of no two objects on earth then?
        Provided that the mathematical abstracts, or arbitrary identities, size, weight, bulk and number, alone, are in question, equality can be postulated; but the moment mathematical abstractions are departed from, it is not only unsafe, it is positively dishonest to speak of equality.
        For instance, you can say that these hundred rails are equal to those hundred rails in number, in weight, or in length. You could not say that these hundred rails are equal to those hundred rails in durability, resilience, or frangibility. You might say they are approximately equal in these attributes, or as nearly as possible equal; but apart from the arbitrary identities or abstractions of the mathematicians, you could not postulate perfect equality.
        Does the term "Equality" mean anything at all apart from these mathe-

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matical abstractions then? — Absolutely nothing!
        What, then, are those people who earnestly and warmly claim and advocate equality among men — men who are so different in their ancestry, size, shape, endowments, beauty, desires, appetites, and spirit, whose very features proclaim their inequality as they approach us?
        Are such clamourers for equality all liars?
        They are certainly liars, but the majority of them are probably perfectly unconscious liars. From childhood onwards they may have heard the word "Equality" pronounced as if it implied a very certain reality, a very much coveted desideratum. Deep emotions over which they have no control, and concerning which they have even less understanding, are therefore stirred every time they hear the word, or see it written or printed; and thus they live and die earnestly believing that this meaningless principle "Equality," if it could be realised, would be an unqualified boon.
        How the equality is to be achieved, whether by bleeding the too sanguine, truncating the too tall, deliberately debilitating the too healthy, delicately injuring the brains of the too intelligent, or systematically fattening the too thin, nobody troubles definitely to specify. Egalitarians have a vague notion concerning a still more vague desideratum, and this, coupled with the word "Equality," that is utterly meaningless outside the abstractions of the mathematicians, completes the content of their hallucination.
        But, it may be objected, the world is surely not so foolish. What men mean

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when they demand equality, is equality before the law — that is to say, that the law-officers should regard them, for the purposes of law-administration as equal to one another in their chances of being right.
        This may be true of a few cases in which the cry "Equality" is set up; but is it true of all? Do all egalitarians court equality because at some time or another they may have to confront the officers of the law?
        No, says the objector, but the law is not merely felt when two litigants face each other, or when a criminal is apprehended; it is felt in the home of the just as well as in that of the unjust; it is felt in the life of the city, in the village and in the factory.
        But it is precisely in such circumstances that the law would be most harsh, if it assumed equality. It is compelled to assume inequality in legislating for large communities, otherwise it could not be just at all.
        The very symbol of justice — a blindfold female with a pair of scales in one hand — is a mathematical symbol, which can have no relation to human affairs, but only to the mathematical abstraction, weight.
        "A good law should be good for all men," said Condorcet, "even as a proposition is true for all men."
        "The capital error of the whole French Revolution," says Louis Madelin," lies in the dogma thus proclaimed by Condorcet." *
        Yes, but Condorcet was not a political

        * See The French Revolution, by Louis Madelin, p. 15. The author continues: "He [Condorcet] and his co-religionists, who knew nothing of true sociology, which has its foundations in psychology, here prove themselves still more ignorant of history."

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thinker, he was one of the foremost mathematicians of his time! And Thomas Jefferson, whose words head this chapter, was his disciple.
        The danger to which the mathematician, like the engineer exposes us, begins when he pretends to apply his principles to human affairs.
        But, continues the objector, although it is admitted that initial equality, as between human beings, or any living things for that matter, is an impossibility, seeing that nature's products are all diverse and unequal; and although subsequent equality is hard to achieve without behaving unjustly and barbarously to all those who depart from a certain norm or standard — that is to say, without bleeding, debilitating, truncating, or otherwise injuring all those who vary from an arbitrarily selected pattern — there surely can be such a thing as Equality of Opportunity.
        At this point in the discussion it is only fair to say that most opponents of Egalitarianism promptly capitulate, and eagerly concede that equality of opportunity is a genuine desideratum capable of practical realisation.
        At the risk of appearing captious and sophistical, however, it can no more be admitted here that Equality of Opportunity has any actual possilibities of realisation than has the principle of equality itself. It is, in fact, an illusion rather more complex and more serious than the latter. For it presupposes, not only equality among men, but equality of opportunity — two equalities instead of one — and among a class

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of things which can be made equal only by a miracle.
        In the first place, it may be assumed, without any further discussion, that a moment's calm reflection is enough to dispel even from the meanest intelligence, the illusion that men can ever be equal.
        On this score, alone, then, opportunities cannot be equal, because, however accurately their equality may be established, in regard to a supposed standard man, the moment they are placed in relation to the multitude of unequal men, they, too, become unequal. For an opportunity is not a thing in itself; it only becomes something in relation to the creature who seizes it. Given an equal means of access to a particular ridge or hill-top, the opportunity to reach that hilltop or ridge, is the equal means of access plus the kind of creature to whom it is afforded. The introduction of an unequal element on the one hand — the men — makes the other element, the means of access, not unequal as means of access in the abstract, but unequal as opportunity in the concrete.
        Suppose as much inequality between three men as exists between a hen, a hare, and a hippopotamus — and as regards fleetness and swimming power such inequality is not unusual between men — how could you devise equal opportunities which would enable all three men to reach a certain objective at the same moment of time, if a strip of water, a high wall, and a ravine stood between the starting point and the objective?
        You might do it by first holding a rehearsal, in which you would accurately time

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each man and note his abilities, and then handicap the fleetest accordingly.
        But unfortunately life cannot be rehearsed, a life-handicap cannot be calculated. Besides, it is to the advantage of society not to handicap her fleetest and her best. As Lord Morley very rightly says: "The well-being of the community demands the allotment of high function in proportion to high faculty." *
        But suppose our objector replies: Very well, but that is all we ask. We do not demand a handicap; we simply demand an equal means of access to a particular objective, no matter whether ultimately those means prove unequal or not, owing to the inequality of the men to whom they are open.
        It may then be asked whether even this equality in means of access is not in itself utterly fanciful and fantastic. Given the radical inequality of men at birth, together with the highly complex arrangement of modern society, with its enormous variety of prizes, it may reasonably be questioned whether it be even possible, not to mention practicable.
        A large number of people cannot all travel along the same narrow path. Several narrow paths all exactly alike would have to be constructed. The accidents, vicissitudes, fatalities that would attend some of the early travellers along the roads — faintness, loss of luggage, sprains, deaths, etc. — would either impede or facilitate the way of the later travellers. Thus, in life, the means

        * Rousseau. Vol. I., p. 181.

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of access themselves, however equal at the start, would quickly acquire unforeseen inequalities.
        Let us select an example from life in England.
        Two boys, A and B, one living at Whitstable, the other in London, are quite unequal in gifts, ancestral tradition, build and tastes. Nevertheless, it is desired to give them an equal opportunity, say, of earning £1,000 a year when they are forty. The father of A wishes A to have the same opportunities as B, and B's father holds the same view about B in his relation to A.
        Very well. A, having learnt the art of oyster fishing, which is the principal industry of Whitstable, is sent to London to learn to be a clerk, and B is sent from London to Whitstable, after training as a clerk, in order to have an opportunity of being an oyster fisherman. Meanwhile, A's father has heard that B is also studying agriculture at a school of agriculture somewhere near Whitstable. A, after having trained as a clerk, is therefore recalled to Whitstable and made to undergo a course of agriculture, and B having acquired a knowledge of oyster-fishing and agriculture, is sent back to London to learn French, which A acquired there. Ultimately, however, A's father, remembering that a brother of his did extremely well as an engineer, prevails upon B's father to consent to the plan of sending both boys A and B to Armstrong & Whitworth's or to Vickers.
        We can imagine both A's father and B's father dying long before A and B had had every opportunity that society now offers

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to the aspirant for success; we can also picture A and B themselves becoming grey-haired octogenarians before they finally settled down.
        No, says the objector. That is not what opportunity egalitarians mean. They mean not that everybody should have an equal chance of succeeding in all the careers that lie open, but that they should have an opportunity of succeeding in life.
        But what is meant by success here? Does it consist in becoming Prime Minister of England, or Commander-in-Chief in India, or Lord Mayor, or Editor of John Bull? In any case opportunities for becoming any one of these four cannot be made equal. Perhaps success consists in becoming a millionaire? But who is going to determine the equality of opportunity for this achievement? Pullitzer, one of the most powerful American millionaires of the first decade of this century, crawled ashore in America as a penniless fugitive, after having swum from the ship that had conveyed him as an emigrant from Europe!
        Moreover, supposing that a boy's opportunity-egalitarianism extends beyond the shores of his native land, and he says: I wish to have the same opportunity as the Frenchman, or the Canadian, or the Chinaman. What then? Is there any valid reason why opportunity-egalitarianism should be confined to a single country, or even to a single continent?
        What, then, is left of this cry for equality of opportunity? Simply the sting of resentment which gives rise to it; and this we shall now proceed to examine.

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        What kind of person is it who clamours for this meaningless desideratum, equality? Certainly not the beautiful person, because to him equality, if it could be achieved, would result in bringing him down to the common level. Neither can it be the person specially gifted in any of the arts and sciences; for, again, equality, if it could by some miracle be wrought, would amount to wiping out the advantage of such special gifts. The self-reliant, the strong, the skilful, the able and the desirable, in all walks of life, are never stirred by this cry for equality; because they look down from their eminence, and cannot therefore conceive that levelling could possibly prove an advantage.
        It must therefore be the undesirable, the unskilful, the incompetent, the ugly, the ungifted, in all walks of life, the incapable of all classes, who want equality. And they want it because, looking up from their position of chafing mediocrity and ungainliness, and beholding their more gifted brethren, they realise that equality must redound to their benefit. A moment's reflection would tell them that it is an impossible ideal; their mortified vanity, however, is stronger than their reason, and urges them to believe in it, ridiculous as it may be.
        "Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
        Cries to weakest, as to strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'" *
        "What made the Revolution? Vanity! Liberty was nothing but a pretext!" Thus

        * See Tennyson, Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After.

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spoke Napoleon, the greatest and probably the deepest man since Cæsar. *
        But, however fantastic the cry for equality may seem, it is a dangerous cry, because it is still capable of stimulating and directing energy. It is, therefore, still a weapon in the hands of the unscrupulous agitator and demagogue.
        It means nothing. We have seen that it has only a mathematical value. But until the ignorant, the arrogant, and the revengeful among Nature's (not society's) † failures are brave and honest enough to realise that the apparent injustice of the radical inequality of man, is irremediable and inevitable, until they realise that it cannot be corrected without resorting to the most savage extreme of Procrustean barbarity, the lie Equality, as a high explosive, as a generator of social perturbations and upheavals, as a weapon and a war-cry, will continue to give rise to meaningless hopes, and to suggest utterly false claims

        * See also H. de Balzac. Le Cabinet des Antiques: "En France, ce qu'il y a de plus national, est la vanité. La masse des vanités blessées y a donné soif d'égalité."
        † Nature's failures and society's failures are not identical. Nature's failure is frequently a creature below par, he is frequently botched and undesirable. Society's failure may be an extremely desirable person, to whom modern conditions are so loathsome that he cannot adapt himself to them and become successful. That is why the Eugenists, who are prone to class the unsuccessful of the age with the undesirable, still have a good deal to learn. The unsuccessful now-a-days are certainly the biologically "unfit"; but the question that must be decided before you conclude that they are also "undesirable" is whether present conditions demand desirable or undesirable qualities in those who become successfully adapted to them, — in those, that is to say, who are "fit."

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to the overweening ambition of all discontented humanity.
        There is, however, another factor in this clamour for the impracticable ideal of equality, and that is our old friend the natural indolence of the weary and the exhausted. If all were equal — no matter how this equality is to be achieved — it is felt that things would be easier. Not only would the shame of the ugly and the repulsive in the presence of the beautiful and the gifted be spared, but the uphill race of the poor runners beside the fleet and enduring runners, would also be rendered less strenuous. The ineffective brain-cracking of the fools beside the swift and efficient thought of the intelligent would be less heart-rending, and so on.
        Finally, the notion of Justice, of "immanent" Justice, constrains those who hold it, to assume a scheme of life, according to which all human beings are at least equal at birth. Such people very easily argue as follows: If all human beings were not equal at birth, it would not be just, "immanent" Justice would be caught red-handed in an act of flagrant injustice at the very portals of life. But this is inconceivable, therefore all must be born equal. We have seen, however, that this notion of justice is quite as mythical as the idea of equality itself.
        Generated in this way, by innumerable powerful wishes, the idea of equality begins to take shape and assume the appearance of a realisable object in the minds of the weary and the exhausted; and without troubling to ask themselves what the merits or possibilities of their idea may be, they are prepared to advocate it, applaud it — aye

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and even fight for it, at the cost of all the rest of the world — so long as they continue to be assured by unscrupulous people that it will effect all they want it to effect.
        So far, then, it has been impossible to trace any substantial measure of reality behind this notion and this cry of equality. Is it conceivable that a word should give rise to such intense feeling and yet bear no relation whatever to practical life? Was President Jefferson raving when he, following the lead of almost thirty millions of French people, also spoke of equality as a desideratum that could be gravely and confidently placed on a political programme? For it seems only fair to presume that he could not have been serious when he maintained that all men were created equal.
        It is possible that at the end of the 18th century equality as a cry had a very definite meaning. It probably meant in its best and most rational interpretation, that every citizen had an equal right to have his interests .safeguarded by the laws of his society, that is to say, by the government of his country. This was not recognised as a principle by the rulers of France before the Revolution, and it is at least conceivable that the substantial reality behind this cry for equality was precisely the demand on the part of all that each man's interests should be protected with equal vigour and conscientiousness by the state.
        But in this sense has the cry for equality any meaning?
        In so far as certain sections of the community may still believe that their interest is not so perfectly safeguarded as that of

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other sections, the cry for equality of treatment has as much meaning to-day as it had in the last years of the 18th century, but beyond this one claim, it is difficult to discover any meaning in it whatsoever.
        Unfortunately, however, this very necessary and incontrovertible limitation of the idea of equality, is not likely to deter those whose base purpose may best be served by extending the significance of the word beyond its proper bounds, when appealing to the least desirable elements in every nation; and unless in the mass of the people of all countries there is that understanding of the term which alone bears any resemblance to reality, mankind will continue at intervals to be incited to energetic though fruitless violence in the pursuit of a phantom which can have no practical or effective existence outside the calculations of a mathematician's brain.



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