The Failings of Equality as a Principle for the Organisation and Functioning of Society

There are many forms of potential equality in society.  The first of these is the equality of all citizens to exercise their franchise to vote into or out of power those who govern the society in a modern democracy.  This however does not resolve the inherited and systemically supported inequality of wealth, power, connections, education and access and the results that flow therefrom.   We may observe that even the quality of the access to the vote is not universal or truly equal.  In the USA, some voters get fast, easy, local access to the voting franchise, while others are subjected to costly obstacles in registering to vote, and then are in many cases subjected to obsolete machines shortage of polling places or long distances that discourage those voters who have a financial handicap, which makes the system of voting a financial hardship for them.

An individual, out of a feeling of “getting what is owed to him” will favor equality as a concept with the underlying egoistic motive to ensure he gets his “fair share” of the results.  Yet once the concept of equality makes its way to the governing power of the State, it must inevitably work to reduce or remove the individualistic basis and thus, the idea of equality is used by the ego to offset the extremes of the practice of individual liberty without concern for the needs of others or of the shared commons of the society.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It is the individual who demands liberty for himself, a free movement for his mind, life, will, action; the collectivist trend and the State idea have rather the opposite tendency, they are self-compelled to take up more and more the compulsory management and control of the mind, life, will, action of the community — and the individual’s as part of it — until personal liberty is pressed out of existence.  But similarly it is the individual who demands for himself equality with all others; when a class demands, it is still the individual multiplied claiming for himself and all who are of his own grade, political or economic status an equal place, privilege or opportunity with those who have acquired or inherited a superiority of status.”

“…in the end the discovery cannot fail to be made that an artificial equality has also its irrationalities, its contradictions of the collective good, its injustices even and its costly violations of the truth of Nature.  Equality like individualistic liberty may turn out to be not a panacea but an obstacle in the way of the best management and control of life by the collective reason and will of the community.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 202-203

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