The Idea of Equality: An Anthology

The Idea of Equality: An Anthology

The Idea of Equality: An Anthology

The Idea of Equality: An Anthology

Excerpt

The idea of equality is one of the great seminal ideas in our political, social, economic, and religious history. Its primitive origins are lost in the unrecorded history of a dim past. Fortunately, something of the record of its role in the development of Hebraic-Christian, Greek, Roman, and modern democratic ideas, which have shaped our civilization, has been preserved. This anthology seeks to bring together in a convenient form some of the typical statements in which thinkers of the West have formulated their various conceptions of equality.

Liberty, equality, and fraternity are rightly held to be the operative ideals of democratic thought. The roots of modern democratic thought are to be found in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The idea of equality, however, antedates modern democratic theory. Some of its roots are found in ancient communities which were aristocratic and slave-owning. Some modern developments in equalitarianism have occurred independently of the framework of democratic ideas. As important and subtle as is the relation of equality to liberty and fraternity, it would be unhistorical to limit the consideration of equality to its role in the democratic trinity. It may be reassuring to many to discover how old and persistent the idea of equality is. It has grown out of common ways of life and out of the criticism of them. Its growth, like that of any other fundamental idea or ideal, was not always even, orderly, or consistent. But the reality and significance of its development invite our understanding and appreciation.

Undoubtedly one of the roots of the idea of equality lies in the experience of the ancient Hebrews in their Covenant with God. The Book of the Covenant was the earliest instance of the social contract, in idea and to a considerable extent in actual practice. Under the Covenant, God governed through His Law which was binding on all and thus a moral guarantee to all of equal justice. It is obvious that men are born with different capacities and talents, but such inequalities have no particular relevance to God's concern with His creatures. In relation to God all men are equal, possessing no rights but only duties. Man has come on earth simply to fulfill his Creator's purposes and to perform His will. God is no respecter of persons. Every man owes his existence to God, who requires infinite dedication and absolute obe-

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