Radical Egalitarians on the Loose

In the final months of the Obama administration, radicals embedded in the Federal bureaucracy are working around the clock imposing an ideological agenda on the American people. The Justice Department has, for example, been issuing subpoenas against climate change deniers in an attempt to stifle dissent and close off debate. In May, the Departments of Justice and Education issued a joint warning to school districts throughout the nation threatening to withhold Federal aid if transgender students are not permitted to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their “internal sense of gender.”

This maddening government overreach has been driven by a perverted sense of equality. Its proponents have rejected equality of opportunity in favor of equality of results or conditions. Civil liberties take a back seat because this crude equality is – for them – more important than freedom. This is a far cry from the equality that has been taught by the Church and is the basis of America’s founding principles.

All men are fundamentally equal because they are created in the image and likeness of God. Yet while all newly born babies are spiritually equal, they do not possess the various human attributes in the same degree. These natural differences or accidents, as St. Thomas Aquinas called them, include intelligence, strength, beauty, imagination, disposition, and fortitude. Hence, some people are smarter, while others are superior athletes. And there are the average people who sometimes surpass their betters because they have the drive to persevere and refuse to quit working until they achieve their goal.

In his encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris (1878), Pope Leo XIII explained Catholic teaching on equality:

in accordance with the teachings of the Gospels, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts. The inequality of rights and of power proceeds from the very Author of nature, “from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named.”

The United States was founded on the similar belief that the “laws of nature and of nature’s God” make men equal. Thomas Jefferson expressed this view in the original draft of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent, that from the equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Last Judgment by Jean Cousin the Younger, c. 1590 [Louvre, Paris]

For the Founders, man is equal in the eyes of God, equal before the law, and entitled to equal opportunities to pursue his road to happiness and to make the most of himself. Therefore, the task of government is to protect self-evident truths, not by imposing abstract schemes on society, but by representing it.

What made America exceptional during the early decades of the Republic was the success of the Jeffersonians and the Jacksonians in reconciling individual liberty with egalitarianism. Political Scientist Aaron Wildavsky holds that the alliance was possible because they “identified the central government as a cause of inequality. Hence, both egalitarians and individualists could join in severely limiting the size and scope of central government.”

Andrew Jackson, the founder of the modern Democratic Party, rejected the claim that there was an inherent conflict between economic liberty and political equality. The real culprit was a powerful central government, not competitive markets. Big government was inegalitarian because it fostered crony-capitalist policies that benefited the rich and well connected, not the common man. And to check this tendency, the Constitution’s separation of powers, states rights, and political parties had to be safeguarded.

That national government is, by its very nature, inegalitarian was consciously rejected by radical leftists in the 20th century. Liberty to pursue happiness and property, they claim, contradicts equality. Their brand of equality has no interest in economic growth, or in rewarding talent and industriousness. They reject competitive individualism that stresses differences in favor of egalitarian collectivism that eliminates differences.

Empowering federal bureaucrats to redistribute “stuff” to the so-called deprived is their primary concern. And in the 21st century the “deprived,” which they have now expanded to include women, minorities, the poor and the elderly, are a majority of Americans.

Radical egalitarians have also been ruthlessly imposing feminist, environmental, homeless, gay, and transgender agendas by regulatory and judicial fiat. Opponents of these ideological constructs are condemned, not as merely mistaken but as bigoted or depraved. In the name of equality, as Wildavsky observed, they “discriminate in favor of designated groups.”

One roadblock in the drive to achieve cultural conformity has been the Catholic Church. The Church is despised because it was established by Christ as a hierarchical institution, not an egalitarian one; was empowered to determine right from wrong based on revealed truths, not epistemic relativism. Radical egalitarians will not rest until they narrow the Constitutional right of freedom of religion to freedom of worship; strip the Church of its authority to represent the state in marriage; and revoke the Church’s tax exemption.

And if Hillary Clinton should win a four-year lease on the White House, don’t expect her to constrain these zealots. Lest we forget, Mrs. Clinton publicly endorsed anti-democratic values when she declared last year that opponents’ “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.