Equality is the foundation of freedom. While it appears as though governments throughout history have believed the opposite, consider that all these societies have been both unequal and less than free. Freedom as defined has been reserved for the ruling class or at least the upper classes or those with power. There was little or no thought given to freedom for the lower classes, particularly “others,” slaves and servants. Likewise, women and children did not have the same rights of free choice as did men.
However, in all societies, no one is really entirely free. One does not have complete freedom to break the law without consequences, and in many societies with rights was believed to come responsibilities. On levels from superficial to deep, we do not have complete freedom. We are pressured to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, eat a certain way. Most of us must have whatever jobs we can find in order to make ends meet and not be homeless. Many feel the need to “keep up with the Joneses,” which at the richest levels can cost a great deal of money and time. We can defy these pressures, but then assumptions will be made as to what kind of persons we are. Even throughout history, the upper classes were expected to act in certain ways to keep the masses in line. Certainly people of lower socioeconomic classes are further constrained by finances. We cannot imagine a serf then or a homeless person now deciding to travel the world and stay in top hotels.
So where does equality come in? First of all, to extend the rights of liberty to all people, people have to be considered “worthy” people. Physical freedom comes from equal justice, our civil rights protected, not being imprisoned because of debts unpaid or crimes unproven. Secondly, if we had economic equality, we would all have enough to live on and to raise families; perhaps not enough to buy every desire, but we would be doing substantially better than we are doing now. But for enough people to uphold the rights of all people, including minorities, there has to be a widespread belief that people are equal, at least under the law. Once a society decides that there are “second-class citizens,” or worse, “subhumans,” then unequal treatment will begin seriously constraining “those people’s” freedoms.
Consider a purely equal society. Many of the constraints on our freedom have to do with showing off our wealth, or carrying ourselves a certain way, or choosing a field of study and a career that shows that we come from the upper class. If there were no more classes, we could set all that aside. No more “keeping up with the Joneses”; the Joneses would not care and neither would anyone else. Without the consequence of our actions making us seem less “privileged,” we would have more freedom of action.
The potential counterarguments could only be that either equality and freedom are unrelated, or freedom is the foundation of equality.
Is freedom the foundation of equality? It does seem that if people are provided their freedom, they are of necessity immediately more equal. However, one can imagine equality within a particular group, such as a group of slaves, who are not at all free. Slaves may be equal to each other but they are not equal to those who are free, and they are not equal under the law. At the other end of the spectrum, those who are free, in an unequal society, seem to be particularly constrained by that society as to their actions, because they must maintain their claimed superiority. As Booker T. Washington said, “One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him” (1909). So equality can occur within both free and not-free groups; being free does not automatically confer equality. Furthermore, consider modern life in America. There is pretty good freedom. However, there is rampant inequality in income, which translates to inequality in power. Consider Eric Garner, killed for selling loosie cigarettes; or perhaps for being overweight and having pre-existent health problems before the cops jumped on top of him. Compare his fate to the “affluenza” teen who while drunk and high drove onto a sidewalk and killed four people, but was given probation and treatment. Both have been in the news and their stories told online repeatedly. One was black, one is white; but perhaps more importantly one was poor and did not have a power structure behind him, the other has rich and powerful parents. This is a perfect contrast highlighting the inequality in the United States in modern times; however, until their interaction with the “justice system,” both were free. Freedom did not produce equality.
The only possible other argument that can be made is that freedom and equality are completely separate from each other. They certainly seem to have different attributes that make them somewhat difficult to compare. Freedom is an individual privilege. Some people may be free while others are not free, and the number of free versus not-free makes no difference. On the other hand, equality requires a comparison between people. One person is not equal all by him/herself. Nevertheless, since the preferred state of being is free, once all people are equal, they will necessarily also all be free, because no one will willingly give up their freedom. The small exception, of course, will be a subset of people who give up their rights to freedom because they insist upon committing criminal acts. Unfortunately, every free society needs a criminal justice system. In a truly equal society, however, there will be less motivation for crime because there will be truly equal opportunity.
Historic review of the relationship between equality and freedom throughout different communities may further clarify these issues. Cultures throughout history have similarities and differences in their views regarding equality and freedom. A small sample of these will be examined to avoid becoming repetitive.
Ancient Rome thought of equality and freedom as entirely separate (Net Industries, 2015). Equality was not necessary for freedom; free Romans owned slaves. In fact, one of the duties of free men was to own slaves. The benefits of citizenry were reserved for free men. Free citizens enjoyed equality under the law. But slaves were not considered people to whom the law applied; they were, rather, property. Of course women did not have the same rights as free men in ancient Rome, either (Thompson, 2010). Women were under the authority of their fathers, then their husbands.
It is interesting to note that in an ancient culture of roughly the same time period, when slaves were more equal, women and children were more equal. In ancient Egypt, there was more equality between genders, with approximately equal status in marriage and property arrangements (Brewer & Teeter, 2004). Women and foreigners had approximately equal legal rights in Egypt. Nevertheless, behavior of the upper classes was narrowly prescribed. So while people in general had more freedom of choice, this was not absolute. Children helped their parents with their work, leaning appropriate roles for men and women. Children usually followed their parents into the same occupation, so there was not a lot of class mobility. People had choices in clothing, food and drink, games, music, and so on. Despite all this apparent equality, Egypt did have slaves (Dollinger, 2001). However, their form of slavery was somewhat different from our ideas of slavery, and slaves retained some rights. They may have become slaves because of debt, punishment, or war; and then their children also would be slaves. They may, however, eventually be freed from slavery, depending upon circumstances.
The Catholic Church has always believed in free will, but has never believed in equality, except in the belief that we are all sinners (personal knowledge). Every person is free to choose to follow the will of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Every person is free to sin, or to refrain from sin. There are, of course, eternal consequences to these choices. But no one is forced to behave in a certain way by the religious institution. Nevertheless, women, gays, and children have never had equal status to men in the Church. Within the Catholic Church priesthood, there is a strict hierarchy. There have also been actions such as the Crusades where war was fought, during which Muslims and other “infidels” either forcefully converted to Christianity or were killed. One had and has to be a good male Catholic, preferably celibate, to receive all the rights and privileges of Catholicism.
For the Freemasons, whose slogan is “liberty, equality, fraternity” (Davidson, 2015), freedom is not absolute, as Freemasons should not “subvert” the “good order of society”. The Freemasons began as professional groups that helped reduce the supply of skilled labor and assured its quality. Later as they gained power, upper-class gentlemen were added as members because they bought their way in; eventually, they pretty much took over the organization. A Freemason was expected to be obedient to the law, not discuss politics or religion during member activities, and be peaceable. Yet the leaders of the French and American revolutions, and several thereafter, were Freemasons! At the same time that there were rules against rebellion, there was also a specific rule that no one should be expelled from the Freemasons for such, or for other political crimes.
This dichotomy may be due to the definition of freedom as defined by the Freemasons to mean “a generous willingness to work or perform one’s duty”. Government was expected to perform its duties that keep citizens secure. People submit to government, yet are still free because they only are governed when they provide consent. Therefore, if a government fails in its duties and/or becomes abusive and loses the trust of the people, it is the right and duty of the people to refuse consent and to overthrow and establish a new government. As a result, as far as revolutions, ““Freemasonry may have been officially neutral, but its members were not” (Davidson, 2015).
The Freemasons have been alleged to be the basis of modern civil society (Davidson, 2015). After the development of the Masonic lodges, on seeing the power that can be wielded by organizations like the Freemasons, philosophical societies and scientific academies also developed. Their goal was life without “absolutist kings and dogmatic churches,” a goal that was achieved for the most part. Nevertheless, within the Freemasons there was an “ideology of merit” (Davidson); in other words, all brothers were equal, but some brothers were more equal than others (nod to Orwell’s Animal Farm).
There is a direct link from the Freemasonry of Europe to the American Revolution (Carter, 2010). The role of early Freemasonry was destruction of inequality and privilege, at least for the middle to upper classes. Church and state had been supporting each other to keep their dominance. They claimed that liberals were traitors and heretics. For Masons, liberty came from limitation of the size and role of government. Masons “discovered that freedoms are learned” – learning to move within the limits of rational intelligence creates freedom of thought; learning to know true from false creates freedom of opinion; learning accepted standards creates social freedom; learning to design laws that protect rights creates political freedom; learning to fulfill the obligations and conditions of liberty creates the freedom to extend liberties. In this way, freedom creates hope for the future.
Articles in early contracts included many ideas and structures first created by the Freemasons: Checks and balances, structures of local and grand government, support for public education, new members equal to old members, uniform regulations for commerce, order based on natural rights. Ben Franklin and many of America’s founding fathers were Freemasons. The similarities to the American government they created and the “government” of Freemasonry are obvious.
While the definitions of freedom and equality vary somewhat throughout history, they are similar to modern definitions because they evolved over time. The biggest differences may be found in who is believed “worthy” of the human rights of freedom and equality. Most countries have progressed to believing that all humans (excluding criminals) are worthy of such rights and that all homo sapiens are human. In modern America, most people enjoy a reasonable level of freedom, but equality of income, power, and justice is lacking. When modern humans are equal in all spheres, complete freedom (with the small exception of criminality) will finally be achieved, because equality is the foundation of freedom.
- Brewer, D.J., & Teeter, E. (2004). Ancient Egyptian society and family life. Fathom Archive. Retrieved from http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/2/21701778/
- Carter, J.D. (2010). Freemasonry and United States government. Masonry in US History – through 1846. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/Essays/jdcarter.html
- Davidson, A. (2015). The masonic concept of liberty. Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry. Retrieved from http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/Davidson.html
- Dollinger, A. (2001). Slavery. An Introduction to the History and Culture of Pharaonic Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/slavery.htm
- Net Industries. (2015). Liberty – ancient conceptions. Net Industries: Education. Knowledge. Information. Retrieved from http://science.jrank.org/pages/9964/Liberty-Ancient-Conceptions.html
- Thompson, J.C. (2010). Legal status of women in ancient Rome. Women in the Ancient World. Retrieved from http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/legal%20status%20of%20women%20in3%20ancient%20rome.htm
- Washington, B.T. (1909). An address on Abraham Lincoln. TeachingAmericanHistory.org. Retrieved from http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/an-address-on-abraham-lincoln/