Category Archives: equality

The American War between Freedom and Equality

It is a strange fact that freedom and equality, the two basic ideas of democracy, are to some extent contradictory. Logically considered, freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, just as society and the individual are mutually exclusive.

~Thomas Mann~

I found it hard to digest the above statement. I was raised to believe that liberty and equality were both cornerstones of the American adventure. Yet looking back at the history of America and the experience of living here today, it is clear that we have  a conflict between these two ideals.

The American Revolution took place with the goal of freedom from the tyranny and colonial control by the British Empire. Leaders of the revolution fought for the right to make their own decisions by casting aside the British yoke. Equality was not much of an issue. Although our founding fathers maintained that all men were created equal. Yet this equality did not include women, the natives we pushed aside or other people of non-European extraction. In particular, slaves imported from Africa were seen at best as three-fifths of a person for legislative reasons.

The issue of equality came into prominence in the mid nineteen hundreds. It boiled over in the Civil War with northerners fighting for equality of all people and southerners fighting for freedom to exercise their right to control others, namely slaves whom they viewed as possessions rather than people.

Freedom and equality have remained issues up until the present. Liberals struggle for the equal rights of all in terms of medical care, education and judicial fairness to name a few. Conservatives struggle to maintain their power and control leaving others to manage their own affairs. That may be oversimplified but I think it includes the main issues.

In recent years both sides have retreated to their corners insisting they are right and those in other camps are wrong. Once we were able to discuss our differences as individuals. Our representatives in government were also able to listen to each other and work toward agreements which would be at least tolerable to both sides. Now the struggle is seen as us versus them from both perspectives.

We have allowed the current power structure to erode our ability to listen to each other and seek ways to compromise. We have also allowed our country to be seen as abandoning our role as a world leader and focusing only on our self-centered interests.

As we face off with each other and with the rest of the world we run the risk of becoming marginalized in the conversation about how to move forward. We have the choice of continuing down this path or opening our ears to hear each other. What we choose will have serious consequences, good or bad, for the future of our society.

Action steps:  

  • Learn to listen to those with whom we disagree.
  • Look for areas of agreement upon which we can build.
  • Seek areas in which we can negotiate.
  • Acknowledge those who help us.
  • Thanks Bob for inspiring me to write this article.