The deadliest, most destructive, and dumbest philosophical idea of all time is egalitarianism. It says not that all things are equal, but that they should be. A good case can be made that egalitarianism, in its insistence on equality, is the original sin. “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Even if this isn’t true, nothing is more obvious than that people are different. Egalitarianism is the philosophy that these differences should be eradicated, and it tells us how the Utopian goal of Equality can be met.
Academic philosophers are largely progressives, and progressivism is to look forward to an ever-brightening future. This explains why progressives must despise the past. The past is that which is to be escaped from, a necessarily vile and dark place. That it is so is an excuse not to be familiar with it. Why muddy yourself? And because academic philosophers are largely not familiar with it, they frequently stumble upon old arguments unaware that they have been refuted. They cherish these arguments to the extent they can be made to conform to egalitarianism.
Such is the case with academic philosophers Harry Brighouse and the inaptly named Adam Swift (as you will see, no relative of Jonathan). Seems these fellows “discovered” that parents raising their biological children confer advantages on these children, advantages in which children being raised in other ways cannot share. This is anti-egalitarian and thus “unfair” and a “disparity.”
Here it is from Swift himself: “I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity”. Equality of opportunity is the necessarily impossible goal of ensuring every person starts all undertakings equivalently disposed. It is necessarily impossible because all people are different (even identical twins) and not all people can be in the same place at the same time. Equality of opportunity in any real endeavor can be met controlling for only a limited number of variables. For example, runners in the 100-yard dash are started at the same time. But obviously, we cannot enforce the condition that all runners have led identical lives up the point of the race. Somebody must lose.
Swift’s next comment is proof that progressive philosophers routinely ignore the past: “I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.” Any person with any contact with reality would not have had to do “work on social mobility” to know that families are different.
One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.
The “social justice problem” is a theorem of egalitarianism which says that any equality is a social injustice. Notice that lack of equality is explicitly called “unfair.” Fairness is equality. Equality is level playing fields. Notice too that Swift, being generous, is not now advocating “abolishing” families.
Yet since he felt (and did not think) families should be abolished, he had to explain, given egalitarianism, why not. He and Brighouse were puzzled: “Why are families a good thing exactly?”
Swift, his eye set upon a distant future, was astonished to discover, “From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent.” All we now know. Progressivism knows no past.
The tension between the innate natural knowledge that families are good and the internalized belief in egalitarian theory is resolved, for the moment, with this:
‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.
The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.
For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.
‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’
Egalitarianism must always lead to authoritarianism. Because people are different and cannot be other than different, an enforcement mechanism must necessarily be in place which restrains and controls these differences. If the restraints did not exist, the differences would persist, and that would lead to unequal opportunities and outcomes. Notice that Swift tacitly admits this when he twice says, “we wanted to allow parents”. Swift obviously puts himself in the authority as one who will allow. That the creation of this authority also creates inequality is always seen as a passing phase, something future progress will obviate.
Swift also tacitly admits that “elite private school[s]” produce better educated children than their opposite, non-elite, non-private, non-schools. Uniformity in education is an egalitarianism demand. (Incidentally, this uniformity is called “diversity.”) “Allowing” parents control over their biological children leads to unequal outcomes. The tension remains.
This tension is bound to result in distress. Perhaps nothing better demonstrates this than when Swift says that he would allow parents to read their children bedtime stories. He says, “The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t”. You just knew bad statistics would come into it some how. Parents who invest more time with their children are more likely to read them stories, yes? And therefore probably care more about their education. No statistics needed.
The tension mounts when Swift says:
I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.
Egalitarianism is there: never lose sight of it. What you’re doing in reading to your child creates inequality. Feel badly about this. But rejoice in the loving relationship. Swift continues: “We should accept that lots of stuff that goes on in healthy families—and that our theory defends—will confer unfair advantage”. Swift is willing to trade small amounts of inequality in exchange for “loving bonds” within families. But not too much. Indeed, given time, even these inequalities can be vanquished.
‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’
From this realisation arises another twist: two is not the only number.
‘Nothing in our theory assumes two parents: there might be two, there might be three, and there might be four,’ says Swift.
Swift forgets that the child can only be created by a mom and a dad, yet he is willing to leave science behind in the march of progress. Understand: everything Swift says, except for his allowing small freedoms, follows necessarily from egalitarianism. His only inconsistency is allowing any freedom, like bedtime stories.
Yet because egalitarianism is stupid and obviously false, making oneself believe it is always a painful process. One can just bring oneself to propose (or to swallow) modest increases in equality, like Swift has done, but one cannot make oneself believe in totalizing equality. Yet always (see this article about drift) today’s progressive is tomorrow’s “conservative”.
“We do want to defend the family against complete fragmentation and dissolution,” he says. “If you start to think about a child having 10 parents, then that’s looking like a committee rearing a child; there aren’t any parents there at all.”
Thanks to reader Mike Berry for alerting us to this article.