Liberty, Equality, Honor

Social Philosophy and Policy 2 (1):125 (1984)
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Abstract

As today's battles rage between those who march under the banner of liberty and those who unfurl the flag of equality, even an engaged partisan might be forgiven for occasionally wondering whether the game is, after all, worth the candle. For one thing, neither party simply rejects the other's principle – properly understood. Egalitarians routinely emphasize that their concern for equality is, also, a concern for true liberty; thus Michael Walzer, writing “In Defense of Equality,” finds it “worth stressing that equality as I have described it does not stand alone, but is closely related to the idea of liberty.” 1 Libertarians tend to be less enthusiastic in their embrace of equality, but almost all endorse some form of equality or other – for example, equality of political rights or equality before the law. It would seem, then, that the differences between egalitarians and libertarians are really over the meaning and scope of equality and liberty, and that putting the issue as one of equality vs. liberty may be misleading. More important, one can wonder whether either the egalitarian or the libertarian combination of the principles of liberty and equality is worthy of support. What society has exalted personal liberty, has taken rights more seriously, than ours? Yet who can easily dismiss Solzhenitsyn's charge that our worship of freedom has resulted in “destructive and irresponsible freedom” being granted “boundless scope,” leaving us defenseless against “the corrosion of evil”? 2 The cause of liberty against tyranny surely continues to command our support; but what conclusion ought we to draw from the facts that liberty in absentia seems so markedly more attractive than liberty in practice, and that the qualities manifested in the struggle for liberty seem so superior to those that come to the fore once liberty is secured?

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