James Kalb | "Ecclesia et Civitas" | Catholic World Report
Neither equality or freedom can be the highest standard, but must refer to some greater, final standard.
America has taken freedom and equality as her highest political goals, and her most basic problems have to do with that commitment and how it should be interpreted. Recent events have focused attention on changing understandings of freedom and how they are weakening freedom of religion. Understandings of equality are also changing, with consequences for the Church that are no less serious.
At the time of the American Revolution equality meant, in principle anyway, that everyone had the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What that meant concretely was that America would be a country ruled by settled laws that applied equally to everyone and did not impose many restrictions. As time has passed, and especially in recent decades, that understanding has developed into something much broader and less well-defined.
The specifics are dependent on other political commitments, so the views of conservatives and progressives differ. Last month we saw that conservatives understand freedom as freedom of action. Correspondingly, they see equality as equal opportunity, understood as elimination of artificial barriers to action, together with general availability of goods like education that facilitate effective action by everyone. We also saw that progressives have a more consumer-oriented understanding of freedom that is less interested in general with setting than results in individual cases. That understanding carries over to equality. For progressives, then, equality is now a broad requirement of equality of outcome that includes economic matters but extends beyond them to require equal respect and consideration in the various affairs of life.
Some aspects of the progressive understanding of equality tend to win in the long run. Conservatives want individuals to be able to act effectively, but who is to say what that requires?