Few can resist the emotional appeal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Somewhere, deep within the human soul, we long for a time when true equality can be found in human interaction, the day in which people will be judged by one another solely according to character. And oftentimes, at least in the West, those pursuing this ideal attempt to enforce it through what they define as perfect legal equality.
But if total equality under law were truly sought–meaning that no man would have a governmental privilege or power that another lacked–, what would become of those who administrate law? Would we strip the policeman of his license to necessary and lawful force? Would we give our war strategies to every member of the population, instead of only our military officials? Would the authority to enforce law be taken from the judge? The right to create law taken from the congressman?
With this in consideration, we must understand that any functional society must grant status to certain of its members, and that this status must endow the elect with privileges and powers which the average citizen does not have. And most of our population–if not all–agree that this dispersion of power and privilege must not only take place, but that the rest of the citizenry must accept the authority of the privileged. In this mutual consensus lies the very power and order of government; in its absence, revolution and chaos.
But in a free society, these special privileges cannot be bestowed upon anyone due to ancestry. The American constitution forbids titles of nobility and unelected hereditary succession, placing the state’s privilege and authority only upon those whom the public elects. In this way, although certain members of society must necessarily be privileged beyond their neighbors, the duration of those benefits exists until the specified expiration of term. Without this hallmark institution of the republic, this election into privilege, the citizenry is subjected to powers almost entirely independent of democratic will, unaccountable to the neighbors who support them through the forceful levying of taxation.
Though expressly opposed by most, it could be argued that this banned form of unelected nobility exists within our present society, although lacking the appearance of aristocracy. When we as a people decide to grant protected minority status to any particular group, what we bestow is a special power, a special series of privileges and rights to those both unappointed to their position by cyclical election, and individually irresponsible for the maintenance of public support for those privileges. What we have created, without intent, is the very hereditary privilege–although in a different sense–which our forefathers fought to destroy. What is nobility, after all, if not state-enforced privilege without popular election?
This perpetual American “nobility,” of course, can be wrongly bestowed in several different ways. The first, by wrongfully declaring a state of segregation, in which any ethnic/racial group is forced into submission to the other, using the forceful coercion of the state (not to be confused with legal opposition to group-endorsed morally-deficient behaviors, or different rights for citizens and non-citizens).
The second, although having the appearance of philanthropy, grants certain groups rights to advance in the business and the state, or purposely excludes other classes, cultures, and races from receiving forcefully-redistributed funds. The third method, the least recognizable and thus the most dangerous, grants unspecified circumstances in which the privileged may pursue legal action, so that any organizations which do not succumb to the agendas of certain peoples may forfeit unlimited amounts of property.
It could be argued that the language in much (though certainly not all) of these last two legal endeavors is structured in such a way, as to not expressly favor particular groups. Yet despite efforts to portray a universally beneficial intent, it is not unfair to ask whether these laws would have been passed, had our leaders not expected the empowerment of certain groups above others. The very definition of the term “affirmative action,”–positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded–suggests that the legal empowerment of particular groups is central to its purpose.
But even should intent to this end have been unexpressed, the inapplicability of the law toward overwhelming portions of the US population maintains the rhetorical form of equality, while performing the function of hereditary privilege. Information from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission clearly displays that certain groups, though composing miniscule portions of the US population, sue and win judgments at far higher rates than the average American, as the state-privileged have more instances in which to pursue legal action. As such, the adoption of equal-opportunity law cannot largely benefit any particular groups other than those composing particular minorities, regardless of whether individuals composing them are actually impoverished.
Americans, though earnest in their pursuit of what they wrongly believe to be American, have forgotten the values of our fathers. After having defeated the imperialist English twice, having abolished the horribly inhuman institutions of slave trade and segregation, having brought justice to the Nazi’s doorstep, and having combated the military invasions of creeping Communist states, we should know better than any other peoples what liberty means, and how to defend it. But if we refuse to recognize the proper boundaries within which privilege may be bestowed, my fear is that our bedrock of equality may be eroding more quickly than we think.