Published in The Center Magazine, IX
Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions
In this Bicentennial year, we have a double obligation. One is to examine as closely as possible, and to understand as clearly as possible, the basic political principles on which this country was founded. The other is to consider the problems that, two hundred years later, remain for us as a nation to solve in the light and spirit of those principles.
We must also consider — as the founding fathers did not consider — the role of America as a leading nation and a dominant power in the world of international affairs. In that larger world, two great revolutionary documents are competing with each other. They are the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto, and they symbolize the world’s division into opposing camps.
DÃ©tente may slow down the race between the rival forces in the field of arms, but it does not resolve the conflict in the sphere of ideas.
When we use the words “democracy” and “Communism” to symbolize the conflict between the revolutionary objectives of the Declaration and the Manifesto, we tend to think the conflict is irresolvable. We tend to think of the Declaration as calling for revolutionary changes in the sphere of political rights, and the Manifesto as calling for revolutionary changes in the sphere of property rights and in the distribution of wealth, or economic goods.
In the political sphere, the Declaration, for the sake of liberty and justice, lays down principles of government that are irreconcilably opposed to any form of despotism or dictatorship, even the dictatorship of the proletariat if that should be deemed necessary to achieve the economic objectives of the Manifesto. And the Manifesto, for the sake of equality and justice in the economic sphere, advocates despotic inroads not only on property rights, but also on individual liberties, with almost complete curtailment of freedom of enterprise.
As we examine this apparently irresolvable conflict, we must, in my judgment, ask ourselves the following questions: Is it possible to maximize the ideals of liberty and equality and do so without sacrificing the claims of either one to the other? Is if possible to realize the ideals of liberty and equality in both the political and the economic sphere?
If we give affirmative answers to these questions (as I will try to show that we can), one further question remains: Which of the two revolutionary documents contains, in its own terms and in the light of the interpretations put upon them since the documents were written, the principles that underlie the affirmative answers we seek? The answer to this question, in my judgment, is the Declaration of Independence, not the Communist Manifesto. I hope to be able to show that the Declaration, as a pledge to the future which has been partly fulfilled in the last two hundred years, and which can be further fulfilled in the years ahead, contains the principles by which we can reconcile just demands for both liberty and equality in both the political and the economic sphere. If, as I think, the Manifesto, as a pledge to the future, cannot be fulfilled in its hope for the ultimate withering away of the state, if the despotic regime associated with the dictatorship of the proletariat must be perpetuated in order to preserve the economic arrangements of Communism, then the Manifesto does not contain — in itself or in its interpretation — the principles for reconciling liberty and equality in both the political and the economic sphere.
I have in these introductory remarks summarized my conclusions for which I shall now try to adduce persuasive rational support. I would like to add here only one further point of clarification. It concerns my use of the word “socialism” in contradistinction to the word “Communism.” If, as I have claimed, Communism in the economic order is inextricably connected with despotism in the political order, then political democracy and economic Communism are unalterably irreconcilable. I propose to use the word “socialism” in a sense that is not synonymous with the sense we attach to the word “Communism.” There is ample historical justification — and there is even support in the Communist Manisfesto itself — for distinguishing modes of socialism which, far from being identical with Communism, are opposed to it.
I will use the word “socialism” to name an ideal objective, in the economic sphere analogous to the ideal objective for which the term “democracy” stands in the political sphere. So used, socialism aims to establish liberty and equality in the economic sphere, as democracy aims to establish liberty and equality in the political sphere. Since the objectives of socialism can be achieved, in my judgment, without employing the means proposed by the Communist Manifesto, democracy and socialism are compatible, while democracy and Communism are not.
Of course, the Declaration of Independence was not dedicated to the establishment of either democracy or socialism as we now understand those terms.
In the eighteenth century, neither ideal had yet appeared on the horizon. However, in Abraham Lincoln’s interpretation of the document as a pledge to the future, the Declaration does contain principles implicit in which are the ideals of democracy in the political order and socialism in the economic order. That is why I think we can say that, as competing revolutionary documents, the Declaration should finally prevail over the Manifesto, not by force of arms, but by its fundamental rightness or soundness as a basis for the good life for all men everywhere and for the establishment of the good society.
I have now laid all my cards on the table. I propose to play them in the following order: (1) I will begin with an interpretation of the Declaration as a pledge to the future. I will also try to indicate the steps by which we have so far fulfilled that pledge. (2) I will follow that with a commentary on the Manifesto, with particular reference to later additions by Nicolai Lenin and Nikita Khrushchev. (3) Then I will attempt to indicate how the apparent conflict between liberty and equality can be resolved, first, at the level of general principles; next, in the political sphere; finally, in the economic sphere.
In conclusion, I will try to say what we, as Americans, must do both at home and abroad if we wish the Declaration to prevail over the Manifesto.
*****In the opening lines of its second paragraph, the Declaration sets forth a number of basic and controlling principles. Four truths are asserted: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
I begin by commenting on the second and fourth of these propositions, the one about unalienable rights, and the one about the purpose and justice of civil government.
Civil government does not have to be instituted in order to endow men with certain basic rights. Such rights are inherent in human nature. Being inherent, they are also unalienable: their existence does not depend upon constitutional provisions or legal enactments. But the fact that these rights are unalienable does not mean that they are inviolable. When men are murdered, their right to life is violated; when they are enslaved, their right to liberty is violated.
In a state of nature or anarchy, the individual would have to use his own power to protect his rights from threats by other individuals. Civil government saves the individual from recourse to self-help for the protection of his rights. And civil government is just in its origin only if it is instituted to secure — protect, safeguard, or enforce — these rights.
As a matter of fact, governments are not always just in their origin or institution. Some are imposed by force; some are tyrannies or despotisms which, far from securing these rights, violate or transgress them. It is by reference to these basic unalienable rights that governments can be measured for their justice or injustice.
That, however, is not the only criterion of the justice and legitimacy of government. The Declaration calls our attention to another: that a just government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Without such authorization, a government’s power is nothing but coercive force.
“Consent of the governed” does not mean the consent of all who are in fact subject to government for infants and resident aliens are subject to government and their consent need not be sought. It means the consent of all who are capable of giving or withholding consent, or all who should be expected to do so. No one capable of giving or withholding consent is justly governed unless the form of government under which he lives is one to which he has freely given his consent.
The principle of consent of the governed defines the essence of constitutional government, as well as its justice and legitimacy.
That is this understanding of consent of the governed which Lincoln expressed in the first of his three prepositional phrases — government of, by, and for the people. There is no difficulty in understanding “government by the people.” But “government of the people” is seldom properly understood. It does not mean what it is so often taken to mean: that the people are the subjects of government — those who are in fact being governed — for then government of the people would apply to despotic as well as to constitutional government. That little word “of” must be interpreted in the possessive sense of the preposition, as when we say “la plume de ma tante” — “the pen of my aunt.”
Thus interpreted, a government of the people means the people’s government — government that derives its existence, its authority, and its legitimacy from their having constituted it. Understood in this way, we realize that the government is not in Washington. What is there is only the administration of our government by its officeholders. The government that is ours resides with us, we who are the citizens and constituents of it, we who are the permanent and principal rulers. The officeholders — citizens in public office only for the time being — are the transient and instrumental rulers. They serve us. When we periodically change these officeholders, we do not change our government for another, but only one administration of government for another. When we impeach an officeholder, we do not overthrow the government. We merely remove from office a magistrate who has exceeded the authority constitutionally vested in his office and who wanted to be above the law.
The second paragraph of the Declaration throws more light on the consent of the governed. It says that when a government either fails to secure basic human rights or violates them, the people have a right and a duty to alter or abolish that government and replace it by another which does what a government should do. This right derives from the people’s right to liberty — their right to be governed as free men and women, not as slaves or subjects. Their duty derives from their obligation to make good lives for themselves in the pursuit of happiness. When that pursuit is impeded or frustrated by tyrannical or despotic government, the exercise of this right and duty involves the withdrawal of their consent.
Such withdrawal goes far beyond civil dissent which, when it is lawfully exercised, is dissent within the boundaries of consent. Withdrawal of consent, in resistance to tyranny or despotism, may be accompanied by resort to force and arms in a violent uprising. As long as we do not withdraw our consent by such action, we are tacitly giving our consent, even though we may wish to alter the laws and policies or amend the constitution of the government. By not withdrawing our consent we seek to achieve those alterations or reforms without resorting to force or violence.
*****The question that remains to be answered about the principle of constitutional government — a government of the people, a people’s government — is: Who are the people? Is it the whole population, or only a part of it?
I will address this question after examining the other two assertions in the opening lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration.
I turn first to the proposition that all men are created equal, or what I regard as an equivalent statement — that all men are by nature equal. What is being asserted here is that no human being is more or less human than another. They are equal in their humanity. They all share or participate in the same specific human nature. Thus, they all have the same species-specific properties or powers, even though one person may have them to a higher or lower degree than another.
The many natural inequalities among human beings arise from these differences in the degree to which they possess the same human traits or properties. In other words, men are not only naturally equal as members of the same species; they are also unequal in their natural endowments and individual differences as human beings. So, there is no incompatibility between the assertion that all men are by nature equal amid the assertion that they are also by nature unequal.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of that one respect in which all, without exception, are equal. The equality they possess through their common humanity establishes their equal dignity as persons. More important still is the fact that from their equality as human beings flows their equal possession of the unalienable rights that are inherent in their common human nature and that constitute their dignity as persons.
The Declaration’s assertion about unalienable rights enumerates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The enumeration is not to be taken as complete or exhaustive. The Declaration uses the phrase “among these rights.” Other rights exist even though they are not mentioned here. And even rights not recognized at the time of the Declaration may, in the course of time, come to be recognized as unalienable or inherent human rights.
A second point that requires close attention is the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” In John Locke’s enumeration of natural rights, the basic triad was life, liberty, and property; or life, liberty, and estates. Thomas Jefferson substituted “the pursuit of happiness” for property and estates. In so doing, he raised a question about the relation of the third element in the triad to the other two. The right to property or estates is coordinate with the right to life and liberty. But the pursuit of happiness is not coordinate or on the same level with the other two. George Mason, a fellow Virginian, had spoken of “the pursuit and attainment of happiness.” Jefferson wisely dropped the words “and attainment.”
My principal concern is with the meaning of the word “happiness.” In the tradition of Western thought, there are two main conceptions of happiness, radically different and irreconcilably opposed. In both conceptions, happiness is an ultimate objective. It is something sought for its own sake, not as a means to some further good beyond itself. In both conceptions, a man is happy who has everything that he desires: he desires nothing more. But in one of the two conceptions — the one that predominates in modern times — happiness as an ultimate goal is a terminal end. This means that happiness is a goal that can be reached and enjoyed at one or another moment in the course of a life. The individual is deemed happy whenever, at a given time, he has satisfied all the desires he happens to have at that time. Accordingly, he may experience happiness at one moment, be unhappy at some later moment when his desires are frustrated or unfulfilled, and again become happy at a still later moment.
In the other conception, which prevailed in antiquity and the Middle Ages, happiness as an ultimate objective is not a terminal goal, but only, a normative end. Happiness is conceived as the goodness of a whole human life and, therefore, as something which cannot be experienced or enjoyed at any moment during the course of a lifetime. A good life is one enriched by the possession of all the things that are really good for a human being to have. A good life, as the end that human beings should seek, is normative: it sets the standard by which the individual’s actions should be judged morally according as they promote or impede the individual’s achievement of the end.
The introduction of the words “good” and “should seek” calls attention to another, even more fundamental, difference between these two conceptions of happiness. In the modern conception of happiness, there is no reference to “good’ or “ought.” Happiness is conceived in purely psychological or nonmoral terms. It involves no distinction between what men do in fact desire and what they ought to desire. In this view, happy is the man who, at any given moment, has all that he desires, regardless of what his desires may be — good or bad, right or wrong.
In contrast, the ancient conception of happiness is not psychological at all; it is a purely ethical conception of the good life. It distinguishes between good and bad desires or right and wrong desires. As Saint Augustine puts it, happy is the man who, in the course of a lifetime, has satisfied all his desires, provided he desire nothing amiss.
Aristotle said that a good life is one lived in accordance with moral virtue. Moral virtue consists in the habitual disposition to desire nothing amiss — to act on right desires, and to avoid acting on wrong ones.
A useful distinction here is between natural human needs and individual human wants. Needs are desires which are inherent in human nature. They are the same for all human beings everywhere and at all times. Wants are desires which arise in individuals as a result of the particular circumstances of their own lives. One individual’s wants are likely to differ from another’s and the differences in their wants are likely to bring them into conflict with each other.
Needs, as Lord Keynes observed, are desires so basic that they exist without regard to what is offered in the marketplace and without an individual’s comparing his own condition or possessions with those of others. In contrast, wants are desires that are induced by what is offered in the marketplace and are augmented and intensified by an individual’s comparing what he has with the possessions of others. Needs are absolute; wants are relative. Needs are desires that may or may not be consciously felt; wants are always consciously felt desires.
Almost all of us want things that we do not need, and fail to want things that we do need. Needs are always right desires; there can be no “wrong” needs. But there can be wrong or misguided wants. What we want may be something either rightly or wrongly desired, whereas anything we need is something rightly desired. A man never needs anything that is not really good for him to have. But he certainly can and often does want things that are not really good for him.
Happiness, then, consists in having all the real goods that are rightly desired because they are things every human being needs to lead a good life. To desire nothing amiss is to seek the satisfaction of all of one’s needs and the gratification of only such wants as do not frustrate the satisfaction either of one’s own needs or of the needs of others.
We can now see which conception of happiness makes the Declaration’s assertion about the pursuit of happiness true rather than false. If happiness consisted in each individual getting what he wanted, government could not secure rights that enabled each individual to strive for happiness, since one person’s wants may and often do conflict with the wants of others. Also, government would be involved in facilitating the satisfaction of wrong desires as well as right desires, without any differentiation between them.
Only on the ethical conception of happiness can government try to provide all its human members with the external conditions they require in order to make good lives for themselves. The actual attainment of happiness, the actual achievement of a good life, is beyond the power of government to provide, because such factors as moral virtue are involved, and these are internal — within the power of the individual.
All that a government can do, negatively, is prevent individuals or corporations from doing anything that impedes or frustrates the pursuit of happiness by others, and, positively, provide political, economic, and social conditions that facilitate the pursuit of happiness by all.
So, pursuit of happiness stands in a very special relation to life, liberty, and all other natural rights. The pursuit of happiness — the making of a good Iife — is the normative end for which all the things to which a person has a natural right are the indispensable means. Strictly speaking, we have a duty, not a right, to pursue happiness, to make good lives for ourselves. Precisely because this is our fundamental moral obligation, we have a right to everything we need to pursue happiness; we have a right to every real good that is a component of a good Iife as a whole.
The foregoing statement must be qualified. There are certain real goods, which are indispensable to the pursuit of happiness, such as moral virtue, to which it would be meaningless to claim a right, because they are entirely within our own power to possess or not possess. The only real goods to which we have a natural right are those that are within the power of civil government to provide or secure, such as the right to life or the right to liberty. These are external goods like liberty or wealth, not internal goods like virtue or knowledge.
In summary, human beings, since they are morally obligated to engage in the pursuit of happiness, have unalienable rights to life, to liberty, and to all the other external goods that they need in this effort and that a civil government can provide or secure.
I have several times referred to the principles of the Declaration as a pledge to the future. How and to what extent has that pledge been fulfilled?
If the pledge had not in some measure already been fulfilled, the Declaration could not compete today with the Manifesto on a global scale; the political liberty guaranteed by constitutional government could not win out against the economic welfare that socialist programs offer those in dire poverty and suffering serious deprivation in the Third and Fourth Worlds. However, the pledge implicit in the principles of the Declaration has been largely fulfilled in the political sphere. In some measure, it has been fulfilled in the economic sphere. That work of fulfillment — accomplished mainly in this century — is far from complete.
In the political sphere, the fulfillment of the pledge implicit in the proposition that all men are by nature equal and consequently equal in their possession of natural rights began with the abolition of slavery. It has continued with the advances which have been made toward truly universal suffrage. Now all capable of giving consent and of participating in government may do so. Our government has finally become what it was not at the beginning, but what it had to become in order to be fully just — a constitutional democracy.
In the economic sphere, the fulfillment of the pledge implicit in the principle that a just government must secure rights to the external goods or conditions that human beings need to pursue happiness did not begin until this century. It began with the economic reforms of Theodore Roosevelt (for which, by the way, T.R. was denounced as a socialist); it was carried forward by Woodrow Wilson; and it was greatly extended by Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal which created the mixed economy and the welfare state of socialized capitalism.
Our eighteenth-century Bill of Rights — the first ten amendments to the Constitution — was concerned with rights only in the political sphere, mainly the natural right to liberty. It was not until the twentieth century that economic rights were acknowledged to be as indispensable as the rights to life and liberty.
The formal declaration of those economic rights was made in 1944, in Roosevelt’s State of the Union address. Here is how Roosevelt introduced what he called a second Bill of Rights:
- This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
- We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.
Roosevelt asked Congress to implement by law these economic rights:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
- The right of every family to a decent home.
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
- The right to a good education.
(A substantially similar enumeration of economic rights is set forth in Articles 23 through 27 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)
During Roosevelt’s time, the Supreme Court held that Congress had not exceeded its authority to enact legislation to promote the general welfare, which was conceived as the economic welfare of the people, and, as such, indispensable to the pursuit of happiness.
*****The Communist Manifesto contains nothing like the statement of principles in the Declaration involving the notions of liberty and equality, justice and rights. In fact, with the exception of freedom, none of these notions appears in the Manifesto. Later Marxist literature — especially an important commentary on the Manifesto, Lenin’s The State and Revolution — heaps scorn on equality, justice, and rights as typically bourgeois notions that have no relevance to the ideal society that will be achieved in the last stage of the revolution. But freedom is referred to in the last sentence of Chapter II of the Manifesto: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and its class antagonisms, we shall have a society in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all.”
According to the Manifesto, the ideal of freedom will be fully realized only in the ultimate, not the penultimate, stage of the revolution — only when the revolution passes beyond the dictatorship of the proletariat to the withering away of the state.
In the paragraph immediately preceding the above paragraph, the Manifesto says this quite plainly: in the first stage of the revolution, the proletariat will overthrow the bourgeois by force and “make itself the ruling class.” The Communist countries of the world represent the achievement of that first stage, in which the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a ruling class, operates through the Communist Party as its political organ. If the revolution were to stop there, the freedom mentioned by the Manifesto would be entirely a pledge to the future — a future which will come about, according to Karl Marx, only when the proletariat “will have abolished its own supremacy as a class,” and the Communist Party will cease to function as a political dictator.
I must say, simply and plainly, I do not think that pledge to the future will ever be fulfilled. Defenders of the Manifesto may point out that I have acknowledged it took almost two hundred years to fulfill, in whole or in part, the pledge implicit in the Declaration. Why should we not allow a similar length of time for the Manifesto to fulfill its pledge, in another hundred years, more or less? My answer rests on my philosophical conviction that the Manifesto’s pledge will never be fulfilled, given endless time, because it cannot be.
It envisages a utopian impossibility — a society of human beings living harmoniously and freely with one another in the absence of any government which exercises coercive force to secure the rights of individuals against their infringement by others. It envisages men living peacefully, freely, and happily in a state of anarchy.
The philosophical arguments against the anarchic society as an alternative to civil society under civil government are, in my judgment, irrefutable. They support the truth of the Declaration’s proposition that civil government must be instituted to secure human rights, among which is the right to political liberty and individual freedom. If that proposition is true, then its contradictory — the proposition advanced by the Manifesto — must be false.
Although the Declaration’s pledge to the future is not yet completely fulfilled, there is no intrinsic reason why it cannot be.
If we reject the Manifesto’s hope for anarchic freedom, then the present stage of the Communist revolution is really its ultimate, not its penultimate, stage. This means that the dictatorship of the proletariat, through the despotism of the Communist Party, will continue as long as it is needed to enforce and carry out the economic reforms advocated in the Manifesto. That being the case, the Manifesto cannot compete with the Declaration in the political sphere. Devoid of a fulfillable pledge to the future, its endorsement of a dictatorial or despotic regime as a political necessity means the nullification of the right to liberty. Furthermore, there is no political equality between citizens who are members of the Party and those who are not. The latter night just as well be disfranchised because their suffrage remains politically ineffectual.
In the economic sphere, the Manifesto, adhering to the goal of socialism to be achieved by Communist means, offers a program to establish economic equality and to secure the economic rights of every individual. Here, the principles of the Manifesto need not be read as a pledge to the future; they are in large measure operative now.
Though the Manifesto does not use the word “justice,” that concept lies behind words it does use, such as “exploitation” and “unearned increment.” The injustices connoted by those terms are to he removed by the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, which is the basic economic principle of the Manifesto. All means of production, or capital instruments, will be operated by the state. This transfer of property to the state concentrates economic along with political power in the bureaucratic organs of the state, and results in the totalitarianism that Alexis de Tocqueville feared would arise from the effort to achieve an equality of conditions. Tocqueville thought that the striving for equality, especially economic equality, would diminish or destroy liberty, especially political liberty.
The Manifesto is silent with regard to the distribution of economic goods. For that, we must go to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, which states the principle of distribution: “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” That principle is reiterated by Lenin and is enshrined in the Soviet Constitution.
If — and this is a large “if” — if the word “needs” is here used in the same sense that I have assigned to it — i.e., desires that are truly needs, not wants; desires that are inherent in human nature and so are the same for each and every human being — then the formula “to each according to his needs” outlines a program for fulfilling economic rights, rights to a share of economic goods, that is substantially similar to Roosevelt’s bill of economic rights and the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights.
The economic equality that is aimed at by socialism, whether it is achieved by the Communist program or by reforms introduced by socialized capitalism, consists in every human being’s having what any human being needs in the sphere of economic goods in order to live a decent human life.
Socialism and democracy are compatible only if the goals of socialism — the welfare state and economic equality — can be achieved without abolishing private ownership of the means of production and without concentrating economic as well as political power in the central government of a totalitarian state. To show that a constitutional democracy in the political sphere can also be a socialist democracy in the economic sphere, it is necessary to show that equality in both spheres is compatible with liberty in both. That is what I now propose to do.
*****What is most characteristic of our century — all over the world as well as in our country — is the drive toward what Tocqueville called “an equality of conditions,” which goes far beyond all forms of political equality to an equality of economic conditions, an equality in standards of living and in quality of life. Even in the United States — though less so than in England and on the Continent — the dominant confrontation is between the rich and the poor. In the world as a whole, there is an even more threatening confrontation between the rich and the poor nations. In the United States, we have seen, for the first time, a society which has a privileged majority and an oppressed and deprived minority. But in the world as a whole, a vast, overwhelming majority lives under conditions of extreme deprivation alongside a very small, privileged minority concentrated in the developed countries.
Liberty and equality have traditionally been thought incompatible. To maximize one, it has been thought, leads to encroachment on the other. Alexis de Tocqueville, John Calhoun, William Sumner, and others feared that the demand for an equality of economic conditions would inevitably result in the sacrifice of political liberty and freedom of enterprise. Others, however, held that unlimited freedom of enterprise in the economic sphere — stressing only an equality of opportunity — must result in a serious inequality of conditions, with many suffering poverty, deprivation, and destitution.
In contemporary writings on the subject, many share the fears of Tocqueville, Calhoun, and Sumner that attempts to establish an egalitarian economy, or to enforce an equality of economic conditions, will require the exercise of despotic or dictatorial political power and lead to the demise of constitutional democracy and the loss of political liberty.
I think these fears are not justified. Liberty and equality are not incompatible. Constitutional democracy and political liberty need not be sacrificed in order to secure economic rights for all.
The solution of the problem is clear in principle, once we recognize that neither liberty nor equality is the sovereign value to be protected. It is justice that is sovereign. When justice regulates our attempt to maximize liberty and equality, both can be achieved as fully as they should be.
Men should have only as much liberty as justice allows, only as much as the individual can use without injuring others or the community itself. Likewise, men should have only as much equality as justice requires, only as much equality in the conditions of their lives as they need in order to lead decent human lives. As much liberty as justice allows is a limited liberty that does no injury to others. As much equality as justice requires is a limited equality, an equality only in the things to which all men have an equal right. When liberty and equality are thus limited by justice, they cease to be incompatible with one another.
There is no difficulty about understanding a limited as opposed to an unlimited liberty. But what is meant by a limited equality?
Since political equality is easier to think about than economic equality, let us begin with that. Men are politically equal when they enjoy an equality of political status — the equality of citizenship with suffrage — even though this is accompanied by an inequality of political power, as, for example, between citizens out of public office and citizens in public office. Political equality exists when all are haves in the sense of having basic political powers and rights, even though among these haves, some have more and some have less power. Men enfranchised and women disfranchised are politically unequal, as haves and have-nots are unequal. But when both men and women are enfranchised, those in office and those out of office are unequal only in the degree of political power that all of them have.
Now how much economic equality does justice require? It does not require that all have the same amount of money or income. That would not only be more equality than justice requires, it would also be an equality that could never be established; or, if ever established, it could not be preserved for more than a single day.
Neither does justice require that all must be equal in getting whatever they want in the form of economic goods. Justice requires the satisfaction of needs, not wants.
A just economic equality, like a just political equality, consists in securing rights — in this case, rights to the economic goods that men need to lead decent human lives. There is a just economic equality when all human beings have what they need, when all are haves and no one is deprived or a have-not. A just economic equality exists in a society — or in the world — when all citizens, or all peoples, are above the line of deprivation with regard to things needed for a decent human life.
The establishment of a society in which all are haves and none are have-nots does not preclude differences in degrees among the haves. Just as in the political order, all have political liberty and power when all are citizens with suffrage, even though citizens in public office may have more political power than citizens out of office, so in the economic order, when all are haves, some may have more economic goods than they need to lead decent lives. Some may have more than others, but all have enough.
Khrushchev added a principle of unequal distribution to Marx’s principle of equal distribution. To each according to his needs calls for the economic equality that exists when everyone has what anyone needs. But Khrushchev said, to each according to his contribution, and that calls for differences in degree among the haves; some will have more because they have contributed more, some will have less because they have contributed less.
The second principle is no less a principle of justice than the first, but it is strictly subordinate to the first. To say that those who contribute more should, in justice, receive more than those who contribute less must not be interpreted to mean that every one who has more than he needs or than others have is necessarily an individual who has justly earned that excess of wealth. But it is to say that inequality in degrees of wealth can be justified if it occurs within the framework of a basic equality in which all have what they need for a decent human life.
Also, though justice does not require the elimination of differences in degree among the haves, it does require that such residual economic inequalities should not be allowed to result in the exercise of illegitimate political power by those who have much more wealth than they need and much more than their fellow citizens have.
*****To sum up:
It is possible to achieve as much liberty and as much equality as men should have without sacrificing either one to the other.
It is possible to realize the ideals of liberty and equality in both the political and the economic sphere.
In their competition on the global scene, the Declaration should prevail over the Manifesto because its principles are sounder and because the pledge to the future inherent in those principles is more capable of being fulfilled.
Only by meeting the demands of people everywhere for both equality and liberty in both the political and the economic sphere can the promise of a good life and a good society for all human beings be fully realized.
To take the lead in moving toward a realizable ideal, we Americans must have a clear understanding of our own basic principles, be creative in carrying forward the advances still needed to fulfill the pledge inherent in those principles, and have the courage and integrity to uphold the commitments those principles require us to honor in our dealing with all the other peoples on the earth.
[Great Books of the Western World GBotWW=”1″]