What is Equality?

No word in the American political lexicon incites as much conflict as “equality.”

Is the United States based on the “proposition” that “all men are created equal”?

Are “equality” and “democracy” inextricably linked?

These are pressing questions and in some respects key battle lines between both the left and right and the right and “right.”

Consider the longstanding debate between Harry Jaffa and Mel Bradford in the 1970s over “Equality as conservative.”

Or the recent dust up between myself and Michael Anton over the same issue.

The left will always die on this hill, which makes any “conservative” who would subscribe to the notion that “equality” as a conservative principle laughable at best and dangerous at worst.

You can’t be conservative by conserving 19th century leftism.

And that is precisely what buying into Lincoln’s “proposition nation myth” attempts to accomplish.

Ten years ago, Clyde Wilson and I wrote Forgotten Conservatives in American History. Dr. Wilson penned the chapter on James Fenimore Cooper, a largely forgotten political thinker who made his reputation writing fantastic stories about the 18th century American frontier.

Cooper dedicated two chapters to “equality” in his The American Democrat.

Your woke friends would hate these chapters. Jaffa and his Straussian acolytes might agree with Cooper, though they might take issue with Cooper’s insistence that restricting some from full civil rights might be good for society.

He abhorred slavery and called it an evil (though a mild evil in America).

But Cooper was a 19th century man, and as such held views on some issues that conflict with modern sensibilities, but that does not make him wrong in all respects. Far from it.

It makes him the enemy of the woke social justice warrior and the Straussian neocon.

His two chapters on equality are worth reading, and both made good podcast fodder. I discuss his chapter “On Equality” on Episode 577 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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