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March 05, 2006

Should equality be valued as the highest ideal?

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That every will must consider every other will its equal—would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and destruction of man, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of weariness, a secret path to nothingness

Casting my eye over the blogs as is my now occasional dirty pleasure I stumbled upon a whole closet full of articles about feminism and abortion. As I read the entry above by Alex and the intensity of the comments following in favour of equality; I couldn't help but be put in mind of Nietzsche. Fairly unsuprising as he is my personal favourite philosopher, but in this case his thoughts are particularly interesting.

Nietzsche detested communism precisely because of its emphasis on equlity as the highest ideal, he believed that to force everyone to become equal would crush individuality and destroy that which is essential for greatness and excellence in all fields – namely difference. His argument runs roughly that the great artists, the great musicians, great statesmen; the heros in every field are known as heros because they were outstanding people. In other words they were not equal, they were not the same, they were, to use a loaded vocabulary, superior.

While I'm not going to go into a complete rehash of Nietzsches analysis of morality and ideals it will suffice to understand that Nietzsche outlines two types – Slave and Master. From wikipedia (a lazy source I know):

Slave morality begins in a ressentiment that turns creative and gives birth to values. (Ressentiment was a term coined by Nietzsche to describe the feeling of the weak, unhealthy and ugly towards those who have fared better in life.) The slave regards the virtues of beauty, power, strength and wealth as 'evil' in an act of revenge against those who have them in abundance. (On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 10) Slave morality is therefore a reactionary morality because 'good' does not spring creatively from the individual but develops as a negation of the values of the powerful. The noble person conceives of goodness first and later determines what is 'bad' while the slave conceives of 'evil' first and fashions his own conception of 'good' in opposition to this.

For Nietzsche, equality is an ideal of the slave morality, and here I must bring up an important point that is often lost, Nietzsche does not condemn the slave morality as wholly bad and the master morality as wholly good. He is often misinterpreted as doing so as he argues points against the dominant christian morality of his (and arguably our) time. For Nietzsche though the ideal of equality was one of the worst of these slave morality values because it directly attacked the noble morality which he believed was sometimes necessary for the advancement and survival of the human race.

And isn't Nietzsche right to say that we need leaders? We need heroes? We need the great and noble among us? As members of the herd we may dislike them but everywhere we look we see societies organised in pyramids – from the most basic tribal structures to the political and economic structures of today. Just as the herd needs the great the great also needs the herd or what is he able to measure his greatness against?

Even the great thinkers of equality engels and Marx were unable to think up what a society might look like without pyramids, no clear description for the communist utopia ever appeared in their writings – all the socialist parties, commities and such like that Marx was a member of had leaders and Marx himself has clearly become a hero and Icon of equality. Which of marx's devotees wouldn't have taken a bullet to save the life of the great man?

All difficult and interesting questions for someone who want to defend the ideal of equality at all costs.

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently

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