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Author and podcaster Michael Malice devised his own test to determine whether one is more conservative or progressive. He does this by asking a simple question: Do you believe some people are better than others?
If asked for clarification, he does not give it. He simply forces the individual to answer the question as is. Right-leaning folks typically answer with a simple “yes.” But people on the left will usually give a lecture or engage in mental gymnastics to explain their answer to the question.
This is because folks on the right and left think differently about the human condition and how it applies to culture and politics. The differences between how this question is answered belie a fundamental way of thinking.
People on the right are more in line with the opening of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.
To them, people are created equal, meaning that they are all given the same rights by God. Government, in their view, should exist to protect these rights from those who would infringe on them. It was supposed to be the very basis of America’s legal system. But now, in 2023, we have seen the government expand far beyond its original purpose. Still, the fact remains while folks on the right believe everyone should have their rights protected, some are simply better in certain areas than others.
As an example, we can look at basketball. Chances are, if you are 5’2, your chances of making it into the NBA are next to nil. But if you happen to be 6’9, the odds are more in your favor, granted you have the requisite level of skill. In other areas, the shorter person might do far better than the basketball player.
This also applies in a moral sense as well. While everyone is imperfect, some people are more imperfect than others. The man who runs a red light is not nearly on the same level of evil as Adolf Hitler, right?
People on the left tend to believe that equality is about the outcome, not the beginning. To them, it does not matter whether someone is born with the same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, if they were to rephrase it, they would say we have the right to life, liberty, and happiness. There is no need to pursue happiness when the government can bestow it upon you.
Progressives line up more with supposed anti-racism figurehead Ibram X. Kendi, who, in 2019, told an audience at George Washington University that “racists believe unequal societies [and] racial disparities stem from unequal peoples” and that anti-racists, in contrast, “believe that the racial groups are equal.”
By his way of thinking, racial inequalities can result only from racist policies designed to uphold these disparities. This goes beyond race, however. In fact, anyone who is not a white Christian male is not responsible for their failures or challenges; it is simply a result of a lack of government intervention.
This way of thinking, while wrong, is quite useful to the statist. The idea that people cannot thrive without the government’s largesse is attractive to those seeking to use the state to exercise power. It is why Democrats continually highlight disparities – especially those they can blame on the government or society at large. Indeed, there is always a kernel of truth to their arguments; in many ways, both have contributed to the situation in which Americans experiencing poverty find themselves.
The problem is that progressives and Democrats believe the solution is the entity that can use its monopoly on force to effect positive change under the guise of promoting “equity” – even in areas in which it is the source of the problem. Since inequalities are always the fault of external forces i.e., government and society, and not the individual, then, come hell or high water, the government has to step in and ensure everyone gets the same outcome, even if it means wrecking things in the process.
Conversely, those who are more liberty-minded recognize that equality of outcome is not possible, no matter how muscular the government becomes or how deeply it inserts its fingers into the most powerful facets of society. Throughout history, we have seen authoritarian states bring about some of the most brutal and tragic oppression imaginable, all under the guise of seeking equal outcomes for every single man, woman, and child.
Liberty means not only understanding that not everyone is going to be successful even if given the same opportunities, but that it is impossible to ensure everyone is operating on a level playing field. A person born on skid row will never have the plethora of opportunities afforded to one born and raised in the wealthiest suburbs of Beverly Hills.
Of course, this does not mean that one born with fewer opportunities cannot rise to the top; it happens fairly often. But, in general, they cannot accomplish this alone. Liberty-minded people understand this and also realize that using the government to place the one born in skid row in the same position as the one born in Beverly Hills is not a tenable solution. Instead, we see that with liberty comes moral responsibility, a principle that says we the people should be responsible for helping one another like the Good Samaritan. It is when society functions in this manner that we can achieve a better result for more people.