Frankfurt on the Equality Fetish

“To the extent that people are preoccupied with equality for its own sake, their readiness to be satisfied with any particular level of income or wealth is guided not by their own interests and needs but just by the magnitude of the economic benefits at the disposal of others. In this way egalitarianism distracts people from measuring the requirements to which their individual natures and their personal circumstances give rise. It encourages them instead to insist upon a level of economic support that is determined by a calculation in which the particular features of their own lives are irrelevant. How sizable the economic assets of others are has nothing much to do, after all, with what kind of person someone is. A concern for economic equality, construed as desirable in itself, tends to divert a person's attention away from endeavoring to discover–within his experience of himself and his life–what he himself really cares about and what will actually satisfy him, although this is the most basic and the most decisive task upon which an intelligent selection of economic goals depends. Exaggerating the moral importance of economic equality is harmful, in other words, because it is alienating.”

Harry Frankfurt, “Equality as a Moral Ideal,” Ethics, Oct. 1987.

  • A long while back when there was some drama going on in the blogosphere about the relative lack of conservatives in academia, someone over at the Volokh Conspiracy pulled out this study that purported to show that conservatives were, on average, better educated and better informed than liberals. The other interesting thing it purported to show was that better educated liberals tended to be more liberal, and better educated conservatives tended to be more conservative.

    My guess is that smart well educated people are much less tolerant of inconsistencies in their own political views, and much more confident that their own views are correct.