Equality is a pernicious and dangerous political policy, but that’s exactly what President Obama declared in full voice in his Second Inaugural Address in January as the cause and preoccupation of his administration for the next four years.

Of course equality in the abstract is meaningless.  It becomes concrete only when we figure out what we’re talking about.  Equality of laws?  Opportunity?  Lives?  Education?  And in every case we are thrust into the domain of the state, the only entity that can achieve this equality, for in a natural condition almost nothing is equal.  Only the organized state can provide it, and hence we are in the realm of force, law, coercion, the intervention of the government into personal lives, sometimes at the most intimate level.

So we are led to the inevitable conclusion that if equality is the goal, what we have to give up, to one degree or another, is liberty.  The French had it wrong—liberté; doesn’t go with égalité; they are in a fundamental sense contradictory, and attempting to provide equality for all is a guarantee of reducing liberty for all.

Obama doesn’t know that, and it wouldn’t bother him if he did.  He is perfectly happy with the power of the state, particularly when he’s running it.

So that is why he is currently pushing the idea of “marriage equality.”  As chief executive, he not only refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court but, while the Court was hearing arguments, actually came out twice for gay-marriage “rights.”  His Organization for Action has been lobbying for “gay marriage” in several legislatures across the country (including Illinois).  If you want equality, then, by Jove, the state is going to get it for you.

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama explicitly promised equality for women, gays, illegal immigrants, the middle class, “the growing many [who] barely make it,” the poor, and, by suggestion, blacks—or what the Associated Press’s lead story called “the wider struggle for equality for all.”  He began by declaring, in decidedly Lincolnian fashion, that

what makes us American . . . is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “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’s hardly one idea, to begin with, but in any case it is stretching the truth to argue that this “makes us American,” since the document in question was not part of the Constitution and was not by any means a central idea in the Founding Fathers’ concept of government.  You’ll recognize this as the same weaselly argument that Lincoln made when he said our government was founded “four score and seven years” before 1863—or, in other words, in 1776, when it was not only not founded but wasn’t even conceived while the colonies were in the beginning of a long war just to make their governments (note the plural) independent.

In any case, it is not at all clear what Jefferson had in mind when he wrote those words.  Is there any meaningful way in which we are “created equal,” except in some religious sense?  In God’s eyes, perhaps, we are equal at birth, but in plain fact we are starkly different in wealth, intelligence, capacity, health, opportunity, and a host of characteristics that makes everyone, in fact, different at birth.  And Jefferson repeatedly makes it clear that he regards himself and his colleagues as part of what he called, in an 1844 letter to John Adams, “the natural aristocracy,” one that “may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves wholesome control over their public affairs.”  Not much “created equal” there.  Indeed, in the same letter he writes of “the mobs of great cities” and “the class of artificers as the panderers of vice,” and fears their ever having a say in those affairs.

Both Lincoln and Obama appealed to Jefferson’s phrase because equality is a useful myth for an activist federal government to declare to live by, unleashing the force of the state under cover of an idea that seems as right as mom and apple pie.  But what Obama thinks equality would mean in practice is not entirely clear.  At one point he said that the “shrinking few who do very well” are people who have too much and hence must be brought lower—evoking the familiar idea of income equality—though he cannot really imagine that in a capitalist society he would ever be able to make everyone equal in wealth.  But Obama goes yet further, expanding equality to encompass love: “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another should be equal as well.”  I cannot really make any sense of that for you, and I hope we’re not planning to spend any money on this impossible task.

Whatever one means by “equality,” this is a most dangerous and improper goal for a government to seek.  Equality cannot be achieved in human society, nor would it be desirable for it to be achieved, and certainly not for a government to try to work for it.  It is one thing to be created equal, but quite another to be made equal.  A government with that as its purpose would be an Orwellian nightmare and would, as in the Orwellian barnyard, leave some “more equal” than others.

Imposing equality on society is one of those terrible ideas inherited from the French Revolution, and it has no more chance of succeeding than imposing a society of uniform liberty and fraternity.  It hardly matters that no French government, then or now, has come anywhere near achieving such impossible goals.  Equality was, however, and continues to be a useful banner under which to build and solidify a centralized “modern” state aligning powerful centralizing government with large capitalist institutions, as France went on to do in the 19th century, as Lincoln would do as well, and as most 20th- and 21st-century U.S. presidents have done.

It is possible to think of “equality before the law,” at least as an ideal in our kind of “democratic” society, though no one thinks that such a thing actually exists, as the overwhelming disparity of blacks in our prisons attests.  And in recent years we have tried to believe in “equality of opportunity,” with an elaborate and onerous set of laws to attempt to create it.  But no laws will overcome inadequate education for the great majority of people in this country, most especially the very blacks whom the concept was supposed to benefit, in an economy based on mental rather than manual skills.

But “equality for all”?  What could that be but some kind of statist gibberish?  And would you want to live in a place where that was created?  Would you want to live with a government that says it is dedicated to trying to achieve it—and clearly thinks it has a good deal of weaponry at hand?