Book Sale

Sunday 25 June 2023

Self Evidently False


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The most basic assumption of the modern world is that all people are equal. This is self evident many claim. But is this even remotely true? No, not at all. P.J. O’Rourke notes this, while meditating on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations:

“Smith began by asking two very large questions: How is wealth produced, and how is it distributed? Over the course of the 250-some pages in book 1 the answers—"division of labor" and "mind your own business"—are explained. But in the meantime Smith answered two even larger questions: Why is everyone equal, and why do we have property rights?

 All men are created equal. We hold this truth to be self evident, which on the face of it is so wildly untrue. Equality is the foundation of liberal democracy, rule of law, a free society, and everything that the reader, if he or she is sane, cherishes. But are we all equal because we all showed up? It does not work that way at weddings or funerals. Are we all equal because it says so in the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Each of these documents contains plenty of half-truths and nontruths as well. The UN proclaims, "Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours." I'll have my wife inform the baby.”[i]

O’Rourke goes on to comment that Smith only considered us equal in the sense that we are all dependent on each other, and powerless without that help. We all must equally rely on each other, in other words. I cannot comment on Smith’s views, as I have not read the Wealth of Nations, but what O’Rourke notes here about equality is worth highlighting.

There is nothing more self evidently false than saying that all people are created equal. This is not true in physical size, height, intellect, ability or any other way. Just watch how some athletes excel beyond others with seeming ease, even at the top levels, or how some people cruise through school without much effort, whereas some really struggle. People are self evidently not equal. 

All it takes is a little thought, to sit down and work through the implications of what we see all around us, to observe that equality is self evidently false.

[i] P.J. O’Rourke, 2007, On The Wealth Of Nations, Grove Press, pp40-41.

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