National Review: Equality Isn’t American

To argue that gay men and women do not deserve equality, The Corner‘s Will Duncan quotes admiringly James Fenimore Cooper’s The American Democrat, for what he thinks is Cooper’s argument that equality isn’t a true American value:

Equality is no where laid down as a governing principle of the institutions of the United States, neither the word, nor any inference that can be fairly deduced from its meaning, occurring in the constitution. As respect the states, themselves, the professions of an equality of rights are more clear, and slavery excepted, the intention in all their governments is to maintain it, as far as practicable, though equality of condition is no where mentioned, all political economists knowing that it is unattainable, if, indeed, it be desirable. Desirable in practice, it can hardly be, since the result would be to force all down to the level of the lowest.

Of course, Cooper predated the Fourteenth Amendment, which functions to insert the word “equal” before almost every clause of the document. Further, in context, Cooper only disclaims equality of result, or “social” equality, while championing political and civil equality (for all but slaves and women):

As regards all political institutions men are born equal, no sophistry being able to prove that nature intended one should inherit power and wealth, another slavery and want. [. . . .] All that the great American proposition, therefore, can mean, is to set up new and juster notions of natural rights than those which existed previously…

Cooper is quite right that society can’t make all men equal in wealth, social standing, and happiness, and maybe it shouldn’t strive to do so, either. But the Founders, Cooper, and the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment all believed that men should be equal before the law, i.e., possess political and civil equality. This implies equal access to legal institutions, like marriage. This distinction is critical, especially in nineteenth century thinking, and one that National Review‘s crack team of faux-intellectuals can’t seem to pierce.

To be perfectly clear, gay Americans, like blacks and women before them, aren’t asking for us to like them. They’re asking for the chance to live normal lives, free of arbitrary restraint. That pointedly is the American dream.

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2 comments

  1. How do you KNOW I’m not asking you to be gay?

    ;)

  2. Steve Jeffers · ·

    There’s nowhere in the Constitution that champions or seeks to enshrine *inequality*, and that’s the point. The National Review and the American Right generally seek to make people less equal, because they see the economy as zero sum – they see the old maxim that one man’s pay rise is another man’s pay cut and gleefully set about trying to lower other people’s wages for personal gain.

    If they can find something in the Constitution that enshrines the rich’s right to get richer without any thought of the poor, then we can have a conversation.

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