“A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” – Milton Friedman
“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” – Winston Churchill
Never in our long history has so much legitimacy been provided to two such dangerous words. We are bombarded over and over how important it is to foster democracy and the dangers of an unequal society. For example, our former esteemed president, Jacob Zuma, has stated that we must make “a South Africa that is free of poverty, inequality, and unemployment.” A pursuit he threw himself in full-heartedly, by thieving state coffers so that he may one day redistribute it equitably.
But the fundamental problem with equality is the lack of a holistic image of what it represents. When we consider equality, we are fooled into seeing beautiful cities, with everyone having a sports car and an expensive house. We imagine heaven. But the Ying Yang reality applies to everything and so it does to equality as well. The simple truth is that when we have absolute equality, we don’t have losers, that is correct. But we will not receive winners as well. A triumph can only be achieved at the expense of someone, somewhere. And that sounds mean, hurtful, and yet it is the harsh reality we live in. But the flip side to that is that it anoints us with purpose. And nothing is absolute. Some days you lose and some days you win. Of course, some are defeated more than others, but that only conveys that we have to figure out a method by which we can assist those to strike above, not to simply take the ability for them to succeed from them.
If one could take a straightforward analogy: compare poker with life. Each one of us is dealt a hand and some receive a better hand than others. And, indeed, the one with the best hand usually takes it all. But then there is another game. And another game. And another game. Until all pretense of inequality is lost when we realize that life is so complicated, so filled with random and unexpected decisions and factors, that it is so unequal that it borders on being naturally equal. And the only method by which the Marxists can upend this natural order is by stepping in and demanding “equality”. So they would create a poker game where if you won, you had to share your winnings with everyone. But what would be the point of participating at all?
So the problem for the socialists and communists, is that when they hamstring successful people in society, they of course reduce those that are worst off as well. But then what is the point of trying? Of living in such a world. That is one of the fundamental problems of communist utopias. Without any inclination or inspiration for success, they lose hope. And so the more state interventionist a country becomes, the more desperate and hopeless its populace turns. They witness barriers and obstacles everywhere and eventually drop all pretense at trying.
The search for equality will only land one in the safest and fairest institution there is and that is a prison. Walled in a system where everything that could remotely give you advantage is disabled. And of course, this would not advance the cause of equality, for there have to be guards, those who would watch, so that all these arcane rules are not broken. And it is a tendency, with these bureaucrats that they gain an inordinate amount of power and wealth by living close to the levers of power.
The same standard applies to democracy. We hear over and over the virtues of democracy extolled by politicians. USA politicians infuriatingly keep referring to democracy as their greatest export. The irony. The founding fathers were explicitly against democracy, that is why they created the federal constitutional republic they did. It is designed to restrain the will of the majority. It has democratic elections, yes, but it is not a democracy. The majority is curtailed by the piece of paper called the constitution. It’s the republican system, which has been adopted by almost all countries. South Africa has, for example, also followed the American path, and created a constitution. Albeit a very liberal one, that is so ambiguous at times that it either serves to justify anything or contradict itself on numerous occasions.
So why are politicians harping on about democracy, when they are not sticking to the truth? Some of it has to do with, of course, just basic ignorance. But there is also an unconscious allure to it. By convincing people that their will, the will of the majority, is always what is exercised, one can create the sort of sleepwalking partner effect, luring a person through alleyways even though he believes that he is in charge. In this vein, politicians have been surprisingly successful, able to convince the populace, that once rallied against nobles, to once more institute elites, but this time they believe that this new upper class is subject to their will. To a certain point, this is true. But this is not absolute. One might control the politicians, but the true danger now lies in bureaucrats, career statesman, who the politicians are terrified to take on. One has no real say in determining who is appointed in that aspect.
But on a deeper level, the danger of extolling the virtues of democracy is permeating down in our society. We are turning more arrogant with demands for referendums and direct democracy, believing that as long as the majority has its way, or the majority of those who voted to be more specific, as in most elections only about 60% of the country vote, the correct decisions will follow. But history is littered with the obstacles caused by the masses and this standard is seldom applied in any other business capacity. The board of a company does not ask each employee, down to the slums what is the next executive decision they should take. The executives simply implement it themselves. For there is a simple truth in that some citizens are experts in their arena and some are not and it is better for those qualified to make those decisions.
It is considered sensible to ask the majority of South Africans what should be the government’s stance on the African Union, for example. What is not considered reasonable is to hold a referendum on whether Johann Rupert should merge his business with another or sell off assets. Then why this double standard? Because politicians keep ranting on about the virtues of democracy and so we have convinced ourselves that we should have a say on everything. In reality, democratic elections where merely implemented to keep a check on corrupt politicians, not to enforce the will of the majority.
So please. Let us get to grips with reality. Arrogance has blinded our sense of perspective and lulled us into believing that our opinions matter on everything and that democracy and equality are noble pursuits. Chasing equality will only land us in a prison and pontificating the will of the majority instead of reason will only put us at the mercy of demagogues.
Donald Brown studied LLB at the University Of South Africa. But he is also a trader (forex/indices), programmer, author and entrepreneur. He spends his free time gaming, creating games and apps, writing and reading, with the latter two mostly devoted to political and philosophical issues. His books can be found here: