Happy Fourth of July! I hope you’re all doing something fun to celebrate. As for me, I feel it’s important on this Independence Day to reflect upon how we balance liberty and equality in this country.
The principles that the United States were founded upon include the concept that all people are created equal, and should therefore be equally free to pursue what makes them happy. But I feel we sometimes emphasize the freedom part and forget about the equality part.
Many on the right feel that government involvement in our lives necessarily infringes upon our freedom and liberty. That is why conservatives were outraged last week by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate. It is why they often do not support social programs. They view all of these programs as government intrusion and they believe such programs compromise our freedom. They also argue that, since we supposedly have equal opportunity in this country, it is unfair for some Americans to have to spend money on the well-being of others, who could just pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
However, the government must be involved in our lives to the extent that it helps us to enjoy true equality of opportunity. I am not talking about equal circumstances (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing). What I am suggesting is that Americans are not truly equal when it comes to their ability to pursue happiness. Those born in underserved neighborhoods who must attend failing schools and who have no healthcare do not have the same opportunities as those born in wealthy suburbs. Social programs can help to level the playing field somewhat. It is important to remember, therefore, that this country was not founded upon the principle of liberty alone. It was liberty working together with equality that the founders understood to be a powerful philosophical foundation.