Edito’s Note: In the October issue of THE FREEMAN, journalist Reginald Jebb discussed some of the implications of the British Labor party program outlined in its pamphlet, Towards Equality. More recently Laborite thought leader and Member of Parliament, Mr. C. A. R. Crosland, amplified the equality objectives in three long articles which appeared in the magazine, Encounter. His subtle and closely reasoned arguments afford a foretaste of the manner in which collectivist aims may be presented to educated readers of all nations. To help prepare ourselves against such propaganda, we asked Mr. Jebb to review critically the Crosland essays.
Having picked "equality" as the most appealing aim of the socialist program, Mr. Crosland suggests several approaches to his objective. He argues the pros and cons of each approach with a great show of impartiality, concluding that all of them have merit but that none fully solves the problem he has posed; needed is a revolutionary change in the whole fabric of society.
All this gives an impression of judicial inquiry presented to reasonable people, but unfortunately for his argument, his objective of equality is never shown to be practicable or suited to free human beings. Neither equalization of incomes nor a classless society is a possibility that could endure. Mr. Crosland himself admits that absolute equality would be intolerable—that there are limits beyond which his revolution should not be pushed: "But where, en route, before we reach some drab extreme, we shall wish to stop, I have no idea." So he would start rolling a snowball of centralized power, apparently overlooking the fact that this power feeds upon the liberty of individuals and destroys their capacity to halt the dictator.
In diagnosing the labor-management and political strife in England, Mr. Crosland emphasizes sociological rather than economic causes. Certain classes have gained income faster than they have gained social status. And though the United States is comparatively free of rigid class distinctions, he sees some of the same thing there in "any nouveau-riche business class… from Texas oil millionaires to small shop keepers, now highly prosperous but socially insecure."
Many Reasons for Inequality
To remedy this kind of social inequality, Mr. Crosland seeks ways and means to undermine an aristocracy of wealth, only to discover another obstacle in the form of an aristocracy of talent. And he fears that under freedom of opportunity, those who do not succeed may be even more resentful than if they had never been given a fair chance. So he concludes that the State must be doubly careful in arranging differentials in income, taking into account such psychological factors as cause men to envy one another.
He also is concerned with the wastes of inequality: "In a stratified society the ruling elite becomes hereditary and self-perpetuating, and this… must involve a waste of talent." Undoubtedly, there is in all countries a waste of talent, but forced equalization will not remedy that defect. It will only diminish the amount of talent available, creating more excuse than ever for rigid and all-embracing state control.
The privately owned and operated schools (called public schools in England) are especially formidable obstacles in Mr. Crosland’s drive toward equality. In his view," the best public [private] schools offer not only a superior education, but further crucial advantages of the right accent, manner, and dependability of character. These advantages are a major determinant of occupation, and hence of income, power, and prestige."
Admitting that a private enterprise school does a better job than its state-operated "competitor," Mr. Crosland nevertheless proposes—for the sake of equality—that private schools be filled with boys from the government schools and be required to add state officials to their boards of management. In other words, they would be indistinguishable from government schools. If, for equality’s sake, everyone should enjoy the advantages of an educational system created by private enterprise, the logical method would seem to call for removal of education from government control. But Mr. Crosland’s policy is to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and substitute a government fowl whose eggs never have come up to standard!
Opportunity Guarantees Nothing
The principle of equality, so popular among those who are resentful of the success of others, calls for critical analysis. The truth that all men are equal has one meaning and one only: All are equal in the sight of God. From this it follows in justice that no man should be enslaved, and that all should be dealt with equally by the law. But to pretend that all are endowed with equal gifts, whether of intelligence, creative power, or physical prowess is, of course, absurd. Even under complete equality of opportunity, inequalities of wealth, prestige, and fame are bound to occur. To attempt to level them flies in the face of human nature. Certainly, everyone seeks full opportunity for the development of his talents. It is also certain that class snobbery is detestable. But to presume that bureaucratic government can ensure the former or eradicate the latter is pure fancy. A government ought to protect the weak against persecution by the strong, but strength of character lies ultimately in individual effort. And if men are snobs, they will still be snobs in the "drab extreme" of a classless society.
In its drive for a classless society, collectivist thought confuses two utterly different things: (1) the voluntary association of persons according to their work, interests, or tastes; and (2) the tendency of some possessing wealth, rank, or power to look down upon their humble neighbors and treat them as inferiors. The first sort of grouping seems both natural and right for free men while the second is clearly indefensible. But the collectivist, in order to bring everything to a dead level, would destroy that desirable form of voluntary cooperation by equating it in men’s minds with the worst kind of snobbery.
Mr. Crosland considers with some justice that the English are a class-conscious nation. But if he would probe deeper, he would find that the least class-conscious and most independent among them are not those who clamor for "equality," but those who by their efforts have acquired productive property, thus enabling them to defy bureaucracy.
Freedom, if it means anything, implies independence of mind, and independence of mind is not created through the centralized power to organize a flock of equalized sheep.
Consent Binds Freely
It is cerrtain that the most natural and human government is that of consent, for that binds freely… when men hold their liberty by true obedience to rules of their own making.
William Penn, Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, 1693