The subject is equality. Equality is an idea that has had a considerable theoretical and practical history. To Aristotle equality was distinguishable into two major types: numerical and proportionate. Numerical equality gives everyone the same rights. Proportionate equality gives men rights in relation to their merits. Subsequent theories have added several important concepts.
The Stoics added the predicate of reason. Men are equal in their basic capacity for rationality.
To this was appended the Ciceronian doctrine of rule of law, which is that creatures of reason are entitled to the gift of a law universally applied.
Christianity reinforced Stoicism by giving all men equal souls, regardless of the question of their possessing equal rights. Men are equal in the eyes of God.
Social Contract theory (we think of Marsiglio, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) makes men the creators of society. All men are equal "Founding Fathers," whatever their fate thereafter.
The Levellers of seventeenth century England, the English and American eighteenth century Radicals, and a good part of the American population throughout history, as expressed in the writings of Roger Williams, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, and many of the old and new Progressives, have been advocates of a high degree of numerical equality—that is, men as men deserve equal shares in social goods.
The socialists extended the definition of social goods widely to cover numerous kinds of property. Nowadays, since property has itself become so vague a concept and so intangible, numerical equality has often come to mean equality in everything which people who desire equality desire to equal with respect to.
There have been throughout history, or course, countervailing doctrines. Such would be, as classified in this author’s book, Elements of Political Science, at least three in number:
I. Elitism is the idea that in respect to every quality there must or should be a distinction between those who have little and those who have much—whether wealth, power, prestige, well-being, education, etc. Elitism is explained or advocated by Hamilton, John Adams, Herbert Hoover, and James Burnham, among others.
2. Conservatism is the idea that what exists from the past is better than what can be devised, a concept that we can refer to persons like Edmund Burke, Chancellor Kent, Henry Adams, and Russell Kirk.
3. Relativism is the idea that one man’s desires are as good as another’s and social arrangements should be able to accommodate any distribution pattern of social goods. Franklin, Madison, Jackson probably Lincoln and F. D. Roosevelt, and T. V. Smith represent democratic views of a relativistic nature.
The egalitarian position has already been referred to, giving us therefore four major positions in all. All of them are continuously working in men’s minds. Each is capable of inspiring tyranny, oligarchy, or democracy, especially when pursued to its logical conclusions.
A thoroughly American doctrine of democracy supported by a large majority of people does not exist. What we do have are waves of one doctrine and another and of combinations of doctrines. The waves have several dimensions. Doctrinal waves of high degrees of purity or composed of the countervailing doctrines just listed can be characterized by:
Differing issues (given the total number of possible issues at any one time);
Differing time periods of history;
Differing numbers and groups of supporters in the population;
Differing stratifications or types of supporters.
The plotting of these opinion configurations is an extremely complex science, which is roughly in the same position today as was nuclear science at the time of Leibnitz.
We see that at any given moment in time, for instance when the Supreme Court was deciding the case of Baker v. Carr early in 1962, the American population could conceivably be described on an opinion map as to its belief about the narrow issue of apportionment. This was not done in the cited case, although many claimed to know the situation that prevailed within people’s minds. Judges who cavil over the research of a case citation will often be baldly presumptuous of their knowledge of social behavior, and some political scientists, who have stoutly supported the egalitarian forces of history so that "the people can express itself freely," shut up the search for such expressions when people do not speak properly.
As the casework continued in the apportionment controversy, lawyers, political scientists, journalists, and judges made shift with whatever straws of opinion they could find. Unfortunately, whenever they turned up a "favorable" opinion, an "unfavorable" one would poke up next to it. But judicial logic did not quail before the problem. In the end we have had opinions, of august courts shooting down public referenda that had opinions of august courts shooting down public referenda that had rather clear doctrinal implications, using the blunderbusses of long-dead writers’ imaginations of public opinion about old forms of apportionment. It is apparently good constitutional law to use a quotation from an ancient source exalting the numerical equality of people and to reject a current polling of the people to the same end.
What we know today about this one aspect for equality—the beliefs of people concerning equality of apportionment—is not much, but it shows an opinion profile that is quite mixed and rather disinclined to accept any pure numerical equality, that is, the "equi-populous districts" principle, alone. This fact may amaze egalitarians, but it should not surprise political scientists.