To sum up: liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter, — a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right, because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right, because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another’s. These three rights are absolute; that is, susceptible of neither increase nor diminution; because in society each associate receives as much as he gives, — liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death.
Ethical concepts are very abstract, and as such it is very easy for political ideologues to redefine, manipulate or corrupt them in order to either smear their opponents (ecological activists are all terrorists!) or weaken the concepts so much that they can use them with impunity (we’re fighting to spread democracy!). There are, therefore, always extremes to weed out: extremes made to discredit, and extremes made to co-opt.
I’ve already pointed this out in the case of the first two concepts I’ve examined. Love is not a pansy, poetic kind of weakness, nor is it the stringent dissociation of personal and social life which pervades ethical thinking. Creativity is not pure aimlessness, nor is it an “art for art’s sake” free-for-all.
The same is true for the concept of “equality.” The word evokes two general extremes. One is the total dehumanizing equality that reduces man to a machine, famously parodied in the story Harrison Bergeron, where people are made scrupulously equal in capacities by burdening them with crippling handicapping devices or weights. The other is the absurd capitalist concept of “equality of opportunities,” meaning nothing more than “you can get what you can get” (which leads today’s “socialists,” who are in fact as capitalists as everyone else, to try to make opportunities available to everyone, instead of correcting the more fundamental problems).
Therefore the question is: if you seek social equality, what is it that you seek to equalize?
To Benjamin Tucker, equality means “the greatest amount of individual liberty compatible with the equality of liberty,” or more clearly, to first equalize everyone’s freedom to a straight level, and then to maximize that level. But then we must ask: what is freedom? I think a simple definition can be given along the lines of “to be free means to be able to act according to one’s own desires to a certain degree.” It is of course impossible to act as one desires in an unlimited manner: no matter how much humans would like to have a native ability to fly, this is not possible. Neither is it possible for every single person on Earth to own a space shuttle.
I think it will be uncontroversial that the most basic level of freedom is that of possessing one’s free will (without which one’s “own desires” cannot be expressed). As I’ve discussed before about the true self, propaganda and indoctrination are the main obstacles to this. To this we can also add surveillance, although surveillance can ultimately be classified as a different kind of propaganda (for more on this topic, I recommend reading about the concept of the Panopticon). Beyond that, a person’s freedom can be countered in the body and in one’s actions as part of society. In these areas we can identify two general forms of attack: coercion, rules (formal attacks embodied by specific groups or institutions) and mores (informal, diffuse attacks).
We can therefore identify a number of mechanisms by which people are made more or less free, such as propaganda, coercion, rules (including State laws and State-enforced “rights”) and mores. All these areas are directly related to hierarchies, which obviously brings us back to Anarchism, since Anarchism can be defined most simply as opposition to all unjust hierarchies. There can be no doubt that without the operation of all the hierarchies we see in modern society, we would see an incredible reduction in propaganda, coercion, rules and mores aiming at attacking our freedom.
Why are hierarchies inherently anti-freedom and anti-equality? Because they are predicated on the principle that a small group of people must and should control the vast majority, which implies a severe limitation of freedom. Their operating mechanism is organized and formalized control for the benefit of a few (and, by extension, for the survival of the hierarchy), leading to the accumulation and acceleration of inequality. Certainly, if we look at history, we see that inequality stems, in an overwhelming majority, from the accumulation of inequality inherent to the existence of hierarchies (organized religion, government, corporations, etc), and very little from man’s bodily or mental inequalities, which are much more limited in scope.
The opposite of a hierarchy, which is predicated on a strict relation of obedience between superior and inferior, is equality of authority. None may order anyone else to act against his values, because every individual’s values are as important as everyone else’s. Following the universality principle, if one person or a group of people have the authority to issue orders regarding a specific domain, then all people have that authority, or none may have it. Any hierarchy is therefore eliminated.
And since being against hierarchy is a fundamental Anarchist principle, equality of authority must be the most fundamental Anarchist form of equality. Therefore it seems to me particularly appropriate to start here.