There seems to be a peculiar form of rhetoric, where “equality” is professed but where in practice all sorts of hierarchies are implied. This is the rhetoric of the highfalutin, “noble” sort, making lofty-sounding but not-well-thought-out statements about the inherent dignity of man and so on and so forth. People give a lot of credit to such pronouncements even though they are not worth the paper they are printed on.
It’s still interesting to look at the contradictions inherent to that line of thought. For example, we look at the US Constitution, which starts as the following:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The weird part is that none of these clauses are actually true. The Constitution was not written by “we the people”: it was written by a small group of rich privileged white males who were conscious of the masses’ ability to self-rule and wanted to keep a stranglehold on the territory of which they had led the creation. What’s more, the language of these clauses seems to be grounded in equality (the “common” defense, the “general” welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves- “we the people”, and so on), but the US Constitution establishes a government, a hierarchy of power, with virtually unlimited powers.
Another good example is the U.N. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (once again, flowery rhetoric: what is “universal” about it?). While its first article states that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right” and that they should “act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” many other articles are a contradiction of this principle.
But then we start getting into judiciary issues:
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals…
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal…
Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
But this is a direct contradiction with the first article. A tribunal, by definition, implies that some human beings have more rights than others: the judge, for instance, has the right to direct the course of a trial and make major decisions about it, without any appeal except by his peers; he is, for all intents and purposes, the king of the “court”; an unaccountable power of, basically, life or death, which no other individual has. Not only that, but he is not chosen by any party: he reigns on a purely arbitrary basis. The jury, by comparison, is carefully selected and is completely dependent on the judge’s orders, and can only render a final verdict which is contingent on the admissible evidence as well as the judge’s own interpretation of the law. Juries are, in any case, not universal by any stretch.
It’s also very hard to see the equality and the brotherhood in a system where your guilt or innocence heavily depends on your ability to pay a special group of people who can navigate an extremely complex formalized system, is determined by a corrupt confrontational process, and can lead you to be kidnapped or even killed on the basis of rules no one ever agreed to.
The next problem is that the Declaration makes a lot of references to arbitrariness: it stands against “arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” “arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,” and to be “arbitrarily deprived of nationality.” Nowhere in the Declaration, however, is it mentioned how exactly this arbitrariness is decided. Is it decided by some standard? Or by some person, and if so, who?
Since the Declaration is signed by “States” (skipping the ontological nonsense of how an abstraction can approve or sign anything), we are to assume that the States themselves determine what is or is not “arbitrary.” Therefore all these articles mean absolutely nothing. Any State may formalize any given arrest, detention, exile; interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence; or deprivation of nationality as being “non-arbitrary.”
Articles 13, 14 and 15 heavily use the concepts of borders, country and nationality. Yet all these concepts are hierarchical: since the borders are entirely imaginary, arbitrary and unjustifiable, they have to be maintained by force. This use of force necessarily implies wielders of force and victims of force, no matter how many rights are attached. And if the Declaration is correct that “[e]veryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” then what is the justification for a border’s continued existence? This is therefore a contradiction: either the border has some rationale for its existence, or it should not exist at all.
There is also the concept of property (which I’ve already discussed as being the basis of all hierarchies), and many other concepts that make no sense given the premise, but I think you get the idea.
My basic point here is not that this “universal declaration of human rights” doesn’t have good things in it, but rather that there are profound contradictions between a professed desire for equality and a more concrete belief in all sorts of systems where there are necessarily superiors and inferiors, perpetrators and victims, decision-makers and targets of decision-making, orders and obedience. No matter how good-intentioned, their only possible outcome is tyranny on a massive scale.
All constitutions, all the declarations of officialdom, all political speeches, are of this type. What seems to be hard to understand is that the very concept of people being equal precludes such documents. The very concept of people being equal precludes blueprints of rights to be acquired or not acquired, blueprints of institutions to be built or destroyed, blueprints of what is and is not acceptable.