“If Men were Angels, No Government would be Necessary”

-thus James Madison


-thus John Finnis

John Finnis is right. Even angels, he says, would need to pick which side of the road to drive on.


Everyone just picking a side but trying to be deferential to everyone else’s choices would be chaos. A group of angels getting together and flipping a coin or something to decide which side runs in to the problems of all the other angels whom, all being public spirited, have also got together in groups and flipped a coin. Which group should we follow? Everyone talking to everyone is probably impractical, so instead the different groups pick a representative and send their representatives to one big group, who then select which side, probably by flipping a coin. And the angels all follow that decision. Voila, government.

But of course John Madison is right too. Men aren’t angels.

Consequently, formal, real equality means conflict and jockeying for power. Choices must still be made, and a 1-1 tie doesn’t work. And the human heart doesn’t accept being bossed around by an equal. The heart understands submitting to authority. But it doesn’t understand submitting to an equal.

Equal partners can exist where there is luck—both happen to want the same thing through good fortune.

Unity could be equality.  Where everyone wants exactly the same things, equality wouldn’t lead to conflict in theory.  But the only actual example of unity we know of is the Godhead, where Christ and the Holy Ghost accept the authority of the Father.  So it may be that genuine unity still needs authority in some way.

Equal partners can exist where the equality of the partnership is illusory—one partner in practice tends to defer to the other. This is very common.

Equal partners can exist where there is a good understanding of roles, so each partner is an authority for the other in their own sphere. This usually means a detailed negotiation beforehand—the conflict and power struggle that precede the equal partnership still occur, just prior instead of concurrent.

Or else it means a naturally occurring shared understanding of what the roles are. Perhaps, for example, you both belong to a shared religion and there is a kind of official proclamation that lays out some of the roles, with additional information encoded into your church structure and your people’s culture. Or else you just default to whatever the society at large does—“equal partnership” means doing what people in your position do on TV. (This is part of why formal equality tends to be flattening, even where the formal equality includes a theoretical recognition that people are different in practice).

Finally, equal partnership can exist where there are costly, time consuming negotiations and politicking and brinksmanship.   This is the equality of the USA and the USSR.

There is one way where formal equality can actually exist and work, however. That is the subject of Monday’s post.

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