Liberalism (capitalized whether starting a sentence or not) has liberty and equality as the twin pillars of justice. We are learning how unstable as a foundation for society that construct is. Differences in points of emphasis are turning into unbridgeable chasms within Liberal nations.

In this essay I’ll demonstrate that all we need for Liberal justice is equality. Most assuredly, liberty would be maximized.

Despite that assurance, libertarians and conservatives will likely be apprehensive about this approach to Liberal justice. Following John Locke, they have liberty as the predicate of justice: justice is liberty.

Of course libertarians and conservatives recognize a place for equality in their political ideologies. Equality underlies equal liberty. Along with all other Liberals, they are for equality before the law and political democracy — without which liberty cannot exist (as democracy requires the existence of liberty). Like everyone else, they take democracy to be based on equality.

The last of those points of affinity gets us moving in the right direction. I submit that we have misunderstood the relationship between equality and democracy. Once we have that relationship straight in our minds, we can then see how equality makes liberty as a separate Liberal value superfluous.

There are two parts to democracy: political speech and political rights. Political speech falls within a broader right of freedom of speech. Political rights pertain to participation in the political system per se: voting, running for office, petitioning the government, and (peaceable) assembly (which legitimates organizing into political parties, etc.).

It’s easy enough to see how freedom of political speech can be based explicitly on equality. Everyone, no matter who or what, can be allowed to engage in political speech without compromising the functioning of the political system.

Not all of those narrower political rights are granted to everyone. Historically, voting and running for office were legally restricted even in Liberal societies on the basis of property, race, and gender at one time or another. Today, the only remaining legitimate restriction is age. While the acceptable age for this or that form of participation in the political system is debatable, no one doubts that age itself is a legitimate restriction.

We can’t have children running the show, can we? Or do we?

But seriously, why? Why is age a legitimate restriction when those other restrictions are not legitimate? It is because age can be universally applied, whereas those others are inherently not universally applicable. That goes to equality.

Yet, people of particular ages, even of ‘adult’ ages, are denied particular political rights. In the U.S. you have to be at least 25 years old to be a Representative, at least 30 to be a Senator, and at least 35 to be President. How can this be squared with ‘equality’?

Properly understood as a value for organizing society, equality does not mean ‘the same for everyone’. It does mean that in all matters every human’s status as a being worthy of consideration must be taken into account.

As a practical matter, differences in attainments among human beings are inevitable. Even differences in what is attainable can legitimately exist, as requiring particular ages for adults to hold particular political offices demonstrates. In a just Liberal society, however, differences in attainments — even when they legitimately (spontaneously) arise from differences in talents, abilities, etc. — can never violate the respect for others that equality requires.

When everyone is respecting everyone else, taking each other into account in all matters, that creates the maximum liberty that co-existing people can enjoy simultaneously. That’s how equality maximizes liberty.

Let’s go from there to Locke’s thoughts on the matter. He famously started his case for liberty as the predicate of justice by defining injustice as “being subject to the arbitrary will” of another person. Therefore, not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person is justice. Since that is also a state of liberty, justice is liberty.

Really, though, justice is more immediate than that. If injustice is being subject to the arbitrary will of another person, then justice requires that we refrain from subjecting any other person to our own arbitrary will.

That is mutual respect. It is required by the value of equality. Properly understood, then, liberty is the product of justice, not its predicate.

Therefore, liberty does not have to be its own, separate value underlying Liberal justice. Equality is all we need.

This idea needs advocates.

Further reading:

Using political rights as a template, democracy can be efficaciously extended to the economy, as related in “Extending Democracy to Our Capitalist Economy to Transform Our Society” here on The nuts and bolts of that extension are further explained here in “A Cure for the Ills of Capitalism.” Also here, democracy can be extended further in the economy: “The Revolutionary Monetary System That Can Save Civilization.” Doing that would also end exploitation, but unless it turned out to be necessary to save civilization from global warming, that could be left for some future generation to accomplish. The whole kit and caboodle is contained in my Medium essay, “People for Tolerance, Unite!

I have Web site, There mutual respect (in effecting choices) is an ethic following from observations within material existence, not a belief in equality — or any other belief(s). That cements its undeniable universality (for those who accept the validity of those observations).

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid, academically trained philosopher and political economist