It’s hard to keep them all straight, but among the many diktats emitted by the Biden administration during its first days in office, one deserves special commendation for its brazen mendacity. I mean the ‘Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government’.
The key word, as we’ve heard over and over again these last few weeks, is ‘equity’. The diktat (a more accurate term for what is happening than ‘Executive Order’) promises ‘a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all’ by ‘affirmatively advancing,’ well, ‘equity’. If you think you discern a little whiff of tautology, you’re right.
You are also right if, on second sniff, you catch the acrid scent of contradiction. We’re ‘advancing equity for all’, you see, but we’re doing it by ‘affirmatively advancing’ an ‘ambitious whole-of-government equity agenda’ catering to ‘historically underserved’ populations, to wit: ‘Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality’.
You might like the soothing strains of the word ‘equity’. The first definition in my dictionary says ‘equity’ is ‘the state, ideal, or quality of being just, impartial, or fair’. And that’s just what the Biden diktat says: ‘The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals…’ But it then goes on to specify that by ‘all individuals’ it means some individuals (‘Black, Latino’, etc.). In other words, we’re going to pursue impartiality by being partial to certain groups and (just as important) by penalizing other groups.
You should not be surprised by this semantic sleight of hand. It is a staple in the armory of totalitarian enterprise. George Orwell gave classic expression to the gambit in Animal Farm. The comrades were used to seeing the slogan ‘All animals are equal’ emblazoned in large white letters on the side of the barn. But then one day they noticed the addition of a codicil: ‘All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.’
If you object ‘But that’s not what “equal” means!’ then you have a lot to learn about the logic of leftist redress. An element of reversal, of things turning into their opposites, is always at the heart of the program.
So it is with affirmative action, the obvious precursor to Biden’s equity wheeze. ‘Affirmative action’ was announced as an initiative to promote equality, but it wound up enforcing discrimination precisely on the grounds that it was meant to overcome. The whole history of affirmative action is instinct with that irony. The original effort to redress legitimate grievances — grievances embodied, for instance, in the discriminatory practices of Jim Crow — soon mutated into new forms of discrimination. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Committee because blacks were openly barred from war factory jobs. But what began as a presidential Executive Order in 1961 directing government contractors to take ‘affirmative action’ to assure that people be hired ‘without regard’ for race, creed, color, etc. soon resulted in the creation of vast bureaucracies dedicated to discovering, hiring, and advancing people chiefly on the basis of those very qualities. White is black, freedom is slavery, ‘without regard’ came to mean ‘with regard for nothing else’.
Had he lived to see the evolution of affirmative action, Alexis de Tocqueville would have put such developments down as examples of how in democratic societies the passion for equality tends to trump the passion for liberty. The fact the effort to enforce equality often results in egregious inequalities he would have understood to be part of that ‘tutelary despotism’ which ‘extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd’.
The best way to understand the Biden diktat about equity is to see it as an extension of Barack Obama’s ambition, announced on the eve of the 2008 election, to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America’, a transformation he aimed at accomplishing in part by ‘spreading the wealth around’. In his 2004 book Who Are We?, Samuel Huntington enumerated the core principles of the American Creed: liberty, equality, individualism, representative government and private property. Biden’s drive for ‘equity’, understood now as ‘being partial to this week’s designated victim groups’, is profoundly at odds with that traditional ideal.
Some well-meaning folks have hailed the advent of Joe Biden as the return of ‘normality’ in American politics. I think it is another step on the road to the destruction (or ‘fundamental transformation’) of America. It would be pleasant to think that, having left history’s bloodiest century behind, we also left behind the passions that sparked its unprecedented carnage. But time and again history has taught us that the hunger to impose equality from on high is among mankind’s most brutal passions.
It is for this reason I believe the philosopher David Stove was correct when he identified ‘bloodthirstiness’ as a central ingredient in the psychology of egalitarianism. Socialism will be conquered to the extent that egalitarianism is conquered. In the meanwhile, I fear that Stove is correct that ‘very far from communism being dead, as some foolish people at present believe, we can confidently look forward to bigger and better Marxes, Lenins, Stalins, Maos, Kim Il-sungs, Pol Pots, Ceausescus, Baader Meinhofs, Shining Paths, and all the rest’.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2021 US edition.