Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Equality and Authority

Many thanks to Rick Garnett for calling my (and others') attention to Anthony Esolen's rich essay "Authority in the Education of a Human Being".  As Rick stated, there's a lot going on in the essay, and, as it happens, the argument involves the intersection of three areas in which I've spilt a fair amount of ink:  equality, childhood and education, and authority.  I agree with Esolen that the affirmation that all humans are ontogically equal is -- though he doesn't put the point quite this way -- liberating.  Those who believe, as I do, that "all men are created equal" have reason not to despair over the obvious and ineliminable differences in ability and opportunity that are everywhere and undeniable.  We remain obligated by the demands of justice and of the Gospel, of course, to strive to assure every person certain securities and opportunities, but the belief in equal human worth -- even of those who by bad luck, so to speak, know nothing of eudaimonia -- deprives us of the cheap and labor-saving fallacy that the unlucky are worth less than the rest.  What possible basis we have for believing that humans are equal is not, however, pace Jefferson et al., "self-evident."  I would suggest that it requires belief in a God who calls all men and women to a supernatural end. The argument in my book (with Coons) By Nature Equal is roughly to that effect, though there are some things said in the book that I would say differently more than a decade after Coons and I said them.  The point is, though, that even ontologically equal humans require the fruits of authority on the pilgrimage both to natural happiness and to supernatural happiness. After all, without the authority of the Church, how are we to know even of our equality before God?Without civil and parental authority, moreover, how are we to have access to conditions of justice?  Authority, both religious and natural, makes possible a world that respects our freedom by allowing us to make our pilgrim way toward conditions of natural justice and, moreover, the supernatural common good, as the essays in the two books I've edited Civilizing Authority: Society, State, and Church and The Vocation of the Child argue from a range of Catholic and other Christian perspectives.  Except on the ground of the authoritative teaching of the Church about God's *universal* call to the Kingdom, I discern no basis for affirming an ontological equality among humans.  Other proffered bases for affirming human equality turn out to be trivial or even illusory, as Michael J. White shows in his book Partisan or Neutral? The Futility of Public Political Theory


Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

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