Someone pointed out the other day that this country has had a revolution of sorts about every 80 years, starting with the Revolutionary War, and followed by the Civil War, and the Great Depression and World War II. If that’s the case, we’re about due for another one.
Each of these revolutions spawned political movements and major shifts in governmental policy. They had an underlying economic basis to them, and ultimately centered on balancing the competing views about equality and freedom. Unfortunately, these are two concepts that have proven to be somewhat incompatible; one truly can't exist in the presence of the other, and ultimately it’s that antagonism that’s driven these monumental shifts.
The current direction appears to be toward equality, which means freedom in some measure will be lost. The "West" seems to be ushering in an age of socialism, while other parts of the world are looking at a different type of revolution in the shape of radical Islam. Both are about equality and freedom. (Even on a beef-industry level, the feuds of the last decade could be said to be centered around this same disconnect.)
Perhaps we would be best served to realize that neither of these two concepts can be allowed to dominate totally. Some restrictions on freedom are needed to maintain equality; some acceptance of a lack of equality is needed to allow for personal freedom.
Personally, I’ve always embraced equality but only in a limited sense, one where people learn to set aside biases and prejudices, and where government serves to remove institutional barriers. Freedom, of course, is one of the great desires of mankind, but freedom without a strong moral foundation can also be self defeating.
I believe equality should emerge from a strong moral conviction from those who have benefited most from freedom, but not at the expense of freedom. That becomes a pretty difficult sell however, in the face of the Bernie Madoff-style financial scandals of today’s world. Still before we go too far down the road in the name of equality, it may pay to decide whether we support the concepts of freedom and personal achievement, as well.