The global community has always considered equality as one of the indicators of human development. An array of debate surrounds the concept of equality whereby some consider equality to be divinely given while others consider it as man’s endeavor to ensure fairness and justice prevails to all. Scholars have proposed divergent positions in relation to the perspective through which equality is considered for the welfare of the community. Quest for equality among members of a community have on many occasions determined resource allocation, the establishment and composition of institutions and general human welfare. Legislation and policy directives have also been influenced by needs for equality in the community. Some of the theorists who have written on equality include Mills, Rousseau and Lock. Rousseau and Locke theories claim that equality plays a major role on how the government is conceived. On the other hand, Mills (6), equality focused much on liberty that guarantees equality but his theory is against government interference. This arguementative essay discusses the role of equality in government formation as argued by Rousseau and Locke theories and Mills’ theory, which proposes a liberalized society with limited government interventions.
Rousseau (12) argues that all men are fundamentally equal, not necessarily as persons, but as a whole. Rousseau believes that men cannot claim to inherent benefit not also possessed by any other man. Despite the mental or physical ability one has, an equal chance to succeed is available to all. That equal opportunity to succeed is what Rousseau refers to as the equality of men. Rousseau argued that men in state of nature have similar desires, which would indeed lead them to conflict with each other (Rousseau 12). His argument claims that men in a state of nature are equally in a state of continuous conflict with others. This constant state of conflict is not necessary because man cannot live with certainty or security. From his argument, Rousseau supposes that naturally men are interested in self-advancement at others expense. He argues that enforcing a contract needed the existence of authority capable of compelling people to fulfill their duties. The government would create a force to pressure man, to honor their obligations. He observed that the main purpose of government was to protect man from fellow men (Rousseau 33).
Equality of men is by nature according to Locke (5) and each man derives maximum benefit as they seek justice and charity for others. John Locke’s theory of government incorporated the idea of men equality at the state of nature. In his rule of common equity and reasons, he states that men have a responsibility before God. The responsibility prohibited man from impairing or taking away another person’s life, healthy, goods or liberty (Locke 30). He further stressed that men had executive power to punish transgressor who violates God’s rule of common equity and reasons. The punishments included up to capital punishment, if up-to-that extent was required to prevent crime (Locke 22). However, this state of nature was bound to fail because of man’s lack of impartiality to judge his case. This is because man cannot rationally be expected to find self-guilty when judging. In order to overcome this challenge of partiality, it was necessary to create a political society. By forming a political society, men surrendered their natural rights to the political society, which was assumed to judge fairly and impartially (Locke 41). It is evident that equality in a state of nature gave rise to government, thus eliminating responsibility from individuals punishing offenses committed by fellow men. Government formation was the only option because for equality to be achieved, an independent organ was to be established.
Equality was apparent to both theorists. Rousseau contemplates the equality as man’s right for all he needed. However, Rousseau (35) claimed that equality had to be regulated, to make sure all men lived comfortably. In Locke’s view, all men are equal and similarly responsible for not harming fellow men but they are allowed to pass judgment on those who violate God rule. This responsibility equality creates a necessity for impartial adjudication. Impartial adjudication required equal rights to be awarded to members of the community. For both Rousseau and Locke, the result and process are basically the same, whereby man is born with comprehensive freedom of action and progresses in a governed state. Locke (4) states that the problem that presents the need for government are two differing reasons whereby one is bad and the other is good. Locke perspective presents all men as good and equal to each other but requires government to maintain that state. On the other hand, Rousseau considers man to be bad and violent prone and has no restraint. All men looked after themselves and are detrimental to fellow men. From both theorists, conception of government was to compel restriction for the common benefit of all men and to preserve man’s universal rights.
However, Mills’ theory is based on men’s liberty as the source of equality (Mills 6, 12). According to Mills, this can only be guaranteed without government interference. He described different elements that defined a free society, without which a society cannot be free. Mill acknowledged that individual liberty needed limits to avoid harm to others. He agreed that restriction on individual liberty was necesary in some circumstances. The police are justified in upholding those who might easily ignite violence. Mills (57) argued that an atmosphere of freedom was necessary to assure all people the opportunity to develop their individuality. The presence of a government should be focused on providing the conditions appropriate for men to achieve their individuality. Liberty is essential to ensure substantial progress. He stated that it is illegitimate for any person or government to curtail the freedom of individuals to express a divergent view. Mills observed that no matter how pale the opinion of individual may look, it is illegitimate to curtail their freedom to express their views. His reasons are based on the fact that truth can only be preserved by allowing the freedom of expression. Mills emphasizes that individual liberty must be exercised to achieve personal and social progress (Mills 17). However, Mills draw divergent conclusions that individual are held accountable for any action or behavior that harm others, and that a person is not held responsible if they harm others while exercising self-defense (Mills 52-53).
In conclusion, equality plays a major role in all three theorists Rousseau, Locke and Mills. The first two theorists discusses man’s equality in the state of nature and their reasoning toward establishment of governing institutions. Rousseau’ views this equality as man’s right to everything and must be regulated for a comfortable life. Locke’s sees men as equal because every man is equally responsible for causing no harm to his fellow men. This equality creates a need for impartial adjudication. On the other hand, Mills argues that for equality to be achieved, government formation is unnecessary. He cautions that liberty for individuals can only be curtained for the larger picture, which has more benefit to the larger community and supersede individuals. Mills presents the most important theory, which has a clear understanding of equality in the contemporary society. His thoughts are appropriate to the current society and recommend various elements, which can be utilized as bottom-line to examine and achieve societal freedom. He stresses on circumstances under which individual equality and liberty can be overridden. He acknowledges individual should be accountable for their actions, and that men have a duty of not interfering with other people’s right to equality. According to Mills, accountability comes with responsibility and that a member of the society has an obligation of defending their society.
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Cambridge: C.B. McPherson, Hackett Publishing Company, 1690.
Mills, John S. On Liberty. Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1859.
Rousseau, Jean J. (1712–1778) On the Inequality among Mankind: Reply to a topic set by the Academy of Dijon. In “What is the Origin of Inequality among Mankind and is it justified by Natural Law?” (Translated by G.D.H. Cole. Excerpted and adapted by A.C. Kibel), 1751.