Equality and hierarchy

The state of nature was invented by Thomas Hobbes to support his idea of a social contract that was (or would have been) entered into by free individuals. In the natural state people would have been totally free but also lacking in security and other goods of society. So they voluntarily entered into a social contract that reduced their rights in exchange for social goods.

This placing of individual rights before social duties is what Harvey Mansfield called the beginning of liberalism. It is an egalitarian liberalism, since everyone is in an equal state of nature and has an equal right to make (or break) a social contract.

In contrast conservatives reject the state of nature, real or imagined, and affirm that there has always been society, whether we like it or not. Conservatives don’t necessarily like it, but they accept society as a continuing reality. They are inclined to make the best of it and to reform it where needed but not suppose they can ever start over. This is a hierarchical conservatism, since society is organized hierarchically like a military organization to provide the most security.

Nowadays, liberalism has changed to expect society to act as an enforcer of rights, rather than compromise them. So we’re seeing the rise of a new view in which the natural state is seen as a primitive equality and the advent of a social contract as the introduction of hierarchy in exchange for security or other social goods – an exchange that is increasingly seen as a bad bargain. This is an egalitarian conservatism in which the natural state of equality is conserved as much as possible.

Meanwhile, conservatism is changing to accept hierarchy as part of a natural order in which people (or groups of people) have different abilities and interests, which are naturally organized into a social hierarchy. This hierarchical liberalism sees hierarchy as natural and the introduction of equality as a compromise for the sake of security and other social goods.

In conservatism duties and one’s station of birth are primary. In liberalism rights and the state of nature are primary. In egalitarian liberalism, rights are equally distributed by nature. In egalitarian conservatism, rights are equally distributed by the good society. In hierarchical conservatism, duties are given by birth into a local or national society. In contrast, for egalitarian conservatism duties are given by birth into the universal society.

Over time, conservatism leads to liberalism and vice versa. Over time hierarchicalism leads to egalitarianism and vice versa. A kind of social entropy leads to the decline of social hierarchies. Liberal equality leads to some acquiring greater resources and honors, which feeds into hierarchy. There are cycles of conservatism and liberalism as well as hierarchicalism and egalitarianism.