The New York Times proudly lapses into pure Animal Farm

It may be one of the most famous quotations in the English language:  “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegory about the Soviet Union.  His point with that quotation was that all totalitarian states, no matter their original intentions, eventually start discriminating against disfavored groups, making a mockery of the whole notion of equality.  He could equally well have said (pun intended), although in a much less interesting way, that “favoritism-based equality is an oxymoron.”

Keep Orwell firmly in mind as you read the New York Times’ home page description for this article about the Supreme Court’s coming term:

Four blockbuster cases before the Supreme Court highlight the tension between formal equality and a more dynamic kind of equality that takes account of historical injustices.  (Emphasis added.)

The article itself is less crudely Orwellian, but also seeks to redefine equality:

The extraordinary run of blockbuster rulings due in the space of a single week will also reshape the meaning of legal equality and help define for decades to come one of the Constitution’s grandest commands: “the equal protection of the laws.”

If those words require only equal treatment from the government, the rulings are likely to be a mixed bag that will delight and disappoint liberals and conservatives in equal measure. Under that approach, same-sex couples who want to marry would be better off at the end of the term, while blacks and Hispanics could find it harder to get into college and to vote.

But a tension runs through the cases, one based on different conceptions of equality. Some justices are committed to formal equality. Others say the Constitution requires a more dynamic kind of equality, one that takes account of the weight of history and of modern disparities.

The four major cases yet to be decided concern same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education and the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which places special burdens on states with a history of racial discrimination.

Formal equality would require that gay couples be treated just like straight couples when it comes to marriage, white students just like black students when it comes to admissions decisions and Southern states just like Northern ones when it comes to federal oversight of voting. The effect would be to help gay couples, and hurt blacks and Latinos.

With regard to gay marriage, the article implies that all “couples” are equal, cheerfully lumping same-sex couples in with traditional heterosexual couples.  They’re not the same at all, because nature has designed the matched set to be AB, not AA or BB. Pretending that all three formulations are identical is sophistry.  This isn’t to say that one cannot make an argument to the effect that a couple equals any pair of human beings, regardless of biological gender reality.  It’s just to say that it’s strikingly dishonest to pretend that such pairings are the only possible “equal” pairings.

Orwell, was not just a former ardent communist “democratic socialist,” whose love of true equality and freedom turned him away from an ideology he realized was inherently corrupt.  He was also someone who loved the English language with passion and ferocity.  It was he who understand best that the truth can only set you free if there if the language is sufficiently uncorrupted to enable one to speak truth — and the first thing that totalitarians do is to corrupt language to destroy truth.

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  • Charles Martel

    “Formal equality” and “a dynamic kind of equality”–don’t you just love it when the superior intellects at the world’s best and most trusted newspaper use English with such pin-point precision?
    I take issue with the idea that allowing homosexuals to marry other homosexuals would amount to a “formal equality” compared to the racist “dynamic equality” favoring of blacks and Latinos over whites and East Asians. The implication in “formal equality” is that the difference of a slight degree–in this case, one’s sex–is all that has to be accommodated. But aren’t homosexuals in the same boat as blacks and Latinos, irretrievably “different” and incapable of attaining certain aspirations—homosexuals because they can never be fertile and produce offspring without the intervention of technology and middle-men/women, and blacks/Latinos because they are trapped in a permanent oppression brought about by a dominant and relentless white Christian Republican power structure?
    Given that homosexuals have also endured unceasing oppression from the same unenlightened quarters, would it not be correct to confer extra privileges upon them to make up for their past suffering? Shouldn’t they be given academic and job preferences, and never asked to provide voter ID? I think it would only fair since proffering them “formal equality” would not really give them the reparations that we owe them.

  • Murray Lawrence

    Orwell was never a communist. The term he favored for himself was “democratic socialist,” but in “Why I Write” he also stated that he would never willingly give up the conservative world view into which he was born, that plus his abiding love of what he termed “the surface of the earth.” He was also strongly drawn to the anarchist cause when he fought in the Spanish Civil War, and it was there that he saw first hand how Stalin’s agents were systematically murdering all opposition to the communist subversion of the social revolution taking place. His reports in Homage to Catalonia were predictably smeared by the British left, and similar attacks on Orwell by leftist critics continued into later decades.

  • Michael Adams

    Eric Blair (George Orwell) died, I believe, in the otherwise blessed year of Our Lord, 1948. For an example of the thing you are discussing that is more recent, and more familiar to most of us here, see Joan Baez, who spoke and sang passionately against the war in Viet Nam.  Later, when the Communists had won, and began, as is their wont, to imprison and otherwise punish everyone who had opposed them or was suspected of doing so, Ms. Baez also protested that. The Leftists were as unrestrained in their calumny against has as they had been against Nixon, who had, after all, done their bidding, and ended the war. She was not merely derided as being so naive as to have believed their blandishments.  She was a reactionary, etc. etc. As David Horowitz was only beginning to discover at about the same time, these are some really nasty people, and, now,  one of their proteges is Occupying the White House. Pray for America! Pray against amnesty!

  • Ron19

    Personally, I would rather have my paycheck formally equal to what I have earned, rather than dynamically equal.
    Unless I can pick the dynamics involved.

  • Bookworm

    Murray Lawrence and Michael Adams:  Thank you for correcting me about Eric Blair/George Orwell and updating the information about him.

  • Don Quixote

    “Formal” equality and “dynamic” equality are simply different names for equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.  It’s the same old debate dressed up in new language.