While delivering a speech on Wednesday, December 4, President Obama declared income “inequality” to be “the defining challenge of our time.”
For some unknown reason, this is being treated by the news media as some sort of revelation. It is nothing of the sort. As his critics have been insisting for years, Obama is as doctrinaire a leftist ideologue as can be found in contemporary political life. And the left is and has always been distinguished by nothing if not its revulsion toward material inequalities.
Think about this: of all of the problems in our world, the President of the United States and his ideological ilk view the fact that some people earn more than others as the problem, the one next to which all others pale in comparison, “the defining challenge of our time.”
No disciple of liberty can so much as begin to relate to the thought that income inequality is a “problem,” let alone the greatest of problems.
Obviously, then, neither Obama nor anyone else endorsing his position can value liberty. In fact, they are enemies of liberty.
This is no ad hominem attack. Though “liberty” is a term with a storied history, a term that has been championed by partisans of various stripes, the inhabitants of the English-speaking world and Americans in particular have always known that there is no liberty where there exist large concentrations of power.
In other words, the government of a “free society” makes sure that power is distributed far and wide.
The United States Constitution is a paradigmatic illustration of such a government. The Constitution delineates a government that, in a very real sense, is divided against itself, a government comprised of numerous “checks and balances.” This accounts for why the Constitution supplies us with a system of private property. No society is without a system of property ownership, but the only one consistent with a decentralization of authority and power—i.e. with liberty—is one in which as many parties as possible own, or can own, property.
No one is more aware of—and more frustrated by—the indissoluble relationship between the liberty of our Constitution and private property than Obama.
Back in 2001, while giving an interview with public radio, Obama bluntly stated: “We still suffer from not having a Constitution that guarantees its citizens economic rights” (emphasis added).
There are a couple of things of which to take note here. First, far from being the blessing bequeathed to them by its Framers that most Americans have always took it to be, the Constitution, according to Obama, is actually a burden, a curse even, from which Americans “suffer.” Second, it is a hardship because it fails to secure what Obama calls “economic rights.”
These remarks are telling enough on the surface. The reasoning uniting them is that much more shocking to anyone willing to follow its logic.
Since everyone knows that the Constitution guarantees a system of private property ownership—once more, the only system compatible with liberty—Obama clearly has something very different in mind from private property rights when he speaks of “economic rights.” The latter he values. The former, though, by his lights, constitutes a burden from which “we” “suffer.”
A system of private property is a cause of suffering, according to Obama. This means that the United States Constitution in which that system consists is a cause of suffering. And this in turn implies that the liberty for which generations of Americans from the founding onward have sacrificed is a cause of suffering.
In this same interview, Obama insists that the Constitution imposes “essential constraints” from which we must liberate ourselves, for these obstacles from which “we have not broken free” account for the Constitution’s silence on “what the Federal government or State government[s] must do on your behalf.”
Obama, it should now be clear, views, and can only view, the Constitution as nothing less than a mistake of epic proportions. Beyond this, it is a moral calamity, for the liberty, the private property rights, internal to it have imposed incalculable suffering—income and wealth inequalities, “the defining challenge of our time”—upon generation after generation of Americans since the 18th century.
Everyone should be concerned with helping the poor, whether the needy in question are impoverished materially or otherwise. Yet “income inequalities” can be addressed only by a national government, a government in which authority and power are centralized. In short, greater income equality means, and can only mean, greater inequality of power.
And this in turn must mean that greater income equality can be had only at the cost of forfeiting individual liberty.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.