The Vice of Republics

Thus dwelt together in love

these simple Acadian farmers:

dwelt in the love of God and man.

Alike were they free from

fear, that reigns with the tyrant,

and envy, the vice of republics.

Henry W. Longfellow, Evangeline

We do not have to look far to see what the poet meant when he flagged envy as the besetting sin of republics.

Take, for instance, this item plucked from the morning news feed on the day I conceived this post.

One of our original thirteen colonies-turned-free-and-independent-states (in this case, Virginia, but it could have been any) has decided to improve its education system by eliminating “accelerated math options” in the name of “equity.”

In a better educated or more loving society, it would go without saying that deliberately thwarting the intellectual potential of some children out of feigned concern for others is precisely the opposite of equity, properly so-called.

I intend to say more soon on the definition of such terms, but for now let Dear Reader be advised that equity is a subspecies of justice, giving to each his due when circumstances make it especially challenging to do so.

That eminent lover of equity, and of republican liberty, Alexis de Tocqueville, warned us of the danger egalitarian envy poses to the marriage of justice and freedom:

There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that incites men to want to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the small to the rank of the great.

But in the human heart a depraved taste for equality is also found, which leads the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in liberty.

The genuine desire of every heart is to achieve the fullness of its natural capacity, and to see those it loves do the same. Envy is a perversion of that desire, which seeks to deprive others of what we despair of accomplishing through our own honest efforts.

I hesitate to accuse the majority of my fellow citizens of wholly succumbing to envy, though there is no doubt that our governmental, educational, and media establishments have been sowing its poisonous seeds in our hearts for many a year.

By their behavior, one gathers that they believe the fruits of self-contempt and mutual hatred are ripe for the harvesting.

If they are right, we will soon be living in a world ruled by a deadly combination of pseudo-republican envy and tyrannical fear.

Let it not be so! Resisting these diabolical forces, let us strive to lift up ourselves and one another to the heights of genuine strength and esteem.

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