Equality Versus Liberty:
The Eternal Conflict
FEW of the great phrases of American political history have generated as much continuing controversy as the famous line in the Declaration of Independence which asserts as a self-evident truth that "all men are created equal."
Considered literally, the statement is palpable nonsense; here on earth, at least, all men are manifestly not created equal. Considered metaphysically, the line may have meaning for the theologian, but the student of constitutional theory is a little left out of it; it is not easy for him to speak with authority on the sight of men "in the eyes of God."
But if the statement is not to be construed literally, nor to be tackled metaphysically, what are mere mortals to make of it? In the development of a peculiarly American political philosophy, the importance of the line is not to be denied. It might be treated poetically, remembering the admonition of Coleridge that poetry is best when it is not perfectly understood, but the Declaration was not intended poetically; it was intended politically.
R. Carter Pittman, a senior member of the Georgia bar, plunges into these questions in the brilliant essay here reproduced. His analysis of the conflict between liberty and equality, in terms of political and constitutional history, appeared first in the Journal of the American Bar Association. It is reprinted with the Journal's generous permission. Whether he agrees or disagrees with Mr. Pittman's views, the student of political tradition will find this essay, we believe, a stimulating contribution to informed discussion of a constantly absorbing theme.