Declaration v. Manifesto
Mortimer J. Adler
[Reprinted from The Center Magazine,
In this Bicentennial year, we have a double obligation. One is to
examine as closely as possible, and to understand as clearly as
possible, the basic political principles on which this country was
founded. The other is to consider the problems that, two hundred years
later, remain for us as a nation to solve in the light and spirit of
We must also consider - as the founding fathers did not consider -
the role of America as a leading nation and a dominant power in the
world of international affairs. In that larger world, two great
revolutionary documents are competing with each other. They are the
Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto, and they
symbolize the world's division into opposing camps.
Detente may slow down the race between the rival forces in the field
of arms, but it does not resolve the conflict in the sphere of ideas.
When we use the words "democracy" and "Communism"
to symbolize the conflict between the revolutionary objectives of the
Declaration and the Manifesto, we tend to think the conflict is
irresolvable. We tend to think of the Declaration as calling for
revolutionary changes in the sphere of political rights, and the
Manifesto as calling for revolutionary changes in the sphere of
property rights and in the distribution of wealth, or economic goods.
In the political sphere, the Declaration, for the sake of liberty and
justice, lays down principles of government that are irreconcilably
opposed to any form of despotism or dictatorship, even the
dictatorship of the proletariat if that should be deemed necessary to
achieve the economic objectives of the Manifesto. And the Manifesto,
for the sake of equality and justice in the economic sphere, advocates
despotic inroads not only on property rights, but also on individual
liberties, with almost complete curtailment of freedom of enterprise.
As we examine this apparently irresolvable conflict, we must, in my
judgment, ask ourselves the following questions: Is it possible to
maximize the ideals of liberty and equality and do so without
sacrificing the claims of either one to the other? Is it possible to
realize the ideals of liberty and equality in both the political and.
the economic sphere?
If we give affirmative answers to these questions (as I will try to
show that we can), one further question remains: Which of the two
revolutionary documents contains, in its own terms and in the light of
the interpretations put upon them since the documents were written,
the principles that underlie the affirmative answers we seek? The
answer to this question, in my judgment, is the Declaration of
Independence, not the Communist Manifesto. I hope to be able to show
that the Declaration, as a pledge to the" future which has been
partly fulfilled in the last two hundred years, and which can be
further fulfilled in the years ahead, contains the principles by which
we can reconcile just demands for both liberty and equality in both
the political and the economic sphere. If, as I think, the Manifesto,
as a pledge to the future, cannot be fulfilled in its hope for the
ultimate withering away of the state, if the despotic regime
associated with the dictatorship of the proletariat must be
perpetuated in order to preserve the economic arrangements of
Communism, then the Manifesto does not contain - in itself or in its
interpretation - the principles for reconciling liberty and equality
in both the political and the economic sphere.
I have in these introductory remarks summarized my conclusions for
which I shall now try to adduce persuasive rational support. I would
like to add here only one further point of clarification. It concerns
my use of the word "socialism" in contradistinction to the
word "Communism:" If, as I have claimed, Communism in the
economic order is inextricably connected with despotism in the
political order, then political democracy and economic Communism are
unalterably irreconcilable. I propose to use the word "socialism"
in a sense that is not synonymous with the sense we attach to the word
"Communism." There is ample historical justification - and
there is even support in the Communist Manifesto itself - for
distinguishing modes of socialism which, far from being identical with
Communism, are opposed to it.
I will use the word "socialism" to name an ideal objective
in the economic sphere analogous to the ideal objective for which the
term "democracy" stands in the political sphere. So used,
socialism aims to establish liberty and equality in the economic
sphere, as democracy aims to establish liberty and equality in the
political sphere. Since the objectives of socialism can be achieved,
in my judgment, without employing the means proposed by the Communist
Manifesto, democracy and socialism are compatible, while democracy and
Communism are not.
Of course, the Declaration of Independence was not dedicated to the
establishment of either democracy or socialism as we now understand
those terms. In the eighteenth century, neither ideal had yet appeared
on the horizon. However, in Abraham Lincoln's interpretation of the
document as a pledge to the future, the Declaration does contain
principles implicit hi which are the ideals of democracy in the
political order and socialism in the economic order. That is why I
think we can say that, as competing revolutionary documents, the
Declaration should finally prevail over the Manifesto, not by force of
arms, but-by its fundamental tightness or soundness as a basis for the
good life for all men everywhere and for the establishment of the good
I have now laid all my cards on the table. I propose to play them in
the following order: (1)1 will begin with an interpretation of the
Declaration as a pledge to the future. I will also try to indicate the
steps by which we have so far fulfilled that pledge. (2) I will follow
that with a commentary on the Manifesto, with particular reference to
later additions by Nicolai Lenin and Nikita Khrushchev. (3) Then I
will attempt to indicate how the apparent conflict between liberty and
equality can be resolved, first, at the level of general principles;
next, in the political sphere; finally, in the economic sphere.
In conclusion, I will try to say what we, as Americans, must do both
at home and abroad if we wish the Declaration to prevail over the
In the opening lines of its second paragraph, the Declaration sets
forth a number of basic and controlling principles. Four truths are
asserted: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by
their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, and the, pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these
rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed.
I begin by commenting on the second and fourth of these propositions,
the one about unalienable rights, and the one about the purpose and
justice of civil government.
Civil government does not have to be instituted in order to endow men
with certain basic rights. Such rights are inherent hi human nature.
Being inherent, they are also unalienable: their existence, does not
depend upon constitutional provisions or legal enactments. But the
fact that these rights are unalienable does not mean that they are
inviolable. When men are murdered, their right to life is violated;
when they are enslaved, their right to liberty is violated.
In a state of nature or anarchy, the individual would have to use his
own power to protect his rights from threats by other individuals.
Civil government saves the individual from recourse to self-help for
the protection of his rights. And civil government is just in its
origin only if it is instituted to secure - protect, safeguard, or
enforce - these rights.
As a matter of fact, governments are not always just in their origin
or institution. Some are imposed by force; some are tyrannies or
despotisms which, far from securing these rights, violate or
transgress them. It is by reference to these basic unalienable rights
that governments can be measured for their justice or injustice.
That, however, is not the only criterion of the justice and
legitimacy of government. The Declaration calls our attention to
another: that a just government derives its powers from the consent of
the governed. Without such authorization, a government's power is
nothing but coercive force.
"Consent of the governed" does not mean the consent of all
who are in fact subject to government, for infants and resident aliens
are subject to government and their consent need not be sought. It
means the consent of all who are capable of giving or withholding
consent, or all who should be expected to do so. No one capable of
giving or withholding consent is justly governed unless the form of
government under which he lives is one to which he has freely given
The principle of consent of the governed defines the essence of
constitutional government, as well as its justice and legitimacy.
It is this understanding of consent of the governed which Lincoln
expressed in the first of his three prepositional phrases - government
of, by, and for the people. There is no
difficulty in understanding "government by the people." But "government
of the people" is seldom properly understood. It does not mean
what it is so often taken to mean: that the people are the subjects of
government - those who are in fact being governed - for then
government of the people would apply to despotic as well as to
constitutional government. That little word "of" must be
interpreted in the possessive sense of the preposition, as when we say
"la plume de ma tante" - "the pen of my aunt."
Thus interpreted, a government of the people means the people's
government - government that derives its existence, its authority, and
its legitimacy from their having constituted it. Understood in this
way, we realize that the government is not in Washington. What is
there is only the administration of our government by its
officeholders. The government that is ours resides with us, we who are
the citizens and constituents of it, we who are the permanent and
principal rulers. The officeholders - citizens in public office only
for the time being - are the transient and instrumental rulers. They
serve us. When we periodically change these officeholders, we do not
change our government for another, but only one administration of
government for another. When we impeach an officeholder, we do not
overthrow the government. We merely remove from office a magistrate
who has exceeded the authority constitutionally vested in his office
and who wanted to be above the law.
The second paragraph of the Declaration throws more light on the
consent of the governed. It says that when a government either fails
to secure basic human rights or violates them, the people have a right
and a duty to alter or abolish that government and replace it by
another which does what a government should do. This right derives
from the people's right to liberty - their right to be governed as
free men and women, not as slaves or subjects. Their duty derives from
their obligation to make good lives for themselves in, the pursuit of
happiness. When that pursuit is impeded or frustrated by tyrannical or
despotic government, the exercise of this right and duty involves the
withdrawal of their consent.
Such withdrawal goes far beyond civil dissent which, when it is
lawfully exercised, is dissent within the boundaries of consent.
Withdrawal of consent, in resistance to tyranny or despotism, may be
accompanied by resort to force and arms in a violent uprising. As long
as we do not withdraw our consent by such, action, we are tacitly
giving our consent, even though we may wish to alter the laws and
policies or amend the constitution Of the government. By not
withdrawing our consent we seek to achieve those alterations or
reforms without resorting to force or violence.
The question that remains to be answered about the principle of
constitutional government - a government of the people, a people's
government - is: Who are the people? Is it the whole population, or
only a part of it?
I will address this question after examining the other two assertions
in the opening lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration.
I turn first to the proposition that all men are created equal, or
what I regard as an equivalent statement - that all men are by nature
equal. What is being asserted here is that no human being is more or
less human than another. They are equal in their humanity. They all
share or participate in the same specific human nature. Thus, they all
have the same species-specific properties or powers, even though one
person may have them to a higher or lower degree than another.
The many natural inequalities among human beings arise from these
differences in the degree to which they possess the same human traits
or properties. In other words, men are not only naturally equal as
members of the same species; they are also unequal in their natural
endowments and individual differences as human beings. So, there is no
incompatibility between the assertion that all men are by nature equal
and the assertion that they are also by nature unequal.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of that one
respect in which all, without exception, are equal. The equality they
possess through their common humanity establishes their equal dignity
as persons. More important still is the fact that from their equality
as human beings flows their equal possession of the unalienable rights
that are inherent in their common human nature and that constitute
their dignity as persons.
The Declaration's assertion about unalienable rights enumerates life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The enumeration is not to be
taken as complete or exhaustive. The Declaration uses the phrase "among
these rights." Other rights exist even though they are not
mentioned here. And even rights not recognized at the time of the
Declaration may, in the course of time, come to be recognized as
unalienable or inherent human rights.
A second point that requires close attention is the phrase "the
pursuit of happiness." In John Locke's enumeration of natural
rights, the basic triad was life, liberty, and property; or life,
liberty, and estates. Thomas Jefferson substituted "the pursuit
of happiness" for property and estates. In so doing, he raised a
question about the relation of the third element in the triad to the
other two. The right to property or estates is coordinate with the
right to life and liberty. But the pursuit of happiness is not
coordinate or on the same level with the other two. George Mason, a
fellow Virginian, had spoken of "the pursuit and attainment of
happiness." Jefferson wisely dropped the words "and
My principal concern is with the meaning of the word "happiness."
In the tradition of Western thought, there are two main conceptions of
happiness, radically different and irreconcilably opposed. In both
conceptions, happiness is an ultimate objective. It is something
sought for its own sake, not as a means to some further good beyond
itself. In both conceptions, a man is happy who has everything that he
desires; he desires nothing more. But in one of the two conceptions -
the one that predominates hi modern times--happiness as an ultimate
goal is a terminal end. This means that happiness is a goal that can
be reached and enjoyed at one or another moment in the course of a
life. The individual is deemed happy whenever,-at a given tune, he has
satisfied all the desires he happens to have at that time.
Accordingly, he may experience happiness at one moment, be unhappy at
some later moment when his desires are frustrated or unfulfilled, and
again become happy at a still later moment.
In the other conception, which prevailed in antiquity and the Middle
Ages, happiness as an ultimate objective is not a terminal goal, but
only a normative end. Happiness is conceived as the goodness of a
whole human life and, therefore, as something which cannot be
experienced or enjoyed at any moment during the course of a lifetime.
A good life is one enriched by the possession of all the things that
are really good for a human being to have. A good life, as the end
that human beings should seek, is normative; it sets the standard by
which the individual's actions should be judged morally according as
they promote or impede the individual's achievement of the end.
The introduction of the words "good" and "should seek"
calls attention to another, even more fundamental, difference between
these two conceptions of happiness. In the modern conception of
happiness, there is no reference to "good" or "ought."
Happiness is conceived hi purely psychological or nonmoral terms. It
involves no distinction between what men do in fact desire and what
they ought to desire. In this view, happy is the man who, at any given
moment, has all that he desires, regardless of what his desires may be
- good or bad, right or wrong.
In contrast, the ancient conception of happiness is not psychological
at all; it is a purely ethical conception of the good life. It
distinguishes between good and bad desires or right and wrong desires.
As Saint Augustine puts it,4iappy is the- man who, in the course of a
lifetime, has satisfied all his desires, provided he desire nothing
Aristotle said that a good life is one lived in accordance with moral
virtue. Moral virtue consists in-the habitual disposition to desire
nothing amiss - to act on right desires, and to avoid acting on wrong
A useful distinction here is between natural human needs and
individual human wants, Needs are desires which are inherent in human
nature. They are the same for all human beings everywhere and at all
tunes. Wants are desires which arise in individuals as a result of the
particular circumstances of their own lives. One individual's wants
are likely to differ from another's, and the differences in their
wants are likely to bring them into conflict with each other.
Needs, as Lord Keynes observed, are desires so basic that they exist
without regard to what is offered in the marketplace and without an
individual's comparing his own condition or possessions with those of
others. In contrast, wants are desires that are induced by what is
offered in the marketplace and are augmented and intensified by an
individual's comparing what he has with the possessions of others:
Needs are absolute; wants are relative. Needs are desires that may or
may not be consciously felt; wants are always consciously felt
Almost all of us want things that we do not need, and fail to want
things that we do need. Needs are always right desires; there can be
no "wrong" needs. But there can be wrong of misguided wants.
What we want may be something either rightly or wrongly desired,
whereas anything we need is something rightly desired. A man never
needs anything that is not really good for him to have. But he
certainly can and often does want things that are not really good for
Happiness, then, consists in having all the real goods that are
rightly desired because they are things every human being needs to
lead a good life. To desire nothing amiss is to seek the satisfaction
of all of one's needs and the gratification of only such wants as do
not frustrate the satisfaction either of one's own needs or of the
needs of others.
We can now see which conception of happiness makes the Declaration's
assertion about the pursuit of happiness true rather than false. If
happiness consisted in each individual getting what he wanted,
government could not secure rights that enabled each individual to
strive for happiness, since one person's wants may and often do
conflict with the wants of others. Also, government would be involved
in facilitating the satisfaction of wrong desires as well as right
desires, without any differentiation between them.
Only on the ethical conception of happiness can government try to
provide all its human members with the external conditions they
require in order to make good lives for themselves. The actual
attainment of happiness, the actual achievement of a good life, is
beyond the power of government to provide, because such factors as
moral virtue are involved, and these are internal - within the power
of the individual.
All that a government can do, negatively, is prevent individuals or
corporations from doing anything that impedes or frustrates the
pursuit of happiness by others, and, positively, provide political,
economic, and social conditions that facilitate the pursuit of
happiness by all.
So, pursuit of happiness stands in a very special relation to life,
liberty, and all other natural rights. The pursuit of happiness - the
making of a good life - is the normative end for which all the things
to which a person has a natural right are the indispensable means.
Strictly speaking, we have a duty, not a right, to pursue happiness,
to make good lives for ourselves. Precisely because this is our
fundamental moral obligation, we have a right to everything we need to
pursue happiness; we have a right to every real good that is a
component of a good life as a whole.
The foregoing statement must be qualified. There are certain real
goods, which are indispensable to the pursuit of happiness, such as
moral virtue, to which it would be meaningless to claim a right,
because they are entirely within our own power to possess or not
possess. The only real goods to which we have a natural right are
those that are within the power of civil government to provide or
secure, such as the right to life or the right to liberty. These are
external goods like liberty or wealth, not internal goods like virtue
In summary, human beings, since they are morally obligated to engage
in the pursuit of happiness, have unalienable rights to life, to
liberty, and to all the other external goods that they need in this
effort and that a civil government can provide or secure.
I have several times referred to the principles of the Declaration as
a pledge to the future. How and to what extent has that pledge been
If the pledge had not in some measure already been fulfilled, the
Declaration could not compete today with the Manifesto on a global
scale; the political liberty guaranteed by constitutional government
could not win out against the economic welfare that socialist programs
offer those in dire poverty and suffering serious deprivation in the
Third and Fourth Worlds. However, the pledge implicit in the
principles of the Declaration has been largely fulfilled in the
political sphere. In some measure it has been fulfilled in the
economic sphere. That work of fulfillment - accomplished mainly in
this century - is far from complete.
In the political sphere, the fulfillment of the pledge implicit in
the proposition that all men are by nature equal and consequently
equal in their possession of natural rights began with the abolition
of slavery. It has continued with the advances which have been made
toward truly universal suffrage. Now all capable of giving consent and
of participating in government may do so. Our government has finally
become what it was not at the beginning, but what it had to become in
order to be fully just - a constitutional democracy.
In the economic sphere, the fulfillment of the pledge implicit in the
principle that a just government must secure rights to the external
goods or conditions that human beings need to pursue happiness did not
begin until this century. It began with the economic reforms of
Theodore Roosevelt (for which, by the way, T.R. was denounced as a
socialist); it was carried forward by Woodrow Wilson; and it was
greatly extended by Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal which created
the mixed economy and the welfare state of socialized capitalism.
Our eighteenth-century Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to
the Constitution- was concerned with rights only in the political
sphere, mainly the natural right to liberty. It was not, until the
twentieth century that economic rights were acknowledged to be as
indispensable as the rights to life and liberty.
The formal declaration of those economic rights was made in 1944, in
Roosevelt's State of the Union address. Here is how Roosevelt
introduced what he called a second Bill of Rights:
"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its
present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable
political rights - among them the right of free speech, free press,
free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and
seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation
has grown in size and stature, however - as our industrial economy
expanded - these political rights proved inadequate to assure us
equality in the pursuit of happiness.
"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true
individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and
independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are
hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are
made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as
self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights
under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be
established for all - regardless of station, race, or creed."
Roosevelt asked Congress to implement by law these economic rights:
- "The right to a useful and remunerative job in the
industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
- "The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and
clothing and recreation.
- "The right .of every farmer to raise and sell his products
at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
- "The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade
in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination
by monopolies at home or abroad.
- "The right of every family to a decent home.
- "The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to
achieve and enjoy good health.
- "The right to adequate protection from the economic fears
of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
- "The right to a good education."
(A substantially similar enumeration of economic rights is set forth
in Articles 23 through 27 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.)
During Roosevelt's time, the Supreme Court held that Congress had not
exceeded its authority to enact legislation to promote the general
welfare, which was conceived as the economic welfare of the people,
and, as such, indispensable to the pursuit of happiness.
The Communist Manifesto contains nothing like the statement of
principles in the Declaration involving the notions of liberty and
equality, justice and rights. In fact, with the exception of freedom,
none of these notions appears in the Manifesto. Later Marxist
literature - especially an important commentary on the Manifesto,
The State and Revolution - heaps scorn on equality, justice,
and rights as typically bourgeois notions that have no relevance to
the ideal society that will be achieved in the last stage of/ the
revolution. But freedom is referred to in the last sentence of Chapter
II of the Manifesto: "In place of the old bourgeois society, with
its classes and its class antagonisms, we shall have a society in
which the free development of each is the condition of the free
development of all."
According to the Manifesto, the ideal of freedom will be fully
realized only in the ultimate, not the penultimate, stage of the
revolution - only when the revolution passes beyond the dictatorship
of the proletariat to the withering away of the state.
In the paragraph immediately preceding the above paragraph, the
Manifesto says this quite plainly: in the first stage of the
revolution, the proletariat will overthrow the bourgeois by force and
"make itself the ruling class." The Communist countries of
the world represent the achievement of that first stage, in which the
dictatorship of the proletariat, as a ruling class, operates through
the Communist Party as its political organ. If the revolution were to
stop there, the freedom mentioned by the Manifesto would be entirely a
pledge to the future - a future which will come about, according to
Karl Marx, only when the proletariat "will have abolished its own
supremacy as a class," and the Communist Party will cease to
function as a political dictator.
I must say, simply and plainly, I do not think that pledge to the
future will ever be fulfilled. Defenders of the Manifesto may point
out that I have acknowledged it took almost two hundred years to
fulfill, in whole or in part, the pledge implicit in the Declaration.
Why should we not allow a similar length of time for the Manifesto to
fulfill its pledge, in another hundred years, more or less? My answer
rests on my philosophical conviction that the Manifesto's pledge will
never be fulfilled, given endless time, because it cannot be.
It envisages a Utopian impossibility - a society of human beings
living harmoniously and freely with one another in the absence of any
government which exercises coercive force to secure the rights of
individuals against their infringement by others. It envisages men
living peacefully, freely, and happily in a state of anarchy.
The philosophical arguments against the anarchic society as an
alternative to civil society under civil government are, in my
judgment, irrefutable. They support the truth of the Declaration's
proposition that civil government must be instituted to secure human
rights, among which is the right to political liberty and individual
freedom. If that proposition is true, then its contradictory - the
proposition advanced by the Manifesto - must be false.
Although the Declaration's pledge to the future is not yet completely
fulfilled, there is no intrinsic reason why it cannot be.
If we reject the Manifesto's hope for anarchic freedom, then the
present stage of the Communist revolution is really its ultimate, not
its penultimate, stage. This means that the dictatorship of the
proletariat, through the despotism of the Communist Party, will
continue as long as it is needed to enforce and carry out the economic
reforms advocated in the Manifesto. That being the case, the Manifesto
cannot compete with the Declaration in the political sphere. Devoid of
a fulfillable pledge to the future, its endorsement of a dictatorial
or despotic regime as a political necessity means the nullification of
the right to liberty. Furthermore, there is no political equality
between citizens who are members of the Party and those who are not.
The latter might just as well be disfranchised because their suffrage
remains politically ineffectual.
In the economic sphere, the Manifesto, adhering to the goal of
socialism to be achieved by Communist means, offers a program to
establish economic equality and to secure the economic rights of every
individual. Here, the principles of the Manifesto need not be read as
a pledge to the future; they are in large measure operative now.
Though the Manifesto does not use the word "justice," that
concept lies behind words it does use, such as "exploitation"
and "unearned increment." The injustices connoted by those
terms are to be removed by the abolition of the private ownership of
the means of production, which is the basic economic principle of the
Manifesto. All means of production, or capital instruments, will be
operated by the state. This transfer of property to the state
concentrates economic along with political power in the bureaucratic
organs of the state, and results in the totalitarianism that Alexis de
Tocqueville feared would arise from the effort to achieve an equality
of conditions. Tocqueville thought that the striving for equality,
especially economic equality, would diminish or destroy liberty,
especially political liberty.
The Manifesto is silent with regard to the distribution of economic
goods. For that, we must go to Marx's Critique of the Gotha
Program, which states the principle, of distribution: "From
each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs."
That principle is reiterated by Lenin and is enshrined in the Soviet
If - and this is a large "if"- if the word "needs"
is here used in the same sense that I have assigned to it - i.e.,
desires that are truly needs, not wants; desires that are inherent in
human nature and so are the same for each and every human being - then
the formula "to each according to his needs" outlines a
program for fulfilling economic rights, rights to a share of economic
goods, that is substantially similar to Roosevelt's bill of economic
rights and the U.N.'s Declaration of Human Rights.
The economic equality that is aimed at by socialism, whether it is
achieved by the Communist program or by reforms introduced by
socialized capitalism, consists in every human being's having what any
human being needs in the sphere of economic goods in order to live a
decent human life.
Socialism and democracy are compatible only if the goals of socialism
- the welfare state and economic equality - can be achieved without
abolishing private ownership of the means of production and without
concentrating economic as well as political power in the central
government of a totalitarian state. To show that a constitutional
democracy in the political sphere can also be a socialist democracy in
the economic sphere, it is necessary to show that equality in both
spheres is compatible with liberty in both. That is what I now propose
What is most characteristic of our century - all over the world as
well as in our country - is the drive toward what Tocqueville called "an
equality of conditions," which goes far beyond all forms of
political equality to an equality of economic conditions, an equality
in standards of living and in quality of life. Even in the United
States - though less so than hi England and on the Continent - the
dominant confrontation is between the rich and the poor. In the world
as a whole, there is an even more threatening confrontation between
the rich and the poor nations. In the United States, we have seen, for
the first time, a society which has a privileged majority and an
oppressed and deprived minority. But in the world as a whole, a vast,
overwhelming majority lives under conditions of extreme deprivation
alongside a very small, privileged minority concentrated in the
Liberty and equality have traditionally been thought incompatible. To
maximize one, it has been thought, leads to encroachment on the other.
Alexis de Tocqueville, John Calhoun, William Sumner, and others feared
that the demand for an equality of economic conditions would
inevitably result in the sacrifice of political liberty and freedom of
enterprise. Others, however, held that unlimited freedom of enterprise
in the economic sphere - stressing only an equality of opportunity --
must result in a serious inequality of conditions, with many suffering
poverty, deprivation, and destitution.
In contemporary writings on the subject, many share the fears of
Tocqueville, Calhoun, and Sumner that attempts to establish an
egalitarian economy, or to enforce an equality of economic conditions,
will require the exercise of despotic or dictatorial political power
and lead to the demise of constitutional democracy and the loss of
I think these fears are not justified. Liberty and equality are not
incompatible. Constitutional democracy and political liberty need not
be sacrificed in order to secure economic rights for all.
The solution of the problem is clear in principle, once we recognize
that neither liberty nor equality is the sovereign value to be
protected. It is justice that is sovereign. When justice regulates our
attempt to maximize liberty and equality; both can be achieved as
fully as they should be.
Men should have only as much liberty as justice allows, only as much
as the individual can use without injuring others or the community
itself. Likewise, men should have only as much equality as justice
requires, only as much equality in the conditions of their lives as
they need in order to lead decent human lives. As much liberty as
justice allows is a limited liberty that does no injury to others. As
much equality as justice requires is a limited equality, an equality
only in the things to which all men have an equal right. When liberty
arid equality are thus limited by Justice, they cease to be
incompatible with one another.
There is no difficulty about understanding a limited as opposed to an
unlimited liberty. But what is meant by a limited equality?
Since political equality is easier to think about than economic
equality, let us begin with that. Men are politically equal when they
enjoy an equality of political status - the equality of citizenship
with suffrage - even though this is accompanied by an inequality of
political power, as, for example, between citizens out of public
office and citizens in public office. Political equality exists when
all are haves in the sense of having basic political powers and
rights, even though among these haves, some have more and some have
less power. Men enfranchised and women disfranchised are politically
unequal, as haves and have-nots are unequal. But when both men and
women are enfranchised, those in office and those out of office are
unequal only in the degree of political power that all of them have.
Now how much economic equality does justice require"? It does
riot require that all have the same amount of money or income. That
would not only be more equality than justice requires, it would also
be an equality that could never be established; or, if ever
established, it could not be preserved for more than a single day.
Neither does justice require that all must be equal in getting
whatever they want in the form of economic goods. Justice requires the
satisfaction of needs, not wants.
A just economic equality, like a just political equality, consists in
securing rights - in this case, rights to the economic goods that men
need to lead decent human lives. There is a just economic equality
when all human beings have what they need, when all are haves and no
one is deprived or a have-not. A just economic equality exists in a
society - or in the world - when all citizens, or all peoples, are
above the line of deprivation with regard to things needed for a
decent human life.
The establishment of a society in which all are haves and none are
have-nots does not preclude differences in degrees among the haves.
Just as in the political order, all have political liberty and power
when all are citizens with suffrage, even though citizens in public
office may have more political power than citizens out of office, so
in the economic order, when all are haves, some may have more economic
goods than they need to lead decent lives. Some may have more than
others, but all have enough.
Khrushchev added a principle of unequal distribution to Marx's
principle of equal distribution. To each according to his needs calls
for the economic equality that exists when everyone has what anyone
needs. But Khrushchev said, to each according to his contribution, and
that calls for differences in degree among the haves; some will have
more because they have contributed more, some will have less because
they have contributed less.
The second principle is no less a principle of justice than the
first, but it is strictly subordinate to the first. To say that those
who contribute more should, in justice, receive more than those who
contribute less must not be interpreted to mean that everyone who has
more than he needs or than others have is , necessarily an individual
who has justly earned that excess of wealth. But it is to say that
inequality in degrees of wealth can be justified if it occurs within
the framework of a basic equality in which all have what they need for
a decent human life.
Also, though justice does not require the elimination of differences
in degree among the haves, it does require that such residual economic
inequalities should not be allowed to result in the exercise of
illegitimate political power by those who have much more wealth than
they need and much more than their fellow citizens have.
To sum up:
It is possible to achieve as much liberty and as much equality as men
should have without sacrificing either one to the other.
It is possible to realize the ideals of liberty and equality in both
the political and the economic sphere.
In their competition on the global scene, the Declaration should
prevail over the Manifesto because its principles are sounder and
because the pledge to the future inherent in those principles is more
capable of being fulfilled.
Only by meeting the demands of people everywhere for Both equality
and liberty in both the political and the economic sphere can the
promise of a good life and a good society for all human beings be
, To take the lead in moving toward a realizable ideal, we Americans
must have a clear understanding of our own basic principles, be
creative in carrying forward the advances still needed to fulfill the
pledge inherent in those principles, and have the courage and
integrity to uphold the commitments those principles require us to
honor in our dealing with all the other peoples on the earth.