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Principle Of Equality Is Incompatible With Agonistic Character of Debate

Many on the left are given to answer argument with calumny or challenge speakers not with speech but with animal noises, sometimes with physical force if they had not earlier been successful in shutting down the show before the first tent stakes were hammered into the ground.

This is often attributed to a simple inability to engage in reasoned argument and that is thought likely due to a corrupted schooling that overemphasized thinking right at the expense of thinking.

Agonistic Debate

Indeed, their schooling is most probably deficient. Their accumulated knowledge might not be able to fill a small purse. But that is not what is behind this seeming deficiency in rhetorical prowess. Rather it is a hypertrophied sense of equality that colors their whole worldview and encourages a retreat from agon. These young people do not refuse to engage in argument because they don’t understand argument’s power or because they are somehow unable to muster a syllogism. These young people have very definite points of view about which they feel strongly and which they hope to see triumph.

But not triumph at the debaters podium. For the very notion of a debate is contra-egalitarian. All contests are. And debate is a contest in which the quickest wit, the superior intellect, the better schooled–and thus the better well-off socially and monetarily—will win almost every time. Which is to say, arguing itself gives way to a hierarchical ordering of society. And just as in the ideal world trophies for sporting prowess have been banished, so in the political world dialectical superiority will not be recognized. More, it will be forbidden. Opponents of the new radical regime won’t be persuaded to change the tune, they will be removed from what remains of the arena.

The demand that men dressed as women be allowed to use women’s rest rooms or that transgendered “women” be permitted to compete against women in athletic contests is hysterically insisted upon because any limitation, any concrete denial of equality’s claim, threatens the very principle of equality. No claim to equality can be denied. No ground can be given lest the whole ground caves in. This understanding of the principle of equality–that it is monolithic and unchallengeable–threatens to steamroll flat the whole of Western culture: art appreciation courses with their long list of white-heavy contributors dropped, statues tumbled, photos erased, names purged, history thoroughly rewrit.


And so it is. If unchecked, the end will be a hodge podge homogeneity, a rainbow of soft pastels, a universal siblinghood of equals that will necessarily be built, as Kundera has written, on the basis of kitsch. Equal parts uncritical intellect and warm, fuzzy feeling, Kitsch is all that which appeals to thoughtless sentiment–to a claim or notion or tune or art object that one can immediately warm to because of its seemingly nonthreatening character and its affirmation of a seemingly unobjectionable value, erstwhile values such as motherhood, apple pie and baseball — or the au courant universal harmony, inclusiveness and nonjudgmental co-existence.

Those not susceptible to the charms of kitsch, of course, may find it offensive not just in its pretense of inoffensiveness but in its hailing of that which is stereotyped, familiar and adolescent. The only kind of ranking still permitted under the new regime is that, like Dante’s, which concerns itself with crimes and criminals, sins and sinners. Since classifying a sin mortal or venal will not likely give rise to invidious comparisons, at least among those who see themselves as sinless, it poses no threat to the notion of equality. Hate crime legislation will be allowed to wantonly expand.


The enemy of Equality of course is quality. The pursuit of quality or even the noticing of grades of quality constitutes a rank ordering and that is what is not permitted: noticing qualitative differences. Consequently, all those institutions whose fundamental purpose had been the recognizing and honoring of good work and good workers are fast becoming anathema. The first egalitarian advance on this front was to insist that the muses have blessed all races, sexes and generations equally and that they all therefore should be represented on the awards shows, in the distribution of grants, in the placement in museum niches, in the libraries and classrooms and in all public spaces. (Other notions–sexism, misogyny and racism–derive from the concern with equality.) The end will be the insistence that no work or thought or speech is better than any other, at which point the rationale for institutions such as museums will be gone, except to hold rotating displays of everyone’s contributions.

Faring no better will be the political arena, the public space whose nature and purpose it is to invite, if not incite, a contest of wills. Its very purpose is agon. Competing ideas, the clash pf personalities and persons, a vote to decide the winner and loser. All this too is now anathema as all this too gives rise to invidious rankings, constituting, in words once used by the late Governor Mario Cuomo, a sin against Equality. Worse, those likely to triumph will be those who have always triumphed in such contests, men, strong men. That the forces for equality have made advances on this front with the shutting down of speakers, the outlawing of some points of view and so on needs no reminding.

To outlaw disputation is to substitute a complete rule of law for a regime that is based on law but guided by men, duly elected when direct democracy is not feasible. It is to substitute the household for the polity, and administrators, managers and technocrats for politicians, party men and public intellectuals. If politics is mostly about who gets what, when and how, then politics can be got rid of once and for all by mandating that everyone receive the same amount just as often as it is available. That spells the end of the republic–the public thing. All would be privatized.


Ideally, the entire public sphere and its competing speeches and its opposed factions should give way to something more on the lines of a household, as nicely illustrated by Aristophanes in his Women of the Assembly. Here a sisterhood, which has replaced the patriarchy, arranges for the provision of common meals and common lodging and otherwise provides for all material wants in scrupulously equal portions. Those portions to be equalized include most prominently that of sexual satisfaction for, as Aristophanes saw all too clearly, if the socialist ideal of perfect equality is to be realized, it will have to solve the tricky problem of sexual satisfaction. For surely, besides living itself, and having adequate food to keep the body alive, what does man give more of his time to than the prospect of sex with a desirable partner? What consumes much of his idle day, fills his dreams, drives him in work and play but the prospect of sexual pleasure? If some scheme cannot be devised to equalize the distribution of such a highly prized good here, then the whole notion of Equality is a joke.

Aristophanes (446-383 BC): The First Poet Critic

Aristophanes has an answer–or his Assemblywomen do. The scheme is simple: Require of attractive men and women that before they are allowed to engage in sexual relations with each other, they will have to first service those who are ugly, if called upon by the ugly to do so. Voila, beautiful sexual partners for all.

Of course, Aristophanes’ solution, even if successfully implemented, really wouldn’t solve the problem of unequal satisfaction because what would remain unequalized would be a far more important good, that of being desired or being loved. This cannot be forced, or legislated, for the obvious reason that some people are not desirable or loveable.

Fourier versus Devlin

The socialist Charles Fourier made an attempt to correct the Assemblywomen’s deficiency by proposing an elaborate mechanism, including a Court of Love, whose responsibility it would be to ensure that everyone had a satisfying minimum of sexual pleasure. This would be done in part by overseeing sex workers of both sexes who would volunteer their time, or perhaps get paid at an hourly rate, to conduct errands of mercy. Thus satisfied, says Fourier, and relieved of the anxiety of being deprived of future sexual pleasures, man would be freed from the tyranny of the genitals, coitus would assume less importance and all this would allow the blossoming of a full and authentic self who would now be equipped to make a higher conception of Love “the mainspring of all works and the whole of universal attraction.”

Alas, there seems to have been one precondition for this sexual utopia that would frustrate any serious effort to realize it. Fourier said he was describing in his proposed utopia not men as they are but an “order of things in which the least of men will be rich, polished, sincere, pleasant, virtuous and handsome (excepting the very old)”. It must be admitted that, if one is dealing with only handsome men and women, one has gone a long way to solving the problem of equalizing sexual pleasures and love.

Forced to work with the available clay, however, the potter’s task would be both Herculean and Sisyphean in any age but it would be particularly daunting today. That’s because the demand for sexual satisfaction with beautiful males is particularly intense. Largely uninhibited sexually and equipped with the social media technology that allows them to riff through the photos of thousands of available men, the female’s impulse, as F. Roger Devlin has pointed out, is to restrict herself to pursuing only the most attractive, if only for temporary relationships. The result, says Devlin, is a hypergamy wherein many women are chasing after few men and a few men enjoy many women, while a large number of men are left lonely and in the cold. Hence the phenomenon of incels. Given this trend it is not surprising that the efforts made by the equalitarians to equalize in this area have so far been meager, largely confined to occasional condemnations of “ageism” and “lookism.” But given the near universal desire for sex and love with attractive partners, this is not an area that can be ignored for long.

Devlin’s call for a return to monogamy and a prohibition on adultery at most might get us closer to the ethical realm of the ’50s, but not much closer than that to equality in this area.

In short, the movement toward equality is destined to fail, mostly because even though equality can be striven for in some areas, and can even be achieved in a small number of others, the effort to reach equality in those realms where it is most consequentially felt will be frustrated by the intractable nature of the material to be equalized.


Not just the distribution of meaningful satisfactions in the form of sex and love will embarrass equality’s goal, but also, as Tocqueville noted, even if men

unhappily attained that absolute and complete equality of position, the inequality of minds would still remain, which, coming directly from the hand of God, will forever escape the laws of man.

That absolute equality is a goal doomed to frustration will not in the least slow the leveling juggernaut. On the contrary, this movement has been racking up some signal victories, not least the near universal acceptance of Equality as society’s foremost value and goal. It is at a juncture such as ours, to quote Tocqueville once again,

when everything is nearly on the same level, the slightest [inequalities] are marked enough to hurt society. Hence the desire of equality always becomes more insatiable in proportion as equality is more complete.

Which is to say, the demands put on equality will never end because they can never be realized and new demands will grow ever more insistent as previous demands are met. But they must be checked for they are well on their way to flattening the whole of our culture while they further reduce our appetite for freedom.

Equality is not a false god. But it is only one of several divinities, and if society is not to succumb to the evils that the demand for absolute equality brings in its train, these other divinities must also be paid obeisance. These include tradition, hierarchy, duty, the authority of intellect and status, responsibility and, most important, freedom. Each of these has been weakened, in some areas completely undermined, by the forces for equality, which functions as a battering ram. And that, as a practical matter, has meant the chipping away at our history, traditions, the great treasures (in the form of literature, music, statuary, etc) that should be our patrimony, and the sense of ourselves as a distinct and proud nation.

Indeed, all that remotely smacks of high culture is likewise anathema to these radicals. Even the word “discrimination” has acquired such a taint that it is at least impolite to be found discriminating over the most trivial thing. Who now wants to be considered “a discriminating man,” once not long ago a high compliment? The author Stephen King has lately been excoriated for saying that he “would never consider diversity in matters of art, only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

For that he was accused of exercising white privilege, being an opponent of affirmative action and promoting systemic bias. Rather, his critics insist, one should judge by the criterion of diversity–which would mean the division of all honors so that all self identifying groups get theirs.

What is at stake, thus, is the whole of our Western inheritance and all the freedoms appertaining to it. One might think that, as matter of logic, absolute equality would entail absolute freedom as those who consider themselves the equal of all others would not see the point of granting someone else superiority over him, political or otherwise. But the landscape does not easily invite the conclusion that with the increasing demands of equality, freedom’s realm will likewise expand.

Tocquevillle says there are periods in the life of a democracy when the claims of democracy reach a peak. We, it seems clear, are in such a period now when the passion that many people

entertain for [equality] swells to the height of fury. This occurs at the moment when the old social system … is overthrown … and the barriers of rank are at length thrown down.

The appetite for freedom and equality is characteristic of all democracies, Tocqueville says,

But for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible; they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy.

Invincible? So it seems. Nietzsche once advised that if you wish to see an idea defeated, allow it to become victorious. That may be our future.

Masculinity = Agon

But those not resigned to that thorny path might attempt to reclaim that which many men have allowed to fall into desuetude — their very masculinity. Men have mostly stood aside, and in not a few cases cheered, as the sisterhood’s household thinking has more and more encroached on the essentially masculine world of strife and contest, of excellence proved and competence tested against all challengers.

The enemies of excellence and contest rightly understand that masculinity is toxic, not so much to the safety and well-being of women and children, however, as to their flabby and irrational thinking.

Masculinity means agon and thus rank, hierarchy, winners and losers, better and worse — so much of which is now rejected by the left, and so much that must be recovered.


Daniel N Davidson is a freelance writer living in Milwaukee. He has worked as a writer for Federal Times and as text editor for the Jerome Levy Economics Institute on the Bard College campus.

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