Interview with Martin van Creveld

Daniel Eness interviewed Dr. Martin van Creveld, the author of the newly published Equality: The Impossible Quest, at Castalia:

Q: Do you think that some of the contradictions regarding equality in the U.S. Constitution made the document a more stable guide for a new society, or do you see similar contradictions in Rousseau’s influence on the French Revolution?

MvC: Any attempt to institute equality, of any kind, is bound to result in restrictions on freedom. Personally I think that the U.S Constitution did a credible job in balancing between the two (and, of course, justice). Not so Rousseau who, in his quest for equality, went much too far. Not for nothing did my teacher, Jacob Talmon, see him as the father of “totalitarian democracy.” More problematic still, with him equality is the product of, and requires, constant plebiscites about everything. Given the technical means of the age—there was no Net—such a system implied a very small polity indeed. Against the fiscal-military states of the time it simply stood no chance.

Q: You argue that social equality is not a necessary outcome of economic or legal equality. Can social equality be achieved? Should it?

MvC: The only way to achieve equality is to restrict, or even do away with, liberty. Along with liberty justice and the quest for truth—namely the right to think, believe, say and write that equality is not the supreme good—will also disappear. With political correctness reigning as hard as it does, in many places that is already the case. Just try and say that women, or homosexuals, are and should not be equal in this or that way, and you will see what I mean. So I would argue that equality is a dream, and not even a beautiful one.

Q: What are the sexual and property impacts of organized equality in communal bodies?

MvC: It would differ from one type of community to the next, so let me focus on the kind of community, the Israeli kibbutzim, I know best. The kibbutzim were famous for having no private property. Everybody had his or her meals in the communal dining room and his other needs from the machsan, or magazine. Couples lived in “rooms” Children grew up not with their parents but in their own houses. A few specialists apart, people took turns at doing all kinds of jobs. Decisions were taken by the kibbutz assembly in which everybody had one vote. It elected the secretary-general and also set up special committees for such things as education, culture, etc.

For some two generations, it did not work badly at all. The fact that kibbutzniks saw themselves, and were seen by the rest of Israeli society, as an elite helped. What brought the system down was the women. First, they were unhappy with the endless routine of communal kitchen/communal laundry/communal child houses. Starting in the 1970s, they started taking on paid work outside the kibbutz. Next, they wanted their children back home with them. Families with children at home needed better houses, more appliances, and so on. Gradually the place of the communal dining room as the center of kibbutz life was taken by the home. Once that happened private property re-emerged and the kibbutzim started falling apart.

Read the rest of the interview there. And if you’re interested in the book, you can find it on Amazon as well as at Castalia House.