When equality and liberty meet conflict, which one goes first?I want to support equality.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I love the way this question is phrased.  It's quite classic and really epic in its phraseology.  I do think that some level of specifics are needed in terms of time period, historical context, some level of conditions are all needed in order to really effectively answer this question.

Specificity is needed because there might need to be a clear distinction that indicates there is a potential tradeoff between the two.  Usually, both concepts have been presented to complement one another.  For example, the American Revolution stressed both in The Declaration of Independence.  Both equality and liberty were seen as needed ends that were being denied by the British government and both served as animating forces in need for the colonists to be free.  In the French Revolution, both were mentioned as complementing symbols that were being denied by the Monarchy.  There has been a tendency to see equality as something whereby freedom is applied to all.  In this context, both are seen from a historical point of view as complementary to one another, a necessary partnership that has ushered change into a political and social setting.

If there is a simple answer to the question, it would have to be that it depends.  Part of the reason it depends lies in the strength of the political authority and what fundamental beliefs the political structure wishes to enforce.  Governments sometimes have used one as a potential "cover" to enforce their own agendas at the cost of the theoretical principle.  For example, Nazi Germany asserted the fundamental liberty of the German state, the fatherland.  In this assertion of a collectivized notion of freedom predicated upon inequality, "freedom" came at the cost of others' inequality.  In American History, the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Civil War Amendments provided a national base of "equality" from the most theoretical point of view.  Yet, there was still a sense of inequality and denial of individual liberty for people of color that was not rectified for nearly a century after the end of the Civil War conflict.  In both settings, the political institution paraded one concept in an inauthentic manner to the detriment of the perceived expectation of the other idea.  It is for this reason why more detail and more specificity is needed in a greatly worded question.