DebSoc: This house values freedom over equality
Charlie Gershinson covers an internal show debate put on by the Debating Society which grapples with the question: should we value freedom over equality?
Friday 10 February saw the Debating Society take on a theoretical and thoughtful motion of “This House Values Freedom over Equality” in the Amory Moot under the able gavel of Debating Society Co-Chair, Jack Barwell.
The proposition, consisting of the Exeter Conservative Association’s Fresher’s Representative Tobias Lyne and the Freedom Society’s Social Secretary Andrew Trovalusci, had a task ahead of their opening arguments as the opening vote of conscience saw a narrow win for the opposition with a significant amount of the audience choosing to abstain.
Trovalusci began by basing the idea of freedom on meritocracy: that freedom allows every person to reach the upper limits of their natural abilities and that these natural abilities should be recognised while equally seeing that those skills are not seen in every person. Pre-empting the opposition, Trovalusci admitted that systematic oppression has been a structural feature of society in the past, the proposed solutions of state intervention have had little benefit and instead competition is a more effective tool.
Lyne followed by stating that freedom is the only route to ensure there is equality, creating a distinction between the two terms which was brought up repeatedly by both sides. Taking the practicality of equality into account, Lyne suggested that if equality were to be prioritised over freedom this would lead to a natural endpoint of centrally-planned societies and economies seen in communist countries in the past and present. Drawing on the knowledge of South Africa, Lyne suggested their modern constitution put equality first with regard to housing, education, and other services which have led to widespread corruption as a direct consequence.
Taking the practicality of equality into account, Lyne suggested that if equality were to be prioritised over freedom this would lead to a natural endpoint of centrally-planned societies and economies seen in communist countries in the past and present.
Feminist Society’s Welfare Officer Flo New and Labour Society’s Social Secretary Alex Kingston led the arguments for the opposition. New began by stating that the rights which come with modern society, including her right to speak at the debate, came from equality. She went on to argue that true freedom could only be achieved through equality while freedom to its furthest limits would only allow the elite to oppress others. Speaking in defence of equality of opportunity to “allow for diversity and difference”, New believed that without this tool, there would be unnecessary artificial hierarchies within society and that the only way for individuals to achieve their natural limits is through equal access to services like education.
Kingston continued by suggesting that there is no trade-off between freedom and equality and both are worthwhile aims, even going so far as to say that freedom is inherently good. Kingston went on to echo New’s sentiments that equality concerns the equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. In another example of one side using the other’s terminology to support their arguments, Kingston stated that victims of a growing child poverty epidemic within the UK are not able to enjoy the same freedoms which are enjoyed by their non-suffering peers.
New began by stating that the rights which come with modern society, including her right to speak at the debate, came from equality.
Continuing to cross-examination, many of the same arguments from the opening speeches were repeated. The proposition again argued that freedom should be prioritised to achieve equality while the opposition argued the opposite, again using the argument that an abundance of freedom would lead to artificial hierarchies. The proposition suggested that the opposition was in fact making an effective argument for freedom within their speeches, with Lyne even offering the opposition his seat on multiple occasions.
Turning to the audience questions, a range of theoretical and practical questions were asked to both sides. The first question asked the opposition if the act of giving the government and other authorities power over the lives of others would lead to inequality in itself, to which the opposition argued that as the state is a collective it cannot be compared to the power which an individual may have over others. A question to the proposition asked what a truly free state would look like. Trovalusci stated that this would be a state which stopped citizens from infringing on the rights of others.
As the audience questions concluded, a final vote was taken which saw the proposition turn the tables and emerge victorious with a margin of only seven votes.