He has his own hopes and fears, desires, judgments, and aims; he is everything to himself, and no one else is really anything. No one outside of him can really touch him, can touch his soul, his immortality; he must live with himself for ever. He has a depth within him unfathomable, an infinite abyss of existence; and the scene in which he bears part for the moment is but like a gleam of sunshine upon its surface.
–Newman, Sermon 6: The Individuality of the Soul
Man, surveying his surroundings, feels overwhelmed. The sheer immensity of the world he inhabits, a world in which he is but one of seven billion, in which his time will soon pass as it did for the innumerable others constituting the fabric of history, leaves man depersonalized, denuded of his individuality. Paradoxically, man’s conquest over nature only accentuates this feeling. The exploration of space and the uncovering of the vastness of the universe reveal that he is a mere speck on the totality of existence, not only insignificant amongst his own, but irrelevant as well to the infinite cosmos. Beholding this reality, man cannot help but ask himself, what difference would it make were he not born?
Yet, man can escape being consumed by this depersonalizing spirit. As Kant reflected in the end of his Critique of Practical Reason, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe…the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” The starry heavens “annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits.” However, the moral law within “infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world…” In Newman’s words, man has within him an unfathomable depth, an infinite abyss of existence. The source of this non-temporality lies in the soul, the seat of moral agency. Man cannot master his dominion, but he can master himself. He alone can fashion his character, transform it from its primal origins, and revel in a life independent of animality, as a distinct person set apart from the aggregate whole.
Radical systems consistently profess the inherent equality of all human beings. Thus they seek to efface from existence all natural distinctions between men. Equality of condition is the ultimate goal of these systems, and man’s liberty is sacrificed upon the altar of this abstract supposition. They see man as he should not see himself, as simply a non-descript thread woven into a homogenous tapestry. Those whom Burke derided as “sophisters and calculators” attempt to establish an egalitarian society, only furthering man’s natural inclination to feel despairingly banal. As Kirk often said, equality of condition inevitably leads to equality in servitude and boredom. Rather, it is the inherent inequality of all beings, their subjective perspective, as incommunicable as a mother’s love for her newborn, which constitutes the joy of existence.
If man only finds himself in the differences he does not share with others, where does this leave the notion of a mutual equality? The answer lies with Newman and Kant. True that man seeks and can find individuality in the temporal world through natural distinctions in class, intelligence, and appearance, nevertheless, man truly escapes his overwhelming sense of commonality when engaged in the moral sphere. Man can only connect to the part of his essence that reflects the “infinite abyss of existence” and become independent of “the whole sensible world” as a moral agent. In the act of transforming himself from a debased character into an exalted personality, man rightfully claims his title.
It is precisely in this area that the conservative mind posits equality. In the telos of man’s existence then, in the pursuit and attainment of moral perfection, remains the ultimate equality. God has established objective moral principles for the salvation of man that do not distinguish between the baron and the pauper, the fool and the intellectual, nor the peasant and the prelate.