Quality and Inequality

I was reading an old classic of American literature this week, The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902). A new favorite of mine, and a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt’s. However, it has regrettably fallen by the wayside in recent time.

the virginian

Source – wikipedia.org

While reading it I found this interesting piece.


There can be no doubt of this: All America is divided into two classes,—the quality and the equality.

The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but kings.

It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans acknowledged the ETERNAL INEQUALITY of man. For by it we abolished a cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little men artificially held up in high places, and great men artificially held down in low places, and our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this violence to human nature. Therefore, we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying, “Let the best man win, whoever he is.” Let the best man win! That is America’s word. That is true democracy. And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same thing. If anybody cannot see this, so much the worse for his eyesight.


map

Source – loc.gov

This passage by the narrator is brought about by the previous chapter, when the Virginian and the teacher he’s dating discuss the ideas of equality. The teacher, Molly, believes that everyone is equal but the Virginian disagrees. He asks her who the greatest and lowest in her class is. After hearing the names he remarks how interesting there is a best and a worst, yet they’re all equal.


..equality’s a big bluff. It’s easily called.

– The Virginian


In America we have the only righteous form of equality and inequality. It is dependent of every one to make their fortune. As the narrator so eloquently observes, in previous times and places only the wealthy or aristocratic had the freedom of choices and options in life. Here in this nation we have that power.

It is an elemental part of the American Dream, we have the ability to succeed by our actions, not our birth.

farmer

Source – metmuseum.org

Character does not require to be high birth to be great or content, character can find greatness wherever they find themselves. So let’s say, “Let the best man win!”

You can find a free copy of the Virginian by clicking this link: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1298/1298-h/1298-h.htm

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