A Meditation on Freedom and Equality, Inspired by The Last of the Wine

Though freedom and equality are the warp and woof of American life, some difference of opinion exists as to how to they are related. For example, the argument between the political left and right may be viewed as one of ends versus means, with those on the left believing that equality is the key to freedom and those on the right believing the opposite.

In Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine, a remark made by Lysis suggests another relationship between freedom and equality:

I want a City where I can find my equals and respect my betters, whoever they are.

In other words, equality is a subset of freedom: the freedom to recognize our equals (and betters) without having them recognized for us.

It’s interesting that while searching for his equals and betters, Lysis mentions no inferiors. Perhaps he is conscious that he lives surrounded by people possessing talents he lacks, and that absent an unfree system of imposed social classes, designed to denigrate most talent as menial, the notion of inferiority is meaningless. Thus does Melville’s Ahab, in contemplation of his ship’s carpenter, lament, “Here I am, proud as a Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for a bone to stand on!” More acceptingly, I reflect that when I summon a plumber to my house, the very reason for my doing so is that he can do at least one thing I cannot. In him, therefore, and in enjoyment of the freedom imagined by Lysis, I see only an equal or a better.

Author: Harry Miller

I have traveled and lived in Taiwan, China, and Japan and am now a professor of Asian history and author of Southern Rain, a novel of seventeenth-century China.

3 thoughts on “A Meditation on Freedom and Equality, Inspired by The Last of the Wine”

  1. Zactly right Harry. When I was in my third year of residency training in T-town, one of the new interns was feeling very smart and in charge with his new Doctor moniker, he developed a habit of responding to calls and questions from the nurses in a condescending or even denigrating manner. One of the attending professors found out about it and told him rather pointedly, “always be nice and respectful to the person sweeping the floor, without them your job would not be possible.” To his credit, the new intern did become a little less high falootin in his manners. Also, planning to order Southern Rain, I have really liked the excepts. Be well my friend. 🙋🏻‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

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