When societies begin to hanker after equality any kind of renaissance and harvest of creation is at an end. For the principle of equality is one of envy, envy of the being of another and bitterness at the inability to affirm one’s own. The passion for equality is a passion for nothingness. Modern societies are in the grip of a passion for displacing the centre of gravity of existence by moving it from what is, by a creative affirmation, the being of each one to an envious denial of the being of another. That is a mark of a senile society.

Nicolas Berdyaev, The End of our Time, tr. D Attwater

The principle of equality becomes strident when people no longer believe in the soul, or the individual (for which one often but not always needs soul as guarantor), or any extra-material point of authority. In a world where there is some concept of god, or any centre of authority beyond the world, it is not necessary to belittle others to feel one has a right to exist. God is truly no respecter of persons and as in Dante’s commedia, the kings and popes are only privileged in having greater torments, because their sins were the more harmful.

The principle of equality thrives, and assumes pathological proportions & reach, in a godless, or rather wholly material world. Where there is no sense of a life beyond the senses, authority necessarily resides within this world, that is, in the opinions of human beings. Although the subject is himself a human being, his opinion is formed by the values of his culture. So, if people value money and worldly good & prosperity, as they usually do, a wealthy man will seem to have more right to exist than an impoverished burger flipper or English teacher. Or in a society where big feet are of overwhelming, primary importance, people with big feet will be regarded as superior to their dainty fellows; not merely superior for some limited utilitarian purpose, but just superior – ontologically superior.

In a society without an unworldly locus of authority (whether wholly imagined or not), any worldly inequality is regarded as a terrible injustice – because the worldly criteria are the only standards of judgement. Along with the principle of equality goes the longing for fame, for affirmation in the opinions of others, since this is all there is.

The greatest times for human achievement, in the realm of spirit rather than science, were times of profound elitism; they were also times of spiritual apprehension. In such times, it makes no final difference if one is stupendously wealthy, or if one has a title, or is on everyone’s lips: there is another arbiter, who sees more clearly, and is not to be deceived. A cat may indeed look at a king; and it is a sad time when there are no cats nor kings, but only rats, swarming.