In the course of my talk at TAM, I mentioned at one point “There’s nothing so unfair as equal treatment of unequal ideas.” Various people tweeted and retweeted it, so the line was clearly a hit.
That’s actually a misquotation (I was working from memory) of a line I’ve always loved, but have had a hard time tracking down.
You often see the correct version attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but rarely with any citation accurate enough to confirm. In a 1950 Supreme Court dissent, Justice Felix Frankfurter said: “It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals” Dennis v. United States, 339 U.S. 162 (1950). He was objecting to the trial of a Communist Party official convicted for refusing a subpoena to appear before HUAC, and wrote:
Let there be no misunderstanding. To recognize the existence of a group whose views are feared and despised by the community at large does not even remotely imply any support of that group. To take appropriate measures in order to avert injustice even towards a member of a despised group is to enforce justice. It is not to play favorites. The boast of our criminal procedure is that it protects an accused, so far as legal procedure can, from a bias operating against such a group to which he belongs. This principle should be enforced whatever the tenets of the group — whether the old Locofocos or the Know-Nothings, the Ku Klux Klan or the Communists. This is not to coddle Communists but to respect our professions of equal justice to all. It was a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.
The earliest citation I’ve been able to locate of who that “wise man” might be is in a book review from the 1906 New York Times, from a review of The Battles of Labor, a book on strikes and labor unrest in the Gilded Age and dawning progressive era, by Dr. Carroll D. Wright. Reviewer Edward Bradford aligns Wright â formerly the US Commissioner of Labor â with socialists, saying that Wright’s “collectivism” is simply a “new name for Socialism,” though Bradford seems elsewhere to take an overly-expansive definition of socialism. In any event, Bradford quotes: “There is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals. The immorality of equal compensation for unequal services is an immorality which society always recognizes no matter what the attempts may be to secure inequality of compensation for equal services.”
As far as I know, that’s the source, though it may be that Wright was citing some earlier source.
Elsewhere in my talk, I quoted noted community organizer (and Glenn Beck bÃªte noir) Saul Alinsky, whose politics certainly leant to the left (though he wasn’t a Communist or a Socialist). And I quoted Bernice Johnson Reagon, a Freedom Singer from the Civil Rights era. I don’t know the details of her politics, but I’d guess she’s also pretty lefty.
I know there are lots of conservatives who support teaching evolution, and it was only later that I realized I’d made at least three, and arguably 4, overt references to Communist, socialist, and otherwise liberal sources.
Updated to add: Wright’s The Battles of Labor was published in 1906, and is thus in the public domain. And Google Books has it scanned and free to download. That link takes you to the page at issue, which includes no suggestion that he is quoting anyone else.