Much of world history over the past couple centuries or so involved a struggle between two belief systems - Marxism and capitalist democracy - which was essentially a struggle for primacy between the state (Marxism) and the individual (capitalist democracy).
This was also a contest over which values should prevail - individual liberty at the expense of equality of condition (as with the American Revolution) or equality of condition at the expense of individual liberty (as with the Bolshevik Revolution).
Many could be forgiven for believing that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later decisively settled matters in favor of liberty, the marketplace and the primacy of the individual.
But the statist/collectivist impulse and the underlying human psychological tendencies (envy, resentment, and the desire for status and power) that drive it are impossible to vanquish entirely and within a fairly short period of time the Marxist project had regrouped and re-emerged under the guise of identity politics.
Identity politics and its evolving concepts and tributaries (political correctness, intersectionality, systemic racism, unconscious bias, white fragility, etc.) can actually be traced back to efforts on the part of the "New Left" in the 1960s and 1970s to preserve Marxist theory by disassociating it from Marxist practice in places like Russia, China, and Cuba.
Embarrassed by the show trials and the mounds of corpses in the killing fields of "people's republics," Marxists shifted the focus away from Marx's historical revolutionary class, the proletariat, to groups defined by race and ethnicity. Rather than the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat, we get white Christian males oppressing people of color, gays and the transgendered.
In the old Marxist framework status was determined by your relationship to the means of production, in the new by your skin color, gender identity or sexual preference.
The terminology has changed, but the fundamental logic and theoretical relationships have not - politics still centers around conflict between oppressor and oppressed groups, "false consciousness" still needs to be overcome by "revolutionary consciousness" (the Great Awokening), and an abstract, cosmic sense of justice still requires that the expropriators be expropriated (that the "white supremacist patriarchy" be dethroned as the capitalist bourgeoisie).
And at the heart of all this is an old term, "equity," that is now being used to deceptively market the new Marxism and which has been made the centerpiece of the Biden administration agenda.
It is being used deceptively because it sounds a great deal like a cherished principle, "equality," but in practice means its opposite.
In the traditional Marxist approach, inequalities were unjust consequences of the private ownership of property that defined capitalism; in the new Marxist approach, racial disparities are the unjust consequences of racism and the broader system of white supremacy.
For traditional Marxists, the state ("Dictatorship of the Proletariat") would have to use extreme coercion to rectify inequalities and allocate resources consistent with the goal of the classless society; with the Biden administration approach, "equity" is prioritized in all public policy areas in order to more equally distribute wealth and services between racial and ethnic groups in proportion to their respective percentage of the population.
In both guises the state exists primarily to take resources from some groups (the bourgeoisie and white people) and give them to others (initially the proletariat and now "marginalized" racial and ethnic minorities).
Equality of outcome thus constitutes the ultimate goal in each form of Marxism, as opposed to the historically liberal understanding of equality before the law and in terms of rights and responsibilities.
Equity contradicts and undermines those more traditional understandings of equality because the end - the eradication of group disparities in favor of equal outcomes - requires a profoundly illiberal means: that government and public policy deliberately favor some groups over others.
In race-based Marxism, some groups are going to have to be given superior status to others, and discrimination is going to have to be practiced by the state to effectively redress the disparities caused by past discrimination; one's status before the law and possession of rights will therefore and inevitably be made contingent upon one's race and ethnicity.
In purely programmatic terms, this requires the systems of racial and gender preferences long found to controversial effect in areas like college admissions and public-sector employment be extended to all other aspects of society, with a never-ending resource reallocation process managed by the state in search of the perfect (but inevitably elusive) "balance" between groups.
The end result will be an official racial/ethnic spoils system that undermines everything the American founding and the original civil rights movement stood for.
Freedom necessarily means inequality of outcome, and equality of outcome cannot be pursued without extinguishing freedom. And certain forms of equality (before the law and in rights) are incompatible with others (equality of outcome).
Joe Biden can't talk about anything these days without mentioning "equity." Maybe the next time a diligent reporter should ask precisely what he means by it and how he would know it when he saw it.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, Arkansas, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.