Respect of persons is a sin

Lubu asks: Could you elaborate on “first, the insistence that all men are equal springs from the Jewish tradition that God is no respecter of persons, and that salvation is individual”
It was my understanding that this sentiment was atributed John Locke who conceptualized rights as natural and inalienable. Locke is considered to be a empiricist who developed his ideas based on experience. On the surface, I do not see the connection between the Jewish tradition and John Locke.

My answer: First, the concept that all men are created equal is not an empirical idea because it cannot be. The legal and moral status of a person is not something that can be seen with your eye, measured with a yardstick or stopwatch. Second, re-read Locke. He will tell you exactly where he got his ideas from.

If you want to investigate the matter, look at the laws in the Old Testament, and compare them to other primitive law codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, or the early Saxon law. There is one point which will immediately strike a lawyer as significant: other primitive codes require that the law first establish the status of the person before determining which law applies, or how severe the penalty was.

For example, the Saxon weregild code reads like a butcher’s menu: this much money is what it costs if you have damaged the leg of a freedman, that much if it is the leg of a slave, so much other if it is a noble; and the different body parts had different costs, as well as a blood-price for murder, and so on. (This code was an attempt to ameliorate the bloodthirstiness of the endless Germanic blood-feuds, by having the parties settle for a cash payment instead). The rank of the parties involved was the prime consideration.

There is nothing like that in the Jewish code. The suspicion of Jewish tradition toward authority has deep roots. Read the book of Samuel, where the prophet warns the peoples what their desire for a King will do to them. For that matter, notice how Jewish history dwells on the faults of their leaders and kings. The Egyptians and the Chinese were more self-congatulatory.

But the main carrier of the idea of egalitarianism in the West is Christian theology. Here is Thomas Aquinas on the issue:

“any circumstance that does not amount to a reason why this man be worthy of this gift, is to be referred to his person: for instance if a man promote someone to a prelacy or a professorship, because he is rich or because he is a relative of his, it is respect of persons. It may happen, however, that a circumstance of person makes a man worthy as regards one thing, but not as regards another: thus consanguinity makes a man worthy to be appointed heir to an estate, but not to be chosen for a position of ecclesiastical authority: wherefore consideration of the same circumstance of person will amount to respect of persons in one matter and not in another. It follows, accordingly, that respect of persons is opposed to distributive justice in that it fails to observe due proportion. Now nothing but sin is opposed to virtue: and therefore respect of persons is a sin.”

From this idea, that all men are equal in the eyes of the law, to the idea that all men are equal in suffrage, is a very small step.