One of the more interesting notions that most of us seem to accept at one or another point in our lives is the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible.
I have heard that notion advanced in this manner: Jones has many marketable talents, while Smith has few marketable talents. Thus, if Jones is free to make as much money as he can, he will make more money than Smith. So, for Jones and Smith to be financially equal, something must done to limit Jones' earnings. But anything you do to limit Jones' earnings deprives Jones of his freedom. Consequently, you cannot have both freedom and equality at the same time.
Now, it seems to me the notion you cannot have both freedom and equality at the same time is one of those notions that has just enough truth to it to hoodwink many of us into generalizing from such examples as "Smith and Jones" above to whole societies. However, the more one examines the notion, the less warranted that sort of generalization might seem.
The problem is history.
The rarest complex societies in history have been those in which most people were more or less free. But those rare, relatively free societies have also tended at the same time to be more egalitarian.
Tocqueville, for instance, noticed that white males living in the America of the 1830s were both freer and more equal than white males living in either the England or France of the same period. Again, both male and female citizens of the Roman Republic seem to have been both freer and more equal than their counterparts living in the Roman Empire.
So the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible, while perhaps seeming to have some reason and logic on its side, does not always pan out in practice. But if that is indeed the case, then why is it the case?
I think the reason freedom and equality often go together in practice -- if not so often in theory -- is ultimately because of human nature. Plutarch observed 2000 years ago that no republic had ever long withstood a large gap between rich and poor. It seems that whenever such a gap is allowed to exist, some of the rich inevitably use their wealth to gather to themselves the reins of power. And, because they are far richer than most anyone else, there are few if any people who can effectively oppose them. Thus, they subjugate the rest of us.
If all of that is true enough, then it follows that equality is not the enemy of freedom -- at least not in practice -- but rather its companion. For, if there is a relatively small gap between rich and poor, then comparatively more people will be in a position to effectively oppose the usurping of power by another group of people.
At least, that's my guess why history seems to show that freedom and equality often enough go together in practice. What's your guess?