Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679; English) wrote in Leviathan (1651), "Nature
hath made men so equal, in the faculties of body and mind; as that,
though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or
of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together, the
difference between man and man is not so considerable, as that one man
can thereupon claim to himself any benefit, to which another may not
pretend as well as he....From this equality of ability, ariseth
equality of hope in the attaining of our ends" (Chapter XIII). Given
scarcity of resources, people tend to fight for survival, power, and
protection; and the result, according to Hobbes, is that the "state of
nature" is a state of war. But we don't have to remain always at war,
because nature itself gives us a way out, and that way out is
discoverable by reason: "The passions that incline men to peace are
fear of death, desire of such things as are necessary to commodious
living, and a hope by their industry to attain them. And reason
suggesteth convenient articles of peace....These articles are they
which otherwise are called the Laws of Nature..." (also Chapter XIII).
Referenced from : http://www.gmu.edu/courses/phil/ancient/srfr.htm
This ideal is often referred to as the "Equality of Ability", stating
that every man has the ability to become, perform or achieve any goal,
with the proper desire.
Arguments against this sentiment spring to mind almost as soon as it
is read... This is also one of the dangers of removing ideals from the
age in which they were argued, as Hobbes and Descartes are in a time
when it is propagated that there exist certain levels of men that can
understand the Bible, and there are those that just need to shut up
and do what they are told.
There is also a danger is misrepresenting equality; what target are we
aiming at? The equality of man -- or the equality of the individual?
Knowledge is power, and the man (the individual man) with the right
knowledge, at the right time is going to reap benefits from
correlating situations that other men without that knowledge are going
to miss out on, if the knowledge is acted upon.
On the same page referenced above in...: The Assayer, written in 1623,
Galileo said, "Philosophy is written in this grand book of the
universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book
cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the
language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is
written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are
triangles, circles and other geometric figures, without which it is
humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these,
one wanders in a dark labyrinth."
We have to admit that there are those who will be able to understand
this language Galileo is referring to, and there are those who will
not. I, for example, am not one of those able to grasp, and act on,
the information Galileo is referring to... does this mean there is an
inequality at work?
Education without the ability to act; is this also a criteria for the
equality between men in regards to education? How valuable or
equalizing is education when there are so many inequalities on the
ability to act?
Since you stipulated "In the US" I'm assuming your meaning of equality
is in the material and financial areas.
Can I have an equal education and still be limited by my ability to
act on that education? The answer here is "yes, of course". Simply
because two men have a BA degree in Marketing, for example, doesn't
mean they are equal to the task of creating a marketing campaign, it
simply means they have the same documented level of formal education.
However, is the man with only a high school diploma even going to be
considered for the job? This is where the question comes into play
"The equality of man, or the equality of the individual?" There are
plenty of "individuals" who are geniuses in their fields, without the
formal education in those fields equal to the level that others would
have to achieve to be measured as on the same level as these
In societies of all types, there are barriers and hierarchies between
groups of men defined by the knowledge acquired by the members of
those groups. The medicine man of primitive society, the generals of a
military society, the priests of a religious society, the professors
of a campus society all have this in common, and those below them are
often kept at bay with a "need-to-know" policy. However, does learning
what the medicine man, general, priests or professor know make you an
equal? Historically we see many examples for two answers here, which
are not wholly separate; one is yes, the newly adept individual who
has gained the wisdom of the elders is raised to their level and
brought into the fold, and the other is no, the upstart is seen as a
heretic and condemned for his acquired knowledge. As suggested,
degrees of both of these answers happening congruently are
demonstrated throughout experience.
As you can see your question is quite broad and the answer of it can
range all over the place. If you could perhaps narrow the field, and
give some confines or goals the answer needs to meet, then I can be of
more help to you.