The thirst for equality is a characteristic of modern mores. In the Middle Ages inequality was postulated in all social doctrines and institutions. There were some "prophets" who arose to talk of equality in the way of poetry, and some popular leaders who used the notion in popular revolts, but they were rebels and heretics, and they preached to deaf ears. The church also, which never failed to have a prescription for every human taste or appetite, had its construction of equality. Ecclesiastics and inquisitors treated all men as equal before the church, sometimes with great effect, when an unpopular king or prince was also a heretic. The doctrine of equality flattered ecclesiastical vanity.
Modern notions of equality are no doubt to be explained historically as revolts against mediæval inequality and status. Natural rights, human rights, equal rights, equality of all men, are phases of a notion which began far back in the Middle Ages, in obscure and neglected writings, or in the polemical utterances of sects and parties. They were counter-assertions against the existing system which assumed that rights were obtained from sovereigns, from which it resulted that each man had such rights as his ancestors and he had been able to get—with the further result that perhaps no two men had the same or equal rights. The case became different when, in the eighteenth century, the mediæval system was gone, the fighting value of the doctrine of equality was
- For approximate date, see Preface.