Literature, Philosophy, Politics, recent

The Argument for Equality and Fairness

A recurrent criticism of the political Left is that it is elitist and remote from those it professes to care about. Conservative outlets like the National Review have run numerous articles on the topic of progressive elitism and disdain for everyday people. Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders have been routinely derided as champagne socialists, who talk a lot about the struggles of the working class, even though they are themselves millionaires. And intellectuals like Jordan Peterson have often nodded approvingly to the claim that the Left doesn’t really care about the poor, it simply hates the rich:

Some of these arguments can be readily dismissed as little more than partisan potshots. Whether or not Bernie Sanders happens to be wealthy is largely irrelevant to the merit of his arguments and demands. But here I want to examine the more foundational question of whether or not the Left is actually driven by compassion for the poor and marginalized or resentment of the rich and powerful.

The Left and Resentment

The argument that progressives are primarily motivated by resentment of the rich and powerful found expression in the work of authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche. In novels like The Devils, Dostoevsky (whose work I have analyzed and critiqued in more detail here) painted a darkly satirical portrait of the progressives of his day. Superficially, their pamphlets and writings overflowed with sympathy for the plight of the poor and suffering; sentiments Dostoevsky himself shared in his earlier more progressive period which found expression in novels like Poor Folk. But in person many progressives were pedantic, spiteful, and entirely devoid of genuine warmth towards anyone. Their meetings were characterized by self-righteous sermons and constant quibbles about what names to call everyone by.

More worryingly, Dostoevsky concluded that their various pieties about exploitation by the powerful actually masked darker feelings of anger and jealousy.  Once in power, the Left’s calls for “unlimited freedom” and prosperity would end in “unlimited despotism” because they were actually motivated by an unstated desire for authority and revenge against those who had done better than themselves. Nietzsche echoed these sentiments throughout his work. While he was no friend of traditionalism or nationalism, he made plenty of caustic remarks about the “slave morality” of the socialists. In his posthumous collection of notes The Will to Power, he compared socialists to envious children who might nonetheless bring about catastrophes across the globe. Though, characteristically, Nietzsche wasn’t entirely worried about the consequences of such mass violence on the victims.

Socialism—or the tyranny of the meanest and the most brainless—that is to say, the superficial, the envious, and the mummers, brought to its zenith—is, as a matter of fact, the logical conclusion of “modern ideas” and their latent anarchy: but in the genial atmosphere of democratic well-being the capacity for forming resolutions or even for coming to an end at all, is paralysed. Men follow—but no longer their reason. That is why socialism is on the whole a hopelessly bitter affair: and there is nothing more amusing than to observe the discord between the poisonous and desperate faces of present-day socialists—and what wretched and nonsensical feelings does not their style reveal to us!—and the childish lamblike happiness of their hopes and desires. … In fact, I even wish a few experiments might be made to show that in socialistic society life denies itself, and itself cuts away its own roots. The earth is big enough and man is still unexhausted enough for a practical lesson of this sort and demonstratio ad absurdum—even if it were accomplished only by a vast expenditure of lives—to seem worthwhile to me.

However, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche were both writing from a standpoint which was critical of the Left because its ambitions ran counter to theirs. Their own philosophical inclinations towards a form of religious nationalism and a perfectionist account of the Superman would naturally make them hostile to progressivism. A more knowing critique still was formulated by George Orwell.

In his excellent 1946 monograph Why I Write, written shortly before his death, Orwell opined that “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” This emphatic support for the Left echoes his claim in The Road to Wigan Pier that, from one point of view, the argument for socialism was simply “common sense” and “seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.” Yet few would write more bitterly about the failures of the Left, both personally and on a large scale. His classic 1945 allegory Animal Farm is a lacerating account of both the evil and hypocrisy of Stalinism and its defenders, and Nineteen Eighty-Four paints a frightening picture of a dystopian future where INGSOC (the English Socialist Party) establishes a totalitarian nightmare state.

Why then would someone for whom socialism was virtually “common sense,” and who fought bravely against the rising tide of fascism in the Spanish Civil War, have such a pessimistic appraisal of the Left? Part of it, of course, came from the increasingly chilling reports emerging from the Soviet Union, which recounted a litany of horrors with which the modern world is now familiar. But Orwell also insisted, in the manner of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, that most leftists did not care very much about the working class or the oppressed.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell devoted hundreds of pages to portraying the suffering of the British working class in Northern England and calling for democratic socialism as a solution. But he also points out that progressives have been utterly unable to convince the working classes to support socialism or social democracy. This isn’t because workers would be unsympathetic to their arguments, but because socialists themselves were unlikeable and made no effort to disguise their disdain and condescension. In their habits and mannerisms, they were mostly middle class snobs with a puritanical outlook on party loyalty and a serious dedication to theoretical abstractions at the expense of concrete problems:

Sometimes I look at the Socialist—the intellectual, tract writing type of socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation—and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class, from whom of all people he is most removed. The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard.

This desire to “reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard” was at the root of Orwell’s anxieties about the Left. While he was a democratic socialist with a progressive outlook, unlike Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, Orwell shared his predecessors’ anxieties about whether leftists were genuinely motivated by a desire to do good rather to acquire power for themselves. In the backdrop was of course the experience of the Stalinist terror state, which crystallized many of these anxieties.

Justice and Fairness: The Argument for Equality

The argument that the Left is primarily driven by resentment of wealth and power rather than genuine compassion is a powerful one. While it is very difficult to accurately determine the motivations of individual progressives, let alone an entire political orientation, the experiences of the twentieth century require an answer to the accusation. Some progressives may indeed be primarily motivated by resentment, but that does not in itself invalidate the argument to pursue greater equality. As Fredric Jameson pointed out in his seminal book The Political Unconscious, the accusation of resentment can be used to dismiss situations in which the pursuit of more egalitarian outcomes is just. Those with unjustified power and wealth may attribute redistributive demands to mere envy, when they are in fact motivated by the sincere belief that society is unfair and justice therefore requires radical change.

One of John Rawls’s great theoretical contributions was to show how liberalism and the push for greater equality were, in fact, mutually compatible and morally necessary, and not in tension. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls pointed out that many of us are indeed driven to support various moral and political principles due to irrational motivations like resentment, greed, and so on. These irrational motivations are not evil in themselves, being simply natural facts about the human personality, but they cannot provide a rational basis for determining just principles. Instead, Rawls asked us to consider the following thought experiment. Imagine we are placed behind a “veil of ignorance” in an “original position” without knowledge of who we are and what status we enjoy in society. We would know basic features about human psychology, economics, and how to reason properly but nothing about our individual life prospects and dis/advantages. Rawls then asked us to consider which principles of justice we would choose to organize society in such a situation.

He concluded that there would be two. The first principle of justice would be a guarantee of the basic liberal rights to freedom of speech, religion, and so on. Rawls’s argument for the “basic liberties” was that no rational person would take the chance that, once the veil of ignorance was lifted, they would belong to a group whose speech rights were denied, or that they would belong to a vilified racial or gendered minority lacking adequate legal protections. Rawls also emphasized the importance of freedom from discrimination to better pursue our life plans and enjoy a sense of self-respect. A society which, say, banned homosexuality or transgenderism on religious grounds would essentially deny LGBTQ persons the right to pursue love, which is a very meaningful objective to most people and foundational to feeling themselves to be people of worth. The first principle of justice would therefore deny that society could undertake such discriminatory policies.

But Rawls’s second principle is more relevant here. He argued that not only would individuals want fair equality of opportunity to access different social positions, but they would distribute wealth so that the only permissible inequalities must work to the benefit of the least well off. Rawls’s defence of this second principle of justice was twofold. Firstly, no rational person in the original position would gamble that they would wind up disadvantaged in society unless they knew they would be protected by a very robust safety net. But, more importantly, Rawls drew attention to how morally arbitrary most of the inequalities in society are. People tend to get left behind by poor luck or, occasionally, outright discrimination. Perhaps they were born with minimal natural talents or disabilities through no fault of their own, or happened to be born into a racial or gendered group which faces considerable cultural and political marginalization, such as in apartheid South Africa.

Or perhaps they lacked adequate social advantages others may enjoy, being born into a poor family or attending the low quality schools that may happen to be in the neighborhood, for example. Finally some individuals may be born with skills which may be useful in other contexts but are of little value where one lives; consider having a natural talent in a sport which is especially popular elsewhere in the world but is ignored in one’s own community. Rawls went on to observe that we may consider this arbitrariness simply a natural feature of the world which cannot be changed. But this is little different to saying it is simply a natural fact that some people acquire cancer and nothing should therefore be done to improve their situation. The essence of a just society is one which goes out of its way to rectify unfair and arbitrary inequalities to help the least well off:

We may reject the contention that the ordering of institutions is always defective because the distribution of natural talents and the contingencies of social circumstance are unjust, and this injustice must inevitably carry over to human arrangements. Occasionally this reflection is offered as an excuse for ignoring injustice, as if the refusal to acquiesce in injustice is on a par with being unable to accept death. The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts. Aristocratic and caste societies are unjust because they make these contingencies the ascriptive basis for belonging to more or less enclosed and privileged social classes. The basic structure of these societies incorporates the arbitrariness found in nature. But there is no necessity for men to resign themselves to these contingencies. The social system is not an unchangeable order beyond human control but a pattern of human action.

Conclusion

The argument that the Left is primarily driven by resentment has remained popular in no small part because, as Orwell himself opined, many leftists may come across as frustrating people. Indeed, in my series of articles on “The Engaged Left,” I have tried to address some of these concerns. But on the deeper point of whether or not progressive positions should be dismissed or vilified because one is suspicious of their motivations, I think there are serious difficulties. As Jameson and Rawls point out, many of the demands put forward by leftists are not motivated by an abiding sense that the rich are evil or that the powerful need to be ripped from their stations as revenge for a lifetime of exploitation. They are instead driven by a conviction that society as it exists right now is deeply unfair and unjust. Many are left behind for purely arbitrary reasons.

 

Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at garion9@yorku.ca or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf

Comments

  1. “whether or not progressive positions should be dismissed or vilified because one is suspicious of their motivations, I think there are serious difficulties”
    Motivations matter. Eventually.
    Having a movement motivated by envy, resentment and a lust for power looks to be highly dangerous; the worst of the movement in these regards tends to dominate the more agreeable (and therefore compassionate) types for obvious reasons. If you have any doubts about motivations look to the actions; someone spending spare time actively helping their community and those less fortunate suggests genuine compassion; raving hate filled rhetoric not so much.
    The propensity for “liberal progressives” to embrace authoritarian suppression of dissenting opinion or the vilification and expulsion of the ultimate minority, the individual, suggests capture by a dangerous and fundamentally anti human element. The haters and their mob; the very last people you want running the show.

  2. The writer assumes that most people believe socialism can make people more equal.

    Most people don’t believe that.

    People oppose socialism precisely because it is unequitable.

    It redistributes the efforts of some for the benefit of those who chose not to earn it. That’s certainly not fair or just.

  3. This is classic deflection by the author. I am sorry, Matt.

    The argument flow is as follows:

    1. Several notable thinkers criticize that the real goal behind progressive movements is seizing control and changing the controlling class, not eliminating class structures- or that at least the prominent leaders are motivated not by compassion and empathy, but by envy of those more successful.
    2. We should have empathy for the workers because life is unfair. Who could argue with that?

    Therefore, arguments that the left is more about punishing redistribution instead of equitable leveling of the playing field is misguided.

    No one is disputing life is unfair. This article never addresses the criticism of the left.

    Metaphor gedanken:

    Party A believes in exterminating minority B, dictating all religious and public behaviors, and taking children from their parents to raise in communes. They also believe that on Friday, everyone pets puppies.

    Party A responds to any criticism of itself, its member, or any part of its platform as “puppy hating! What do you have against puppies!?”

    No-one has anything against puppies, but Party A is not even primarily concerned with puppies. It’s tangential to their purpose and disconnected from their remaining agenda.

    The author may have intended to argue by implication that just because the motives of the supporters aren’t pure, that doesn’t mean democratic socialism does not work. However, many who oppose democratic socialist proposals oppose them on their own merits and question the motivations of the supporters because the proposals will not work. Furthermore, just because democratic socialism can produce good, does not mean that if, to borrow from Tommy Boy, if I defecate into a box and label the box “democratic socialism”, the contents will not be anything other than the contents of my bowels at the time. You have to consider the actual results of policies, not its stated goals.

    Congress could pass a “Free Ponies for Everyone” bill that contains a 20% tax hike, mandates putting out the left eye of every citizen, and never mentions ponies once. Anyone supporting the bill based on their “Automatically supporting ponies” platform is either unforgivably naïve or coldly manipulative and not trustworthy.

  4. So if Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Castro had been motivated by genuine concern for the working classes, instead of resentment of the upper classes, they would not have murdered tens of millions of people, but some smaller number instead?

  5. Prof M is right that questioning someone’s motivation does not necessarily invalidate their ideas. But I think the whole issue of motivation arises at all because the emergence in the modern world of human beings abstracted from experience. What this means is virtually anybody – from the compassionate to the completely hateful, selfish and resentful – gets to advocate policies which are supposedly compassionate and humane. This is a perfect recipe for hypocrisy – we are disconnected from the actual consequences of our ideas yet we get to make believe we are generous and compassionate people because we advocate generous and compassionate ideas.
    But more than a recipe for hypocrisy, this disconnect from the consequences of what one advocates; this abstraction from reality virtually defines modern consciousness. From Tocqueville to Dostoevsky to Nietzsche to Ortega y Gasset to Arendt etc. etc. - all observe the emergent and dangerous aspects of abstraction. Abstraction, not lack of compassion, is what can lead to cultural collapse and totalitarian terror.
    So the reason Dostoevsky and Netzsche rejected progressive ideas is not, as Prof McManus suggests, because these ideas do not coincide with their own agendas. Rather, they rejected progressive ideals of their time because these ideas did not coincide with reality – and rise of totalitarian terror vindicates Dostoevsky’s and Nietzsche’s skepticism.
    Nietzsche observed the emergence in the modern world what he called the “theoretic world view”, which is the notion that human ideas can correct and actually fabricate reality. John Rawls, among many others from Marx onward, is a posterboy of this view. Well meaning intellectuals can sit around and actually figure out how to remake society. This theoretic world view is in contrast to what Nietzsche called the “tragic world view”, which accepts that conflict is elemental between entities and human ideas are limited. I think it accurate to say that the US Constitution implies this tragic world view: Limited power to greater authority, and we as individual citizens are responsible for our own destinies. And while we personally will reap the benefits of our ideas, we must also suffer the consequences.

  6. Indeed, a defense of the Left as it was back in the day when it purported to be defending the interests of the downtrodden working class is not very interesting now, when the Left purports to defend the interests of a grab-bag of interest groups defined mostly by intrinsic non-economic characteristics (skin color, country of origin, sexual proclivities, sex), and explicitly holds much of the working class in contempt (cf. “bitter clingers”, “deplorables”, “white van men”).

  7. Actually, not so.

    The irony is Progressivism is a majority white social movement, POC are less radical than them.

    The various “minority” activists are self-appointed, whether they are representative of the majority of the people they claim to represent is not at all clear. Many of the latter are not at all on board with the extremists.

    But the extremists, precisely because they are activists, form the backbone of leftist political parties, that is why they must be placated.

  8. Rawl’s Second principle is sound, but does not specify just what fairness would mean in practice.

    Just what would it entail to “rectify unfair and arbitrary inequalities to help the least well off”?

    Does it mean making sure even the most unqualified person gets exactly the same income and social advantages as a surgeon? Does it mean they should be able to become surgeons?

    Just what does equality mean, besides giving everyone a basic minimum income (welfare), social housing, and free medical care?

    Most developed societies do something like that.

    The devil is in the details.

  9. One of the things that has helped me empathize and work with people with different backgrounds, less education, Etc, is the fact that I have been quite poor. I also grew up in the Bronx, which, while not the worst neighborhood, exposed me to violence, poverty, and the actual diversity of human life. Not just color, but background and ideas, as well as definitely income.

    I remember this paying off when I worked in a hospital doing research. I developed a practice of looking up at people as I passed, not staring, but looking and acknowledging. If they made eye contact, I would nod and smile, and they would often Smile Back. Not always, but often enough. It let me to help people I saw whom I could help, like a security guard who was having issues with an injured elbow, whom I got ice from my lab for.

    The doctors, meanwhile, would just walk by the cleaning staff and the security guards and the receptionist unless there was a problem to berate them for. As a result, they would do things for me they would do for nobody else, because they knew I cared and respected them.

    That is compassion on the small scale, and I think it is something that people who have wealth and power should practice, because then their ideas would have at least more of a tinge of reality to them. If you can talk to someone who works a blue collar job regularly, and have them Express honest opinions to you, this may help keep some of your more idealistic tendencies in check. They know what they need a lot of the time, and can really call out BS.

  10. One of the reasons why the Left might not tend to have sympathy for the less fortunate, is because they very often tend to be psychological conservatives. Although there do seem to be physiological reasons for the differences between psychological liberals and conservatives, the WEIRD conditions that produce psychological liberals, come about because of unusually safe, secure and supportive childhood environments, with a higher degree of familial education than normal. One thing that tends to push people towards the Right is parenthood, with all the fearful concerns that it entails.

    For modern liberals who have polarised into the Far Left extremes of intersectionality and judging people on the basis of arbitrary group identities, it is often a shock to find that the very marginalised groups they support have deeply embedded psychological conservatism. Or that they have only forsaken their natural political leanings because they have been told that the other side is against them- that their own constituency and self-interest is better served by liberals. Under Trump, 30% of Latinos vote Republican, but under a more moderate conservative who can convince Latino voters that unchecked migration will only harm their own interest, reduce the money available for their children’s schools and lower the value of their labour, this figure is likely to switch from 60% to 80%.

    There are two flaws that the writer makes in his analysis. The first is that the Government is necessarily a better redistributor of wealth than the market. This is not true. Studies between States and Countries show that inequality is higher in systems where Government redistributes wealth. Inequality tends to fix itself in situations where there is voluntary trade in labour for goods and services between the wealthy and the less fortunate, with the poorer trading their time for the money of the wealthy. Obviously there are exceptions, as there will always be a statistically significant portion of the population who are unable to compete- it’s why it’s always better to look at labour participation rates than unemployment figures and why some wealth redistribution will always be necessary.

    So whats the problem? Partly because the assumption that this process holds equally well for the super wealthy is untrue. This is where liberals (as opposed to Leftists) can sometimes be right. Because we are living through a period where technology and the global economic system allow vast fortunes to acquire in the hands of the ultra successful. This in itself is not a problem, either if the capital can be spent on goods and services that would otherwise not exist, or when the capital is deployed productively, especially in VCI. The problem comes when it accumulates in speculative assets or is devoted to rent-seeking. Because there are two general reasons why capitalism works so successfully. First, because through finance, it effectively robs the future to pay for the present, and in doing so almost always produces excess wealth in both the present and the future to justify the trade. And second, because through labour (and taxes) it generates the market to feed itself. Compromise either process and capitalism is in trouble.

    But the real thing that both the writer and Rawls gets wrong, is in the failure to make a distinction between fairness as equality and fairness in terms of proportionality. Do we mean equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? Well the evidence is in. The income of the poorest in society will always be higher when significant inequality exists and where both equality of opportunity and the ability to succeed by working hard are emphasised. It may be a bitter pill for those in the working and lower middle classes to swallow, but their income stagnation and only modest gains in the prices they pay for cheaper goods, in some areas (the main exceptions being property and education), have been paired to an unprecedented improvement in the material quality of life of many of world’s most abject poor, over a billion of them.

    We don’t know exactly what percentage of the world’s income and wealth the 1% (or more particularly the 0.1%) needs to capture in order for societies to retain the upward trend in wealth and incomes, and the means to redistribute it downwards to the less fortunate- but it is probably high. There is also probably a breaking point, at which the accumulation of wealth ultimately leads to the destruction of the market that sustains it and the ultimate devaluation of wealth itself. The history of Empires suggest this and billionaires certainly seem to have a predilection towards doomsday prepping. That’s why it’s so important to find new ways of creating value, and generating the vital labour as a by-product. In particular, we need to find new and innovative ways of extracting wealth from the world’s emerging upper class through voluntary trade, with niche high value products and services.

    At the same time, Government needs to get much better, with it’s allocation of resources, both in terms of labour and revenue. One of the reasons why corporations and the world’s super rich might be disinclined to hand over their resources, is because of how often they are used to persecute them (it’s the legal equivalent of a protection racket)- the other, because they know just how abysmal Government is at managing resources. The creation or protection of labour in the public sector should never be an end in itself, because the promises made in such circumstances are always unsustainable. There are so many ways in which the labour swallowed by Government might be better employed to help society, to build morale in the long term unemployed and encourage them back into the workforce, to provide services that the market is unable to monetise.

    If Government can only become more efficient, and inhibit it’s natural inclination towards the persecution of the rich, then maybe the rich might be persuaded to invest in their own countries, by means other than the private equity firm or offshore holding company. It’s a little known aspect of the Scandinavian countries, but as far as I know, none of them have inheritance tax. This is probably because it’s such a dismal source of revenue- most years the UK government receives about $1.5 billion (or £?)- it’s a drop in the ocean in terms of government revenue and derives mainly from the houses of the middle classes, rather than the estates of the truly wealthy (who invariably have better accountants and lawyers). But then again, perhaps inheritance tax is the ultimate means of punishing the successful for have the gall to stand out, or the middle classes for scrimping and saving- by stealing the fruits of their labour from their children.

    Funnily enough though, the Scandinavian countries also seem to be the ones where the rich invest their money at home, and provide the mechanism for a healthier and happier societies (albeit ones with far higher rates of income and consumption taxes). Maybe a better vision than Rawls, is to fair and unequal, and in doing so create far more wealth, to be redistributed downwards by means that support individual empowerment- because, ultimately people want jobs, not hand outs, and are far more likely to riot when the former, rather than the latter, is not forthcoming.

  11. ‘’ Rawls’s argument for the “basic liberties” was that no rational person would take the chance…’’

    ‘‘no rational person in the original position would gamble that they would wind up disadvantaged in society’’

    Rawls’ whole argument is thus based on the no true Scotsman fallacy.

    I know the US has produced very few philosophers of any real standing, but trotting out poor old Rawls is an embarrassment.

    Dump Rawls Prof and read the Fable of the Bees by de Mandeville. He does a far better job of explaining the real outcome of the vices of mankind.

  12. The contempt that many , if not all, leftists have for the hoi polloi is most evident in California. Here we have a state dominated top to bottom by the Demo Party. The demos hold a supermajority in the legislature, which means they can pass any law they want. And yet, when it comes to the nitty gritty, to the community-level sacrifices that liberals expect others to make on behalf of the unwashed masses, they rebel as the most ardent Reaganite. For instance, city leaders are having a hard time building housing for the nearly 60,000 vagrants who loiter in greater LA because the white middle class and rich liberals don’t want the salt of the earth living close to them. When George Lucas, the director of Star Wars, wanted to build low-income housing for the service workers (mostly Mexican) who sell their labor to white liberals who owns vineyards (looking at you, Nancy Pelosi) and farms north of San Francisco, the rich labors protested en masse against this attack on their privilege lifestyles, and Lucas got nowhere with his plan. See? Liberals love the downtrodden, just as long as they stay in their place across the train tracks.

  13. A peculiar essay, with, unfortunately, ultimately very little of substance and filled with logical fallacies.

    Mostly, the focus on intent and motivation is pointless. Whether or not progressives are motivated by resentment or compassion is ultimately irrelevant. People point out that often they are hypocrites (literally every far left progressive I know is a) white and b) very wealthy and c) lives in a very wealthy area, sending their kids to private schools or upscale publics), but only as part of a line of criticism to indicate their motives are not necessarily what they claim, but instead have to do with consolidating power as opposed to operating in good faith for others. The compassion they feel is merely a feeling they layer on themselves to make themselves feel good when they tyrannical try to consolidate power over the populace, much as a corrupt 16th century catholic priest might have told himself he was a good person for believing in Jesus while he stole money and power for himself. True compassion is action, not feeling. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I have given my career to at risk school children in urban areas, to try to make a difference in their lives on the ground. I don’t say, as I sip my $7 latte in a billion dollar neighborhood, surrounded by friends all like me, that the racism in our country is terrible and we need to vote Trump out. I simply have compassion, then do as my compassion dictates. What I’m saying is that those who claim to have compassion, do not, if they fail to do anything practical with that compassion (I don’t count Tweets and signs and marches with selfies as anything practical).

    But all this is besides the point. Focusing on motivation leads to a dead end, as people who do evil and wrong are rarely motivated by evil or wrong (in their minds). In his own mind, Hitler did what he did because he had compassion for German citizens and patriotism for his nation. He viewed murdering Jews as the cure for his peoples’ oppression.

    I think the biggest evils happen when people are convinced that the greater good trumps individual evils, or, put another way, the ends justify the means. In this way, it is utterly irrelevant whether people have good motivations. What matters is that they are willing to sacrifice basic morals - eg “thou shall not murder” - in order to achieve the greater good they envision. This is the inherent problem with socialism/communism and indeed with all utopian visions. Since the greater good must be forced on people - since many people will not willingly part large chunks of their money for nothing or little in return - socialism means that the state must be given inordinate power to control the populace “for the greater good.” This inevitably, as a result of socialism itself, leads to tyranny, for power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Whether or not a socialist is motivated by the goodness in his heart is irrelevant, particularly if he is fine with, oh, abolishing free speech, punishing ‘hate speech,’ viewing speech as violence and therefore justifying violence, redistributing wealth forcefully, and so on.

    The other issue is that idealists - those who have good motivations - don’t worry overmuch about what their proposals will *actually * do. Since their focus is on their motivations and end goals and nothing else - “we want to abolish inequity” “We want to fix the environment” because we are good pure people opposing bad racist people - they end up destroying the very things they claim they want to fix, and making it far worse; they also don’t tend to be logical or coherent because their goal is not what they say it is; their end goal is a ‘revolution’ to change the land to their utopian vision. It’s clear in their minds. This is why the Green New Deal both included things that had nothing to do with the environment and had very unworkable solutions–they don’t care about the solutions; they care about their vision and their motives and the end justifying the means. Everything falls under the umbrella of their utopian vision. Whether it makes sense or can be worked out or will cause greater harm is not relevant to them. They will force it to work because their motives are pure and they want Good.

    When I visit my friend in Berkeley I’m appalled by the homelessness - even if you go to a movie, there are homeless mentally ill people in the lobby - combined with the nearly all-white wealthy liberals who live in multi million dollar houses. They pass these mentally ill people - one of them pulled his pants down in front of me and cried for his “mama” - and literally blame…Reagan. I am not kidding. Or they blame Trump. I asked one of them what Trump had to do with the homeless encampments and she said, “Good question,” and then changed the subject. An idealist doesn’t care about nitty gritty things like what causes what or what is likely to happen. All the idealist cares about are her ideals. The ends - the ideal - justify any means. If there is a problem currently (homelessness, huge wealthy inequality) they either ignore it totally, or they blame “the other side.” They don’t fix it. They don’t really concern themselves with the practicalities.

    This in the biggest difference and why it is often pointless to talk to a far left person. If you bring up practical issues with their lofty goals - eg unilaterally changing minimum wage to $15/hour regardless of the market may well have hte unwanted effect of causing people to lose jobs - they are totally uninterested at best. At worst, they accuse you of Bad Motives (usually racism) as for them, all that matters is the motive.

    So when the author talks about the Left being elitist and tries to show that it actually does have good motives (so what), he is actually implicitly playing into their vision of themselves that causes the harm. Being “motivated by the sincere belief that society is unfair and justice therefore requires radical change” (“change” being dictated by them naturally, by force if necessary, and naturally not changing their own lives, just others) is exactly why the Left is a dangerous movement.

  14. Rawls was wrong. His intentions were good, like those of the Socialist that pines for a better world. But like the Socialist, the mistake of Rawls is in a believing that a top-down, centrally-planned society can ever work, outside the rare exception of the meritocratic autocracy that uses an entrepreneurial approach to problem solving, devolves spending away from the centre and uses surveys to understand their peoples needs- with a large free market capitalist economy sitting underneath it all. That’s China in case you missed it.

    The problem is that for many of us, the market doesn’t seem to be doing a particularly good job of delivering the type of egalitarian, opportunity for all, economy that we all thought that we were heading towards. This is because, in the ideological war between the Left and the Right, little or no thought is given to the underlying details that determine the laws that govern our societies, and the pragmatic is not such much overlooked, as criminally neglected. Laws that protect third parties are either non-existent, or so antiquated that they quickly become obsolescent to the modern market economy. In almost every country, regulation is never a tool employed to protect consumers, but either a foundation to build new bureaucracies upon, or a device used by lobbyists to protect corporations against the intrusion of small businesses into captive markets.

    How do we get here? Well I would posit that representative government is naturally enticing to ideologues and idealists, and elections between ideologues will always result in leadership that is unfit to compete with the interests of the more deeply pragmatic mindset of the corporate elite. In many ways it is like the liberal drawn to the parole board, or the conservative drawn to become a prison warden- the world would be a much better place if they would simply switch jobs. So would the world be a better place if our politicians were more pragmatic and our CEO’s more idealistic? I think so. Especially if the CEO’s idealism were focused on creating fledgling entrepreneurs intent on leaving the corporate structure to set up their own businesses.

    Because in the West, we need to get a lot, lot smarter at finding ways to create value, and generate the high value labour that often follows as a result of innovation in the market place. We need politicians that are ruthlessly pragmatic at tearing up legislation which serves no purpose other than to create barriers to new businesses. We need big tech to create libertarian software platforms that allows private and public insurers to seek out the lowest costs for life-saving or life-enhancing surgeries, and deliver the same sort of cost-savings for hip replacements, as we see for breast augmentation or laser eye surgery. And we need Government to be much better at allocating resources to serve the needs of the modern society.

    Because although America is the first to experience a reduction in lifespan because of suicides, it is unlikely to be the last. Many other Western countries are experiencing the telltale rises in drug addiction, mental illness and other social ills, that precede the lifespan reduction. Everywhere, there seems to be the loss of meaning associated with joblessness and a lack of gainful participation in the economy, or the debtors panic caused by living in a city and having an income that doesn’t meet your financial commitments. Unfortunately, neither running to Government like mommy to fix the problem, nor the type of socialist wealth distribution that kills the golden goose, are likely to help. For that we need better ideas and more pragmatic politicians that can re-imagine limited government in an era of Crony Capitalism and prolific bad actors, to save the day.

  15. I object to the practice of lumping together and oversimplifying the ideas of other people, and I do not care if this is intentional or careless behavior. I am of the view that the author misrepresented (albeit tangentially) the position of Jordan Peterson, and the only mitigating factor is that he did not understand properly neither Dostoevsky nor Nietzsche, both thinkers that influenced strongly Professor Peterson’s thinking. None of the above ever disputed the possibility of espousing socialist/redistributive ideas from a disinterested, self-less, purely idealistic position. What they all observed and caution against, is the fact that the resulting statist systems get rid of the idealists first, and without exception, and evolved into becoming significantly more unequal/unfair and invariably hostile to the natural/universal rights identified by Professor Rawls. I think it is an ethical and moral duty to extricate from our arguments our petty prejudices and guard against allowing our main points - whatever their merits - to become a carrier of half-truths and oversimplifications that risk being un-inquisitively adopted by uninformed readers. If I have an argument that I believe to be cogent, persuasive and interesting enough to put out into the world of ideas, I have a corresponding duty to ensure that my writing does not bus at the same time tangential half-truths or oversimplifications, because the lower rungs of my readership would be more likely to presume that I examined those facts with the same degree of care and that I am a reliable/dependable source. I think the author failed miserably on this front. After a fanning summarization of Mr. Rawls’ theory of justice - with which the author is clearly quite familiar, and with which one would expect any relatively educated proponent of big state redistributive policies to be largely in agreement with, the article’s main point rather thin. The notion that the left is primarily driven by resentment needs a bit of refinement before it can be properly criticized. Should the consequences of left policies be judged based on the naiveté and idealism of its first victims, or by the inevitable crimes against humanity that follow? What is the proper criteria by which one should asses the aggregate intent of those who relentlessly and often ruthlessly pursue equalizing social policies and should we assume a positive aggregate intent if among them could arguably be nested a few (yet not eliminated) idealists? Should we ignore the bullying, the physical aggression, the relentless attack on free speech and insistence on controlling the narrative and what reaches the ears of masses continuously assumed by these same 'idealists" to be too stupid to know what is good for them"? Is the author addressing sensibly all these real concerns or attempting to coat with an alleged pedigree of social theory scholarship the simple argument that the Left’s position is moral and rational? The immediate and obvious answer to the author’s conclusion is that the evidence is overwhelming that the Left as whole is manifesting itself in a manner that suggests that the implied good intent is only secondary to an increased repudiation of democratic values coupled with a relentless and proclivity for violence. In such a context, it appears rather preposterous to claim that one can derive what the Left is “primarily driven by” referring to the writing of a legal and social theory thinker who made some superficially cogent argument in favor of redistributive social organizations. But even going beyond that, the old adage that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is the real rebuttal to the straw-man argument raised in this article. Nobody cares if Stalin and his regime maintained an intention to implement a Communist utopia on Earth. Their intentions are neither here nor there when it comes to what mattered for their victims and the societies that had to literally survive those experiments. I could not care less if you are driven by what you believe to be a both a rational and enlightened theory of social justice, if you already manifest yourself in a dictatorial fashion. And - NO - I do not trust you even if scream from the rooftops that you are chockfull of wisdom and good intentions. I lived long enough and seen enough to strongly caution against this slippery arguments aimed to put the mind to sleep. To be very clear, I will not assume from reading this article that Professor Matt McManus is a well intended and trustworthy character. His argument will hold some water if, based on what he wrote, the reader would be able to infer at the very least good intent on the part of the writer, before even considering the question of whether the argument proves the “good intentions” of the Left in general. Believing that society as it exists right now is deeply unfair and unjust, is not an indication of your inherent proclivity for justice. Instead, it makes you more likely to embrace extreme ideologies and endorse more readily a non-negotiated re-structuring. Granted, “many are left behind for purely arbitrary reasons”, but your solution stinks! :slight_smile:

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