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January 24, 2009, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Culture, Ethics, Politics

Imagine a ‘rags to riches’ story of someone who, through hard work and determination, built up a large fortune.  You might dare to say this person earned their vast wealth, in some sense. Certainly as compared to an heiress like Paris Hilton.  

But the vast majority of the rich are not ‘rags to riches’ people, right?  And even those who worked very hard for their money probably benefited from certain advantages of birth, right?  


Is it fair the rich were born with these advantages?  There is an obvious sense in which they didn’t merit these advantages–they were born with them! 


Birth is unfair.  I have great parents, and did nothing to deserve them.  That I was born to them, and not to some pair of idiots, is not fair.  Someone else was born to those idiots.  There is nothing fair about this.  


Should the government take it as its task to remedy this unfairness?

The some folks on the political left says yes, don’t they? 

But doesn’t this amount to using the coercive power of the state to violently inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth?  This project of ‘ultimate cosmic justice’ is a fundamentally religious project, isn’t it?  (Just because God isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean its not religious, right?)  No project could be more ambitious, could it?  It is aimed at the complete restructuring of humanity.  It is aimed at the creation a new kind of humanity.  It is predicated on the destruction of all natural human bonds, for these natural human bonds are ultimately unfair.  Death and resurrection to new life, thanks to the government!!!   


Is it right that rich parents get to pass their wealth on to their children?  

If it is unfair that I was born to my parents, then the natural bond I have with them can be justly broken, right?  After all, its creation was unfair in the first place.

But imagine the kind of violence that would be required to break this natural human bond.  Only a totalitarian state could accomplish this kind of ultimate fairness, right?  But the result wouldn’t be desirable, would it?  It would be awful.  Read 1984.   


I believe in the welfare state and the social safety net and all the rest.  I believe it makes sense for the rich to may more taxes.  Those to whom much has been given, much will be required, right?  But I do not believe that the government should take it as its task to establish ultimate fairness.  

Why?  Because the kind of power and violence that it would take to accomplish this is too dangerous.  And the result would be the destruction of all culture and all the natural human bonds that make life worth living.

I think this makes me a kind of conservative, in some sense.  I want to preserve organic human culture and natural human bonds.  And I’m afraid of any government with the powers and ambitions to fundamentally restructure humanity.

Human life is unfair.  But some projects aimed at establishing ultimate fairness would be worse.


Don’t some people on the left assume that social change means harnessing the power of the state to coercively enforce some sort of bureaucratically designed policy?  Does everything need to have a political solution in this sense?


2 Comments so far
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Hey Ed, I think you’re unfairly (yes, I said it) representing what the ‘left’ wants here. Depending on how one reads your post, it could be taken and understood in a way that would lead to an accusation of straw man, though I don’t think you’re going quite that far (or mean to at least). I would consider myself socially ‘left’, and can’t foresee a way to correct cosmic injustice (which isn’t at all religious, depending of course on how you define religious). Certainly reason shows that totalitarianism leading to the destruction of human bonds is not a path to make anything, in pretty much any sense ‘better’.

anyway, just a few thoughts.

Comment by Andrew

I guess I had in mind the Marxists and the Rawlsians when I wrote this.

Comment by the.pilgrim

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