What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Sage Advice

In a thread below, commenter Sage M - who is, I assume, Lawrence Auster's fairly regular & invariably insightful commenter Sage McLaughlin - wrote as follows:

"The reason people don't understand why PC becomes so entrenched is because 'political correctness' is itself a phrase that obscures the institutional rationale for things. PC is nothing more or less than advanced, institutionalized liberalism. I have come to dislike the phrase 'political correctness run amok' very strongly. It suggests that just a little bit of PC would be sensible, or that PC is just an extreme version of something basically rational, which it's not. You can't identify and combat 'political correctness run amok,' because it's a meaningless way to describe the phenomenon.

"The phenomenon is liberalism, and the reason Western society is in the death grip of political correctness is because PC is an expression of the death grip that liberalism has on all our institutions--the media, the military, the universities, the mainline churches, etc. All of them are PC because all of them have, in ways unique to the character or charism of each, adopted the essentials of liberalism. In particular, the belief that erasing distinctions--and particularly categories as they apply to human beings--is the highest possible calling in life, somehow residing at the core of the institution's mission, is the liberal ideal to which all Western institutions now subscribe.

"What Larry Auster sometimes calls the non-discrimination principle, that is, the notion that discrimination is the single greatest possible evil and that all goods are tertiary to the good of advancing the liberal ideal of non-discrimination, really is the ruling principle of our society. Recognizing this fact makes every single instance of PC madness fully comprehensible. It also explains why everyone knows by instinct the seemingly byzantine demands of PC, even when they aren't written down anywhere. Being based on such a simple principle, people are able, instantly and without reflection, to apply it to any given situation at all. Finally, recognizing this fact also explains why people are so hopelessly confused by it all--they accept the basic premises of liberalism, and they largely know precisely when and how to cringe before its demands ('Not that there's anything wrong with that!'), but they nonetheless are baffled when they see institutions behaving in accordance with the raw, anti-rational radicalism of the non-discrimination principle. They fail to identify liberalism as such as the source of the problem, being basically liberals themselves, so they blame it on some hazy thing called 'political correctness.' Moreover, they realize that this is an expression of something that they basically accept, and cannot repudiate utterly, so they say that it is somehow 'run amok.'

"If people would simply call it what it is, that is institutionalized liberalism, we could at least have a debate on the real causes of such insanity and decide whether we really do think the sacrifice worth it."

...to almost all of which I say: bravo! bravissimo!. The phrase "political correctness" has probably long outworn its usefulness.

The only criticism I'd venture here is that I think it's far too generous to the left to take at face value their supposed dedication to anything legitimately describable as a principle of "non-discrimination." In fact, the left systematically, relentlessly, and shamelessly discriminates - against whites, against males, against Christians, against Southerners, against the working class, etc.

I think we need some other way to sum up their worldview.

Hmmm.

Comments (84)

So have at it, Suburban Yahoo & Ilion - this thread's just for you! (& me - 'cause I'm way into this stuff, too ;^)

I refrain from transcribing y'all's comments on that earlier thread, not because I thought they weren't any good, but just because I'm too lazy.

All this cutting & pasting wears a guy out, at the end of a long day.

I have to agree with the sentiment that, no, 'a little bit of PC' would not be fine. Unfortunately some people seem to confuse PC with simply being polite or considerate. I enjoy the response of John C. Wright, whose token response of anyone taking offense at his use of words is to be offended at their offense and demand an apology. Simple, but surprisingly apt in situation after situation.

I think we need some other way to sum up their worldview.

I am not sure there is a way to sum up their worldview, at least not in a self-consistent way. For instance, in many ways they seem to be rooted in the notion of the absolutely autonomous self - as in Justice Kennedy's fatuous observation that men have the right to decide for themselves the meaning of the universe. Pride, the sort of pride that Satan exhibited in saying "I will not serve", is uniformly present in this, pride in self over any natural community.

At the same time, they also seem wedded to the notion that the state has the right to decide anything it wants FOR you, if the state thinks that "it is in your own best interest, even though you yourself can't see it". From which we get the various socialist and communist agendas. Funny how it is always the liberal mantra that the state is saying is "better for you", never a conservative angle.

These are obviously contradictory impulses, when viewed at a distance. But they use either one whenever it suits them. Perhaps the second implies only a false sort of subservience: I will submit to the state, but only because it promotes my personal views.

Steve,

Thanks for the kind words. This was a bit clumsily worded on my part, but I trust the idea is clear enough.

Tony,

I think that problem goes back to the question of whether any real viewpoint neutrality is possible for the state. I take the view that it's not. Liberalism begins as a purely negative concept aimed AT the state, but once it's empowered as the official doctrine OF the state, it has to go looking for ever-smaller (or larger, depending on how you look at it) dragons to slay. So it becomes positive, or activist, in an effort to emancipate all human wills. Because its ultimate aim is the annihilation of any concretely existing element of our civilization, which of necessity must produce and depend upon distinctions and categories at variance with the non-discrimination principle, it encounters the all-male military and the white-majority Ivy League school as enemies to be laid low.

In short, it's not possible to be consistent with the non-discrimination principle, in part because when viewed as a purely negative concept it cannot quite get the results that liberalism is meant to achieve. That's because life doesn't work the way liberalism supposed it does, and people aren't really just identical, disembodied Cartesian wills. People inherit all sorts of qualities that they do not choose for themselves, so even the most willful blindness to the real distinctions between different people will never produce the sort of results liberals want. This is why a "negative rights liberalism" of the sort espoused by contemporary movement conservatives will never really stand firm against the activist liberalism of the hard left. It accepts too many wrong premises and the results of such social laissez faire--enduring inequality and differentiation between individuals and groups--wind up as stark rebukes to the misguided liberal conceit that no categories of human being exist which can be allowed to matter politically.

I'm sure that response is hardly illuminating, but I'm no serious political philosopher and I've never been a good at composing this sort of stuff for blog comments. Anyway, maybe it's food for thought.

It accepts too many wrong premises and the results of such social laissez faire--enduring inequality and differentiation between individuals and groups--wind up as stark rebukes to the misguided liberal conceit that no categories of human being exist which can be allowed to matter politically.

So, let that liberal conceit be starkly rebuked. This is interesting, because it goes back to a post I had on whether political equality leads to set-asides. (Apropos of the set-asides of MP seats for women in the UK Parliament.) In that post, I said that political equality leads to set-asides only if you also believe a number of premises such as that there is intrinsic, external injustice in inequality of situation and outcome. But there is no reason to believe such additional premises, so everyone should, like me, be willing to let the chips fall as they may.

What's wrong with that?

So liberalism seems to stand for:

1. Completely autonomous self
2. Viewpoint neutrality in governance
3. Absolute equality of results
4. Annihilation of intermediate communities
5. Non-reality of natural associations of interest

I am not sure that #2 is stated broadly enough - it certainly works out that the governance by liberalism won't settle for viewpoint neutrality in the government alone, it actively browbeats the theory into every sphere it touches. Which means that it is opposed to neutrality regarding its own theory, and is of course self-contradictory.

Lydia, I think the answer to your question is that liberalism is not interested in political equality, it is interested in equality of results, which of necessity must oppose political equality as you understand it.

It seems to me that when you sum up all the parts, what you get is one of C.S. Lewis's visions of hell: all are a uniform, undifferentiated dull gray, with no excellence of any sort, nothing pleasing about any aspect of it, no delight on account of complementarity or difference or order; no being interacts with any other being except in a purely superficial, accidental way - no abiding relationship worth a moment's thought; while all are individually separate, all are uniform, so they might as well be ALL ONE (though all are utterly self-willed and therefore never are two or more one in any useful sense. Whereas, in heaven, you find rejoicing in distinction, in complementary roles, in order between lower and higher, and in each voluntarily willing not for themselves but for for THE ONE, and thus all being one community while retaining brilliant individual excellences.

Sage M's comments remind of James Kalb. I think he does a good job of explaining why liberalism must tend toward tyranny.


"At the same time, they also seem wedded to the notion that the state has the right to decide anything it wants FOR you, if the state thinks that "it is in your own best interest, even though you yourself can't see it". From which we get the various socialist and communist agendas. Funny how it is always the liberal mantra that the state is saying is "better for you", never a conservative angle."


The above comment by Tony reminds me somewhat of the following comment by Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter Rose Wilder Lane, an author and communist turned libertarian after having traveled Europe after WWI and having observed the rising tide of real communism.

Give Me Liberty by Rose Wilder Lane in 1936

"The historical novelty of the Soviet government was its motive. Other governments have existed to keep peace among their subjects, or to amass money from them, or to use them in trade and war for the glory of the men governing them. But the Soviet government exists to do good to its people, whether they like it or not."

"And I felt that, of all the tyrannies to which men have been subject, that tyranny would be the most ruthless and the most agonizing to bear. There is some refuge for freedom under other tyrannies, since they are less thorough and not so remorselessly armed with righteousness. BUT FROM BENEVOLENCE IN ECONOMIC POWER I COULD SEE NO REFUGE WHATEVER."


I'll second the shout-out to Kalb's "Tyranny of Liberalism". It does a good job of getting at the soul of liberalism, which today in its dominant form is really left-liberalism or statist-liberalism, which is to say that it is doing "God's" work (irrelevant theological nuances notwithstanding). And yes, when someone is doing "God's" work, there is no heresy too minor (e.g., human neurological non-uniformity), no peccadillo too small (e.g., having a cigarette with your bourbon at the bar) to avoid the anathema of "God's" chosen eloi, who will will not think twice about bringing the power of the state to bear upon dissenters.

Kalb, in his book (and I'm sure I'm not doing him justice), consistently describes liberalism as an commitment to maximizing equality and freedom; which, to anyone actually ratiocinating, would appear to be opposed goals (the freer we are the less equal we shall be... and vice-versa). Liberalism, as a commitment to both goals, is therefore purely cognitive dissonance. Right liberals (classical liberals, libertarians, most of the American Founding Fathers) concentrate mostly on the freedom part and (rightly) eschew notions of maximizing equality. They have, at least, the advantage of a logically consistent, although in the limit entirely nihilistic, view of the world. Of course, they have (usually) no problem with legalizing all forms of consensual vice, as well...

Political correctness, as it has evolved (it did once mean mere politeness, which was never a cardinal virtue anyway), is now perfectly akin to newspeak. It is an attempt by the those in power to banish crimethink, i.e., any thought at odds with prevailing orthodoxy. However unlikely it is to actually succeed in the long run, is part and parcel of bringing "God's" justice and reign to earth. It is certainly a manifestation of the left-liberal side, i.e., mandated equality, of the liberal memetic complex. And ironically, it is its near cousin, right-liberalism that arguably presents the strongest front in the war against it.

I think liberalism is committed to neutrality. I think Rawls has a good way of articulating this: if you were to design the principles for how society were to function, but you didn't know what position you would take up in society, then what principles would you accept?

Now, what motivates thinking that people should start in this original position behind a veil of ignorance? I think five things. First, Rawls hopes that this will lead to principles that are less controversial, and so less likely to lead to strife. He thinks this is important because he assumes that people live in a pluralistic society, where there are lots of different religious beliefs, moral beliefs, natural talents, races, histories, and so on. Given all these, strife is a very real possibility, so we must see if we can do something to reduce its likelihood. (Avoidance of discord)

Second, Rawls thinks that most people in a liberal society believe that people have rights, rights that are close to inviolable, if not inviolable. He thinks that deliberation behind the OP lead to the specification of principles of justice that respect this intuition. (Inviolability of rights)

Third, Rawls believes that people have a fundamental moral equality, in some sense. He certainly doesn't mean that everyone is equally morally good; instead, he believes something like, "everyone equally has the capacity to act morally." Because of this, he represents everyone as having an equal bargaining position. (Equal moral capacities)

Fourth, Rawls assumes some things about human nature: namely, he assumes that everyone wants more liberty rather than less (because without liberty you cannot pursue any of your goals, and everyone at least wants to pursue their goals); everyone wants more wealth rather than less (because wealth, like liberty, is something without which you can't pursue your goals). And third, he believes that liberty is lexically prior to wealth--i.e., everyone would rather have their liberties protected than have more wealth. (Overriding importance of liberty)

Fifth, Rawls thinks people didn't do anything to deserve their natural capacities or even their developed capacities. Either everything about our characters is some combination of genetics and upbringing, over which we don't have control, or, even if it's the case that we have free will, it still follows that the opportunities we find ourselves having are largely a matter of luck, and so we don't deserve those opportunities anymore than anyone else. (Anti-desert)

So we have these five principles:
1. Avoidance of discord
2. Inviolability of rights
3. Equal moral capacities
4. Overriding importance of liberty
5. Anti-desert

At the outset, there's already conflicts between these five principles and some versions of Christian morality. First, while avoidance of discord is importance, discord may actually be a good thing if some people lead lifestyles that make it more likely that others will act immorally. You'd want people informing each other that certain ways of living are unacceptable, even if they're "victimless".

It's a bit harder for me to see the Christian problem with inviolability of rights--most Christians aren't consequentialists, after all--but where the argument comes is in what counts as rights.

Third, some here will doubt equal moral capacities. First, it has been forwarded that there may be an aristocracy of souls, in which case we should think that everyone is equally capable of moral reasoning. Second, people are fallen, so even if everyone is equally capable of moral reasoning, it may be overall bad moral reasoning alone that they're capable of, in which case it shouldn't be privileged.

Fourth, liberty may not be that important to some conservative Christians, especially if the state's allowing formal liberty encourages people act in self-destructive ways.

Fifth, the anti-desert principle goes well with the importance of grace in Christian theology, but Christians may think that God grants special dispensations to some people, so even if it's true that they don't "deserve" their opportunities, it may nonetheless be true that they, and they alone, should have them.

So, though liberalism is committed to what it thinks of as neutrality, Christians won't think of it as amounting to neutrality.

This post is already too long, so I'm going to write another post about this.

I think liberalism is committed to neutrality.

Depends what you mean by "neutrality"... Depends what you mean by "liberalism". If by neutrality, you mean (and clearly you do) procedural neutrality, and if by liberalism, you mean classical liberalism (which today is known as "conservatism" in the mainstream media and among those in their thrall), then I think the statement is quite correct. But the left-liberals of today are only as committed to procedural neutrality as it is capable of producing statistically similar outcomes for various identity groups... which, of course, it absolutely is not. Therefore, the only alternative is utter tyranny--made far worse than that of merely self-interested prelates, because of its unbending ideological zeal for equality.

That Rawlsian liberalism offends (or at least ought in some aspects to offend) the Christian viewpoint is, I think, of much less concern that the fact its memetic descendant (left liberalism/statist egalitarianism) offends reason herself.

I should think that the whole anti-desert thing really sets us up for various violations of procedural neutrality, though. To my ear, at least, it sounds like it's saying, "Hey, you don't deserve anything you have, so the state can take it away and redistribute it more equally to make things come out as we deem just, and you have no right to complain."

PC is a useful phrase for those of us too diffident about slamming "liberalism" in ordinary conversation with people who might fancy themselves liberals but can still acknowledge excesses.

However, at some point those kinds of crypto-conservative critiques need to become explicit. Liberalism is quite happy to be open about its principles. The perpetual conservative cringe leads to paralysis.

Steve Burton writes:

I think it's far too generous to the left to take at face value their supposed dedication to anything legitimately describable as a principle of "non-discrimination." In fact, the left systematically, relentlessly, and shamelessly discriminates - against whites, against males, against Christians, against Southerners, against the working class, etc.

Non-discrimination is indeed often just a cover for the various ethnic and identity spoils systems of urban Democratic political machines.

However, surely you've noticed that devotees of non-discrimination want to clear out any discriminatory structures and customs.

In their view, this is no more hypocritical than the case of a policeman who uses force against a violent man. The just exercise of force does not contradict the cause of non-violence, so neither is there a contradiction in using just discrimination against unjustly discriminatory individuals or societies.

For these devotees, men are beneficiaries of discrimination insofar as our system places more men in leadership or rewards "male" behavior like enterprise, aggressiveness, innovation, etc. Similarly whites benefit from a culture largely created by whites.

Southerners are discriminatory in preferring their land's history and culture to that of the academy or the urban center. And Christianity bases itself upon a discriminatory act: God chose to become incarnate among one people, at one time, rather than act as some Universal Spirit.

We've heard this before, I'm sure. Except for those undecided people, the complaint that liberalism is discriminatory is probably a non-starter.

It's like complaining about a lack of diversity on campus because there aren't any conservatives. The appeal to diversity itself acknowledges the authority of a liberal mindset. And if liberalism is authoritative, adding conservatives to the mix is merely regress.

I'll also offer a third recommendation for Kalb's The Tyranny of Liberalism.

Also, the establishment's reaction to the Hasan case revealed a major disconnect in institutional liberalism. Perhaps instead of writing a few more blog comments, we should dash off a letter to our local paper pointing out this disconnect.

I'd like to give an "amen!" to Sage's assertion that nondiscrimination is an essential part of the contemporary left. In these threads, I've seen two significant challenges to this assertion.

One is to say "Liberals are not interested in nondiscrimination: they constantly discriminate against Christians, whites, men, heterosexuals, etc." This is true, but if you were to get a liberal to admit that he does discriminate, he'd say "OK, so we do discriminate. But it's an anti-discrimination type of discrimination, because we're opposing people who discriminate. We want to eliminate bias and intolerance; that's why we don't tolerate fundamentalist Christianity, white supremacy, sexism, etc."

So it really is about nondiscrimination. The liberal double standard is, as Lawrence Auster has said, not a double standard at all. It is a single standard of opposing traditional ways of life in the name of nondiscrimination.

The second substantial objection was "Liberals really hate God and the traditional society based upon acknowledging Him, so nondiscrimination is just a way to stick it to The Man." That is the motive of the far left, but these people are a tiny minority. Implementing liberalism relies on convincing normal people to go along with the program, and normal liberals believe they are working to implement the Truly Just Society in which people finally stop being mean to each other because they believe in tolerance and nondiscrimination. The liberal doctrine of nondiscrimination may have originated as a weapon against gullible supporters of traditional society, but it has taken on a life of its own, and we need to take liberals at face value: they really do believe in Tolerance Uber Alles.

An anecdote:

In my own town we've just fought a losing battle against a very radical "non-discrimination" ordinance which added not only homosexuality but also transgender behaviors, etc., to the city's "non-discrimination" statutes.

Based on advice received from a larger conservative organization, our local leadership, against my personal advice, chose to make their campaign feature the slogan "Say no to discrimination." In other words, they were trying to "steal the issue" from the proponents of the ordinance by claiming that the ordinance itself was discriminatory.

Now, it's not as though I can't see something of a case for this rhetoric. There are going to be clear cases (like the one I blogged about recently concerning the clothing store employee in Massachusetts) in which traditionalists, Christians, etc., are discriminated against in employment because of their opposition to the homosexual agenda.

But plenty of other situations don't fall so neatly into the rhetoric of "discrimination." On one of the printed fliers from our local opposition leadership, they told an outrageous story of a male-female transgender who demanded that he be hired to counsel battered women at a women's shelter that was apparently permitted to restrict its counseling positions to females. That's a really wild story. It was completely legitimate to use the story. But they had to class it as, "This discriminated against the rights of abused women." Huh? Everything had to be shoe-horned into this category of "discrimination," and it just ended up looking weird.

The yard signs--two of which I proudly displayed despite my exasperation with the rhetorical decision of the campaign--said "NO discrimination" and then told people to vote no on the ordinance and the date of the election.

I did GOTV calls, and in several cases I had people say to me, "Now, explain to me what a no vote means." I was happy to do so, and perhaps the people would have been just as much in need of enlightenment and just as potentially confused if we hadn't run the campaign that way. Perhaps we didn't lose a single vote to confusion from the fact that the literature and signs said, "Vote no to discrimination" and such.

But I'll bet we didn't gain votes by that strategy, either.

And frankly, it looked kinda pathetic.

I was happy to argue with anyone who might be moved by it that this was not a matter of helping poor victims and such. I was very happy to bring up the cases around the country in which business owners have been outrageously fined, etc., under similar ordinances. I was all in favor of telling people who would be pushing whom around if this ordinance passed. But the attempt to use the term "discrimination" as the lynchpin of our campaign--that, I thought, was misguided.

Non-discrimination is indeed often just a cover for the various ethnic and identity spoils systems of urban Democratic political machines.

I think liberals would argue that just as it is appropriate to be intolerant of intolerance, it is appropriate to discriminate against discrimination. Thus, when liberals are intolerant of Christianity, traditional morality, majority ethnic groups and conservatives, they believe they are being intolerant of intolerance and discriminating against those who discriminate. In other words, non-liberal thoughts, opinions and ways of living are inherently intolerant and discriminatory and must be eliminated. This is what liberals consider the neutral, non-discriminatory, principle.

I agree this is reminiscent of Jim Kalb's analysis, and I think both are equally shoddy, equally simplistic, and equally false. I argued with Kalb fairly extensively about his theory in the comments at Takimag, and I think also at his website if I remember correctly. He seems like a really nice guy, but I'm amazed that such a wrongheaded analysis as his got so much uncritical respect on the right.

Re Sage's comment here, I'm not arguing that liberalism is not able to consistently follow its nondiscrimination principle. I'm arguing that contemporary liberalism - note the modifier, because I think one place Sage and Jim Kalb go seriously astray is in their essentialism - contemporary liberalism does not even overtly adhere to nondiscrimination as any kind of a "ruling principle". When they discriminate, they explicitly justify discrimination by an appeal to some greater good. Contemporary liberalism, unlike "classical" liberalism, is an incoherent mixture of different principles. It has no ruling principle. When people like Auster, Kalb, and now Sage McLaughlin try to identify one, they just end up forcing all the contradictory facts into their ridiculously Procrustean theories.

By the way, for an illustration of what I mean by Procrustean thinking, see Alan Roebuck's post above. He has a typical liberal saying, "But it's an anti-discrimination type of discrimination, because we're opposing people who discriminate." This is typical of Kalb's reasoning as well. (As far as I know, Auster hasn't even tried to defend his own claim against the obvious objections.) If the facts don't fit the theory, change or ignore the facts.

Contemporary liberalism, unlike "classical" liberalism, is an incoherent mixture of different principles.

This assumes that classical liberalism and modern liberalism are completely different systems. It is quite plausible that contemporary liberalism is simply classical liberalism taken to its logical conclusion. Liberalism is still a work in process. In other words, contemporary liberalism is a more "advanced" liberalism. This is the position that I think Kalb makes, where as I think you are arguing that contemporary liberalism is a perversion of true liberalism. Where exactly in the tradition was this fundamental break? Liberals want to maximize individual autonomy, it is just that many liberals have concluded that free market principles are not the most effective way of doing so. Contemporary liberals feel that government is the most effective way of maximizing individual autonomy.

Lydia writes:

The yard signs--two of which I proudly displayed despite my exasperation with the rhetorical decision of the campaign--said "NO discrimination" and then told people to vote no on the ordinance and the date of the election.

I've been pondering launching a "Conservative Marketing Stinks"-themed blog for just these types of head-slapping campaigns.

Aaron, do you happen to have a link handy to any of your exchanges with Kalb? Clearly many critics of Liberalism think Liberalism itself is procrustean, so their criticisms would have to reflect that trait before proposing something more substantive.

I should think that the whole anti-desert thing really sets us up for various violations of procedural neutrality, though. To my ear, at least, it sounds like it's saying, "Hey, you don't deserve anything you have, so the state can take it away and redistribute it more equally to make things come out as we deem just, and you have no right to complain."

Lydia  |  November 11, 2009 6:42 PM

Sounds like that to my ear too.

Plus, it sounds like an argument that violates the procedure of logic. Assuming I don't deserve to keep what I have, how does that lead to the State deserving to take it? Only the envious, the resentful, and the greedy believe dispossession is "nine tenths of the law." Honest folks don't.

"Kalb, in his book (and I'm sure I'm not doing him justice), consistently describes liberalism as an commitment to maximizing equality and freedom"

Somewhere (by Kalb himself?)I've seen liberalism described as "individual freedom* subjected to the formal constraint of equality." So in the liberal system, freedom and equality aren't two opposite ideals that must come into conflict.

My only problem with Kalb's analysis is that it ignores the sentimental, "bleeding-heart" aspect of liberalism. Is this residual Christianity?

*I prefer the term "autonomy" rather than freedom to describe what they believe in.

"Contemporary liberalism, unlike "classical" liberalism, is an incoherent mixture of different principles."

No, because it does function.

As I said above, I think Kalb, et. al. in their analysis ignore certain aspects of it. That said, it's more effective to attack a coherent system then refute a bunch of incoherent ideas that keep popping up. Liberalism has an essence.

I just have to throw this in because it is so fitting. In fact, Bruce asks, "Is this residual Christianity?" I say, Yes! It is also a natural outgrowth of Protestantism. A perfect example, to my mind, of a PC statement in Western Christianity comes from none other than Martin Luther: "Here I stand I can do no other... my conscience is bound by the Word of God (alone)!" This, along with the battle cry of the Reformers of, "Freedom for the individual christian" are classic expressions of all of this PC stuff.

Further, Tony, (comment # 2 in this thread) in asking if there is a way to sum up this liberal worldview, said that the person will just conclude: "I will submit to the state, but only because it promotes my personal views. " IOW, I will submit to the Church, but only because it promotes my personal views. We christians need to own our own part in all this. The schisms and separations in the Christ's Church are unacceptable. The whole "equality" of theological opinion with absolutely no belief in a unified spiritual authority in Christ's Church (i.e., a method to resolve disputes in a binding way) is sinful and makes our witness to this same world we are talking about in this thread suspect at best. As Christians we should clean up our own house first, "... so that the world may know."

Kurt, whatever the genealogy of liberalism(s) may be, my point is that the liberalism of 2009 shouldn't be conflated with the liberalism of 1809 or even of 1969, despite the obvious points they have in common. I think one of the mistakes made by Sage M., Jim Kalb, and Lawrence Auster is to ignore the essential differences. And no, I certainly don't have in mind any idea of a "true liberalism" or any "perversion" thereof.

Kevin, I don't see how a criticism of a Procrustean system would itself have to "reflect" that Procrustean quality, even at first. Regarding earlier exchanges: my main criticisms of Kalb's thesis were in comments to his Takimag articles, where he also answered. (I was posting under the anonym "Ploni" or "Ploni Almoni" at the time.) Fortunately perhaps, Takimag no longer archives comments. This might be a good time to confess that I haven't read Kalb's book, only his articles.

Bruce, you say that liberalism couldn't be an incoherent mixture of principles because "it does function". But lots of functioning, real-world ideologies are incoherent. I'd say the same about Reagan conservatism and lots of others.

Ploni/Aaron,

I'll answer a question with a question (I know, I hate it when people do that). How do we attack a bunch of incoherent ideas that just pop out of nowhere?

Aaron,

I also disagree that Reagan conservatism was incoherent. It was about small government (not that it worked) and anti-Communism. It was flawed in that it was a reaction to other "-isms" but it wasn't an incoherent set of ideas. It had a definable essence and could be advocated or attacked. If you cite, say, Communism as an example, I'd say the same thing. It was flawed but it functioned for a relatively long time and had a coherent set of ideas (and essense that could be articulated, advocated, and attacked) its different flavours notwithstanding.

Aaron (and others) claim that liberalism is incoherent, and therefore those of us who identify its central principle as nondiscrimination are mistaken. I think this is a case of failing to see the forest for the trees.

Sure, people who call themselves (or who are known as) liberals have a wide variety of different convictions. But the way decisions are actually made in America is clear: that we’re not supposed to discriminate is the rule, not the exception. Individual exceptions abound, but one must have the integrity to connect the dots and realize that nondiscrimination is not an anomaly.

A deep subject such as this cannot be settled by a few brief blog posts, but consider another way to look at it: When people feel danger, they become more pious in their religion. Consider the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: liberals demanded that we be more inclusive of Islam. Leftists cursed the evil America of their fantasies. Atheists denounced fundamentalism of all sorts.

And, as everybody knows, the predominant reaction throughout the entire Western world was to demand that we become more welcoming of Islam. The way America actually thinks and acts (occasional exceptions acknowledged) is to regard nondiscrimination as even more important than security. Why else would General Casey, faced with a homicidal traitor within his ranks, demand that we continue to worship the god of diversity?

It is acceptable to point out that exceptions to the trend exist. It is absurd to claim that no generalization about liberalism is possible. It reminds me of liberals attempting to ignore the dangerous nature of Islam. How can we fight the enemy (or even be sure that he is an enemy) if we do not acknowledge his nature?

When I said that liberalism was a mixture of incoherent principles, I asserted that there are liberal principles (not that I could enumerate them). You fight liberalism by attacking its most vulnerable major principles. I happen to think that race realism is the most promising line of attack against post-WW2 liberalism. A lot of liberalism is built upon (probably) incorrect factual claims. But not all of liberalism - because it isn't coherent! Race realism won't get you far against the welfare state.

Alan suggests that liberals became more "pious" after 9/11. Fine. I believe that "inclusiveness" (of selected groups) is one of the principles of contemporary liberalism, so no argument there. But if nondiscrimination is the "ruling principle", why didn't these suddenly more pious liberals react by demanding an end to all discrimination, by everybody? No more diversity goals in hiring! That's a perfectly reasonable question given Alan's (Auster's) theory as stated. And diversity is considered a good in itself, regardless of any need to correct supposed discrimination.

Of course I realize that "nondiscrimination is not an anomaly". I'm suggesting that Alan and others should "connect the dots" and see that nondiscrimination applies to some groups and not to others, and that there's a very clear pattern in whom it applies to and whom it doesn't. Therefore, there's at least one other principle, or attitude, of comparable importance. Hmm...

Interesting. I don't entirely disagree with Aaron.

The basic rules are quite similar. It's bad if I discriminate against women or sodomites or various other groups who aren't racial groups. If I believe that women belong at home and should be subordinate to their husbands then I'm a caveman. But...

It seems to me the degree of the reaction various discrimination-violations elicit is notable. One in particular is always morally wrong and really makes people squirm. This suggests to me that there's something else at work modifying Kalb's liberalism. Yes, I think it's historical memory particulary post-WW2. I disagreed with Jim on his statement that Brimelow's view of liberalism as "Hitler's posthumous revenge on the West" is wrong.

The welfare state is perfectly compatible with the building of a society that's based on individual freedom constrained by equality. People have to have enough money to exercice their freedom/autonomy.

Aaron, you’re saying that hatred of whites is at least as fundamental to liberalism as the imperative that we don’t discriminate. It is certainly fundamental to the leftists (i.e., consistent liberals), but liberalism, in order to rule, must appeal to ordinary people, and most whites (and some nonwhites) will not go along with this principle. Liberalism derives its power partly from the fact that liberals control the key positions of leadership (intellectual, spiritual, political and bureaucratic), and partly from the fact that the appeal to universal brotherhood sounds good to people who assume that the experts have already settled fundamental questions, i.e., to the vast majority of the population.

Hatred of whites, and the hatred of all aspects of traditional America that goes along with it, is psychologically important, and it is important to acknowledge that the ringleaders of liberalism are not honorable people who just happen to be mistaken but are instead fundamentally wicked people who lust after destruction. But to fight liberalism, persuasion is the ultimate weapon, and simply pointing out that our enemies are haters will not be enough. We must demonstrate that their basic view of reality is wrong. Hatred of traditional America is an important psychological driving force, but at the end of the day, people act in accordance with what they believe to be true.

Persuasion is a lot less exciting that working to assemble coalitions that can exert political force, but the force will never be assembled until people believe in the cause. And if you do not challenge your opponent’s premises, you will eventually be forced to acknowledge them. And with them, you will have to acknowledge his whole agenda, and your coalition will evaporate. Persuasion is also less psychologically satisfying than cursing America for having gone wrong (as the paleoconservatives often do), but serious conservatives want to light a candle, not curse the darkness. And the candle is to do what must be done, namely, work to persuade people that liberalism is morally and epistemologically wrong, and that American society ought to be ordered again along properly conservative (i.e., true) principles.

Therefore, for a proper “conservative apologetics,” we must have a balanced view of liberalism, and not place an undue emphasis on one part of it.

What usually happens is that the liberals who are the true haters work on the popular mind by implying without actually saying so that mistreatment of non-favored groups somehow "doesn't matter" or "doesn't count," usually because the non-favored groups are _morally bad_ or "don't need" any protection, for example. I have to say, though, that I don't find the "hater of the normal/ordinary person" distinction _as_ sharp as perhaps Alan finds it, because in the very act of appealing to the ordinary person, the really committed ideologue liberal is trying to turn that ordinary person into something more like himself. So, for example, suppose I was discussing the proposed ordinance in my town with some "man on the street." I might point out that it would punish with fines any businessman who did not want to employ a transgender person who appeared totally bizarre and whose appearance would understandably put off customers and fellow workers and disrupt the business, a manifest biological male, for example, who insisted on wearing a dress and lots of makeup and being called by a female name. Suppose that (as did sometimes happen) the man on the street forced himself to "bite the bullet" and say that such a businessman _should_ be fined. Usually he would say so by saying, "But that's discrimination, and discrimination is just wrong." The man on the street, then, had accepted a principle of "non-discrimination" according to which normal reactions must be punished as wrongthought. In that very act of "biting the bullet" the man on the street was taking another step himself towards sheer hatred of the normal and willingness to punish it. Thus the principle of "non-discrimination" is applied to turn people gradually into blind, liberal ideologues who are perfectly willing to punish and disfavor normalcy.

Similarly, a college student might start by believing in racial non-discrimination. But once his professors teach him that affirmative action disfavoring whites is all right, because whites "already have" so many jobs or "must be" discriminating against the blacks because of the appearance of disparate impact in their hiring practice, and the student accepts that, the student is himself moving in the direction of thinking of white job applicants and employers as "deserving" to be disfavored or punished in one way or another. He has become more of a pure ideologue himself.

Rawlsian neutrality is a compromise position. The compromise is necessary because of the fact that we actually do live in a pluralistic society, and we actually are entitled to various freedoms, such as freedom of religion. Any so-called "neutrality" that did not offend any of the sensibilities of conservative Christians would not be a legitimate compromise.

Dr. McGrew's misreading of Rawls's anti-desert principle is a real knee-slapper. Perhaps she should consider enrolling in an undergraduate political philosophy course. Rawls's point is that nobody deserves his in-born talents, since nobody could have done anything to deserve them. This is supposed to emphasize the fact that people who have these talents are not thereby morally superior; they are lucky. This, in turn, is supposed to support the idea that people who aren't so lucky are, in some sense, entitled to assistance from those who are. His point was not that nobody ever deserves anything, or that the government ought to be allowed to confiscate anything at any time.

Liberals want to maximize individual autonomy, it is just that many liberals have concluded that free market principles are not the most effective way of doing so. Contemporary liberals feel that government is the most effective way of maximizing individual autonomy.

What "liberal" wants that?? Where is a liberal who would advocate the right of a businessman or landlord to associate or (more pertinently) not associate with anyone for any reason? Such advocacy would be liberal in the classical sense, but not at all in the modern sense. That is why such folks are called libertarians (right or anti-state liberals perhaps). Such freedom might allow racists or "homophobes" or people who don't want to sanction a fornicating couple, a means to actually implement their crimethink. This is intolerable to the modern liberal; and no mountain of laws, red tape, and browbeating is too onerous or constrictive of freedom to make sure that no one is allowed to implement such thoughts.

In fact, aside from autonomy of sexual and reproductive organs (loosely construed), the modern liberal isn't for autonomy at all; he is for equality and specifically equality of outcomes.

This, in turn, is supposed to support the idea that people who aren't so lucky are, in some sense, entitled to assistance from those who are. His point was not that nobody ever deserves anything, or that the government ought to be allowed to confiscate anything at any time.

The, er, tensions in this set of sentences make me slap my knee. Ah, no, the government shouldn't be allowed to confiscate just _anything_ at _any_ time, but the less fortunate are "entitled to assistance." This "entitlement," I suppose, is supposed to be satisfied by the sheer good-will of the more fortunate? Just as I said: Setting us up for at least a partial welfare state.

The modern liberal is for individual autonomy as in "we're free to define ourselves however we want." But since their not so dumb as to realize that there must be some constraint placed on autonomy they choose to constrain it with equality.

Rewrite on my last sentence: But since they're not so dumb as to not realize that there must be some constraint placed on autonomy they choose to constrain it with equality.

Alan, I never suggested that liberals hate whites or anybody else. Most liberals I've known have been decent, nice people who didn't hate any group. I would never use the word "hatred" as you do to describe liberals in general, or "evil" (Auster's favorite word) to describe liberalism. You're right that most people wouldn't go along with hatred of whites, but they certainly do go along with affirmative action. Also, I don't call liberals the enemy, as you do; maybe reading Carl Schmitt has made me careful about using that word. Needless to say, by the time we get to liberal "ringleaders" being "fundamentally wicked people who lust after destruction", well...please stop and let me off the bus, I don't want to go to Auster-land.

You say that liberals believe they "discriminate against the discriminators", but if you ask a liberal why, for instance, the Cabinet Secretaries should "look like America", he won't say that it's because white men discriminate; he'll say it's because diversity is important. Note that I didn't restrict any category to whites either. Whites share the honor of being the bad guys with Christians (but not African-American Christians), men, etc., depending on context. To take another example: Muslims in Muslim countries are about as discriminatory as you can get. Where's the liberal outrage over discrimination against Christians in Egypt? The Christians are "people of color" of course, but liberals still don't care about them.

One principle, or attitude, of contemporary liberalism is to sympathize with the Other against Us (though contrary to the rules of grammar, "Us" never includes "Me"). There's no way you can reduce this to nondiscrimination. Christians are Us and Muslims are the Other, so when Muslims persecute Christians it's no big deal.

By the way, one thing that Jim Kalb and I do agree on is that there are no double standards in ideology. What an outside observer might see as a double standard - e.g., liberals claiming they're anti-racism while "hypocritically" excusing anti-white comments - is just a single standard that he doesn't understand.

[Nicoloso] the modern liberal isn't for autonomy at all; he is for equality and specifically equality of outcomes.

It is possible that the modern liberal sees the ideal world as containing equality of outcomes (personally, I don't have my mind made up). But the modern liberal is not so naive as to think that this is a practical possibility, and does not think this should be the aim of government. The modern liberal thinks that equalities of opportunity and of access to society's institutions are far more important, and that this is a legitimate aim of government. He recognizes that these sorts of equality do not guarantee equality of outcome; he realizes that not everyone is equally motivated and that not all risks pay off, and that these inequalities almost inevitably lead to inequality of outcomes (even when equality of opportunity and access have been secured). Such inequalities do not bother us in particular (so long as everyone's basic needs have been met).

What really bothers us is inequality of opportunity and access to society's institutions. Discrimination bothers us because it is the cause of the lion's share of this kind of inequality. That's why we're always carrying on about it: it is a clear and present threat to the kinds of equality that are vitally important, practically attainable, required by justice, and a proper aim of government.

[Dr. McGrew] The, er, tensions in this set of sentences make me slap my knee.

The claim that the government ought not be permitted to confiscate anything at any time is not in tension with the claim that the government is required by justice to confiscate some things at some times. No serious person believes that the government ought to be allowed to confiscate anything at any time; no serious person denies that the government must sometimes confiscate things.

This "entitlement," I suppose, is supposed to be satisfied by the sheer good-will of the more fortunate?

Sadly, no. The good will of the more fortunate does not buy bread or treat cancer. That's why we need at least a partial welfare state.

Just as I said: Setting us up for at least a partial welfare state.

For one thing, you didn't say that. You suggested that Rawls's point was much, much stronger (and crazier). You said that "it sounds like it's saying, 'Hey, you don't deserve anything you have, so the state can take it away and redistribute it more equally to make things come out as we deem just, and you have no right to complain'." This is way beyond a "partial welfare state."

For another thing, Rawls clearly believes in a Constitutional Republic where certain freedoms are guaranteed, including the right to free speech, conscience, association, etc. So I have no idea where you get that we would have no right to complain.

For another other thing, Rawls's whole point in A Theory of Justice is to set us up for at least a partial welfare state. His project is to explain how such a state is justified by and compatible with a well-developed conception of justice. Your objection is, in essence, if Rawls was right about anti-desert, then his conclusion would follow. I mean, duh. But that's not a bug in his argument; it's cogency. You really should consider that political philosophy course. Or, Jonathan Wolff has a nice introductory text that might help you.

Steve Nicoloso writes that James Kalb "consistently describes liberalism as a commitment to maximizing equality and freedom; which, to anyone actually ratiocinating, would appear to be opposed goals (the freer we are the less equal we shall be...and vice-versa). Liberalism, as a commitment to both goals, is therefore pure cognitive dissonance..."

Exactly. And the only way to resolve the dissonance is to insist that all differences of outcome, and especially group differences, *must* be products of oppression - i.e., deprivation of freedom.

Which is why *nothing* enrages left liberals like the accumulating evidence for human bio-diversity (aka HBD) and data-geeks like Charles Murray and Steve Sailer who insist on drawing attention to it.

It threatens their ideological identity to the very core.

(btw - I haven't read through this whole thread yet, so sorry if I'm behind the curve.)

You're just over-interpreting, Zero. For example, "take it away" didn't have to mean "take all of it away," and so forth. "No right to complain" meant "your complaint wouldn't have moral force" not "it would be okay to lock you up if you complained." And I hold no brief for the welfare state, to put it mildly. Which was why I made the comment I originally did.

Bobcat - I don't see anything obviously wrong with your quick primer on Rawls, and look forward to the next installment, if you find the time.

For me, the problem with Rawls is pretty similar to the problem with Utilitarianism. Why, I keep wondering, for page after page after endless page, would *I* adopt some sort of impartial point of view in deciding what to do? Why would *I* adopt a "God's-eye" point of view? Why would *I* adopt the point of view of some disembodied rational calculator in the "original position?"

For anybody who hasn't been thoroughly indoctrinated from birth into modern liberal impartialism/universalism (let alone anybody, like me, who's in active rebellion against it - écrase l'infame!) there's just no argument in sight. All Rawls shows is that if you start out with moderate liberal moral intuitions, you can more or less find your way to moderate liberal political institutions. The amazing thing to me is what heavy weather he manages to make of what I would have expected to be a fairly trivial task.

Actually, Kalb describes liberalism as an attempt to maximize equality of freedom. It's a not-insignificant distinction.

You're under-interpreting yourself, Dr. McGrew, in what must be a defense strategy. But it's not that I'm misreading you; it's that what you wrote is wrong. You suggest that Rawls is committed to the view that "you don't deserve anything you have, so the state can take it away...". My reading is supported by the fact that the pronoun 'it' in the phrase "take it away" occurs under the scope of the quantifier, 'everything.' it = everything.

That is not his view, though. His view is that you don't deserve some of the things you have. And he is right--you are a very fortunate person (as am I). And this fact, in conjunction with a bunch of stuff that happens in a very long, verbose series of books, yields the conclusion that the government has the right to confiscate some of what we have (though not everything we don't happen to deserve) in order to assist people who did not get so lucky.

I know that you hold no brief for the welfare state. It's just that your criticisms hold no water.

Lydia writes: 'I should think that the whole anti-desert thing really sets us up for various violations of procedural neutrality, though. To my ear, at least, it sounds like it's saying, "Hey, you don't deserve anything you have, so the state can take it away and redistribute it more equally to make things come out as we deem just, and you have no right to complain.'"

Basically, yes.

Rawls seems to think that, since one doesn't "deserve" to be born with, e.g., an industrious temperament, one doesn't "deserve" the benefits of behavior driven by such a temperament.

Which is just to say that our pre-theoretical intuitions about "desert" mean nothing to him.

And yet, his entire project is motivated by resentment over the existence of undeserved differences in human welfare.

It's all very strange - and the longer you look at it, the stranger it gets.

Thank you, Steve.

Mr. Zero writes:

"It is possible that the modern liberal sees the ideal world as containing equality of outcomes...But the modern liberal is not so naive as to think that this is a practical possibility, and does not think this should be the aim of government. The modern liberal thinks that equalities of opportunity and of access to society's institutions are far more important, and that this is a legitimate aim of government. He recognizes that these sorts of equality do not guarantee equality of outcome; he realizes that not everyone is equally motivated and that not all risks pay off, and that these inequalities almost inevitably lead to inequality of outcomes (even when equality of opportunity and access have been secured). Such inequalities do not bother us in particular (so long as everyone's basic needs have been met).

What Mr. Zero does *not* write is that "equalities of opportunity and of access to society's institutions" are impossible, absent either:

(1) Equality of outcomes in previous generations (which, he admits, is not "a practical possibility")...or,

(2) "Systematic, relentless, and shameless" discrimination against whites, against males, against Jews, and against Asian-Americans.

Suggested exercise for the interested reader:

Re-write the fable of the cat, the rat, the dog, & the Little Red Hen, from a Rawlsian point of view.

Suggested conclusion:

R.I.P., Little Red Hen. Your industrious genes doomed you to a life of servitude. And you should feel really good about that!

This is not my area, so I am content to just read and think. Thanks for the lively discussion. One question:

I'll answer a question with a question (I know, I hate it when people do that). How do we attack a bunch of incoherent ideas that just pop out of nowhere?

Are you sure the ideas popped out of nowhere? This doesn't usually happen except in dream states.

Some ways to fight incoherent ideas: 1) taking on each idea, separately, which usually never works because the other side keeps multiplying ideas, 2) create a unifying idea and attack incoherence with coherence, 3) keep asking the incoherent person to explain themselves. At some point they will reach an obvious contradiction.

Any more?

The Chicken

Rawls seems to think that, since one doesn't "deserve" to be born with an industrious temperament, one doesn't "deserve" the benefits of behavior driven by such a temperament.

And yet, his entire project is motivated by resentment over the existence of undeserved differences in human welfare.

So if someone is the "wrong" ethnicity, gender, religion, or other identity marker, any industrious temperament and talent they have deserves no benefits at all. That looks coherent.

Your industrious genes doomed you to a life of servitude. And you should feel really good about that!

Yes, living in a liberal democracy is just like living in servitude.

Step2 - in the long, strange trip of human history, I suppose that living in servitude is getting off easy.

Can't make hide nor hair of your third paragraph.

Aaron,

To speak more precisely: Fully consistent liberals are leftists, whereas non-leftist liberals are basically decent people. I describe leftists as lusting for destruction because their stated goals are to destroy every element of the traditional American order, and replace it with a regime of radical “tolerance” in which, for example, women serve alongside men in combat and submarines, cross-dressers are allowed to work anywhere they want, and all professions are 10% black, 35% Hispanic, 3% Moslem, etc. And, most importantly, all will be required to approve of this madness. If people who aim for this unachievable goal, the pursuit of which can only lead to disaster, are not wicked, then nobody is wicked.

Non-leftist liberals do not consciously hate America and aim for its destruction. They just think that reliable authorities have determined that we need to be more tolerant and inclusive, so they go along with the leftist project, all the while diluting it with a certain measure of common sense and common decency.

Since it is cumbersome constantly to have to make the distinction between leftist (“extremist”) and liberal (“moderate”), I often speak in shorthand, and refer to the entire project as “liberalism.” Calling it this also makes the point that leftist doctrine occupies the positions of authority, and is therefore mainstream, even if it is constantly diluted with nonliberal principles in order to make life bearable.

Bottom line: I don’t know where you’re coming from. You seem to disagree with some of the basic principles of liberalism, but you don’t appear to take the next logical step, and identify liberalism as a danger to America that must be opposed. America is obviously in steep decline and even in danger of destruction (i.e., changing into something radically different); what do YOU think is the problem?

Rawls seems to think that, since one doesn't "deserve" to be born with an industrious temperament, one doesn't "deserve" the benefits of behavior driven by such a temperament.

That's part of it, but it's obviously not the whole story. As a white guy whose parents were pretty well-off, there were a ton of advantages I was born into and did nothing myself to deserve. I attended a pretty good high school; a better college than the one I now teach at; I didn't have to work while I was attending classes; etc. Does that mean that everything I have is undeserved? Not at all. I also worked hard. But it does mean that not everything I have is deserved. The guy who wins the race in part because he had a head start deserves his winnings, but only in part. I had a big head start.

Which is just to say that our pre-theoretical intuitions about "desert" mean nothing to him.

The importance of the fact that Rawls does not share your pretheoretical intuitions about desert can be overstated. And it's not as though he simply asserts that his intuitions are correct. It's funny how you complain about what you find to be counter-intuitive claims about the nature of desert just 30 minutes after you find it amazing how he could devote so much space to the "trivial task" of defending and systematizing those intuitions.

"Systematic, relentless, and shameless" discrimination against whites...

When determining whether some behavior is discriminatory, the details matter very much. Although there are no guarantees, it is possible to grant preferential treatment to nonwhites without thereby discriminating against whites if, among other things, the preferential treatment is carefully designed to compensate for centuries of injustice. There is no reason why such preferential treatment would have to be unfair.

R.I.P., Little Red Hen.

Well, if the LRH wouldn't let the dog help because he had black fur, and wouldn't let the cat help because he was gay, and the rat wasn't qualified to help because the schools on the rat side of town are worthless, maybe it would be unfair for the LRH not to share. Maybe the LRH herself would select such a social arrangement from behind a veil of ignorance, where she didn't know whether she'd be the hen or the rat or what. Maybe thinking about things in terms of the veil would help her abstract away from her particular interests and think more about which arrangements would be genuinely fair and less about which arrangements are specifically in her interests. Maybe she'd even select a social arrangement where she was more patient with the rat and let the dog & cat help.

Mr. Zero asks:

"Does that mean that everything I have is undeserved? Not at all. I also worked hard."

But that was only because you were born with the right sort of hard-working temperament - a temperament that you did nothing to deserve. Or maybe because of some accidental edge you picked up, through no fault or virtue of your own, somewhere along the way.

Others with all the same advantages might just as well have failed where you succeeded. Again, through no fault or virtue of their own.

Why? When you get right down to it?

Do you have any serious concept of "desert?" Does Rawls?

I don't think so.

"...it is possible to grant preferential treatment to nonwhites without thereby discriminating against whites if, among other things, the preferential treatment is carefully designed to compensate for centuries of injustice."

No, it isn't. "preferential treatment" = "discrimination."

If you want to argue that preferential treatment (i.e., discrimination) can be justified, based on past injustice, fine. Let's discuss it.

But if you want argue that preferential treatment isn't discrimination...it just doesn't interest me.

it is possible to grant preferential treatment to nonwhites without thereby discriminating against whites if, among other things, the preferential treatment is carefully designed to compensate for centuries of injustice.

Now there's a loaded claim.

Can I start this by pointing out that there are (at least) two distinct sorts of justice that the state has to manage or oversee: (A) commutative justice, such as that within contracts, where the state sees to it that the terms are rightly interpreted so as to provide each party with the goods for which the contract was entered into; and (B) distributive justice, whereby the state hands out goods of its own proper order to recipients to promote the common good, such as giving honors to brave soldiers who rise above duty in noble action.

It is obviously the case that the state ought to hand out goods unevenly under (B), because people will "deserve" them differently. It is also obviously the case that some distributions of such goods will not be of equal benefit to all those who might be considered deserving. But in general, privileges are handed out in such a way as to further the common good, and if a person receives no honors who is in theory

just as deserving as another who receives honors, that's the luck of the draw and you can't have a right to a privilege.

For (A), it is generally not the case that the state can have any valid interest in an unequal procedural enforcement of justice - she ought to be blind to the conditions of the interested parties who she must arbitrate between, when those conditions are not germane to the contract or exchange itself. You can't decide a court case for whether a car was a lemon based on whether the seller was Jewish and the buyer was Shinto.

The trickiest part comes in with the state's distribution of goods that are not proper goods of the state as such, but she still has control of them. The distribution of taxes from the wealthy to the poor can be this sort. The mere fact that the taxed money is NOW in the state's hands does not make it a proper state good, in the same way honors is a proper state good. The taxed money started out as the private good of a citizen, and is in the hands of the state first for basic state functions (such as defense). Insofar as it is not used for basic state functions, the money does not automatically fall into "proper goods of the state".

The use of such funds unequally for basic state needs is not a violation of justice. If the state puts the money with a contractor because it is confident the job will get done sooner, even though this does not spread the money throughout the system evenly, if it is for the common good, there is no violation of justice. And, I would posit, a choice to sometimes use a black contractor who is EQUALLY capable over a white contractor, because of the historical problems of racial injustices, is NOT a violation of distributive justice. At root, neither equally capable contractor has a right to the contract.

But the question is, is distribution of that wealth to the poor (merely on account of their poverty, or their color) a basic state function? And if not, does the unequal distribution of that money constitute a departure from commutative justice? Or merely a use under distributive justice? I would posit that there is a problem calling this distributive justice, and suggest that it does indeed fall into the realm of commutative justice. And a violation thereof.

I heartily oppose the Rawlsian view of desert here. If the state has the right to take away all unequal goods because the inequality arises out of an undeserved prior condition (inheritance, intelligence, opportunity, motivation), then the state will thereby guarantee that those who HAVE greater capacity will never bother to use it, to the eventual detriment of all. THAT is not a reasonable view of human nature, nor of God-given talents. It is, finally, much more reasonable to accept that God-given talents, distributed by Him unequally, are so distributed for the benefit of both the individual AND society, and therefore do not constitute a condition of injustice.

But that was only because you were born with the right sort of hard-working temperament

I don't see where such a strong claim is warranted by the available evidence or by Rawls's commitments. I'd easily go as far as "in part because..."; I would never agree to "only because." I don't think Rawls would, either.

Anyways, it seems like you're trying to argue that if I don't think I deserve everything I have, I must be committed to the view that I don't deserve anything I have. But that's pretty stupid.

Others with all the same advantages might just as well have failed where you succeeded

I thought we'd been over this. Liberals think that equality of opportunity and access are required by justice. We do not think equality of outcome is. We recognize, of course, that those of us who are successful owe our success to hard work combined with luck, and we feel duty-bound to lend a hand to those who aren't so successful. Which is why were trying to make sure that everyone can afford health insurance, for example. We are not trying to prevent people who can afford it from buying better insurance than the minimum, though.

Does Rawls [have any serious concept of "desert"]

Yeah. There's this book. It's called, A Theory of Justice. Maybe you've heard of it.

It seems like you're trying to suggest that there is some serious conception of desert according to which people who are born into poverty deserve it and people who lucky enough not to be born into poverty have done something to deserve not to be--this is the denial of the Rawlsian anti-desert principle. If you think you've got a serious conception of justice that has these results, I'd be pretty fascinated to see you state it in detail.

"preferential treatment" = "discrimination."

Whatever. I was thinking of discrimination as a special case of preferential treatment, where it is based on morally irrelevant or otherwise unjustifiable criteria. But this is just semantics. If you'd like to argue that preferential treatment cannot be justified by past injustice, I'm listening. But if you just want to have a semantic argument about whether the word 'discrimination' applies to all cases of preferential treatment or not, I'm not interested.

[Tony:] I heartily oppose the Rawlsian view of desert here. If the state has the right to take away all unequal goods because the inequality arises out of an undeserved prior condition

Maybe Lou Rawls said something like that, but that's not any view of desert proposed by John Rawls. That's the Burton/McGrew caricature of the Rawlsian view. (In fairness, Dr. McGrew backed away from the caricature.) It would not be rational to adopt such an arrangement from behind the veil of ignorance, and Rawls does not argue that it would be.

There's an obvious quis custodiet question when one says, "Oh, the state can't take _all_ your stuff away, or even all the unequal stuff, just _some_ of it--as much as is required by justice" or something to that effect. In practice, obviously, the lawmakers will decide how much is enough or too much, etc. It's not as though there would be some a priori line drawn in the sand according to which marginal tax rates of X on income above Y are unjust, or the state's controlling more than N% of the GDP is ruled out. I find it difficult to believe that any purely philosophical system could derive such a conclusion, either.

Btw, Zero is certainly showing me how careful one needs to be about phrases like "equality of opportunity." He's using that phrase in a sense in which I would never use it when saying that I have some positive inclinations toward equality of opportunity. The addition of "equality of access" provides a hint of what is actually intended, though, and _that_ phrase is one I would never use in a positive sense.

What "liberal" wants that?? Where is a liberal who would advocate the right of a businessman or landlord to associate or (more pertinently) not associate with anyone for any reason?

The modern liberal understands that private industry can obstruct an individual’s autonomy in the same manner that government can. Here we have a conflict of wills. Equality is how liberals attempts to solve the conflict. Everyone must be equally autonomous, or equally free. The autonomy of the landlord does not trump the autonomy of the tenant. A liberal does not support the "right to discriminate" or the "right to be intolerant".

If the state has the right to take away all unequal goods because the inequality arises out of an undeserved prior condition (inheritance, intelligence, opportunity, motivation), then the state will thereby guarantee that those who HAVE greater capacity will never bother to use it, to the eventual detriment of all.

Sounds like Harrison Bergeron, i.e. the Handicapper General.

it seems like you're trying to argue that if I don't think I deserve everything I have, I must be committed to the view that I don't deserve anything I have. But that's pretty stupid.

Who gets to decide how much of what you have you actually deserve?

The modern liberal understands that private industry can obstruct an individual’s autonomy in the same manner that government can. Here we have a conflict of wills. Equality is how liberals attempts to solve the conflict. Everyone must be equally autonomous, or equally free. The autonomy of the landlord does not trump the autonomy of the tenant.

Kurt, you are being entirely too vague here. Can you bring in examples? If the kind of private industry obstructing an individual's autonomy implied by what you are holding means a private employer cannot choose NOT to employ a black applicant merely because he thinks he (the employer) will make more money by choosing the white applicant, and that kind of "obstruction" to the black person's autonomous right to work can and should be defeated by the state, well, that's a pretty severe sort of state interference. But this appears to be just exactly the sort of state involvement that liberals have been trumpeting, when they cannot get still more direct control of private enterprise.

Mr. Zero:
This, in turn, is supposed to support the idea that people who aren't so lucky are, in some sense, entitled to assistance from those who are.

McGrew:
i> This "entitlement," I suppose, is supposed to be satisfied by the sheer good-will of the more fortunate?

Zero:
Sadly, no. The good will of the more fortunate does not buy bread or treat cancer. That's why we need at least a partial welfare state.

And that's the central question: does the state have the basic, unrestricted right to take away from John, who has more because of lucky circumstances, to establish more equality of results to Pete, because he is unlucky in circumstances of wealth? Or are there more fundamental principles at issue that constrain the state. For example, does the fact that money forcibly taxed away from John (to be distributed to Pete) absolutely precludes John's charitable assistance to Pete in any way impact the state's right to tax John for that purpose?

Some would suggest that the "entitlement" Pete has to "assistance" is a completely different sort of entitlement than that normally understood to fall under the term "justice". It is, rather an entitlement to charity. And, by definition, the state does not distribute charity when it distributes taxed money to the poor.

How are we to measure equality of opportunity or equality of access? I can't think of a way that doesn't relate to equal outcomes.

There's also a problem with this:

Rawls's point is that nobody deserves his in-born talents, since nobody could have done anything to deserve them. This is supposed to emphasize the fact that people who have these talents are not thereby morally superior; they are lucky. This, in turn, is supposed to support the idea that people who aren't so lucky are, in some sense, entitled to assistance from those who are.

If I am not entirely deserving of the results of my inborn talents coupled with my industriousness, then how much less does the person receiving what has been taken from me deserve what they have gotten? No matter how privileged I am, it seems obvious that I deserve what I have more than anyone else. Even if I deserve it only by proxy, as an inheritance which at some point was earned by someone, they don't deserve it at all. It just doesn't follow at all that me not deserving something that I have means that someone else does.

Matt, that's because the poorer person who will be the recipient of your taxed wealth is NOT deserving of that hand-out. It isn't justice, it is mercy and charity that gives to those what they don't deserve. Saying that the poor are "entitled" to assistance is that sneaky middle term that clouds the issue, since "entitlement" sounds so much like something due to them in justice.

In practice, obviously, the lawmakers will decide how much is enough or too much, etc.

Obviously. That's what governments do. It's their reason for being.

It's not as though there would be some a priori line drawn in the sand according to which marginal tax rates of X on income above Y are unjust, or the state's controlling more than N% of the GDP is ruled out.

Well, it's not as though there actually are a priori limits of the sort you describe. It's a practical problem concerning how to maximize social justice--even on the McGrew/Burton/Luse conception. It's just that you guys have a misguided conception of social justice according to which everyone deserves to be exactly as lucky or unlucky they are, and if somebody is badly off or dying because they are unlucky, that's their problem and we are all a priori permitted to stand by and do nothing.

But it seems to me that it's a lot better when everyone has a little less than he deserves than it is when some people are really lucky and have as much as (if not way more than) they deserve and some people are single mothers who are dying of cancer because they got laid off from their job at the YWCA and can't afford to get on COBRA because it costs over a thousand dollars a month. People in that situation don't deserve to be. Situations like that are a lot more tragic than when guys like us have to give a little extra in order to keep stuff like that from happening.

Conservatives are fond of pointing out that rich people got rich by working hard, and they deserve to keep their earnings. Or, their parents work hard, and their parents deserve to be able to pass their earnings on. I agree. They do.

But there are limits. We are obligated to pay our share of the cost of having an Army, and roads, and schools, and a fire department. And people who can't afford those taxes are still entitled to use the roads and the army and the fire department. And people who can't afford health insurance still deserve health care. And people who live in poor areas still deserve a decent education. And the people who are rich didn't get rich just by hard work. They got lucky; as Burton points out, other people in the same circumstances might not have had such luck. And the country as a whole is better when the unlucky people get what access to institutions and opportunities they deserve. And so those of us who are lucky ought to help out those who aren't so lucky. And this help shouldn't be contingent on somebody's whims; it should be systematic. So there should be political machinery in place to make sure it happens.

Matt Weber argues that whether we are 100% deserving of the fruits of our advantages is less important than the fact that we are more deserving of them than the less fortunate. This is, at least, a more nuanced and plausible view than the one expressed by McGrew and her cohort. But it seems to me to be immorally callous. Same as saying, "I know I was lucky to get what I have, but I got mine and the rest of you are on your own." But the only thing separating us from them is dumb luck. And if you weren't so lucky, you'd want a little help.

The veil of ignorance is designed to help us abstract away from the fact that we are actually very lucky and consider what sorts of social institutions would be most fair from an impersonally disinterested standpoint. And if you were behind a veil of ignorance and you didn't know how lucky you'd end up being, it would make a lot of sense to institute a set of social institutions that transferred some but not nearly all of the surplusses of the fortunate to provide for the basic needs of the less fortunate. To refuse not to do that just because you happen to be lucky is to make an exception of oneself.

[Luse:] Who gets to decide how much of what you have you actually deserve?

There is a general problem involving the nature and extent of political power--where it comes from, under what circumstances are uses of it are legitimate, who may legitimately decide how it is to be used. These issues are too deep to get into here, though I feel entitled to presume that there are such legitimate uses of political power. (The traditional problem is not whether political institutions are justified, but how.) The traditional argument is that political power is necessary in order to make everyone much better off, although there are a bunch of different views about precisely how this works. Usually it's some kind of tacit or hypothetical consent, but I don't know. Rawls's view is a version of hypothetical consent. I have been defending it not because I am a staunch Rawlsian, but because the criticisms offered here have been so silly.

Anyways, the answer to your question is, the government gets to decide because that is the whole point of government. I take it as a datum that some uses of political power are legitimate, and that government can be justified somehow. I didn't take you guys for anarchists (maybe you guys still believe in the divine right of kings). You might consider enrolling in an undergraduate political philosophy course, too. Maybe Dr. McGrew could save you a seat.

[Tony:]And that's the central question: does the state have the basic, unrestricted right to take away from John, who has more because of lucky circumstances, to establish more equality of results to Pete, because he is unlucky in circumstances of wealth?

That is not the central question. The central question is, what are the restrictions on the state's basic right to take away from John and give to Pete in order to establish a more equal scheme of equality of opportunity and access. Access to things like courts of law, schools, hospitals, etc. The state does this, and it obviously has a right to. For example, the government taxes me and spends the money on schools. This is not money I pay to send my kids to school--I don't have any kids. This is money I pay to live in an educated society. The question is, how far does this right extend? Rawls argues, and nobody here has lodged a remotely plausible criticism, that the answer is not unrestricted, but a lot less restricted than the well-to-do conservatives at W4 would have you believe.

[Tony:] Saying that the poor are "entitled" to assistance is that sneaky middle term that clouds the issue, since "entitlement" sounds so much like something due to them in justice.

That's not something that serves to cloud the issue; that is the issue. Rawls's central argument is that the sorts of social arrangements that channel resources from the very fortunate to the very unfortunate are required by justice. You don't have to agree with this, but it would be nice if y'all had some cogent objection to it, and even nicer if y'all understood what was at issue.

It's just that you guys have a misguided conception of social justice according to which everyone deserves to be exactly as lucky or unlucky they are [sic], and if somebody is badly off or dying because they are unlucky, that's their problem and we are all a priori permitted to stand by and do nothing.

Since part of your technique involves painting idiotically absurd and insulting caricatures of your opponents that bear no relation to what they really believe, you can get lost now. Thanks for the speech, though.

Access to things like courts of law, schools, hospitals, etc. The state does this, and it obviously has a right to.

Yes, but you see, you define "access" differently than anyone 100 years ago would have defined it. Access to a restaurant means being able to go in and order a meal without being thrown out for having the wrong skin color. Access to a school means applying and being accepted without regard to my skin color. The money to pay for it of course is separate. If THAT's the kind of access you want, to courts and health care and schools, I agree that all should have it equally. But that's not the kind of access that liberals and you are indicating. You are instead calling "access" what everyone 100 years ago would have called under a different name, like "receiving benefits of." It would help to call things by names that do not obscure the principles.

Rawls's central argument is that the sorts of social arrangements that channel resources from the very fortunate to the very unfortunate are required by justice.

I will admit that I have not read Rawls' argument, so I cannot speak to it of my own knowledge. How refreshing that he actually argues to this position, instead of assuming it. Could you give a synopsis of that argument?

Since I don't know what his argument is, I won't be able to state exactly where he logically runs into problems (until you fill us in on that argument). As for the argument against it, it is simple: justice requires that we give to each what is his due. Since by premise the rich man does not deserve that gratuitous good that he receives through circumstances (I'm being generous here - properly it's not "through circumstances" but from God ), then NOBODY can come to deserve that same good through his hands. The only way someone else can have any sort of a claim on it is by having a claim subsequent, and it is impossible that the claim subsequent be stronger than the claim precedent.

ALternatively, to assert that the poor person has a claim on it by justice is to claim a desert, and to lay a claim by desert while also stating that the rich man's claim is without desert is really to say that the rich man never had ownership of it at all, he only held control of it without right, as stolen goods are held without right. Thus the state corrects the injustice in the rich man's ever holding it at all by taking it away and giving it to the (poor) person who deserves it.

Thus the rich man investing his wealth in a factory employing hundreds is basically using stolen goods to acquire more. Even his using his wealth to found a hospital for the poor would be using money that is not really his own, and violates justice. Only the state would have the right to found hospitals (Obamacare, we believe in you!), or, for that matter, factories.

Does this begin to sound just like the extreme left mantra against all private ownership of wealth?

Matt Weber argues that whether we are 100% deserving of the fruits of our advantages is less important than the fact that we are more deserving of them than the less fortunate. This is, at least, a more nuanced and plausible view than the one expressed by McGrew and her cohort. But it seems to me to be immorally callous. Same as saying, "I know I was lucky to get what I have, but I got mine and the rest of you are on your own." But the only thing separating us from them is dumb luck. And if you weren't so lucky, you'd want a little help.

I'm not advancing any specific vision of who deserves what, I'm merely saying that Rawls' idea of desert doesn't help Rawls' conclusions at all as you've presented them here.

Otherwise, I think you're making a solid case here that people should be charitable. Probably no one here disagrees with this. But it's a long way from there to justifying large programs of state seizure and redistribution.

Mr. Zero:

(1) Rawls discusses desert in three places in ATOJ: p. 15, pp. 103-4, and pp. 310-5. See, especially, pp. 311-2, where he writes: "none of the precepts of justice aims at rewarding virtue...the initial endowment of natural assets and the contingencies of their growth and nurture in early life are arbitrary from a moral point of view. The precept which seems intuitively to come closest to rewarding moral desert is that of distribution according to effort, or perhaps better, conscientious effort. Once again, however, it seems clear that the effort a person is willing to make is influenced by his natural abilities and skills and the alternatives open to him. The better endowed are more likely, other things equal, to strive conscientiously, and there seems to be no way to discount for their greater good fortune. The idea of rewarding desert is impracticable..." (emphasis added).

In other words, Rawls doesn't just have a more than usually constrained concept of desert: he rejects the concept altogether.

This is not an unusual interpretation. See, for example, here.

(2) You write: "it seems like you're trying to argue that if I don't think I deserve everything I have, I must be committed to the view that I don't deserve anything I have. But that's pretty stupid."

I agree that it would be stupid to try to argue that. But it is entirely mysterious to me why you think that I seem to be trying to do so. I'm not.

Must run, now. I'll try to find a little more time to continue this later on.

Access to a school means applying and being accepted without regard to my skin color.

I never had to apply to any of the schools I attended before college. It seems to me, anyway, that people are entitled to primary and secondary education adequate to prepare them to be successful applicants to tertiary education or some form of employment. It seems to me that people should, for example, be taught to how to read, write, and perform simple arithmetic. They should be taught how to type and to operate a computer. Etc. These schools should be free at the point of delivery--"public." (Of course, there should also be options for private- and home-schooling.)

But people do not have equal access to these schools. People whose parents are poor have reduced access, and black people are much morel likely to have parents who are poor. (I have ties to the South, where although Jim Crow Laws were repealed, Jim Crow facts often remain. As for the North, MLK took a trip to Chicago that did not go well.) People who are poor also have reduced access to hospitals. Of course no one is turned away from any emergency room, but early detection is the key to treating a wide variety of horrible diseases. So if you wait until your condition constitutes a medical emergency before seeking treatment and your condition is cancer, then your treatment is going to be very expensive (to the public) and very unlikely to be successful. It would be better if everyone could see a doctor regularly in non-emergency situations. If folks 100 years ago wouldn't have thought of this stuff in this manner, I say, that's progress.

Could you give a synopsis of that argument?

This will get you started.

the rich man's claim is without desert is really to say that the rich man never had ownership of it at all,...

I'm not sure that Rawls makes this point, but it is worth mentioning that desert comes in degrees. (The passage Burton quotes strongly suggests that he would not make this point.) The fact that the rich person isn't maximally deserving of what she has does not entail that she is not at all deserving of it. These varying degrees of deservingness infect the claims of ownership that are based on them. And that explains why some claims of ownership, while legitimate, can be overridden by sufficiently powerful countervailing claims made by the state on behalf of the less fortunate. While this is just a sketch and lacks detail, such a conception protects the ownership claim of the fortunate while explaining how such a claim could nevertheless be overridden by the state without the consent of the owner, and without using the term 'owner' in an ironic fashion.

I think you're making a solid case here that people should be charitable. Probably no one here disagrees with this. But it's a long way from there to justifying large programs of state seizure and redistribution.

The point of the state is to ensure that citizens honor their political obligations. If everyone in the relevant jurisdiction is obligated to be charitable, and there was no political institution with the authority to make sure it happens, then this political obligation would not have any teeth. The government is there, that is, to make sure that people are charitable, as they should be.

Once again, however, it seems clear that the effort a person is willing to make is influenced by his natural abilities and skills and the alternatives open to him.

Steve, that's only partly true. It is more true when the person is comparing his likely results to those of other people, sometimes more gifted (both in person and in circumstance). If you are living alone, and your continued life depends on your own effort, (and you are even somewhat normally motivated and not deformed by a defective upbringing), you will try to succeed, you will try to survive, even if you happen to think the chances of success are modest. I would say that the comparison of the person's likely small gain from his effort versus others' gain from less strenuous effort is already tinged with envy, a little bit.

I never had to apply to any of the schools I attended before college. It seems to me, anyway, that people are entitled to primary and secondary education adequate to prepare them to be successful applicants to tertiary education or some form of employment.

That's a pretty broad assumption, Mr. Zero. Until about 200 years ago, nobody thought that everyone ought to get an education, and certainly they did not think that you were entitled to an education that your parents could not (or would not) purchase for you. Your "seems to me" springs out of a system that has developed over the past 200 years that has colored your perception. I would agree that a child has a right to expect his parents, so far as they can manage, to provide him a basic education, but my meaning for "basic" would be pretty limited. By no means is it obvious that that means a child is entitled UNDER JUSTICE to have handed to him a primary and secondary education from society.

People who are poor also have reduced access to hospitals.

Correction: people who are poor have reduced ability to pay for care at hospitals. If a rich person comes along and pays for them, then they get the exact same care that any other person can get. Please stop using the word "access" in the confused sense that conflates procedural opportunity with effective results.

The fact that the rich person isn't maximally deserving of what she has does not entail that she is not at all deserving of it.

You still haven't even begun to state who gets to decide the amount of deservingness someone has. And on what grounds.

The point of the state is to ensure that citizens honor their political obligations. If everyone in the relevant jurisdiction is obligated to be charitable, and there was no political institution with the authority to make sure it happens, then this political obligation would not have any teeth. The government is there, that is, to make sure that people are charitable, as they should be.

Ugh! Just how many ways can one paragraph be mistaken? Mr. Zero, you are totally confusing society with the state. They are not the same. The point of the state CAN'T be to ensure that citizens honor their political obligations. Political obligations don't exist until you have a state. What you perhaps mean is that the point of the state is to ensure that people fulfill their social obligations, i.e. duties they would have even if the state didn't exist. But that is only PART of the purpose of the state. It's true end is the care of the common good.

If people have an obligation to be charitable, this obligation is not a political one, it is a social one. It is an obligation to consider one's fellow man, not an obligation to serve the state. There is no foundational principle that requires that this social obligation have teeth, in THIS world. I assure you that the teeth from the next world will be as pointed as you could wish. And lastly, if people will not be charitable to their neighbor, the state taxing them by force does NOT CAUSE THEM TO BE CHARITABLE either. Charity by definition must come with a willingness to help, and paying taxes at the threat of punishment is not charity. What you are saying is that if people will not meet their obligations to give of their surplus to those poorer, the state ought to see that the results of charity are obtained anyway. But this is impossible, for one of the (God-)intended results of charity is for people to become more united in the bonds of mutual love, the giver and receiver, with acts of graciousness and gratitude. I am quite sure that a welfare check does not do this.

OK, I've got another moment. Continuing from where I left off:

(3) You (Mr. Zero) go on to write: "It seems like you're trying to suggest that there is some serious conception of desert according to which people who are born into poverty deserve it and people...lucky enough not to be born into poverty have done something to deserve not to be..."

Well. If it really "seems" that way to you, than I strongly suggest that you calm yourself, gather your wits about you, and reread. 'Cause I believe nothing of the sort, and have said nothing here to give you even the slightest grounds for thinking that I did.

In fact, as it happens, I'm rather strongly inclined to agree with Rawls that our pre-theoretical/pre-institutional concept of moral desert is incoherent.

Which is precisely why I find it so problematic that, as I wrote way, way, above, "his entire project is motivated by resentment over the existence of undeserved differences in human welfare."

I see ATOJ as a monstrous, yet at the same time thoroughly pedestrian, exercise in spinning out the implications that follow from treating the sin of envy as a guiding principle for human governance.

Mr. Zero, thank you for the link to a broad synopsis of Mr. Rawls thoughts. It shows me that what I had a sense about before is quite correct: Rawls' views are fairly incoherent as a matter of basic political philosophy.

Just as an example, he appears to make a firm distinction between "overlapping consensus" and mere "balance of power". Somehow he fails to notice that in any society where there is a "overlapping consensus" about some issue, there always remains a modest minority who does not consent. So that the difference between consensus and mere balance of power is simple a matter of degree, the latter merely has more than half in support, the former has most in support (whatever most is taken to mean), and for many different reasons. (Nor does he seem to notice that this is nothing more than a regurgitation of the concepts James Madison wrote about in the Federalist Papers). So a consensus situation can pass into a mere balance of power quite easily. (Nor does he take note of the fact that without a firmer ground for political morality than what he himself puts forward, and the state supporting that firmer ground, there is guaranteed to be a loss of "overlapping consensus" about basic issues. America in 2009 is proof positive.)

More significantly, he ASSUMES, quite explicitly, that pluralism is a bedrock reality and accepts it as a foundational concept for political justice. I need not go into how troubled that assumption is - at least not for those who have had a good course or two in political philosophy.

I take note of two more points:

Rawls assumes that the liberal society in question is marked by reasonable pluralism as described above, and also that it is under reasonably favorable conditions: that there are enough resources for it to be possible for everyone's basic needs to be met. He merely assumes something that is fundamentally difficult to establish as fact. I wish I could do that!

All social goods are to be distributed equally, unless an unequal distribution would be to everyone's advantage...Justice then requires that any inequalities must benefit all citizens...Equality sets the baseline; from there any inequalities must improve everyone's situation,...The difference principle requires that social institutions be arranged so that inequalities of wealth and income work to the advantage of those who will be worst off.

So there we have it - the assumption, not argued for but merely insidiously inserted - that "social goods" includes private goods that are of economic value, for example the food that I raised on my farm. Needless to say, I reject that theory, I don't believe that any sufficiently explained basis exists for calling it a "social good".

Until about 200 years ago, nobody thought that everyone ought to get an education, and certainly they did not think that you were entitled to an education that your parents could not (or would not) purchase for you.

Progress.

people who are poor have reduced ability to pay for care at hospitals. If a rich person comes along and pays for them, then they get the exact same care that any other person can get.

And if no rich person comes along, there's no access. By "access" i just mean, will they get in? Will they be permitted to go back to the offices? Will a doctor look at the lump? Or will security escort them out? etc. If you think that the person being escorted by security out of the hospital has access to it because of the unactualized possibility that a rich benefactor will volunteer to pay her medical bills, then we really do have different concepts of "access."

The point of the state CAN'T be to ensure that citizens honor their political obligations. Political obligations don't exist until you have a state.

I'm not so sure. Perhaps this is just semantics, but I'm pretty sure Locke thought that political obligations would exist in the state of nature. That people would have duties to respect the property rights of others; that the group as a whole would have a duty to punish thieves. Disagreement about the precise requirements of justice in these situations is an important source of state-of-nature conflict for Locke. Resolution of these disagreements is an important function of the state.

So the suggestion that the state is prior to political obligation seems to be a controversial unargued assumption.

he ASSUMES, quite explicitly, that pluralism is a bedrock reality and accepts it as a foundational concept for political justice.

I'm not so sure that this is an unwaranted assumption. I don't have the reference, but my understanding was that Rawls argues that in a constitutional republic that (rightly) guarantees certain inviolable rights, such as freedom of speech and of religion, pluralism is inevitable. You're going to have Catholics, and Evangelicals (who seem to get along well and disagree respectfully at W4). You're also going to have Presbyterians and Lutherans. You're also going to have agnostics and atheists. And muslims. That's pluralism. The state has no business taking sides on such issues.

Progress.

Or change, depending on your definition. Just calling it progress doesn't make it so. It violates subsidiarity to remove the heart of educational choices from the parents and put it in the hands of the state. I have no problem with recognizing that people have an obligation to educate their kids. That's progress enough. Calling it an "entitlement" adds another level to it, and so far nobody has suggested a reason for that, just baldly asserted it. Adding that such entitlement is a political one, that the state is obligated to fulfill, is yet another assumption that goes further still.

If you think that the person being escorted by security out of the hospital has access to it because of the unactualized possibility that a rich benefactor will volunteer to pay her medical bills, then we really do have different concepts of "access."

You still insist on conflating legal permission to seek a good with effective enjoyment of a good. Blacks under Jim Crow laws had a lack of legal permission to use the front entrance of the restaurant, they could be hounded under the law for merely attempting to do so. Whether a white or black poor person can effectuate getting a doctor to treat him because of his lack of funds, there is no LEGAL impediment to asking for care. There is no legal sanction just for walking in the door. I would be willing to agree to discuss the merits of the later situation, but only if you would agree to respect distinctions that are relevant and not use language that was intentionally designed to run roughshod over the distinctions.

Perhaps this is just semantics, but I'm pretty sure Locke thought that political obligations would exist in the state of nature. That people would have duties to respect the property rights of others; that the group as a whole would have a duty to punish thieves.

Yes, well, there is a reason political philosophy got beyond Locke. You can't say that "the group as a whole would have a duty to punish thieves" without implying a political entity: the very notion of "the group as a whole" acting only has meaning as an organized entity. And that organized entity is a political community. People have duties to respect the rights of others (including others' property) whether there is an organized polis or not: the possession of personal rights and private property precedes the existence of the state.

Rawls argues that in a constitutional republic that (rightly) guarantees certain inviolable rights, such as freedom of speech and of religion, pluralism is inevitable...The state has no business taking sides on such issues

Spoken like a truth skeptic. It has happened in the past, and can happen in the future, that a state exists without a plurality of religions, for example - see Israel, 1300 BC. (In the future, there is a more than slight possibility that at least some states will be organized not by location but by choice of belonging by the members, so the members would only choose to belong to a state that professes the same religion.)

In any event, it is only in the view of someone who does not believe that there could be such a thing as a single religion which is the most true and most perfect of religions, that pluralism is somehow the "natural" state of mankind, a bedrock condition that cannot be improved upon. But there are other views. If there is indeed one religion founded by God, then one may legitimately hope for a future in which all men have freely converted to that religion, and therefore pluralism does not constitute a bedrock, ideal principle, but rather the sort of practical, now that we are in this mess sort of compromise standard. How you understand where pluralism fits in affects how you argue the rest of political ideas. The state will rightly have business understanding whether it upholds pluralism as bedrock or as practical compromise.

And, of course, the state is going to have to "take sides" where one "religion" threatens the very existence of the state. So far, when that religion is something other than Christianity, the ostensibly secular states have often indeed chosen to "take sides"--with Islam.

It violates subsidiarity to remove the heart of educational choices from the parents and put it in the hands of the state.

Where I come from, there are a wide variety of educational choices. The existence of public schools is not a threat to freedom of educational choice. It is a boon.

Furthermore, we live in a country in which every non-felonious adult citizen has the right to vote. We all have an interest in the electorate being educated.

Then again, maybe you're pulling my leg.

You still insist on conflating legal permission to seek a good with effective enjoyment of a good

No, I don't. I can use 'access' mean whatever kind of access I want. I'm not being obfuscatory and I'm not equivocating; I'm consistently using to mean more than access de jure. I mean access de facto--actual access. If you can't get in, you don't have access. I'd like to see you tell the cancer patient I mentioned in an earlier comment that she had access to mammograms.

You can't say that "the group as a whole would have a duty to punish thieves" without implying a political entity

But I certainly can say it, and it can be true, without implying the existence of a state. Therefore, political obligations can exist in the absence of a state.

It has happened in the past, and can happen in the future, that a state exists without a plurality of religions

This in no way suggests that the state has any business endorsing religious beliefs. It has happened in the past, and can happen in the future, that a state was built upon the idea that it is perfectly fine to own other human beings and use them as farm machinery. Doesn't make it right.

it is only in the view of someone who does not believe that there could be such a thing as a single religion which is the most true and most perfect of religions, that pluralism is somehow the "natural" state of mankind

No. I don't think that pluralism is the "natural" state of mankind. I don't know what that means. I think it's a practical inevitability, though. For example, you have the right to your own religious observances. And so does Dr. McGrew. And So does Steve Burton. And so does Ed Feser. And so do I. And these observances, in some cases, are pretty different from one another, even among the Christians I mentioned. I think we all have the right to make up our own minds. And I think it would be pretty awful if the government took those rights away.

there is indeed one religion founded by God, then one may legitimately hope for a future in which all men have freely converted to that religion

Sounds like a nice dream. I hate to have to tell you this, but it will never, ever happen. And even if it will, the government should keep out of it. If the government exercised its power in order to (try to) bring this about, it's hard to see how the resulting conversions would genuinely be free.

Where I come from, there are a wide variety of educational choices. The existence of public schools is not a threat to freedom of educational choice. It is a boon.

It's fun seeing how many ways a liberal can be inconsistent. Let's see, it is a "lack of access" when a person theoretically could get a mammogram, but cannot afford it, but there are "choices" when a person would like to put his kid in a private school that teaches according to his own views and not the state's erroneous views, but cannot afford it . Puhleeese. At least be as consistent as the Germans (used to) be: if you are going to pay for people's education, then pay for Christians to get a Christian education, and for Mormons to get a Mormon education, etc. When you tax a normal family several thousand dollars for education, and then say "if you want a Christian education for your kids you will have to pay for it yourselves (AGAIN), you are just as truly denying effective "access" as with the mammogram case.

Tony: You can't say that "the group as a whole would have a duty to punish thieves" without implying a political entity

Mr. Zero:

But I certainly can say it, and it can be true, without implying the existence of a state. Therefore , political obligations can exist in the absence of a state.
[my emphasis]

I see that I have been answered by a debate master, a logic virtuoso. Well, I take it back, you CAN say it. I was wrong. You certainly can say it. I should have been clearer, more precise: you can't say it without being utterly foolish. Especially when you use the word "therefore" following simple, pure contradicting assertion.

Perhaps I need to spell it out for you in words of one syllable. When you use the word "group" and the pack it with the phrase "as a whole" you have cast the group in a particular form, the form of a group acting as a body, as a unit, as a coherent entity. That coherence requires and implies a principle of unity. That principle is nothing other than the polis. Whatever you wish to SAY, you have implied a political being.

I think [pluralism is] a practical inevitability, though...I think we all have the right to make up our own minds. And I think it would be pretty awful if the government took those rights away.

Pluralism is not inevitable in Saudi Arabia. Does that mean that Rawls' political philosophy is invalid in Saudi Arabia? Or that it is OK for the consensus to be in favor of a theocratic state? You see, on the one hand, Rawls talks about "overlapping consensus" to establish the central, core things that the society shall consider what the government is about and why. But if you have a core belief held by much more than a mere majority, held instead by virtually everyone in the state, that the government is not separate from the religion, but is itself an aspect of the religious obligation of everyone to bow down and worship before Allah and no other, well, you don't seem to like that particular consensus.

it will never, ever happen. And even if it will, the government should keep out of it.

Well, see, there again, you aren't willing to go along with certain consensus ideas. I guess only the preferred, select consensus ideas, like a secular state, are OK. Sorry to have to mention this, but it is fundamentally impossible for the government to keep out of it. If the state has its own schools, and the schools are "neutral" toward religion, then eventually the schools are teaching the children to be "neutral" to religion as well. Christ said it in the Gospel: the disciple shall be like to the master. We have seen this: schools that think they are not allowed to be positive toward any religion, or toward religion itself, have become nearly totally defiant of any religious bearing at all.

I agree that PC is entrenched because many people have accepted, swallowed, or otherwise taken to one degree or another the liberal point of view however there is another very important reason why PC is taken in rather than taken on more often - the backlash from taking a stand against PC is relentless - and sometimes severe - a critical letter to the White House may get you an audit from the IRS, or a visit from Homeland security on the severe end of the spectrum - both are experiences that I or my friends have had - or perhaps your name ends up on the airport watch list and your flying schedule is interrupted or delayed...those are just some of the ways in which our wonderful liberal PC watchdogs have of discouraging criticism - or perhaps you are an 8O year old priest who has the temerity to *pray* at a pro-life demonstration and get arrested for your efforts...or you ask too many uncomfortable questions at the PTA meeting and suddenly your children's grades start to slip...the cost of going against the liberal grain can be high...and over time this widespread "discouragement" is effective - there are one million names on that airport list [with thirty thousand names added every month] and your sweet grandmother who never bothered anyone in her life may be on it. Something to ponder.....

"if you want a Christian education for your kids you will have to pay for it yourselves (AGAIN), you are just as truly denying effective "access" as with the mammogram case.

I'm more than a little surprised that you would trust the government to dispense a Christian education. Anyways, I think everyone ought to have access (real access) to an education and to adequate health care. I would think that public arithmetic would be adequate for Christians, but if you want a Christian education, or peculiarly Christian mammograms, and you can't afford them, perhaps you could make some arrangement with the appropriate church. They are, after all, best equipped to dispense correctly Christian things.

Liberals think that everyone should get the basics. If you want more than the basics, you're free to hire somebody. Government involvement in all the alternatives would violate the educational freedom that you indicated that you thought was important a couple of days ago. Having no government involvement at all unjustly favors the rich over the poor.

"group" and the pack it with the phrase "as a whole" you have cast the group in a particular form, the form of a group acting as a body, as a unit, as a coherent entity.

I see that I am not dealing with a logic virtuoso. I know that when I cast the group in this particular way, I cast it as a political entity. What I don't thereby do is create a government. The question is not whether political obligations can exist in the absence of political entities; the question is whether they can exist in the absence of a state. The answer is yes, they can. Anarchy is not an oxymoron; it's not the absence of political obligations; it's the absence of a government. So you can have political "groups", and political obligations, in the absence of a state. So you're wrong.

Pluralism is not inevitable in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is nothing if not horribly unjust. The idea that the Saudis are one big, monistically happy family could not be more wrong. They're not plural because they're not free. That's your example? That's the best you can come up with? "Pluralism is not the answer; just look at the Saudis!" You cannot be serious.

well, you don't seem to like that particular consensus.

a) A consensus that is created by extraordinary levels of government brutality is not genuine consensus. b) This is a constitutional republic and we rightly give consensus a limited role. Not everything is up for a vote. (And in Saudi Arabia, nothing is up for a vote.) The right to free speech; to peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; to bear arms; to due process of law; equal protection under the law; etc. These are not a matter of consensus. Did you not realize that? Are you really that ignorant?

If the state has its own schools, and the schools are "neutral" toward religion, then eventually the schools are teaching the children to be "neutral" to religion as well.

So you're saying that you don't trust the government to determine how much taxes we deserve to have to pay, but you do trust them to determine which religion is the one God himself founded and to promote that one and no other in the public schools? And you think that if the government does not do this -- if the government says, "Hey, your religion is your business" -- then the one true religion will wither and die? I don't buy it.

Worse and worse. First you say political obligations can exist "in a state of nature".

I'm pretty sure Locke thought that political obligations would exist in the state of nature.

When I counter the point, you insist:

Therefore, political obligations can exist in the absence of a state.

When I point out the impossibility, you change your tune, suggesting the contrary of what you just said:

I see that I am not dealing with a logic virtuoso. I know that when I cast the group in this particular way, I cast it as a political entity.

!

The rest is hopeless and not worth my time. Actually, the above point is not worth my time either, but I have already typed it, so there it is. I am done.

Mr. Zero writes: "I'm more than a little surprised that you would trust the government to dispense a Christian education."

This is silly, and thoroughly non-responsive to Tony's excellent point.

Mr. Zero continues: "Anyways, I think everyone ought to have access (real access) to an education and to adequate health care."

Present day liberals have an unfortunate tendency to slide seamlessly from "it would be nice if..." to "it ought to be..." to "you must pay for..."

Mr. Zero continues: "I would think that public arithmetic [by which I assume he means "arithmetic as taught in the public schools"] would be adequate for Christians..."

...from which I can only conclude that he is totally unfamiliar with the teaching of math in the public schools today, which is an appalling mess that isn't "adequate" for anybody.

First you say political obligations can exist "in a state of nature".

No. You really lost the thread of that discussion right away. First I said that the function of the government is to enforce political obligations. You object on the grounds that the state is conceptually prior to political obligations; political obligations cannot exist in the absence of the state. I point out that this is controversial, and cite as evidence Locke's view that political obligations can exist in the state of nature, and that an important function of the government is to resolve disagreements concerning political obligations themselves. You object that when I (Locke?) cast the group in terms of the whole, I thereby create a political entity. I say, yes, but I do it without thereby creating a government. I point out that there is conceptual room for the anarchist's preferred political arrangement, according to which there exist political obligations but no government whatsoever. The fact that you think this is a contradiction doesn't make it so; it just demonstrates your basic ignorance of political philosophy.

Obviously I misjudged you. I thought you were a well-informed reasonable person who was capable of having a civil discussion.

This is silly, and thoroughly non-responsive to Tony's excellent point.

It's true, I was making fun. But the point is not excellent; it's dumb. He's trying to get me into a dilemma: he claims that any (secular) public education system that respects the rights of (e.g.) the poor at large violates the rights of Christians. But that's pretty stupid. Everyone has the option of public schools, but it's not compulsory. If you don't think the public schools are good enough or ignore important subjects, you can hire a private school. If you can't afford it, perhaps the church (I assume it's a church) who runs the private school will help you out. If it won't, you can always homeschool. There are plenty of options. That the government is obligated to give each person the option of a public education does not entail that the government is obligated to pay for what you think is a suitable alternative if you decline the offer.

What you conservative Christians seem to find impossible to understand is that in a pluralistic society, in which other people disagree with you, and in which these people have a fundamental, inalienable right to disagree with you, the government cannot legitimately take sides. In some sense, that means that the government must side against you, particularly if you think it should take your side. But the government sides against everybody in this way. That's why it's a compromise. You are not singled out. You can put your foot down and insist that you don't want to compromise, that you shouldn't have to compromise. This does not make it not a compromise, and it doesn't negate your obligation to make the compromise.

That's why Tony's example of Saudi Arabia was so stupid. It's true that Saudi Arabia is not pluralistic. It does not follow that liberalism is "invalid" there. It follows that the Saudi Arabian government, which is a brutal theocratic absolute monarchy, is unjust. Their monism is not a free choice; it is brutally enforced. It's wrong for governments to do that. And even if Saudi society was in fact monist, the Saudis still have a fundamental right to disagree if their consciences demand it. It is wrong for governments to infringe on this. When they do, they deprive their citizens of vitally important rights. The idea that Saudi Arabia represents a counterexample to liberal pluralism is factually ignorant and morally repugnant. It boggles the mind.

I can only conclude that he is totally unfamiliar with the teaching of math in the public schools today, which is an appalling mess that isn't "adequate" for anybody.

I am all too familiar. However, the problem is not that the teaching of math lacks a religious component. Abolishing secular public education is not the answer. This would not serve the interests of Christians or of society at large; it would serve the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor. But only in the short run, for rich people would soon find themselves awash in a sea of poor, uneducated numbskulls who are unfit for employment or participation in public life. This would be bad for everybody, and we have an obligation to prevent it. To the extent that it has already happened, we have an obligation to remedy the situation.

Present day liberals have an unfortunate tendency to slide seamlessly from "it would be nice if..." to "it ought to be..." to "you must pay for..."

We've been over this--maybe you forgot already. It would be nice if everyone had access. Furthermore, those of us who have access are in this enviable position not because we are more deserving, but because we are more lucky. The unlucky are no less deserving than we are. So we, the lucky, ought to help them out. Tony himself admits that this is a strong case that we have an obligation to be charitable. Since we aren't living up to our obligations--the schools are, as you point out, inadequate; 47 million people in this country lack health insurance--the state is obligated step in and enforce (or do a better job of enforcing) these obligations, which Tony himself admits we have.

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