The Grimness of True Social Justice
By Bruce Walker
January 26, 2009
What is the oldest mantra in the Cult of the Left? Fairness: the odd idea that the function of government is to make life fair. Social justice is another name for this jihad in favor of absolute equality. The Left begins with redistribution of wealth and progressive tax rates, but it usually stops there too. The Left is too timid to go further.
Life is unfair, but in many more ways than wealth. If the function of government is to even out what Providence has distributed unevenly, then why stop at wealth? What is a fat bank account and big income anyway, except a more immediate means of acquiring wealth?
Physical beauty is worth lots of money (ask any fashion model). Should we tax these gorgeous women who, without effort in many cases, have been born with perfect noses, nice figures, delightfully contoured cheekbones, and all the other elements of beauty? Have they not, surely, won big in life's lottery? Ask a homely woman that question! Some work may be required for a naturally beautiful woman to remain beautiful, but this work is hardly as arduous as - say - the lonely and despised daily life of the garbage collector. Besides, beautiful women get more than just money - ask any woman who is not a high fashion model - and these other perks, like making men dizzy, bring unfair advantages that money cannot buy.
But let's not pick on women. What about those men who born tall and well proportioned? Those who make the rest of us men look like (and feel) like teenagers? Or what about those young men given by Providence athletic gifts that "can't be coached"? Phenomenal football or basketball players practice hard, but even men who practice twice as hard as anyone can never come close to the levels of wealth, adulation, and success of natural born athletes.
The unfairness of life extends beyond the physical. What about born geniuses? A Pope called Mozart "Amadeus" - beloved of God - for clear reasons: Mozart was clearly born with musical genius in his DNA. Capablanca, one of the greatest chess players in history, taught himself to play the game; he had beaten the best players in Cuba while his was a mere boy; and he took a playboy's attitude toward life (while others studied chessboards for weeks.) Life is unfairly filled with such natural born geniuses.
Some people are born songbirds, while other people have voices that make us cringe. Some people are born with perfect health, and some are sick all their lives. Some people have loving parents and good homes, and some have early lives that are nightmares. Once former Congressman Dick Gephardt talked about "Winners in life's lottery," and that seems to sum up Obama's approach to fairness, but what can government do about this? Money is the closest way of measuring luck, and it can be calibrated precisely, so socialism and tax policies which "soak the rich" are a siren song to those arrogant terrestrial demigods who try to replace Providence with their own notions of justice.
But only a child sees this as truly just. What about the uneven distribution of happiness itself? Is this not what money is all about? If someone is unhappy, what does money matter? And if someone who is poor is happy, then what exactly is the money to be used to buy? To be fair, to be really fair, should we not tax happiness itself? Should we not compel all citizens to submit to psychometric tests that determine the individual's level of happiness? Should government not then add joy or misery in appropriate doses so that we are all equally happy?
This, of course, is what totalitarian states try to do. The Inner Party in 1984 had one function: to cause pain. That is what fairness in taxation is all about - causing pain. The joy of mankind is not diminished by the musical genius of Mozart, by the speed, strength, and agility of Jim Thorpe, by the insight into space and form of Frank Lloyd Wright, or by the subtle verse of Emily Dickinson; and the happiness of one normal person is not helped by the misery of others. In the Brave New World of Huxley, happiness itself was maximized by the suffocation of the soul. The book burning in Fahrenheit 451 was because of the emotional and psychological power of books, which could wrench the heart as well as raise the spirit. What would a government crusade for fairness mean in our lives? What sort of taxes and regulations could be imposed?
The natural tax on beautiful models, in such a wicked world, would be rape - the expropriation of the benefits of attractiveness by the unattractive - or compulsory prostitution. The natural tax on Jim Thorpe would be physically crippling injury or illness or the forced performance of athletics for our amusement. The natural tax on cheerful people would be needless pain, and so forth on the long, grim trail to Hell. The marketplace counts more than dollars. Those who waste inherited fortunes end up worse than those who work and earn comfort.
There is a peace that comes from doing one's best, whatever the consequences. It is a moral calm that has proven through the ages immune to many terrors and endless tyrants. Perhaps this should be taxed and punished as well. After all, is not the moral goodness of John Paul II, Albert Schweitzer, Rebbe Schneerson, Mother Teresa, and all other transcendently compassionate people also a slap in the face of those with darker hearts? So tax goodness, decency, and integrity as well or do what Nazis and Stalinists did: Seek out and punish those with living consciences and trust in God.
If the ultimate consequence of government taking the mantle of human justice in life seems extreme and absurd, it is absolutely true that this is the logical consequences of that approach to government. Life appears unfair to us and it always. We are dim creatures in a divinely created universe. We are no more equipped to make life fair than monkeys are equipped to perform brain surgery. We are enjoined by culture, faith, and heart to try to be fair - and so we should.
The few simple laws of good government, which are well summarized in the Ten Commandments, also define our limited powers of judgment. The operation of the marketplace does not result in pure and absolute justice, although it produces a sort of rough and natural justice which is as near our talent as cosmic jurists as any other system in life. Simple principles of honesty, charity, courtesy, diligence, and respect - though imperfect human tools - trump all the macabre machinations of socialists and their ilk. Every effort toward social justice leads to vast misery and manifest injustice. We have weak tools to make life just: free markets, personal integrity, and the rule of law. Real justice does not come from man. It comes only from God.
Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.