Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Thoughts on socialism and leftism generally

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Gavin » 24 Feb 2012, 10:18

A couple of years ago I was recommended this fascinating essay, by Murray N. Rothbard. It was written in 1973. I linked to it on Clinton and Steve's site but am providing it here too for your interest and possible debate. I attach the essay as a PDF too.
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Re: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Liviu » 16 Mar 2012, 19:25

Very interesting article, Gavin, that makes some good points.

But I believe the recourse to nature argument is a double-edged one.

The pro-inequality demonstration states that nature has made us unequal, so the social & economic inequalities are perfectly acceptable because they are the “natural” result of people’s inborn abilities. The problem is that this type of argument justifies in the same manner the leadership of Pericles and the dictatorship of Stalin (who could argue that Stalin had not the perfect “natural” abilities necessary to gain and maintain power?).

Let’s say that this argument is only applicable to modern, democratic societies. Protected by the rule of law, individuals are free to compete on the market and everything they earn (money, status) would be just the result of their own merit. No need for any “equalization” scheme, for that scheme will only distort what was spontaneously (therefore “justly”) achieved.

The problem with this vision is that it ignores the historical dimension of society. It sees society like an Olympic stadium, where people compete in the same conditions and only personal merit makes for the difference in results. Of course, society does not work like that; people’s positions tend to be as much a consequence of their own abilities as of their family’s prior socio-economic status (not to mention that the personal merit in itself is the combined result of innate abilities and cultural upbringing). As a consequence, it does matter very much if you are born in a farm in Midwest, in a banker’s family in New York or in a former slave’s cabin. (I think nobody will deny that many black people in 1950s America were at a clear disadvantage as a result of their forefathers’ slavery and of the segregationist policies that followed 1865. I also consider that disadvantage to be unjust, obviously because slavery was forced upon people and not in any way chosen by them).

So, my position is that the equality problem does exist and is not simply a false one. The question is what, if any, could be done about it.

I believe the traditional state response (in 19th century Europe, at least) to the problem of inequality was to focus on providing universal children education. While this solution can be quite successful in many cases, it is not sufficient in others. I can see at least two cases in which providing universal children education is not enough to integrate an underclass-type group of people:
- when that group of people faces a strong discriminatory attitude from the ruling group (like blacks in the 1950s American South)
- when that group of people have an antisocial, tribal culture (like gypsies in Romania)
(Probably, in many cases both of those causes are present.)

The leftist response to the partial failure of “equality of treatment” policies was to introduce “positive discrimination”, which I believe in the most part meant lowering the bar for entering various positions for members of categories seen as disadvantaged. This approach creates a whole new set of problems on its own. To name a few:
- opens the door for more and more demands from real or fictitious disadvantaged groups, and by doing that could endanger democracy itself and the idea of equality under the law;
- undermines personal responsibility in individuals belonging to those groups, encouraging an entitlement ethos and undermining the motivation for honest achievement;
- by creating a group of semi-competent people (by lowering the standards), undermines the trust in other individuals with genuine competence, individuals that belong to the same disadvantaged group but have only arrived at their positions through personal effort and talent;
- creates a new set of injustices by excluding people of genuine merit from certain positions.

So, I believe the answer to the problem of what should be done to correct historical-based inequalities is not straightforward. I think that at this moment the “positive discrimination” policies are doing more harm than good and should be dismantled. Also, in my opinion, instead of lowering the standards for some groups, the state should focus on providing quality education (not necessarily through state schools).

These are my opinions on the matter at this point, it is possible to sound too left-leaning. I am very curios to hear yours.
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Re: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Gavin » 20 Mar 2012, 10:09

Thank you for reading this and for your response, Liviu. For others to see, as I said in my private message to you, I'll consider this..
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Re: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Liviu » 27 May 2012, 12:54

White Blight

I wanted for sometime to post this link. It is a review for a book that poses some uncomfortable questions.

To summarize: the social mobility in a meritocracy has the tendency to create castes based on IQ. That is because intelligent people progress socially and most of them will marry other intelligent people (the same mechanism applies for the unintelligent ones – they stay at the bottom and marry other unintelligent ones). The hereditary rules applying to all of us, the consequences of this will be that less and less intelligent people will be born in the underclass and more and more intelligent people will be born in the upper-class. That in turn will enforce the status-quo (each family lineage tending to keep its positions from generation to generation) if the advancement rules are fair.

In fact, I believe we cannot escape the conclusion that in a long established meritocracy a higher social mobility could be achieved only by an unfair treatment of deserving and capable individuals (I guess we are seeing this already).

I wonder what the left has to say about this.
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Re: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Elliott » 06 Jul 2012, 00:37

I have been reading CS Lewis' essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast. Here is a passage that I think is very relevant to this thread:

Screwtape wrote:The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I'm as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: "Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox — he's one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me. They've no business to be different. It's undemocratic."
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Re: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

Postby Matthew » 11 Sep 2012, 16:45

"[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Fitzgerald was of course being facetious, but I think his dictum offers a very precise description of what happens in the mind of many of our bien-pensants.

No two ideas, for example, could be less compatible than natural selection and egalitarianism. Yet leftists assent to both readily, never pausing to consider the case that if all organisms are engaged in a ruthless competition for survival, a competition in which only the fittest, in Herbert Spencer's formulation, shall survive, then there must be some number of organisms, however large, who comprise the aforementioned "fittest." Natural selection is at odds with egalitarianism both in theory and in practice. We are born in a state of inequality, and no amount of planning or intervention can change the fact that some of us shall flourish, others merely coast along, and others still fail miserably.

How is it possible for one mind both to accept the findings of evolutionary biology and subscribe to egalitarianism? Such confluences of views "are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them," as Bertrand Russell (who was guiltier of this than almost anyone) once noted.

So far as I can see, there is only one way out of this dilemma: the erroneous belief that humans have somehow moved beyond the ruthless competition for survival into some kind of pacific post-evolutionary state, like Yeats's dancer who "outdanced thought." In this extra-natural state, we can finally overcome the obstacles once presented by natural selection.

"Pure mashed potatoes," as Bertie Wooster was fond of saying.

I suspect that leftists do not really care about evolution -- or, despite their fetishistic warbling whenever the latest piece of watered-down popular science drivel by Daniel Dennett or Stephen Hawking appears, science in general -- except insofar as they believe it offers them a wedge to drive against Christianity. A futile exercise, I think, for the majority of Christians whom I know (in common with the mass of humanity) accept evolution the same way that they do most scientific findings: that is, with a shrug, unless they happen to be interested in science. They share this (to me quite reasonable) indifference with most people, whatever their metaphysics, whose backgrounds are not scientific. (Other Christians, like those who purportedly believe that the earth was created in seven days or that God himself designed the human eyeball are, I believe, just as guilty as leftists of using evolution as a political weapon.)
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