Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV: Equality and Social Justice - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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IV: Equality and Social Justice - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Equality and Social Justice
In the modern world, the protean ideal of equality—in our legal, social, political, and economic institutions—has inspired many heterogenous movements including the French Revolution, the American Revolution [see Literature of Liberty 1 (April/June 1978): 5–39], classical liberalism's reforms, and the contemporary, proliferating “liberation” movement. Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler in their analysis of “The Idea of Equality” (in The Great Ideas Today/1968. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1968) have shown how elusive and debated are the political and social meanings of equality. The following summaries corroborate the elusiveness of equality. Important issues treated include: the relationship between freedom and equality, the contested notion of the “New Equality,” the rival definitions of equality advanced by John Rawls and Robert Nozick, educational equality, and the understanding of social justice and equality in Adam Smith and Alexis de Tocqueville. Finally, with David Miller's concluding summary, we see one explanation of how classical liberalism's understanding of equality of opportunity shifted to the later more egalitarian interpretations of this crucial idea.
Liberty vs. Equality
“The Procrustean Ideal, Libertarians v. Egalitarians.” Encounter 50 (March 1978): 70–79.
Not all ideals of equality threaten liberty—“the most fundamental of these ideals is itself essentially connected with respecting every individual's right to choose, in as many respects as is practically consistent with the corresponding equal rights of everyone else.”
Equality may undergo different interpretations, such as a factual and a normative; as when the Declaration of Independence speaks of equality as a normative ideal to be aspired to, not as some fact about human beings. There are three differing ideals of equality which we need to carefully distinguish because in egalitarian literature [e.g., D.M. Levine and M.J. Bane, The “Inequality” Controversy (1975)] the three distinct ideas—personal equality, equality of opportunity, and equality of results—are crudely equivocated upon. Furthermore, we need to discover whether any of the ideals of equality “are enemies to liberty.”
(1) Personal equality requires liberty and a measure of democracy in the political realm. Analysis and historical data bring this out clearly. The problem begins with (2) equality of opportunity, for this equality raises such issues as whether and what sort of equality of opportunity the state should maintain. Should the so-called “welfare floor” (advocated by Winston Churchill and present advocates of the welfare state) be required to secure equality of opportunity? But, “if you want to achieve ideal equality of opportunity from the very beginning, then you have to abolish the home and the family in favour of the universal compulsory comprehensive crèche.” Even a “next best bet” requires “circumscribing, if not outright abolishing, the freedom of parents to make homes, and to bring up their children as they see fit.”
Finally, (3) equality of outcome or results aims mainly at eradicating the social inequality that, in Rousseau's words, “depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorized, by the consent of men.” But many egalitarians extend the matter to include biological inequalities. Despite their denials of aiming to eliminate all individuality and variety, egalitarians are notoriously imprecise on just what their principle means concretely so that we could tell which inequalities must go, which may stay, and why.
Numerous examples illustrate this imprecision. Utilitarianism, the prominent framework which defends the equality of results doctrine, needs critical analysis. In sum, this kind of equality requires violating equality in the attempt itself, by a “call for a highly authoritarian and widely repressive form of government.”
Liberty and Equality
“Equality's Dependence on Liberty.” In Equality and Freedom. Edited by Gary Dorsey. Dobbs-Ferry, New York: Oceana Publishers, 1977.
Equality and liberty may seem to be political incompatibles; but in reality, human equality comes about only if we fully protect and preserve political liberty.
On the basis of human nature the only possible equality amounts to having full responsibility for one's own life (in adulthood). In all other respects, human beings could be equal only incidentally. Athletic ability, economic achievement, artistic talents—all these and related candidates for equality among human beings are both politically impossible and undesirable. Human equality is politically possible and desirable only when it seeks to maintain everyone's equal moral standing, that is, securing everyone's equal moral self-responsibility.
This equality is threatened in community life by one central possibility, namely, other people's coercion. For others to coerce an individual attacks the individual's status as a self-responsible moral agent. One adult's coercion of another reduces the coerced to a position of childlike dependency, denying this person his or her mature human dignity.
Political liberty exists when everyone refrains from coercing everyone else, in accordance with a theory of natural human rights. This conception of political liberty alone can secure the desirable form of human equality. When everyone refrains from coercing everyone else, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, young and old—all are equal in having the responsibility to make the most of their own individual lives, i.e., in the task of choosing to become excellent human beings.
Thus, “liberty and equality, in the respect in which these are possible conditions and valuable features of a human community, are not only compatible but mutually dependent on each other for purposes of maintaining political justice.”
Bureaucracy and the New Equality
The New Despotism. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies (1976) 34 pp.
The founders of the modern political community believed that republican or representative government tended to diminish the degree of political power intruding into individual lives. Yet, paradoxically, the power of governments over the lives of individuals has increasingly expanded in every Western country, particularly since the end of World War I. Twin forces, an institution and an idea, have accelerated the growth of governmental power in recent years.
The institution is the politically “invisible” infragovernment comprised by bureaucracy's commissions, agencies, and departments that have grown up in the last 50 to 100 years. During this period the bulk of governmental power, as it affects our intellectual, economic, social, and cultural lives, has passed from politically accountable executives and legislative bodies to a vast, anonymous, and politically insulated bureaucratic infragovernment. By pursuing power in the name of health, safety, welfare, environmental protection, and other laudable ends, the reach of the infragovernment has extended into innumerable, formerly private, recesses of the lives of citizens of the modern Western nation-state.
But most important among the ideas that have given birth to the centralized bureaucratic power is “equality.” Nisbet surveys the ways in which various conceptions of equality have influenced Western forms of social organization beginning with the ancient Greek reforms of Cleisthenes at the end of the sixth century B.C. In modern times the infragovernment's crusading promulgation of the “New Equality” as a social objective has posed a serious threat to liberty and social initiative. Unlike other conceptions of equality which have promoted equality before the law or equality of opportunity, the “New Equality” aims at equality of condition or of result. The disturbing menace of the “New Equality” is its enormous increase and centralization of the power of government.
The recent lessening of restrictions on the press, theater, and television does not prove that freedom can flourish despite growing bureaucracy. While freedom of expression has been liberalized somewhat in this century, much more basic economic, local, and associative liberties have suffered massive erosion by the spread of military, police, and bureaucratic power.
Policy and the “New Equality”
“Public Policy and the ‘New Equality.’” The Political Science Reviewer 8 (Fall 1978): 235–262.
Since the opening of the “New Frontier,” public policy analysis has been a growth industry in academia. Not only have universities been adding professional schools and departments to study public policy, but the same study has proliferated in law schools, business schools, medical schools, and in economics, political science, and sociology departments. Traditionally, public policy “sciences” have bridged pure or positive science and governmental decision making. Harold Laswell and other early public policy enthusiasts hoped that defining policy alernatives for solving a problem would enable politicians to make the most rational choices to maintain the values of liberal democracy. Policy science has typically served values, rather than provided them.
Three public philosophies, each with its own conception of “equality” and “public” policy, have provided values for policy decisions. The first, utilitarianism, has been closely linked to liberal democracy and has aimed at justifying individual rights and liberties and particularly the ideal of political equality. But this sort of equality allows natural talents to flourish, therby permitting social inequality. Historically, government policy under utilitarianism and liberal democracy aimed to maintain a self-regulating system of individuals free to pursue their own ends.
The second public philosophy, the “therapeutic ethic,” is now rapidly replacing utilitarianism with the concept of “frustration-aggression syndrome.” This syndrome asserts that frustration always leads to aggression, sometimes to antisocial behavior. The therapeutic ethic also holds: (1) the inequalities born of utilitarianism are the chief source of social frustration, and (2) government must intervene in social interaction to ensure “social peace.” This intervention, in its New Frontier and Great Society versions, went beyond equality of opportunity (to eliminate class or legal barriers to various fields) to “affirmative action” to help the “frustrated” enter the middle class.
The third public philosophy, “The New Equality,” has Martin Rein as a champion and John Rawls as philosophical defender. According to the “New equalitarians,” the “equal opportunity” and rehabilitation of the therapeutic ethic degrades the disadvantaged by suggesting that they are subhuman. Rein believes the key to “humanizing” the disadvantaged is a redistribution of both wealth and status that would treat them as fully human, autonomous, and of “equal dignity.” Policy, then, would redistribute status and wealth to transform the least favored into the most favored and thereby “equalize” personal dignity. This would require a large nonelected and nonresponsive bureaucratic apparatus along with a danger of “class bias” in the functioning of the “New Class” bureaucracy. The “New Equality” explicitly rejects the political equality that permits unequal results in favor of political inequality designed to produce equality of result and condition.
The “New Equality” errs by ignoring that there are no natural rulers among equal human beings, whose natural equality allows each individual to be his own ruler. Government, to be just, must therefore rest on the consent of those who are to be ruled. So liberty, not the “New Equality,” is the “dictate of human equality.”
Rawls and the New Equality
“Equality and Social Theory in Rawls's Theory of Justice.” The Occasional Review 8 (Autumn 1978): 95–117.
For John Rawls a defensible justice means “justice as fairness.” But Rawls's Theory of Justice presents equality of result or of condition as the benchmark of “fairness.” Consequently, many have viewed Rawls's work as providing the intellectual underpinnings for the “New Equality.” Rawls's theory, however, is undermined by his failure to seriously investigate social theory and history.
Rawls's principles of justice emerge from social contract deliberations conducted in an “original position.” In the original position all parties have been stripped of any knowledge that might bias their choice of principles of justice. Rawls also imputes general knowledge about human nature and society to the parties to aid their deliberations. Rawls stipulates that in the original position the parties must choose principles of justice that will be workable in circumstances of moderate scarcity.
This requirement of practicability leads to Rawls's confusion. Rawls unwittingly uses two incompatible models of social structure, each with its own moral arguments against inequality.
The first model represents society as competitive and without class distinctions. In this model, equality results from the unequal distribution of natural talents in society. Here Rawls's argument against allowing such differences to generate inequality follows the arbitrariness of the “natural lottery.” Given this model we might expect the (naturally) most advantaged to feel entitled to greater benefits from their efforts than they are allowed by Rawls's “difference principle” (which allows inequality only if it serves the greatest benefit of the least advantaged). Moreover, those of superior talent would seem to be in a strong bargaining position because they could impoverish the least advantaged by withholding their cooperation.
Rawls's second model depicts society as composed not of well or poorly circumstanced individuals, but of individuals that interact as classes. In this model, Rawls thinks that great social and economic inequalities will distort even a formally equal political structure in favor of the rich. In a class dominated society, inequality is a form of oppression rather than a manifestation of nature's arbitrariness. This model “drives his (Rawls's) principles, nationally, and internationally, in a radical or even Marxian direction. . . .” But Rawls's failure to explore this briefly sketched model theoretically and historically, obscures whether his principles of justice could function in such a society.
In sum, Rawls's criterion of practicability and his failure to examine social theory and actual history make it doubtful that the parties in the original position would choose his principles of justice.
Rawls vs. Nozick on Justice
“Natural Rights and Natural Assets.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 8 (1978): 153–171.
Harvard philosophers Robert Nozick and John Rawls share a great deal in their approaches to political philosophizing. Both are individualists who employ “a procedural model of justification: each specifies an initial status quo (state of nature in Nozick, original position in Rawls) and a procedure for altering that status quo while ensuring the justice of the result (via justice in holdings for Nozick and constraints on the choices of original contractors in Rawls).” Finally, both are similarly wedded to “a ‘deep-theoretical’ commitment” in regard to natural rights.
Nozick's theory in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) would be closer to Rawls's in A Theory of Justice (1971) if their shared features equally influenced the two political theories. Biesenthal argues that “if Nozick applies his procedural account of distributive justice consistently and comprehensively, he cannot deflect the critique of his radical individualism that is erected by the liberal individualism of Rawls's contractarianism.” The case runs as follows:
Nozick accounts for justice by his doctrine of “justice in holdings” subject to the qualification of the Lockean proviso—i.e., “A process normally giving rise to a permanent bequeathable property right in a previously unowned thing will not do so if the position of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is thereby worsened.” History, Nozick admits, is replete with unjust acquisition of holdings and transfers of holdings. This alone, Nozick seems to admit, would apply the Lockean proviso to cases that are more than extreme (or logical) possibilities. Original holdings achieved by violating rights would morally invalidate subsequent voluntary exchanges. This implication of Nozick's theory suggests nonlibertarian consequences unwelcome to Nozick.
Nozick's position involves other elements that further mitigate his radical individualism in the direction of Rawls's “liberal individualism.” Nozick accepts the view that “it seems morally objectionable that some. . . should suffer a miserable existence because of inherent weaknesses or handicaps that they neither are responsible for, nor, given the chance, would have chosen.” Nozick wishes to deflect the Rawlsian overtones of this admission by reminding us that desert does not exhaust justice. However, Nozick's inadequate support for his view that one is entitled to one's natural assets (by appealing to the intuition that none would, for example, compel someone to give one good eye to a totally blind person) implies the superiority of the Rawlsian theory. Rawls's doctrine does not invite the drastic redistributivist consequences Nozick suggests to be counterintuitive.
Thus, it is argued, the Rawlsian approach is superior since Rawls's “justice as fairness” doctrine lacks the undesirable element of moral arbitrariness that Nozick's elevation of liberty to its eminent political position seems to involve.
Balancing Needs and Abilities
“Distributive Justice.” American Journal of Jurisprudence 22 (1977): 55–80.
John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971) argues that people choosing a fair and just social contract in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance” would follow a “maximin” strategy (i.e., “always choose that state of affairs in which the lowest class will have the best of a bad situation) rather than a maximum utility strategy (i.e., “always choose that state of affairs which has the highest average utility”). Contrary to Rawls, however, a just society and a just distribution requires transcending both strategies and calls for principles that (1) define the fair minimum economic and social position of everyone which lies intermediate between these two strategies; and (2) “allow private appropriation and voluntary exchange to govern the distribution of social goods once the minimum has been guaranteed.”
Sterba agrees with Rawls that deliberators of a social contract in the “original position” would reject the maximum utility strategy since it would not guarantee an acceptable minimum standard of living to everyone. But Sterba contends that this rejection does not entail accepting Rawls's maximin strategy. The original deliberators would also reject maximin (and its “difference principle”) as a distributive strategy because it would provide a minimum social standard that they consider too high. A certain group of individuals, anticipating the added burdens they would have to incur by rising to superior or more advantaged social positions, would choose not to rise socially. Those in the “original position” would object to the “high” minimum guaranteed by the “difference principle” to such a group of “free riders” and thus would reject the maximin strategy.
Four principles would satisfy the desire of those in the “original position” both to guarantee an acceptable minimum distribution of goods to the needy, and to allow those contributing more to society to retain a greater share of what they create:
The acceptable social minimum is secured by the principles of need, savings, and minimal contribution. The principle of appropriation and exchange creates productive incentives by allowing individuals to retain a larger share of what they produce.
Nozick and the Lockean Proviso
“Nozick on Appropriation.” Mind 87 (January 1978): 109–110.
In Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) Robert Nozick champions and reinterprets John Locke's proviso on the acquisition and appropriation of property (that there remain “enough and as good left in common for others”) to ensure fairness. Employing an amended Lockean proviso as part of his entitlement theory, Nozick stipulates that it limits an individual's right to appropriate objects if the appropriation would worsen the situation of others who would no longer be free to use the good in question. The author subjects Nozick's Lockean proviso to a twofold critique and understands Nozick's “worsen” to mean the net loss of reasonably expected well-being that any non-appropriator incurs from no longer being at liberty to use the object.
Steiner first protests the unfairness of Nozick's proviso. Nozick demands that the person who worsens the situation of others must compensate all the others for this loss (otherwise he would not have just title to the good). This demand, however, burdens the compensator unfairly. For suppose that Ann appropriates some property and thereby “worsens” the situation of Bob, Carl, and Don. For Nozick, this would require Ann to compensate all three. Yet only one of the three—either Bob, Carl, or Don—would have appropriated the property if Ann had not appropriated it. To require Ann to compensate all three, Nozick thereby requires her to compensate two more people than necessary who would have their situation dubiously “worsened” by Ann's appropriation of the property. Furthermore, we do not even know which two to compensate.
A second problem with Nozick's proviso is the impossibility of measuring or calculating how much compensation Ann owes to the other person. Suppose we overlook the first problem and in fact know that Bob would have been the one to appropriate the property if Ann had not appropriated it. In this case, Bob's net “worsening” because of his lack of liberty to use the property must exclude the alternative net “worsening” Ann would have suffered if Bob had appropriated the property. To calculate Bob's compensation thus leads us into a vicious circle:
Schooling and Subordination
“Expansion and Exclusion: A History of Women in American Higher Education.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 3 (Summer 1978): 759–773.
Highly educated women in America had greater opportunities at the end of the nineteenth century than they now have in the mid-twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1950 higher education shifted from relative unimportance to the center of American values. While student populations grew significantly and higher education institutions changed organizationally as well as ideologically, these shifts actually diminished opportunities for educated women.
The late nineteenth-century woman teacher was a middle-aged unmarried woman, absorbed in study, and withdrawn from the ‘real’ world of commercial competition. Characterized by an innocence and unworldliness which rendered her unable to manage well in practical affairs, she was permitted to participate in higher education.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the educated person was one who had attended college. Between 1875 and 1925, diverse forms of higher education competed with one another, giving women a variety of educational pathways ranging from normal schools to land grant institutions, and Catholic colleges emphasizing a unified curriculum to Protestant colleges emphasizing character formation. Women seized the opportunities: by 1919–1920, 47 percent of American undergraduates were women; in 1930, 32.5 percent of college presidents, professors and instructors were women, and women constituted 45 percent of the professional work force.
However, by 1925 the Ivy League inspired a single conception of higher education in which the university as research center triumphed. An institution became one in which scholars conducted investigations that required extensive funding, elaborate laboratories, and expensive equipment. ‘Lesser’ institutions copied the Ivy League's adoption of elective courses, and specializations multiplied everywhere. Of course Ivy League schools admitted and hired no women, and those who imitated them often sought to enhance their own prestige by also excluding women students (if they could afford it) or at least by excluding women faculty members.
When only a small proportion of the population was college educated, the few outstanding females within that tiny elite did not seem likely to undermine the natural order of things (i.e., the ‘natural’ sub-ordination of women to men); nor, since teaching could be viewed as a nurturing activity, did the central concern of the nineteenth-century female faculty member seem inimical to her ‘womanly’ character. On the other hand, when many are educated and many women prove exceptional, the perceived threat to the order of things is much greater.
Concurrent changes in higher education and in the ideals of womanhood help to explain why women were relatively absent from academic and professional positions in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Recent changes in women's attitudes toward themselves and their careers, and the expansion of ‘continuing’ or ‘lifelong’ learning may point in a new direction. The monolith of the research university may be demolished, giving way to more diversity in higher education and more equal opportunity for women similar to that prevalent in the late twentieth century.
The Free Market Approach to Educational Reform. The Rand Paper Series. Santa Monica, California: The Rand Corporation (1978) 37 pp.
Can the present system of public schools provide educational equality or would a free market approach allow American education to realize more surely the goal of “equal interest and concern with the education of every child?”
The critique against public education has intensified in recent years for many reasons: rising costs, deteriorating academic performance, depersonalization of the educational experience for students and teachers alike, educational faddism, and bureaucratism. Free market education offers a moral basis and economically efficient system based on consumer choice and competition to counteract these ills of public education.
Would private or free market education preserve the cherished democratic value of educational equality of opportunity? Yes, once we carefully remove from educators the imposed responsibility of “social reform.” Frederick Mosteller's and Daniel P. Moynihan's work, On Equality of Educational Opportunity (1972) has debunked the myth that public money and resources can create equality of a child's educational opportunity. Neither teacher-pupil ratios nor per-pupil expenditures correlate with academic achievement. American public schooling has failed to produce intergroup equality of socioeconomic status.
But should “our schools shoulder the primary burden for. . . decreasing disparities in incomes and opportunities associated with race and social class?” It makes more sense to question whether the purpose of education is to achieve an equality of income or social status. Even if it were true that “the quality of one's education correlates positively with socioeconomic occupational achievement,” it would seem likely that a flexible free market educational system would be superior to the public school system in equalizing opportunities of minorities in jobs, income, and status. But again, the more important question is not so much socioeconomic “social reform” as educational quality.
Private free market education contains the economic incentive system to make more available the truly educational ideal of guiding one's pupils, to help them “learn to think clearly and independently.” To fulfill this ideal requires “an equal interest, concern, respect, and love for all children.” Once freed from the responsibility of socioeconomic reform, education in the free market will be competent to pursue the ideal of encouraging true learning on a fairer, more equitable basis.
Adam Smith on Social Justice
“Adam Smith and the Problem of Justice in Capitalist Society.” The Journal of Legal Studies 6 (June 1977): 399–409.
Adam Smith viewed justice as a natural sentiment of mankind which did not simply accept de facto property arrangements but inquired into their justness and demanded restitution for any past injustices. Smith's view is essential to the private property basis of capitalism. In contrast a utilitarian view that endorses governmentally dictated property distribution substitutes government property for private property. In Smith's capitalism, income from unjustly acquired property, even though sanctioned by government, would be expropriation of the just, but governmentally excluded, owners.
Smith considered Hugo Grotius's writings on justice, although imperfect, “at this day the most complete work that has yet been given upon this subject.” The original acquisition of property was just if it did not involve injuring another person or obstruct their freedom of acquisition. The role of law is to leave room so that the “simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord.” Smith held that the market should be the ordinary regulator of justice. Individuals, in the market, seeking their personal aims, will effect “by an invisible hand” unintended social goods and ends. “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”
Smith anticipated that division of labor might discourage intellectual improvement and diminish the very spirit of individualism which gave rise to the success of division of labor. But he felt that the market would compensate for such dangers (if the law did not intrude) since people would naturally develop voluntary associations which would contribute to intellectual improvement and the individualist spirit.
De Tocqueville and Equality
“Alexis de Tocqueville in New York: The Formulation of the Egalitarian Thesis.” New York Historical Society Quarterly 61 (January/April 1977): 69–79.
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, written as a result of his visit in 1831, describes American society's head-long drive toward egalitarianism, or “democracy,” as he labeled it. De Tocqueville saw this as an inevitable movement throughout the Western world with America taking the lead.
Questioning this egalitarian thesis, many contemporary historians have undertaken detailed research on wealth and social class (particularly during the Jacksonian period of de Tocqueville's visit) and have revealed little evidence of social equality of conditions or even social mobility. These findings compel us to reconsider de Tocqueville's thesis and its usefulness in the light of three factors: (1) the impact of de Tocqueville's own social and intellectual background; (2) who were the sources of his information; and (3) what was his method of investigation.
De Tocqueville did not come to the United States predisposed to find an egalitarian society. An artistocrat by birth and instinct, he expected to find American society tending toward aristocracy. His belief that civilization was characterized by the forward motion of some great driving force, however, made him open to the suggestion that egalitarianism was that engine of development. Who gave him the notion that egalitarianism was the driving force in American society? De Tocqueville's friends in New York seem to have transmitted to him this concept of egalitarianism. Themselves native Americans of the highest social class and among the top 500 wealthiest New Yorkers, de Tocqueville's friends impressed him with their easy manner, physical contact with the lower classes, rejection of primogeniture and entail, libertarian rhetoric, and their attitude of political equality for all classes. Also, the very fear of the lower classes expressed by such Whiggish friends as Philip Hone may have convinced de Tocqueville that American society was, in fact, hastening toward an egalitarian utopia of mass democracy. One of de Tocqueville's later friend's, Jared Sparks, cautioned him that wealth was not being dissipated by widely shared inheritance among sons of the rich. Despite this, de Tocqueville left New York assured of America's egalitarian penchant.
How did he block out all information contrary to his thesis? In methodology de Tocqueville was not a historian or sociologist; he intellectualized, seeking by conceptual, rather than empirical, analysis an understanding of his experience. De Tocqueville's blinkered approach saw egalitarianism as the underlying force in American society, and his nonempirical vision has unfortunately captured an uncritical audience.
Liberal Justice: From Merit to Need
“Democracy and Social Justice.” British Journal of Political Science 8 (January 1978): 1–19.
How did liberalism evolve from the classical liberal's advocacy of laissez-faire individualism to the modern liberal's support of the welfare state? The answer lies in changing liberal theories of social justice and equality coupled with parallel changes in liberal attitudes toward egalitarian democracy as a form of government.
Centering itself around the principle of desert and merit, classical liberalism's conception of social justice displays a tension between egalitarian and inegalitarian elements. On the one hand, classical liberalism supported substantive inequality of result since it favored distributing social benefits (wealth and prestige) according to individual, and thus unequal, effort and desert. On the other hand, classical liberalism sought a formal equality of rights (to property, contract, and expression) to avoid undeserved advantages and rewards that did not derive from personal desert. These liberals contrasted true justice with both the feudal inequality of formal rights (based on legally enforced status and hierarchy) and the communistic equality of substantive rights which distributes benefits according to need. Such liberal social justice tends not towards democracy or equal political rights of suffrage but rather towards an unequal political meritocracy which allocates votes and power to those who display the appropriate “merit.”
By contrast, modern liberalism has shifted to endorsing full political equality with universal suffrage. In place of distributing benefits on the basis of individual effort and desert, modern liberals seek to balance claims of desert with claims of need. Modern society seeks to satisfy needs up to a legal minimum and reward deserts with whatever wealth remains only after the earlier distribution to the needy. In modern societies “political equality has come to symbolize the basic human equality between the members of a given community in such a way that everyone who is excluded from, or treated unequally in, the political realm will suffer a loss of self-respect.
Those liberals who accept self-respect as the justification of political equality, will also tend, in social justice theory, to replace desert with need as the standard for distributing society's resources. “In so far as the size of inequalities weakens the self-respect of the worse-off members of society, it will be necessary to redistribute resources from the better-off to the worse-off. This new notion of egalitarian social justice used to protect “self-esteem” is incompatible with the earlier classical liberal view of justice as the reward of merit and desert. “To some extent the rewards of the able and hard-working have to be reduced to provide for the sick, the unemployed, and so on.” Need thus replaces merit as the criterion of social justice.
STUDIES IN ECONOMICTHEORY
THE ECONOMIC POINT OF VIEW: