Front Page Titles (by Subject) Liberal Justice: From Merit to Need - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Liberal Justice: From Merit to Need - 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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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: