Connect with us


We suffer an excess of justice Story-level





Getty Images/iStockphoto

When the television series “Civilization” aired in 1969, host Kenneth Clark noted how our ideas about the desideratum had changed over time. If you had asked people what was most important to them, they would have said different things. Edward the Black Prince could have spoken of prowess. The fictional princess of Clèves would have said that honor is the most important thing. But something changed in the 19th century, Clark said. People then, and back in the day, would have said that kindness matters more than anything. But today they would not say that. They would say that what matters is justice.

Justice had a different meaning in 1969 than it did in 2023. Then it was primarily the virtue of the state, in dispensing corrective and distributive justice. On a personal level, the righteous fulfilled their contractual obligations without deceiving anyone. They paid fair prices for the things they bought and refused to take advantage of the known need of sellers who were in dire need of cash. When goods were distributed, the unjust was greedy and guilty of the vices that the Greeks called pleonexia. He would claim more than his share. Back then, personal justice was a matter of duties towards others, and not things to which one believed one was entitled.

In Clark’s time, justice also had a secondary meaning, in aesthetics and morality. The person who wrongly criticized an artist’s talent was unfair. If he mocked a great painter, as Charles Dickens had done in mocking John Millais and his “Christ in his father’s house,” he did not take the painting right measure and deserved the rebuke he deserved. managed John Ruskin. It might also be unfair to convict an essentially innocent person out of an overly severe sense of legal and moral duty. In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Inspector Javert persecutes Jean Valjean literally, but also unfairly. Instead, the true justice is shown by Bishop Myriel, who lies to the police to prevent Valjean from being arrested.

The social conditions of the 19th century made kindness the all-in-all. The Industrial Revolution had produced an enormous increase in wealth, but it had also created a new class of urban poor. The wretched conditions in the East End of London were described by Friedrich Engels in “The Condition of the Working Class in England” in 1845, and in the same year by Benjamin Disraeli in “Sybil”. This resulted in what the Hungarian thinker Karl Polanyi called a double movement, in which capitalist production was promoted and challenged by a new concern for the poor, leading to the invention of kindness. Dickens nearly created the genre, from “Oliver Twist” in 1837 to “Hard Times” in 1854.

Since then, however, we have moved on. Kindness is believed to weaken the fervor for social justice, which today trumps everything. An awakened religion that struts its hatred of ideological enemies has turned goodness into a vice by forgiving transgressors. Nor does justice impose any kind of personal obligations on others. People who chant “No justice, no peace” are not confessing their wrongdoing, but are demanding greater rights.

If we ask why things changed, let’s not forget John Rawls and his theory of justice. After Rawls, justice took on special significance as the virtue of a left-wing state that transfers wealth to the less fortunate. In that sense, Rawlsian justice overlaps with the awakening agenda. But if ostensibly revolutionary, “A Theory of Justice” was a complacent book, as far as the top 1% of society was concerned. He told them they could keep their money as long as they supported a political party that transferred wealth to the poorest. As for people in between, the middle class, kindness was not required and their welfare could be ignored. This goes a long way in describing modern American politics.

We have taken our modern idea of ​​justice as far as we can go. It has made us feel lonely and heartless, and a corrective is needed. We must always demand that the State be fair in promoting the common good, and the poorest deserve special consideration. But something is wrong if this is not tempered by a kindness from which all meanness and conceited presumption are banished.

Mr. Buckley is a professor at Scalia Law School and the author of “Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party.”

Wonderland: The administrative state has created ideological divisions that will take a long time to undo. But a recent ruling on climate change may help resurrect the decisive role that substantive politics played at the founding of the United States. Images: Reuters/Getty Images Composition: Mark Kelly

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2023 Story Level Media.