Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Justice's Illegitimate Child

So, I'm reading this review of What's Wrong with Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment by the Australian philosopher, the late David Stove, (yea, I know, I need to get a  life) and early-on in the piece the reviewer quotes directly from the book: "[It] is quite certain that the psychological root of 20th-century Communism is benevolence."

I'm pretty sure that this is a fairly common assumption about the psychological roots of not only Communism, but Socialism, and contemporary Liberalism as well.  I'm also pretty sure it's incorrect.

Part of Stove's project was to demonstrate that our almost unalloyed faith in the benefits of altruism are misplaced and that, often as not, our benevolent acts end up doing at least as much harm as good, if for no other reason than the law of unintended consequences.

No argument here.  However, the corollaries that sometimes derive from that general principle have often bothered me, and more than just a bit.  One in particular I've always strongly resisted goes something like this:  The political Left is naive but good-hearted, while the Right is realistic but hard-hearted.

Hogwash!  (That's family-friendly blogspeak for "bull$#!+!")

To the contrary, I find very little of a benevolent spirit motivating nearly anything the Left does politically or otherwise.  If you come across a poor man and are motivated chiefly by benevolence, then you buy him a bowl of soup, offer him a ride, or slip him a buck (maybe).  But the plight of a poor man rarely inspires such a good work on the part of a Lefty.

For your average Lefty, the sight provokes instead an eruption of anger and disgust.  When he sees poverty in the midst of plenty, he notices immediately and fixates upon the obvious inequality. Refusing to examine further, he continues by confusing the inequality for inequity.  He is willing to do this because his chief motivation is not benevolence, but is rather an overexcited sense of that bastard child of justice, envy.  Envy that cannot bear and will not tolerate inequality of any kind.

If you're looking for the genuine psychological origins of any of the-collective-trumps-the-individual isms that plagued the 20th century, and, frustratingly, continue to do so in the 21st, look no further than envy.

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