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FREEDOM versus JUSTICE

I promised I would try to write less, more often. So this is the first in a series of undeveloped, random thoughts that don’t really belong anywhere, but which I find interesting if only for conversation’s sake.

Are you in favor of Freedom? Well, who isn’t?

What about Justice? Put me down for that too.

Everybody wants freedom, and everybody wants justice… but it occurs to me, if you really get down to brass tacks, that pure freedom and pure justice are mutually exclusive.

For example, if one was truly free, utterly at liberty to do whatever one wanted, whenever they wanted to do it, then that person would leave a vast wake of injustice. To walk wherever you wanted: trespassing. To take what you wanted: stealing (or rape if it was who you wanted). If you were absolutely, utterly free you could murder at will. Or perhaps just drive as fast as you want.

The fact that you are not able to do any of these things puts constraints on your liberty. It limits your freedom to act. Thank God.

Likewise, imagine a world where there was perfect justice: no difference in income or lifestyle, no one better off than anyone else. No birth defects. All crimes would be avenged.

What would it take to enforce such equality? Well, it seems like a massive state is the answer, one with the power to tax, hobble, or otherwise coerce the fast runners into slowing down so that everyone comes out equally. (The slow runners cannot do better than their best. The only way to achieve equality of result – the world of “justice” that so many leftists long for – is to pull down everyone to the level of the slowest runner.) It would be a State with the power to abort the physically impaired, and one in which every invasive measure ever conceived was put to use to ensure no crime went unreported or unprosecuted.

A state with the power to enforce equality and bring total justice is a state that needs to be powerful enough to constrain a great deal of freedom.

So if you step way, way back, it seems to me that everyone wants things that are in effect mutually exclusive: rooting for both the Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object. We do this without thinking. And there’s the rub, as usual.

Each person and each society really is longing for what they personally find is the ideal balance between the opposing forces of freedom and justice. People who are more capable, on average, tend to value freedom over justice because it allows them to keep more of their earnings – meaning more of what they put their time, energy, passion and imagination into.

Conversely, those who tend to scream loudest for economic justice either through mental, physical or emotional difficulty, or disadvantages of birth or just plain bad luck find it better to be given money from someone else’s labor since they cannot or will not earn it on a higher level.

When I was a starving college student, I was all in favor of massive income redistribution through taxes and benefits. I personally had no income to be redistributed, so it was a good deal for me. Now that I actually have to pay taxes and give up things, I find the entire idea a little more problematic. The sales tax checks I write go to the California State Board of Equalization, not the California Department of Coerced Larceny – but the effect is precisely the same. The people my money is going to did nothing to earn the money that is being taken from me. And if I don’t give it to them, I lose my freedom.

What I find interesting is that with very few exceptions, those who want freedom over justice, as well as those who want justice over freedom, do so for purely selfish reasons. They want the money to stay with them. This is perfectly understandable to me. As a conservative, I have become comfortable with the idea of personal gain because I happen to believe that enlightened self-interest is a tide that raises all boats. History bears me out in this in no uncertain terms. But I wonder how many people who consider themselves altruistic fully realize that the justice they call for is in fact pure selfishness. If you believe in the idea of Universal Health Care, for example, you believe that I have an obligation to work harder to not only pay for my own health care, but also for that of the next guy who is either unwilling or unable to do so for himself. Is that justice, or is it envy, or laziness, or lack of responsibility, or just plain avarice? That’s up to you.

A world where everyone can do exactly what they want, all the time – the world of perfect freedom – is anarchy. It is a return to the jungle. You can have perfect freedom. It’s not pretty.

Likewise, a world of perfect justice is IngSoc in 1984: grey, forbidding, terrifying and horrific. All of the real horrors in human history come from all-powerful states erected to provide ‘economic justice.’ It’s a charnel house. You can have that too.

What most people want is a reasonable balance between freedom and justice. One of the reasons I am so passionate about defending this society is not because it is perfect – obviously it is not – but because I believe it has achieved as good a balance between freedom and justice as I am likely to see. There are some things I am willing to be taxed for, at the expense of my economic freedom, and there are injustices I am willing to endure, to allow the freedom that leads to the greater good. It is, like everything else in life, a compromise.

Most calls for “more justice” or “more freedom” are really just the cries of people who want to adjust the mixture one way or another, and if you turn a cold eye upon them you will discover that nine times out of ten they do so only because it is in their self interest to do so.

[UPDATE]

[Well, one of the reasons I consider this a fragment rather than an essay is because I obviously failed to be clear on one key issue.

These are not my definitions of freedom, or especially of “justice.” Referring to the latter, it is the definition of “justice” put forward by the left: ‘economic justice’ means to them that there is no major disparity of income.

I would have hoped from the example of the sales tax that I gave that I do not consider forced economic equalization to be the same as “justice” — merely that others were calling it thus.

I believe, based on the comments I have received so far, that I need to re-write this somewhat. I say this because there is a real and fundamental difference between what I consider economic justice and what socialists do: what they call justice is, to me, egalitarianism, forced equality of outcome, which I and people like me do not consider justice at all.

As always, I have learned a lot from the feedback. I hope to put that wisdom to use in refining and reposting this idea, which I believe has merit despite the messiness of how it is presented above.]