Thursday, July 25, 2013

Old "distributive justice" vs the new "distributive justice", and the abuse of the English language by progressives

The interesting thing about history is that there is very little that's new under the sun. This is also true for the term "distributive justice". I asked the question "Is "distributive justice" yet another idea that progressives imported from Germany?" to which the answer is yes. American Progressives did import it from Germany, all you have to do is check the progressives' footnotes. But that is not where this ends, because the German Socialists originally got the term from somewhere else. In short, there's two places: St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle - but these need to be explained because it gets a little convoluted.

As to St. Thomas Aquinas, he does specifically use the phrase "distributive justice", but what he is referring to has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of redistribution of wealth. That is, government stealing from one and giving to another.

As to Aristotle, he does not specifically use the phrase(that I know of) but he is talking about wealth redistribution.

First, let's get to the original sources. St. Thomas Aquinas writes of "distributive justice" in his book titled "Summa Theologica", Volume 3 (Part II, Second Section). Because there is a lot here I am only going to clip small portions:

Article 2. Whether the mean is to be observed in the same way in distributive as in commutative justice?

Objection 1. It would seem that the mean in distributive justice is to be observed in the same way as in commutative justice. For each of these is a kind of particular justice, as stated above (Article 1). Now the mean is taken in the same way in all the parts of temperance or fortitude. Therefore the mean should also be observed in the same way in both distributive and commutative justice.

After listing some objections, he writes:

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1), in distributive justice something is given to a private individual, in so far as what belongs to the whole is due to the part, and in a quantity that is proportionate to the importance of the position of that part in respect of the whole. Consequently in distributive justice a person receives all the more of the common goods, according as he holds a more prominent position in the community. This prominence in an aristocratic community is gauged according to virtue, in an oligarchy according to wealth, in a democracy according to liberty, and in various ways according to various forms of community. Hence in distributive justice the mean is observed, not according to equality between thing and thing, but according to proportion between things and persons: in such a way that even as one person surpasses another, so that which is given to one person surpasses that which is allotted to another. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 3,4) that the mean in the latter case follows “geometrical proportion,” wherein equality depends not on quantity but on proportion. For example we say that 6 is to 4 as 3 is to 2, because in either case the proportion equals 1-1/2; since the greater number is the sum of the lesser plus its half: whereas the equality of excess is not one of quantity, because 6 exceeds 4 by 2, while 3 exceeds 2 by 1.

The old "distributive justice" is about justice distributed properly. That is, if you are a more productive person, then it is just that you should earn more. It's very "just" that you should earn more if you work harder. I know I'm probably being a little over-simplistic in the previous sentence, but it's clear that he is not talking about governmental theft of property to give to another person.

Now, on to Aristotle. Aristotle writes about wealth distribution as a function of "justice" in his book Politics. This is from Book 2:

There is another point: Should not the amount of property be defined in some way which differs from this by being clearer? For Socrates says that a man should have so much property as will enable him to live temperately, which is only a way of saying 'to live well'; this is too general a conception. Further, a man may live temperately and yet miserably. A better definition would be that a man must have so much property as will enable him to live not only temperately but liberally; if the two are parted, liberally will combine with luxury; temperance will be associated with toil. For liberality and temperance are the only eligible qualities which have to do with the use of property. A man cannot use property with mildness or courage, but temperately and liberally he may; and therefore the practice of these virtues is inseparable from property. There is an inconsistency, too, in too, in equalizing the property and not regulating the number of the citizens; the population is to remain unlimited, and he thinks that it will be sufficiently equalized by a certain number of marriages being unfruitful, however many are born to others, because he finds this to be the case in existing states. But greater care will be required than now; for among ourselves, whatever may be the number of citizens, the property is always distributed among them, and therefore no one is in want; but, if the property were incapable of division as in the Laws, the supernumeraries, whether few or many, would get nothing. One would have thought that it was even more necessary to limit population than property; and that the limit should be fixed by calculating the chances of mortality in the children, and of sterility in married persons. The neglect of this subject, which in existing states is so common, is a never-failing cause of poverty among the citizens; and poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.

There are several places in his book Politics where he talks about wealth redistribution, and the distribution of other things, such as power, but nowhere does he use the specific phrase "distributive justice".(That I have seen) I cite Aristotle because that's at least one of the sources that the German Socialists used in their models for "distributive justice".

The point is this: As I opened, there is very little which is new under the sun. This is especially true for governments which engage in theft. Benjamin Franklin wrote:

Hence as all history informs us, there has been in every State & Kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing & governed: the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the Princes, or enslaving of the people. Generally indeed the ruling power carries its point, the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes; the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partizans and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure. There is scarce a king in a hundred who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharoah, get first all the peoples money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever.

This carries the point home very well in two ways. Wealth redistribution is not only a very old concept, but it's a function of dictatorships. This is the exact opposite of what modern progressives preach. They always preach that they want "new ideas", but if these "new ideas" were ever properly examined, you would find that progressivism relies upon ideas which are all much older than any ideas of liberty. Reagan once said:

This idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man.

When progressives successfully cast tyrannical ideas as "justice", you have a big problem on your hands. It's one thing to say that you lived in the year 35xBC, then you have an excuse. In Aristotle's day, tyranny was all they had. But as it's shown by both Ben Franklin as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, wealth redistribution is a very dangerous concept, and "distributive justice" was originally about the proper functions of law, not wealth redistribution.

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