How dire is the problem that confronts us?
Defining the problem as the very survival of the Western Civilization that has sustained us for hundreds of years, F.A. Hayek tells us that our prospects are dire.
Writing in the 1970’s and looking back on two savagely destructive World Wars that human beings fought with each other, he wondered how human beings had ever found a way to live together in peace.
He found the answer in “rules of conduct” by which we could live together to our mutual advantage “without having to agree on common concrete aims”. This is the capitalist system – “the greatest discovery mankind ever made”. (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 2, Chapter 11.)
The opposite system is totalitarianism – where common concrete aims are forced on citizens from above by a coercive regime.
Crucially, he identified “social justice” as the trojan horse via which totalitarianism enters the system of Western Civilization to destroy it from within. The social justice warriors, as we call them today, actively make the destructive choices about which Hayek warned:
Social Justice versus Reality.
There is no such thing as social justice. It misunderstands the definition of justice, which concerns how individuals behave towards one another in free economic exchange. Justice is breached by individual violence towards another individual, or by failing to keep the promise made in a contract, or by violating another’s private property. Social justice can never be about one group within society, because of a feeling of envy, demanding that another group compensate them for an outcome they don’t like. Social justice, says Hayek, is merely an unjustified claim by one social group on another. It is destructive and divisive.
Social Justice versus Truth.
The left prioritizes social justice over free speech, respect for facts and the marketplace of ideas. Cries of “racism”, name calling, unverified accusations, “politically correct” speech codes, safe spaces, bans on “microaggressions”, and censorship are all evidence of this rejection of truth. Uncorroborated accusations of personal misconduct are merely a political weapon for the social justice warrior crowds.
Social Justice versus Individual Identity.
The left sees people not as individuals, with all the ideas, effort and industry that individuals can collaboratively bring to bear, but as members of groups defined by race, class, income, gender and sexual orientation. The contribution of individuals is de-emphasized (or denied, as in “You didn’t build that”). The left insists that unequal outcomes must be evidence of inherent bias that requires state remediation. Someone must be to blame, and someone must be punished.
Social Justice versus Economic Growth For All.
Social justice warriors prefer redistribution of private property to a growing economy that can lift all boats. In their envious emotional state, they’d rather see others lose than everyone gain. They oppose policies that would unleash the individual effort that will generate greater economic growth. They are against the entrepreneurship, innovation and dynamism that produces the truly just society that only individual economic creativity can bring about.
Social Justice versus Individual Morality.
The modern left is increasingly secular and hostile to concepts of individual morality, whether based on faith or reason. Morality, to Hayek, is a set of unspoken (he called them “abstract”) rules of conduct which have emerged over ages of individual interactions through which humans came to identify and understand the behaviors that enable us to live together in peace, to our mutual advantage, without having to agree on common concrete aims. This emergent system of morality builds social consensus over the very long term. Justice warriors aim to end it violently in the short term.
Social Victimhood versus Personal Responsibility and Self-Reliance.
In their envious refusal to accept the outcomes of the system of individual economics, the warriors insist that someone must be to blame, and that someone (them) must be victims of the guilty parties’ criminal behavior. As victims, they feel that they can justify violent and predatory behavior. They ignore – in fact oppose – the notions of hard work, persistence, and present sacrifice for future return that characterize entrepreneurial capitalism. They promote immediate gratification over deferred gratification, in total contradiction of the first principles of morality, responsibility and self-reliance.
Hayek hoped we would reject calls for tribal loyalty – what the politicians and talking heads on TV News broadcasts have attempted to frame as “unity” – and, instead, pursue our individual ends, defined by our unique needs and life circumstances. He conceived of a system that relies on general rules of conduct, rather than special rules serving the needs of special groups. That system was based on personal morality. But many fail to comprehend how such a system works for everyone.
At Center For Individualism, we strive to promote comprehension through education, by producing works like this: summaries of the thinking of our greatest philosophers of everyday life, and of American values, and how to preserve both. We call it “classic content made simple”, and hope you will find it illuminating, and that it will arm you for the kind of informed discussion that can change minds.
Also published on Medium.