The Deception of Perfection
The American republic since its inception has been a shining exemplar of success. The nation ascended from fledgling British colony to the sole superpower in the world. It built an economy that generated unparalleled wealth, liberated millions from oppression by wielding the might of its magnificent military, and attracted a diverse and vibrant society proud to live in the bastion of liberty.
Yet a perpetually dissatisfied and influential minority is endangering the continuing prosperity and stability that catapulted the United States to first amongst free nations. The cause of these citizens' animus and their incessant drive to break down America's institutions, only to be remolded according to the designs of central planners, is a fetish for perfection in a world that will always remain imperfect due to human fragility and the role of chance.
What made the nation thrive from its onset was a political architecture that explicitly acknowledged that human beings are flawed. The Constitution was founded on the truth about human beings, which is that men are no angels. The entire system of checks and balances, divided powers, federalism, and individual rights is drawn from Madison's notion that natural ambition must be made to counter ambition. If the ambitious were to wield power without check, then their foibles would only become amplified, and others would suffer due to actions that are not their own.
The diffused approach to power in all spheres -- economic, social, and political -- was meant to create pockets of liberty to which men could be attracted. People could escape oppression and state extortion by moving with their feet. Enslavement to society through democracy or to an aristocracy through the federal government were dangers intended to be obviated -- although many founders were sober enough to realize that their arrangement would not likely hold in perpetuity.
What the founders did not do, purposively, was charge a government with the arbitrary purview to make all possible vicissitudes of nature or impersonal cruelties of fortune "just." This is perhaps a statement that would blow some modern liberals' minds. It is as if some elitists believe the preamble to the Constitution to establish justice and to promote the general welfare is all the license they need to pursue those ends via a supreme federal government. But the reason the founders circumscribed the federal government's authority is quite clear: a government empowered to determine the fortunes of the masses will necessarily be abused by politicians to hold down their competitors for privileges, perquisites, or power.
We may examine the Declaration of Independence as a heuristic document that bolsters this point: "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Our founders and framers anticipated that sophists and demagogues would attempt to seize the government by promising to deliver happiness to the people.
And this is precisely what those who support the political left believe: that electing mere men to power will be enough to trickle down good upon the nation like manna from heaven. These misguided and uncritical souls seem to believe not simply that they can transmute vices into virtues through the philosopher's stone of government -- namely, through its purportedly impersonal machinery of equalization -- but that virtues can be conjured up out of thin air by punishing the virtuous -- for their productivity, for their ingenuity, and for all their attendant sins of pursuing "inequality"!
The left is thus actively engaging in a flight of fancy by posing an imagined society divorced of human agency, capable of molding perfectly altruistic beings, all while ensuring that inequality is leveled according to the moral imperative of "social justice." But simply put, the modern left's drive to correct inequalities of wealth leads ineluctably to inequalities of political power -- and as we have seen time and again throughout history, even in modern-day America, the left fails miserably to adhere to their own ideals.
The examples of every decaying socialist regime, communist basket case, and even the wreckage of Democrat-run cities do not sink into the minds of our supposedly empirically oriented and pragmatic central planners, because their quest is quite simply to eradicate all the injustices of life. If they create more injustices, then that's simply more injustices to eliminate! This quixotic rationalization of their role in life feeds their insolent crusader mentality, all the while non-coincidentally expanding the bureaucracy and fattening their own wallets (all at the expense of the "sinful virtuous").
From Hollywood to Washington, the radical rich are all for the equality of means, except for themselves. They demonstrate this risible morality not by divesting their millions to the poor, but by empowering the government to forcibly tax the rich -- the productive, the unproductive, the trust fund babies, and the industry magnate alike. This credo is all in the name of "equality" and "fairness," even if the government acquires vast powers to determine the fates of millions. The irony is so thick that modern liberal philosophy often reads like satire, since it eviscerates the principles on which its notions stand.
An illustrative modern liberal philosopher, and one who has received some notoriety as a potential influencer of President Barack Obama (but not nearly enough, in my opinion), is John Rawls. The Harvard professor has been called one of the most influential liberal philosophers of the twentieth century and was a colleague of Lawrence Tribe, the constitutional law mentor of Barack Obama. Rawls' "Theory of Justice" is a foundational text to understanding the left's agenda, and it is one reason why many modern leftists do not see their program as "socialist," but rather as an extension of the liberal project.
Rawls believed, quite simply, that "justice is fairness." Understanding in full what this entails, according to Rawls' careful couching, is an extensive discussion, but one that can be boiled down to the government offsetting the negative role of chance in people's lives. His reasoning is that if men were to negotiate a social contract from the "original position" of forming a society, they would seek to nullify the negative features of chance, including those stemming from possessing various skin colors or other minority characteristics.
If inequality were to be tolerated at all, it would be in favor of elevating the underprivileged, such as through affirmative action programs.
An eye-opening quote from Rawls' Theory of Justice draws this concept out in stark language:
Within the limits allowed by the background arrangements, distributive shares are decided by the outcome of the natural lottery; and this outcome is arbitrary from a moral perspective. There is no more reason to permit the distribution of income and wealth to be settled by the distribution of natural assets than by historical and social fortune. Furthermore, the principle of fair opportunity can be only imperfectly carried out, at least as long as the institution of the family exists. The extent to which natural capacities develop and reach fruition is affected by all kinds of social conditions and class attitudes. Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances. It is impossible in practice to secure equal chances of achievement and culture for those similarly endowed, and therefore we may want to adopt a principle which recognizes this fact and also mitigates the arbitrary effects of the natural lottery itself.
The modern left that directs the currently dominant Democrat Party has quite plainly, albeit tacitly, charged the central planners to devise a world where the "natural lottery" of individuals, meaning the sheer chance of being blessed by nature and station with certain talents and abilities, is offset by an activist government that elevates the poor at the expense of the rich, the idle at the expense of the productive, the criminal at the expense of the law-abiding, the failures at the expense of the winners, and the takers at the expense of the makers.
In such a world, whom would you throw in lot with? The virtuous or the viceful?
The social engineers, the meddling masterminds, and the self-appointed savers of the "underprivileged" have thus perverted self-interest, and in no wise have reformed it or channeled it in a productive direction. The left has merely subsidized socially destructive and self-destructive behavior by failing to allow people to adapt to the negative consequences of their own actions. By not allowing people the chance to triumph over their initial lots in life, the modern left has deprived people of an opportunity to succeed on their own terms and according to their own natural limitations.
This is a great tragedy that sows the seeds for demoralization; by removing the ability for men to determine the outcomes of their own lives, the state is bending all citizens into obeisance to a paternalistic, necessarily corrupt, and cronyist party. By removing men's authority over their own bodies, the national health care system being devised will lead to less personal responsibility for one's health and more social costs. The debate was tellingly framed as "don't you care about the uninsured?," which was a minority of the citizenry, after accounting for those who did not desire to purchase health insurance. Every anecdotal demonstration of the "unfairness" of the country was trotted out as evidence for "comprehensive reform" -- meaning the capture of one-sixth of the economy by the government. There are devastating practical consequences to adopting flawed political philosophy.
The deception of perfection is leading many of us blindly into a world where one cannot lead one's own life and be influenced by chance. It's a world where people's lives are shaped and effectively determined by their flawed fellow human beings. The random misfortunes of life are thus leading to systematized misfortune -- which is in turn exacerbated and made direr by the state's removal of all personal responsibility for and control over one's own life to the extent made possible by a free market and a government that safeguards individual rights.
The left is not altering mankind's immutable state of affairs, one that entails luck and natural diversity. Rather, it is simply turning the role of chance and the weak-minded perception of life's unfairness into an internally divisive society laying the foundations for all-powerful government.