The Most Fundamental Problem with Democrats' Push for Reparations

In 1927, several socialist-leaning American academics visited the Soviet Union, anxious to bring back stories of how successful the new Communist regime had been in its decade of infancy, and how it was exceeding American prosperity by cobbling a technocratic, redistributive path into the future. 

Many returned with fantastic stories about how America was, by contrast, backward in its reliance upon free markets and aversion to Soviet-style economic principles.  But among those mildly disillusioned by the trip was Roger Baldwin, the founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, who seemed to recognize that, despite whatever fondness he held for redistributionist economic policies, the Soviet Union lacked something which was most fundamental in America, and, incidentally, would lead to the horrific injustices that the Soviet Union would later inflict upon its people.

That is, in America, we’ve long held the notion of individual liberty as sacrosanct.  The “social justice” promised by Soviet Communism offered no such protections to its people.

Like many in America, Baldwin was a critic of the treatment of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.  Soviet propaganda had made the two immigrants the poster boys of American capitalists’ intolerance and political tyranny.  When Baldwin spoke to a group of airplane factory workers about the injustices in America, the Soviet workers began to chant “Sacco and Vanzetti,” as the two had been executed since Baldwin had left America.

Baldwin felt compelled, however, to tell the Soviet factory workers that Sacco and Vanzetti had “enjoyed the full defense of the law.”  He then related a contrary story, according to Amity Shlaes, in her excellent book, The Forgotten Man.  Baldwin said to the Soviet factory workers:

But what about yourselves? Two months ago, a group of bank clerks were arrested at two o’clock in the morning.”  Here, the interpreter stopped and refused to go on…. “They were tried at four o’clock and executed at six.  Where was their right to assemble witnesses, to engage counsel, to argue their case, and, if convicted, appeal?”

What Baldwin would “remember for decades” is a woman “approaching him with a countering argument” afterward.  “You only talked about individual justice,” she said.  “This is a bourgeois idea.”

But it is not just a “bourgeois idea.”  Individual liberty, the very crux of the American idea, cannot exist without the notion of justice being applied at the level of the individual.  Unless individual guilt can be discerned, punishment of that individual is unequivocally unjust.

This is one, among the many, fronts upon which proponents of collectivized “social justice” in America morally fail.  

Recently, we witnessed a farce on Capitol Hill when a number of black activists suggested that white American taxpayers should pay monetary “reparations” to black American descendants of the ancient institution of slavery.  And now, several leading Democratic candidates for the presidency have voiced their support for “studying” such reparations.

This is a curious choice by these candidates, considering that a recent poll by Rasmussen shows that only 21% of likely American voters support redistributive measures to pay reparations to descendants of slaves.  

Of course, the value in supporting reparations is not in the popularity of this unique issue, but the political currency which comes with virtue-signaling one’s progressive bona fides.  What we saw on Capitol Hill, and what we see when Democratic presidential hopefuls support reparations, is nothing more than a collectivized show trial against white Americans.  Democrats are seeking to use the court of public opinion to indict millions of these innocent Americans for crimes they did not commit, and punish them by robbing them of their individual rights to property, in order to pay millions of others for oppression which they never endured, and which would, furthermore, be impossible to monetarily quantify.

There is no coherence to that argument, but there doesn’t have to be.  Evidence of individual victimhood or guilt are incidental considerations when set against the imperative to advance “social justice.” 

Social justice, as the left imagines it, must be applied in a very specific fashion.  First, a collectivized victim class must be established, and collectivized guilt must be assigned. Second, a punishment must be meted out by a broad government hammer, without evidence of either individual victimhood or individual guilt.  Such collective solutions, you see, demand that there be no consideration to the individual.

How else could one reach the conclusion that a poor white American must provide financial restitution to far more financially successful black men like Ta-Nehisi Coates for some historical oppression that was neither individually borne by the supposed “victim,” nor individually perpetrated by the poor white American?

None of this is truly about race, it should be noted.  It is about securing and normalizing the mechanism for seizure of property from one class of people, collectively deemed “guilty” by the State, in order to provide that stolen property to others who are collectively deemed “victims” by the State.  This is the only possible recipe for communism, socialism, or its more popular and openly acceptable American cousin, social justice.

But social justice is not now, and has never been, actual justice.  Social justice is the unadulterated corruption of the only justice that matters – individual justice.  What we are witnessing is the continuing quest to replace our government, which exists to protect individual liberty, with one that has the power to disregard individual liberty in order to advance its own interests by appeasing selected and preferred political classes through redistribution.

The federal government seizing my wealth, simply because of my skin color, for crimes that I most certainly did not commit, would be an absolute injustice and an affront to my liberty. 

That’s never been a “bourgeois idea.”  It’s the simplest of facts.  And in America, we should easily recognize that as the most fundamental issue with any effort to advance redistributive reparations. 

Graphic credit: Picpedia

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

If you experience technical problems, please write to