The deception of “social justice”, a real instrumentum regni of statism

Any good reader of Friedrich von Hayek knows the fatal risks that personal freedom runs whenever a politician, intellectual, journalist or supposed artist utters the two fateful words "social justice" one after the other. The great economist and Nobel laureate dissected the concept, giving us the most effective and illuminating criticism in his memorable "Mirage of Social Justice" and warning us of how the idea, we would say thanks to its indefiniteness, represented the greatest threat to freedom. It is worth taking up its salient points and, humbly, like the proverbial dwarves on the shoulders of giants, trying to extend the critique to the more recent (ab) uses of the notion.

The Austrian thinker launched his attack starting from an observation as acute as it is neglected by most: justice is a characteristic of individual actions, therefore only situations deliberately created by human will can be considered just or unjust. If I harm someone's freedom or property, I am doing an unfair action, as is (or should be) obvious to everyone. On the other hand, one cannot and must not resort to the concept of justice for a state of affairs that has not been produced voluntarily by anyone: if thousands of spectators pay for a concert ticket making a singer rich, there is no way consider the resulting inequality of wealth as “unjust”, given that it is the exclusive result of free choices. We can say that our personal preferences push us to desire a different distribution of wealth, but we certainly cannot bring up injustice.

The use of the word "justice" is by no means innocent. It is one thing to say that we do not like something, it is quite another to challenge the idea of ​​justice, which has quite another hold on our moral conscience. In short, words matter, and a lot. Hayek concluded his reasoning by admonishing us that the pursuit of the ideal of social justice is incompatible with a free society, since it brings with it the priority granted to the claim of some individuals to the provision of particular goods and services by the state, implicitly by muting (or in any case making non-priority, therefore secondary) the freedom rights of individuals. Furthermore, the concrete content of the concept is the most smoky one can imagine, given that each of us could slip our wildest confiscatory dreams into this black box , which in fact sometimes happened.

In fact, nowadays the concept has become a sort of abracadabra that opens the doors of any claim and at the same time presents itself, in the minds of progressives of all latitudes, as the utmost concern of decent people, that is, themselves. In short, social justice is in the eye of the beholder: petty, in the case of those who do not prostrate themselves in front of palingenetic visions of public intervention; generous, on the other hand, in the case of the prophets of the state religion. Assuming in its very essence the intervention of the state, it makes the latter the supreme moral agent and moralizer of society. The idea of ​​social justice, therefore, far from being harmless, we said, is the picklock to open the doors to an increasingly invasive public intervention, the real instrumentum regni of statist imperialism.

We are therefore faced with a concept that is used in order to colonize the moral imaginary of people, with the further effect of promoting and establishing the notion of the state as the supreme form of society. It follows that, as a perfect form of society, the state compresses and subordinates natural societies – family, associations, communities, etc. – which therefore become accessory and acceptable intermediate bodies only to the extent that they collaborate (or at least do not interfere with) the achievement of social perfection. The evocative power as well as the extreme elasticity of the concept make us understand why it is used for the most disparate claims, from homosexual marriage to the protection of the peregrine falcon.

We stumble upon its most recent derivatives every day, leafing through the newspaper: laws against hate speech , the spread of cancel culture , and much more; without mentioning, of course, the proposals in the economic and redistributive field. All ideas that subordinate the expression of individual freedom (although not always to our liking: but this should be peaceful) to values ​​that are supposed to be higher, more worthy of consideration. These are concepts that drink from the same source of social justice: hence the idea that there are categories of people who must be protected from the world in which they live, not sufficiently capable of looking after themselves, and therefore must be treated as inherently weak, to the point of being welcomed under a glass dome rather than encouraging them to cultivate those skills that are necessary for self-affirmation.

The expansionist tendency of this protean concept is, as we have said, continuous and unlimited: the passpartout preferred by the social planner, the "end of the world weapon" of every good constructivist, who wants to win first by appealing to feelings and good intentions. yet to have started the game, crushing any "petty" claim to individual freedom. A passepartout devoid of any concrete content, made of the same substance as nightmares.

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL on Tue, 04 May 2021 03:49:00 +0000.