Friday, July 29, 2005

Column on Comparative Justice [proof please]

On More or Less Just Societies

Tibor R. Machan

When I first became familiar with some aspects of American society, I
considered the country to be vastly superior to the one in which I was
living at the time, namely Hungary during its communist era in the early
1950s. I was no expert, nor a student of history, so my impressions were
just that, impressions. And my confidence in them was appropriately
hesitant, although by certain common sense criteria I was sure
enough. For example, the government simply didn?t oppress people as
flagrantly in the USA as it did throughout the Soviet bloc. Also, in the
USA there had been a reasonably consistent and principled adherence to the
policy that everyone has the right to air his or her ideas with no
censorship of them from the government. Commerce, too, was widespread and
nowhere nearly so impeded by bureaucrats and politicians as in Hungary.
This much was evident to any reasonably aware human being during those

Even after I arrived in America and witnessed its general political and
social situation directly?e.g., its insidious and widespread racism, the
silly ways in which communism was combated by its Congress, the immoral
victimless crimes spawned by the voters and their
the country was far more just, as countries go, than where I came from and
many others I knew of from my studies of history, recent and ancient. As
people on many measures, such as their moral character or their health, so
their large and small communities, there has always been a continuum
the grossly deficient ones, those that are more or less mediocre, and
those that verge
on being quite excellent.

Once my ideas on what constitutes a just human community began to
crystallize, and as I was attempting to apply these ideas to the world
around me, I continued to find justification for ranking communities as
more or less just, although the ranking had to be done with great care
since on some fronts a community can be quite outstanding while on another
it can be a disaster. All in all, though, I kept to my conviction that as
big countries go, the USA is still comparatively superior when it comes to
matters of justice. Yet I also modified some of my earlier impressions,
especially in light of becoming aware of just how vicious and widely
embraced the institution of slavery had been in this country and how, even
after its abolition, how racial segregation undermined the principles of
the American founders on so many fronts. I also realized that in other
spheres American law and public policy fell far short of the kind of
community that would be loyal to the principles of the American founders
whose ideas I have concluded really did capture accurately, albeit in mere
outline, what
a just society should be.

All this comes to my mind now as I continue to try to make sense of both
domestic and international politics, including the discussions about
America?s recent role in world affairs. For instance, it intrigues me how
often the ?moral equivalence? theme is still confidently embraced
vis-à-vis international terrorism, with folks suggesting that what the
terrorists in London, Madrid, New York, Cairo, and elsewhere perpetrate is
pretty much comparable to what the American government has wrought across
the globe via its foreign and military policies.

This is by no means the place to hash all this out but it is very
disturbing to notice now many people are unwilling to do any kind of
comparative ranking, involving the kind of wrongs done by different
people, including governments, in terms of a sensible broad standard of
justice. Often the very same people who embrace value-subjectivism or
multiculturalism or cultural relativism?in short, people who reject the
very idea of an objective morality?advance judgements about the conduct of
different people and governments that are oblivious to any nuances, to
distinctions of severity, of intentionality, of complicity and so forth.

It seems to me that unless one has a reasonably well worked out idea of
what is more or less just?an objective measure of right and wrong in
matters of how communities should be organized and governed?issuing
approvals or indictments of various international agents as they make
their moves is impossible and amounts to little more than venting of ones
feelings. And that can do nothing at all to help set anything right.

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