October 28, 1996
Some Important Principles by Which Liberals can Understand Conservatives
by Francis J. Beckwith, Ph.D.
I am convinced that most liberals do not understand conservative political philosophy. So, here’sa few principles which may help:
1. Just because I own more stuff than you doesn’t mean I acquired it wrongly. If I have acquired my wealth through unjust means (e.g., fraud, deceit, stealing, asuspicious late 1970s cattle futures investment), it is clear that I am obligated to return it to its rightful owner(s). However, if I get a good job, invest wisely or create a profitable enterprise entirely by just means, what sense does it make to say that anybody except me is "entitled" to it? I believe there is a public good in creating an economic safety net for those who, because of physical or mental sickness and/or disabilities, are not able to care for themselves. But that is a far cry from saying, as liberals do, that the unfortunate are entitled to my wealth simply because I have more than they do.
2. Just because you want or need something I have does not mean you are entitled to it. Perhaps you have no kidneys while I have two and I am the only person in the world who has the type of kidney which would save your life. You want my kidney. You need my kidney. However, you are not entitled to my kidney. If I give you one of my kidneys, I have performed a great act of kindness. But I am not required to do this. You may need my money. You may want my money. Sorry, you are not entitled to that, either. I may give it to you because I think that charity is a virtue. I may even support the type of economic safety net I mentioned above. But none of this means that you are entitled to what is mine. Envy is still a vice, and if you think you are entitled to what I have, you are envious. And if this brings you no shame, perhaps you have a future in politics.
3. Just because a few people in my group harmed some individuals in your group does not mean that I owe you anything unless it was me who harmed you. Liberals who oppose the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI or Prop. 209), which would ban the state government from continuing to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, argue that preferential treatment based on race and gender in state hiring and college admissions is justified because of the past discrimination of white males against minorities and women. No doubt there is still discrimination, but the liberals’ argument has nothing to do with justifying preferential treatment. The best they can do is cite specific cases with good evidence that particular victims were harmed by actual perpetrators. In other words, when there is a documented case of unjustified racial or gender discrimination, the perpetrator(s) ought to be punished and forced to compensate the victim(s) for his, her or their loss. But this is simple justice, not prefrential treatment.
However, if an injustice is claimed, but neither perpetrator(s) nor victim(s) can be identified other than in vague generalities (e.g., "Whites have harmed blacks and therefore blacks deserve to be compensated for their loss" or "Women only earn 70% of what men earn and so ought to receive preferential treatment in the job market"), then there is simply no way, short of possessing omniscience and omnipotence, to dispense justice without harming innocent people as well as encouraging mediocrity. For example, if some people of your race at some point in the past murdered and stole from some people of my race, it would surely not be just for me to require that the living members of your group be randomly killed and/or some of their assets confiscated by the state and given randomly to selected members of my group. This is commonly referred to as Bosnia.
4. Sensitivity is not an accurate measurement of truth. Conservatives, like Mother Theresa, are typically accused by liberals, like Teddy Kennedy and Roseanne, of being insensitive. Perhaps the liberals are confusing the plausibility of a political position with finding a boyfriend, a baby-sitter, or a therapist. To paraphrase Johnny Lee, liberals are "looking for love in all the wrong places." Maybe this is why liberals are more inclined than conservatives to embrace politically correct euphemisms in order to relieve people of the burden of being morally responsible for their decisions, e.g., "alternative shopper" instead of "looter," "sexually active" instead of "easy," "chemically dependent" instead of "junkie," or "Mr. President" instead of "draft dodger."
Conservative political philosophy is either better or worse than its rivals. The conservatives you know may slobber their food (sometimes a nicely cooked dead animal they shot themselves), "accidentally" call Barney Frank "Barney Fag," or refer to The Los Angeles baseball team as the "Brooklyn Dodgers," but they still could have the best political philosophy on the planet. The Reverend Jim Jones (of Jonestown infamy), a Bay Area liberal, was clearly more "sensitive" than former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, known for insensitive remarks about minorities and handicapped people as well as dis-inviting the Beach Boys from a summer concert in our nation's capital. But who would you trust to bring the punch to the picnic?
Dr. Beckwith is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Whittier College and a Nevada Policy Research Institute Senior Research Fellow. He is the author and/or editor of eight books including Are You Politically Correct?: Debating America’s Cultural Standards (Prometheus, 1993).