Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 27 - The Politics of Justice Part 2 - Alexis de Tocqueville was only HALF right

This is a continuation of the series "Politics of Justice" which you can follow from day 26 -


Day 27 - The Politics of Justice Part 2 - Alexis de Tocqueville was only HALF right

One of the most common ideas behind the concept of "Justice" is the idea of "fairness" - wherein people get the things that they are supposed to get, and nobody should be able to take away what a person is supposed to have. There is also the idea that everyone should be able to have the same access to things that everyone else has - yet even within these concepts we run into trouble because the actual meaning and specific definitions of what a person is supposed to get, and whether or not people should be given the same AMOUNT of everything, or whether they should be allowed to have the same access but infinite amounts of what they want, or whether there should even be a system that determines what, if any, a person should get. And what exactly decides what a person is "supposed" to get anyway?

If justice has to do with fairness and how goods and resources are distributed and what rules and principles should be in place to ensure everyone is organized in the best way possible, then we need to fully understand what "distributive justice" means - which is the philosophy behind whether certain things should be given to everyone equally, and whether this violates the "individual right" of people to have and keep the things they own or the right to accumulate as much as they desire. 

One problem that arises within this concept of justice and fairness in how goods and resources are distributed within a society can be seen in the philosophy of Alexis de Tocqueville - a French aristocrat who during the early 1800s studied and wrote about American democracy and went on to publish "Democracy in America" . 


Alexis de Tocqueville on Inequality



The French had a social system where the estates and fortunes of a family are passed in whole to the firstborn instead of being divided amongst family members as it was done in America. Tocqueville found this particularly interesting when he observed some of the implications of this distributive approach. 

Tocqueville claimed to be a supporter of "liberty", and his particular conception of "liberty" concludes that inequality within a society as well as within a family provides incentive for the poor and less well off to strive to become better, and that wealth and fortune should not be distributed or shared equally, but should be concentrated and focused on those who can utilize those resources in order to have the necessary security and leisure time to pursue intellectual and creative greatness - which would then "better society" through the revelations, innovations, and new thoughts of this intellectual elite class. 

In his view, the more intellectuals there are in the society, the better the society - and as long as wealth and estates were kept intact, passing completely from the eldest to the next eldest in the family, the security of that wealth would not erode or diminish - the more concentrated that wealth, the more it tended to remain concentrated, and the more it would benefit and continue to favor the intellectual class. 

Tocqueville criticized the American model of distributing and sharing the wealth and estates of a family by dividing it amongst the members of the family. This created a kind of equality amongst people that prevented the concentration of wealth, and to Tocqueville would also mean that an intellectual class would not be able to develop. 

In order for great intellectuals to arise, they must have time, leisure, resources, and economic stability so that they can dedicate years - perhaps their entire lives - to the pursuit of higher learning, of cultural development, and to hone their intellect from a very early age - which meant that they would not be expected to spend time working or having to pay their way through labor. This class of elites would require having enough resources to focus on things that are intellectually valuable but ultimately have no financial value, which is why any fortunes or estates should be passed intact instead of divided and distributed, which diminishes the amount of leisure and time that a person would be able to have with their "share" of the fortune and ensure that none would be able to become an intellectual. 


Distribution and Fairness

So here - Tocqueville is saying that justice should not have to do with redistributing the goods and resources of people - that there should be inequality because this inequality produces an elite intellectual class that can do more and contribute more to society and culture than having a large population of financially equal people who are not impoverished, but would never achieve greatness or innovation. 

Here it is also suggested that inequality is a motivating force for the poor and less well off - and that it is an incentive that keeps people working hard so that they can amass their own fortunes and be able to pass those fortunes to their own and to maintain those fortunes intact.
What is important to see here is that for a society to be able to have effective intellectuals who have been effectively educated to a standard of excellence, these individuals must be free from worry about survival and having to constantly labor and work, which distracts from the ability to develop intellectual greatness - and although there may be some controversy in the suggestion of inequality being necessary - it is still true that for a person even in our modern day to achieve a kind of academic or intellectual success - the question of financial survival must be addressed and the person must have the time and resources to dedicate to studying and perfecting their chosen fields of expertise. 

Tocqueville did NOT intend on creating a ruling class and keeping people impoverished - he wanted for there to be intellectual greatness within society and given his observations about how the world was functioning, saw that the best solution was to concentrate wealth instead of share it, and distributing it "equally" would diminish the opportunity for greatness. But while he understood the flaw of the economic reality of the time, he did not challenge it or question it - but rather observed and justified it, and assumed that it is already the best possible system.

Fairness and Justice

It was not understood that profit and wealth can only have value if that value is kept from others and actively denied to them - and for there to be a class of people who could use accumulated wealth to their own benefit, there must then be a larger population of people who would have to be denied that wealth, and would have to constantly work in order to survive due to there being no financial relief. 

Is it "fair" then, that only a few individuals are able to benefit from the labor of many, to have wealth and fortune concentrated and put towards cultivating the best schools, the best culture, and the best innovation that can only be appreciated by and afforded by the very elite class that these systems favor and support? 

Is it acceptable for only a few to concentrate and hold on to the profits generated by a population of workers who can be taxed for their security and charged for their goods, and to make them struggle and compete unfairly amongst each other for what an elite class would hold for themselves and not share?

Is it "justice" when the majority of a population who would just as equally become intellectual elites if they were given the time and resource to do so, are instead having to work and compete with each other for the very time and resource necessary to free them from their lives of labor? 

All of this would be inconsequential if there were an equal monetary system where education AND one's living expenses were both covered - because it has been agreed that both are essential human needs and both are relevant to the development of a stable society as well as a society that produces greatness, and therefore should be categorized as a human right.

We see here that "Justice" in terms of political philosophy MUST address how goods and resources are to be distributed and how best to ensure the most effective and supportive outcome for all members of a society. There must be a way to ensure that the basic needs of people are not compromised and that all are able to contribute and work toward the production of goods and services needed by society, while at the same time allowing for each person to pursue greatness without fear of survival. 

The Road Ahead

Are we able to come to such an agreement? Can society actually be motivated to change and organize itself, and do we have the right to dictate this? The answer is YES - and we the Real Politicians - the 7 billion strong population of rightful political figures on this planet, must undertake to show exactly how this can be done, and the importance of why we must realize this while we still can. 

In the blogs to follow we will look more at the concept of how and why society IS able to change and how politics can be used constructively to achieve what individuals or small groups cannot achieve alone.

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