Glossary of Progressive Ideas, Part Three
Today we continue our meandering stroll through the lexicon of politically correct ideas and language, attempting to make sense, or at least to clarify the nonsense, of progressivism’s unceasing effort to turn language — our only means of converting the impenetrable realm of private understanding, i.e., nature, to a semi-communicable form — into a tool of mass social engineering, i.e., artifice.
(1) Things the State has determined that you are entitled to have, especially when such things may only be attained by overriding the private property, beliefs, or choices of other citizens.
(2) Things the State currently grants you permission to do, encompassing most of the areas of human choice and action that were archaically understood (such as in early modern philosophy) as natural freedoms inherent in the pre-political human condition or “state of nature.” As these “rights” are now understood to be privileges granted by government, they obviously no longer serve as moral limits on government (as in the archaic usage), but rather may be revoked or suspended whenever they are judged by the government to conflict with the priorities entailed in Meaning (1), above — Meaning (1) in all cases taking priority over Meaning (2).
Inherent in both meanings (1) and (2) is that rights are bestowed by government, at the government’s pleasure. To “fight for one’s rights,” then, on these conditions, means primarily to cry for the government to act as an agent of plunder and “redistributive justice” (see below) on one’s behalf, or secondarily to beg the government to grant you license to do what you want to do, which license is most likely to be granted if what you want to do would require the invocation of a Meaning (1) right, i.e., an entitlement, thereby overriding private property, beliefs, or choices. This overriding of private property, beliefs, and choices, then — that is, of “rights” in the term’s archaic usage — turns out to be the most essential feature of “rights” as that term is used by progressives.
Justice, broadly speaking, has hitherto been understood to mean “each man receiving his due,” what is “due” to a man having been understood to mean, roughly, “what he deserves (or, in early modern terms, has a right) to gain or possess as a result of his own effort, merit, or birth.”
Redistributive justice, by contrast, derives from the adoption of the “Marxist” principle (actually a principle which Karl Marx “redistributed” to himself from French socialist Louis Blanc), “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Suddenly, justice was not grounded in desert, but rather need. But desert, though subject to various interpretations, is always and inseparably linked to the ideas of effort, merit, and birth. Need, on the other hand, is so open to interpretation that there is almost no limit to what it may encompass; and furthermore, almost any practical interpretation of need, as used in this pseudo-Marxist formula, will run into direct conflict with any definition of desert entailed in previous notions of justice.
And when need (Marxist justice) runs up against desert (pre-Marxist justice), one side or the other must necessarily give way to the other. In a progressive world, of course, desert will always give way to need.
Hence, redistributive justice, viewed in human terms, literally means redistributing just deserts in response to declared or theoretically hypothesized “needs,” i.e., plunder. The only means of achieving such redistribution of just deserts, or of establishing a principle of “need” according to which this redistribution is to be undertaken, is an overarching authority with the centralized practical power to determine whose just deserts are to be plundered to serve whose “needs,” and then to enforce this redistribution. Thus, redistributive justice is, in practice, a function of coercive government, as opposed to justice in the non-progressive sense, which was understood to be a joint product of nature and will, independent of the State as such. Hence, the just state, in non-progressive terms, was precisely the state that recognized and enforced the maintenance of just deserts, i.e., that upheld and defended each person’s due, to the extent that this could be determined; whereas the progressive or redistributive state is by definition tasked with undoing what is due (i.e., reversing justice) in favor of what is (according to that state’s lights) “needed.”
In sum, then, redistributive justice is, in effect, the “redistribution” of the outcomes of justice; that is, redistributive justice is a euphemism for injustice, particularly as perpetrated by coercive government.