Quote of the Day

This comes from Robert Nozick, pages 149-150 in Anarchy, State, and Utopia:

The term “distributive justice” is not a neutral one. Hearing the term “distribution, ” most people presume that some thing or mechanism uses some principle or criterion to give out a supply of things. Into this process of distributing shares some error may have crept. So it is an open question, at least, whether redistribution should take place; whether we should do again what has already been done once, though poorly. However, we are not in the position of children who have been given portions of pie by someone who now makes last minute adjustments to rectify careless cutting. There is no central distribution, no person or group entitled to control all the resources, jointly deciding how they are to be doled out. What each person gets, he gets from others who give to him in exchange for something, or as a gift. In a free society, diverse persons control different resources, and new holdings arise out of the voluntary exchanges and actions of persons. There is no more a distributing or distribution of shares than there is a distributing of mates in a society in which persons choose whom they shall marry. The total result is the product of many individual decisions which the different individuals involved are entitled to make.


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5 responses to “Quote of the Day”

  1. necessaryandpropergovt says :


    You know I agree fully with the philosophy you have quoted here. For corroboration of Nozick’s perspective, I offer this text from Thomas Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions to show Sowell’s description of the liberal counter-argument. It’s from Chapter 6 entitled Visions of Equality.

    (Forgive me for this LONG excerpt…I know it’s discourteous to post a comment longer than a blogger’s original post, much less 4x. But I thought this would be an worthwhile elaboration.)

    Pages 135-137:
    “Even when equality is phrased as ‘equality of opportunity’ or ‘equality before the law,’ it still has different meanings in the two visions. Although these concepts are expressed in prospective rather than retrospective terms, they can be either (1) prospects of achieving a given result, or (2) prospects of being treated a given way by the rules of the process.

    “So long as the process itself treats everyone the same — judges them by the same criteria, whether in employment or in a courtroom — then there is equality of opportunity or equality before the law, as far as the constrained [conservative] vision is concerned. But to those with the unconstrained [utopian] vision, to apply the same criteria to those with radically different wealth, education, or past opportunities and cultural orientations is to negate the meaning of equality – as they conceive it. To them, equality of opportunity means equalized probabilities of achieving given results, whether in education, employment or the courtroom.

    “This may require the social process to provide compensatory advantages to some, whether in the form of special educational programs, employment preference policies, or publicly paid attorneys. Though the specific issues of ‘affirmative action’ or ‘comparable worth’ are quite recent in history, the thinking and the vision behind them go back at least as far as the eighteenth century. According to Condorcet, ‘a real equality’ requires that ‘even the natural differences between men will be mitigated’ by social policy. [Footnote: Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, Hyperion Press, 1955, p. 174.] Without equalized probabilities of achieving given results, formal equality was inadequate — if not hypocritical — according to the unconstrained vision. George Bernard Shaw, for example, ridiculed formal equality of opportunity: ‘Give your son a fountain pen and a ream of paper, and tell him that he now has an equal opportunity with me of writing plays and see what he says to you!’ [Footnote: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, Brentano’s Publishers, 1929, p. 94.]

    “Those with the unconstrained [utopian] vision see no need to neglect at least trying efforts toward equalizing chances for particular results. But to those with the constrained [conservative] vision, attempting to single out special individual or group beneficiaries is opening the floodgates to a dangerous principle whose ramifications go beyond the intentions or control of those initiating such a process. Again, it was not argued that it is literally impossible to reduce specified inequalities seriatim, but rather that the generation of new inequalities by this process defeats the overall purpose and creates additional difficulties and dangers. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on preferential treatment rejected the idea that ethnic groups could be ranked by the levels of historic injustice suffered and the compensatory preferences to which they were correspondingly entitled: ‘As these preferences began to have their desired effect, and the consequences of past discrimination were undone, new judicial rankings would be necessary. The kind of variable sociological and political analysis necessary to produce such rankings simply does not lie within the judicial competence….’ [Footnote: REGENTS OF the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Petitioner, v. Allan BAKKE., 438 U.S. 265, at 297.]

    “The unconstrained [utopian] vision was expressed by an opposing Justice in the same case, without regard to this argument. Instead, a lengthy elaboration of historic injustices and handicaps suffered was cited as arguments for compensatory preferences to achieve equalization of prospects. [Footnote: Ibid, at 387-394.] The two visions argued past each other.

    – Jeff

    • The Existential Christian says :

      Jeff, your comments are always appreciated! Sowell is right on the money here. Progressives are concerned about equality of outcomes, while conservatives/libertarians are concerned with equality under the law, as well as believing that manmade law, legislation, should have a much smaller role in peoples lives (libertarians and conservatives of course disagree somewhat on where to draw that line however).

      As an aside, I am realizing that I really need to read some of his writing; nearly every time I read a quote of his I’m nodding my head in agreement.

      I can’t claim credit for this line, but I once read someone’s comment to the effect of, “When someone can tell me why it’s a good thing that everyone in North Korea is equally desperately poor, then I’ll start concerning myself with outcomes.”

      • necessaryandpropergovt says :

        By the way, something else worth noting in that passage is that Sowell addressed a bit of semantic hijacking that the liberals are gradually working on. Let me directly point it out:

        You and I carefully distinguish between the concepts of “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome.” (The former being a conservative goal, and the latter being a liberal goal.) But the liberals are gradually working on morphing the accepted definition of “opportunity,” and Sowell subtly points that strategy out in the first paragraph I quoted.

        Here’s a fuller explanation of what he meant: Liberals are gradually trying to re-define “equality of opportunity” so the word “opportunity” is essentially synonymous with “outcome.” in effect, what this reveals is: If liberals can’t win the debate of ideas fairly and directly, they’ll simply change the K-12 textbooks and language arts curiculum to start morphing the language right out from under our feet, and presto – chango!! Within a generation, they’ve won the battle by embezzling the traditional terminology from us.

        In places, Sowell’s book gets a little tedious to read, but it is chock full of these kinds of sociological insights. I covered a few more of these semantic strategies exposed by Sowell in the article I posted a few months ago (shortly after the election) entitled America’s Political Bilingualism.

        – Jeff

  2. The Existential Christian says :

    Jeff, the morphing of language is indeed something that is happening constantly. To an extent, there will always be an evolution in language, but I can’t help but think that a considerable portion, such as the example you mention, is intentional. It reminds me of Newspeak, from Orwell’s 1984, where eventually people can’t even reject or protest what their government is doing, because they don’t even have the words to think it with!

    Your bringing this subject up reminds me of a chapter in Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit, the chapter called, “Our Poisoned Language”. In it he describes similar problems of language perversion, including an amusing list of words “… qualified by the adjective ‘social'”. I posted a passage from the chapter today here: https://theexistentialchristian.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/quote-of-the-day-8/

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