Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Note On Hayek And The Meaning Of Social Justice


Someone posted this by Hayek:

..."Social justice rests on the hate towards those that enjoy a comfortable position, namely, upon envy."

~Friedrich August von Hayek...

I responded thusly:

....Serious question from a decidedly *non* social justice warrior: Hayek, for example, favored something like a minimum income for every adult citizen in arguing for the need of a social safety net of a certain kind. Isn't that provision social justice as distinguished from justice (which traditionally understood is an individual based thing, the giving of each person their due) and, so, continuous with social justice? 

It could be argued that the provision of welfare to those in need is a form of individual due giving and, so, individual justice, but on that reasoning we see the collapse of the distinction between justice and social justice as Hayek's disparagingly thinks of social justice by what you quote. We could equally say that health care or decent housing is giving each person their due and therefore individual justice. 

In a nutshell, how do we reconcile Hayek's disparagement of social justice with any kind of welfare program?

A friend of mine wisely argues:

...But principles are not theories; they are action guiding , and normally there are contrary principals, also action guiding, and there are no super principles for selecting principles. That is what Aristotle meant when he asserted, against Plato, that values are incommensurable, i.e., there is no value that is a yardstick higher than all other values that can determine which of two conflicting principles should prevail in a given situation. So, if, say, freedom/liberty are in conflict with the demand for social security in a given situation, there is no principle that can resolve the issue; a practical decision has to be made by responsible men of affairs. That is why libertarianism/free market theory is so cockeyed; it elevates individual freedom over all other social values as the yardstick by which various proposals are decided. If  the necessities of freedom are in conflict with the need for social security, freedom trumps everything, and social security loses automatically. But I reckon that Aristotle knew a thing or two more than Milton Friedman ever did, or could...

A response:

Easy to reconcile. Support for welfare programmes is not conditioned by the desire to do ' justice'. Supporting poor and sick , the first priority, is charity based on compassion. Poor and sick do not deserve anything in my eyes more or less than you or I. But we provide for them out of compassion. 

Then there is another class of people who are covered by welfare and who regularly attract the wrath of the conservatives: useless lazy good for nothings. For ages I opposed accommodating them. I no longer do. Let us give them welfare - to protect ourselves from them. They are pure destruction. There is no point of demanding them to work. They will not. Ever. And if you make them- they will be fired in 5 minutes. Usefullness and productivity is foreign to them. Let us neutralise them. With welfare.

My answer back:

Good point but I'm not persuaded it's so easy.

You raise a distinction between compassion and justice.

 A few thoughts.

When welfare is a right, an entitlement, then does the distinction endure? 

What about universal benefit programs, like (say) single payer health care, some form of which is present in every liberal democracy except the U.S., paid out of general revenue, which everyone receives including those who haven't paid in or who receive treatment way in excess what they've paid in, or those, like prisoners, who receive treatment even after  they have acted in (sometimes heinously) socially destructive ways? Are these programs reducibly understandable as compassionate or do they, as I think they do, reflect what a "just society" provides to its citizens? 

So, to ask my first question to you in a different way, if essential medical treatment is considered a right--the question now up for consideration in the U.S.-- can we distinguish compassion from justice, or, maybe more likely, justice subsumes compassion, as the philosophic underpinning of this kind of social provision? 

If Hayek entrenches a social safety net of a kind, his motives for it may vary, compassion, social utility, a way of rationalizing general welfare provision, a conception of pure social functionality, a vision of what the state in its nature owes its citizens, some or all of that. I have a hard time seeing compassion as the necessary and sufficient account of the ground for the provision. And once that entrenchment becomes an entitlement, I'd argue it is better understood as a matter of justice as that particular society judges it.

If so, then I am still unable to reconcile the Hayek quote with the provision of benefits that mark what we call the "modern welfare state" save by rejecting what Hayek says as general proposition and restricting it to claims that of necessity jettison individual liberty in the ongoing and unbalanced search for  greater equality.

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