Libertarianism vs. the Welfare State, Round 2

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” – President Reagan

More than a quarter century has passed since the Berlin Wall fell. The average American college student was born years after the subsequent reunification of Germany. How many Americans under 30 have a living memory of the “Soviet Union”?

The Soviet empire was a force of evil – its leaders suppressed the most basic rights of its people, namely the rights to life, liberty and property. The only silver lining in the existence of the Communist empire was that it served as a constant, daily update on the reasons why socialism is an all-out economic and moral failure. It was, in other words, relatively easy to stave off onslaughts of socialism in the free world. A finger pointed at the monumental economic failure and the human disaster on the other side of the Iron Curtain could silence most critics of free-market Capitalism.

When the Soviet empire was dissolved many people believed that an era of perennial freedom, peace and prosperity had emerged. Francis Fukuyama was one of the most fervent advocates of the theory of some sort of post-ideological world under the harmony of individual freedom.

That, sadly, turned out to be a historic miscalculation. Socialism did not die in the rubble of the Berlin Wall. It staggered and struggled for a while, bruised by the undeniable defeat in the Cold War, but it slowly found its footing again. Perhaps the most notorious post-Soviet socialist leader was now-defunct Hugo Chavez, whose years as president of Venezuela marked a shocking decline of that country. Having been a well-working, prosperous nation with free markets and relative economic harmony, Venezuela was thrown into a long period of decline, erosion of prosperity, shattered property rights, rampant inflation, corruption, crime and general economic chaos.

All in the name of the new, post-Soviet socialist battle cry: social justice.

Chavez inspired left-leaning political movements in both North America and Europe. Among his most passionate European followers we find rising-star German socialist politician Sahra Wagenknecht, who is on a straight path to be chancellor in the not-so-distant future, and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Using the political achievements of Hugo Chavez as their springboard, Europe’s Chavistas have been able to whitewash socialism and remarket it as being all about “social justice”. It is now, together with borderline fascist nationalism, the fastest growing political movement in Europe. Its goal is to transform all of the European Union into one gigantic machine of state control, unrelenting redistribution, entitlements, and an assortment of hate-the-rich measures such as punitive taxation (even worse than today) and property confiscation.

There is a lot to be worried about with this new social-justice driven version of socialism. For one, it makes ignorance a virtue: young college-educated men and women join it without questioning the economic, political, moral and historic credentials of the movement. In a Europe where one in five young men and women are unemployed, and most of the rest live off tax-paid entitlements, the cheap rhetoric of social justice sounds like an opportunity for revenge and resurrection of one’s self esteem.

Another worrisome element is that the notion of social justice is spreading to North America. It is not just president Obama who talks about the need for more economic redistribution – the socialist gospel is preached by a plethora of organizations, blogs and media outlets. Unlike Europe, however, the United States is relatively immune to this ethical virus, especially after six years under the Obama presidency.

But that does not mean we are entirely protected against the lure of “social justice”. The number of authoritative figures broadcasting socialist rhetoric seems to be growing. Pope Francis has added himself to the socialist choir. Consider this excerpt from his Apostolic Exhortation of November 24, 2013:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

This could just as well have been written by a secular advocate of socialism. In a blind test of who said these words, the leader of the rapidly surging, social-justice promoting new movement in Spain – modeled after Tsipras’ Syriza in Greece – would have been a more logical guess than Pope Francis.

The very concept of “inequality” is antithetical to the foundations of a free society. It presumes that all men as not created equal, but created identical. Equality in creation, so to speak, means that we are all individuals with the same right to create, pursue and capitalize on the opportunities that lie before us, or we create for ourselves. We all have the right to live, to be free and to the proceeds of our work – property.

However, the concept of “inequality” that Pope Francis uses has a different meaning. In his view, men are equal only if they achieve the same end results in life. If one man ends up living in a beautiful house in Santa Barbara, enjoying every day the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, and another man lives in a shack in a favela in Sao Paulo, then the Papal principle of “equality” dictates that the man in Santa Barbara has unfairly gained something at the expense of the man in Sao Paulo.

The Pope and other merchants of the same rhetoric propose that “social justice” is the cure for these differences between individuals. But even disregarding the well-documented economic consequences of redistribution of income, consumption and property, the theory behind “inequality” and social justice exercises considerable violence on reality.

Any two human beings compared to one another will always exhibit differences. These are differences in ability, interest, physical and mental strength, endurance, curiosity… A man’s personality has so many dimensions it is almost impossible to find two individuals who come close to being identical. For this reason, every human being will perform differently under given circumstances. There are general trends in human behavior, trends which allow social scientists to explain and with reasonable accuracy make some predictions about how a random person will respond to given conditions. But no two persons will perform identically.

For this reason, we the individuals will always achieve differently. Some will become wealthier than others. Some will reach farther than others in pursuit of wealth, career accomplishment or political influence. Therefore, in order to eliminate “inequality” as defined by the social-justice demagogues, one has to begin by eradicating differences between human individuals.

Herein lies a major problem for anyone who proposes social justice from a theological foundation. Our individual differences are the result of God’s creation. We are all created in God’s image, but we are clones of God. We are imperfect by design – and we are also individually unique by design.

If God meant for us all to accomplish equally, He would have made sure to eradicate any individual differences between us.

When Pope Francis urges the elimination of “inequality” he adopts a secular view of society. That view, riding on the growing global popularity of social justice, may allow the Catholic church to harvest some short-term gains in a worldwide popularity contest, but it will not benefit the future of either the church or our society. Social justice requires an authoritarian government, at least of the caliber known as the “welfare state”, and therefore is directly antithetical to the individual’s right to life, liberty and property.

Put bluntly: by joining the social-justice choir, Pope Francis is giving his nod to continued eradication of the principles and institutions that built our free, prosperous Western Civilization. More frighteningly, the farther one walks out on the limb of social justice, the more authoritarian society has to become. As social justice takes precedence over individual freedom, the expansion of social justice comes at the expense of individual freedom.

With President Reagan’s warning ringing in the background, one is inclined to ask the Pope if he knows any boundary, any limitation, of the pursuit of social justice.

Or, in more modern terms: when is government big enough?