Justice or Politesse
I think this Jay Nordlinger item illustrates a pretty profound ideological divide:
Wanted to share a note that made me smile — maybe it will you, too. A reader wrote in response to an item I have in today’s Impromptus about personal wealth and personal politics. He said, “Fifty-five years ago, my New Deal dad said of some of his friends, ‘I never knew a Communist who was good to his maid.’”
Perfect. And it reminded me of an old line, which I learned — and learned the truth of — long ago: “A Marxist is someone who loves humanity in groups of 1 million or more.”
I have no particular interest in defending Communists or people who are rude to their employees. But the interesting thing here is that Nordlinger appears to believe that if you could actually prove that people with left-wing political views are disproportionately likely to be rude to their subordinates that this would in some substantial way debunk left-wing politics.
The point of left-wing politics, however, is not to secure polite treatment of maids as a matter of nobless oblige, it’s to secure justice and equality for the individuals whom fortune has not seen fit to reward with material wealthy. In a society with a relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth and income, after all, there just aren’t going to be very many maids in the first place. What’s more, the people doing the maid jobs will have appealing other labor market opportunities. And even if they lose their job, their families will still have access to decent health care and education while they search for a new one. Consequently, a rudely-treated maid would have the chance to stand up for herself and most likely secure better treatment. Nordlinger’s idea seems to be that as long as most people are mostly treated nicely by those placed above them in the social hierarchy that the objective powerlessness of those at the bottom is irrelevant.
It recalls the notion of “compassion conservatism,” an appeal to the idea that the halves out to toss some scraps to the halve-nots, as opposed to a fight for real social and economic justice.