The Democratic Party has a long tradition of fighting for the needs of the working class. In the early part of the 20th century, their platform was centered upon securing certain basic rights to workers, such as minimal safety requirements and a right to unionize. These movements were noble and desirable.
The working class needs a political voice, and the traditional platform of the Democratic Party was rooted in that belief.
However, the new campus left differs from that tradition in a variety of ways. Rather than merely fighting for the working class, the campus Left has adopted a radical version of communitarian egalitarianism as a kind of secular religion.
Disciplines like gender and ethnic studies put forth the notion that our incredible culture is the result of white-male oppression. They often promote radical political action – indicating the support for the presupposition that university education should above all foster political engagement of a particular kind.
These disciplines draw their philosophy from multiple sources, but all are heavily influenced by Marxist humanists. One such figure is Max Horkheimer, who developed critical theory in the 1930’s. Any brief summary of his ideas is bound to be oversimplified, but Horkheimer regarded himself as a Marxist, and he believed that Western principles of individual liberty or the free enterprise system were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequality, dominance, and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding. Thus, Horkheimer and his associates aimed at a full-scale critique and transformation of Western Civilization.
Anyone with a brief understanding of the 20th century knows by now that when Marxism was put into practice, in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was abolished, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died, while hundreds of millions more were subjected to oppression rivaling that still operative in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. These economic systems were pathologically murderous, corrupt, and unsustainable. To give you an idea of just how unbelievably horrid the conditions in the Soviet Union were, the government had circulated posters around the country, reminding people to not eat their own children. You wouldn't think people would need to be reminded of that, but the utter catastrophe that followed the period of collectivization, and the resulting famines that caused thousands to starve to death, made it necessary.
In the early 1970’s, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago, an intellectual tour de force that demolished the moral credibility of communism to a greater degree than had ever been done before. He argued that the Soviet system could never have survived without tyranny and slave labor; that the seeds of its worst excesses were sowed during Lenin’s time; and that it was propped up by endless deceit, both individually and publicly. Its sins could not be blamed on a simple cult of personality, a result of some “bad people” who perverted the system for their own uses, as its supporters continued to claim. In painstaking detail, Solzhenitsyn documented the country’s extensive system of forced labor camps, its mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders. Moreover, he showed how these were not mere aberrations, but rather direct expressions of the system's underlying philosophy - Marxism.
By the time The Gulag Archipelago circulated in the West, no one could stand for the credibility of communism, not even the most devout communists themselves.
But that didn't mean that intellectuals’ fascination for Marxian ideas had disappeared. It merely transformed. Rather than denounce their worldview, those who held on to the utopian collectivist vision, particularly in France, developed a new philosophical movement – postmodernism. In a linguistic sleight-of-hand, Jacque Derrida and Michel Foucault, the main exponents of this new philosophy, substituted the idea of power for the idea of money. Society was no longer repression of the poor by the rich. It was oppression of everyone by the powerful.
According to Derrida, hierarchies emerged only to include the beneficiaries of that structure, and to exclude everyone else, who were therefore oppressed. In his view, hierarchies exist because those within it gain from oppressing those who are omitted.
He went further, with an even more radical line of thinking, and claimed that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language - build into the categories that we use to pragmatically simplify the world. There are “women” only because men gain by excluding them. There are “males and females” only because members that fall into those categories benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous.
Derrida and Foucault put the very act of categorization itself in doubt. The philosophy negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than power.
Epistemologically, they believe there are no such things as objective facts. There are no truths, only interpretations and “truth claims." Hierarchical position and reputation as a consequence of skill and competence? All definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who wish to marginalize and oppress others while they benefit personally and selfishly.
To give the devil its due, there is some truth to their claims. Power is a fundamental motivational force. People compete tot rise to the top, and their place within a hierarchy matters. But the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean it plays the only role, or even the primary role.
Hierarchies exist for many reasons – some arguably valid, some not. In societies that are well functioning – not in comparison to some hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures - competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status.
Furthermore, hierarchies of competence are not only necessary, they are desirable. We need to know who the best doctors, lawyers, carpenters, plumbers, educators and thinkers are so that we can reward them so that they keep doing what they do. It's funny, even the most emphatic exponent of this equity driven doctrine will refuse the service of a surgeon with the best education, the best reputation and, perhaps, the highest earnings.
Of course, it is not unreasonable to note that the interests of power can bias conceptions or corrupt systems, and to warn against that. But that doesn't mean that humans are driven by power and power alone. Why insist upon it? Perhaps it’s this: if only power exists, then the use of power becomes fully justifiable. There is no bounding such use by evidence, method, logic, or coherence. That leaves opinion – and force – and the use of force, under such circumstances, in the service of that opinion.
Thus, the insane insistence by radical egalitarians that empathy and fairness should be the moral pinnacles of our society, for example, becomes understandable when its moral imperative is grasped – when its justification for force is understood: society must be altered, or bias eliminated, until all outcomes are equitable.
A term thrown around all to often on college campuses. Its made its resurgence so strongly in the last few years that I can hardly understand it. Equity means equality of outcome, contrasted with equality of opportunity.
Due to the nature of what Martin Hiedeggar called life's 'thrownness' , we all start in different places. Some people are burdened tremendously due to some socioeconomic, familial, or health related issues. Why is it fair that someone has to compete with people who "start the race" before them? Rather, we should meet people where they are: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Outcomes must be equalized, resources and opportunities distributed more equitably.
But the fact of the matter is that all outcomes cannot be equalized. First, outcomes must be measured. Comparing the salaries of people who occupy the same position is relatively straight forward. But there are other dimensions of comparison that are arguably equally relevant, such as tenure, promotion rate, and social influence. The introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” argument immediately complicated even salary comparison beyond practicality, for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? Its not possible. That's why the marketplace exists, to distribute the decision to individuals so that they can determine what they deem fit. To think that a bureaucratic institution can make such a decision, we need only examine the issue for a moment to see how quickly it falls apart.
Consider disabilities. Disabled people should make as much as non-disabled people. Ok, on the surface that’s a noble, compassionate, and fair claim. But who is disabled? Is someone living with Alzheimer’s disabled? If not, why not? What about someone with a lower IQ? How about healthcare: who should receive healthcare, when, how, and by what process? Should a smoker who develops lung cancer be treated on the governments dollar? Should someone who develops liver disease through alcoholism, or diabetes from being overweight, or lung cancer from smoking get the same amount of care as a person who simply happened upon some misfortune? How do you make that kind of judgement call, at a bureaucratic level, to the degree that people feel their needs are sufficiently met? And it isn't only economic concerns that people have to deal with.
Some people clearly move through life markedly overburdened with problems that are beyond their control, but it is a rare person indeed who isn’t suffering from at least one serious catastrophe at any given time – particularly if you include their family into the equation.
And why shouldn't you? In fact, scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes.
This is not to say that someones race or gender is unimportant. Of course these parts of our identities shape our experiences in part. But here lies the fundamental problem: group identity can be fractionated down to the level of the individual. Every person is unique, and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, and meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that level of variability.
Frederick Hayek summed this notion up best in his work The Road to Serfdom:
The welfare and happiness of millions cannot be measured on a single scale. The welfare of a people, like the happiness of a person, depends on a great number of things that can be provided in an infinite variety of combinations. It cannot be adequately expressed as a single end, but only as a hierarchy of ends, a comprehensive scale of values in which every need of every person is given its place.
To set a single aim - such as equity - and collectively work towards it presupposes the existence of a complete ethical code in which all the different human values and needs are allotted their due place. Although such a code may be desirable – the essential point is that no such complete ethical code exits.
The world is complicated, as are human beings. To account for any set of complex phenomena, particularly human suffering, with a single causal element - such as race or gender - is not only intellectually lazy and dishonest; it's dangerous
Beware of single cause interpretations – and beware those who purvey them.