IVN News

From the Sinking Ship of Ideology to the Solid Ground of Real Justice, in 3 Steps

Step 1: Seeing what the situation really is

One explanation for the present state of this world is that the Age of Ideology is in the final throes of its protracted demise. Following the internecine savaging of Nationalism in World War One, the defeat of Fascism in World War Two, and the implosion of totalitarian Marxism in the Soviet Union and its empire, ending the so-called Cold War, the only multi-nationally applied ideology left afloat and intact was Liberalism. Now it, too, is foundering.

Ideology was conceived for the purpose of governing governance. Ideologies have provided blueprints for political and economic systems as well as guidelines (at the least) for individuals in conducting their personal lives. Just as every religion promises the True way to Heaven, every ideology promises the True way to the best possible temporal existence.

By now the theoretical flaws of all ideologies have been laid bare. Meanwhile, basic problems of communal existence have remained unsolved. Political and economic systems organized on the basis of ideologies have proven to be unstable, with crisis after crisis and even total collapse. Both in theory and in practice, then, the inadequacies of ideology have been exposed.

Many people are looking for alternatives to ideology. Some of those people are transferring to pragmatism. Other people are leaping to theology. For others, heedlessly getting as much as they can before the end finally comes is all that matters to them.

Still, not everyone is abandoning ideology. Some people who no longer let ideology (or anything else) govern their behavior still praise to the heavens the ideology they used to take seriously. For some people, even if they no longer take their ideology seriously, it is, if even unconsciously, a necessary part of their lives. People who do still take their ideology seriously are embracing it with more fervor than ever, like people might cling to a mast on a sinking ship. Many of the people who are sticking with ideology are opting for a much smaller scale, emphasizing a single value or two at the national level, at most. To continue the metaphor, they have abandoned the ship for ideological life rafts—or are holding for dear life to some piece of ideological flotsam.

Over the past few centuries the world we live in has been defined by ideology. We are accustomed to that world. Even a ‘wrong’ ideology was at least something known; surely one ideology had to be ‘right’.

The failing of ideology has understandably created a pervasive crisis of confidence. That ongoing crisis of confidence is making people demoralized. The more people are demoralized, the more people become de-moralized.

As our problems mount and the inadequacy of ideology becomes more and more obvious, panic can take hold. People who are in a panic are people with no morals. If panicked, the sweetest people among us become ruthless.

No one can doubt that ruthlessness is on the rise. Panic is not its only cause; history tells us that in the absence of any other rule to govern governance, the default value for humanity is ‘rule by the most ruthless’. To avoid the horrors of that fate, we must have an alternative to ideology for governing governance.

Fortunately, we have available to us real justice (with mutual respect as its ethic). Before turning our focus to real justice, however, there is more to say about ideology—more generally here and with more specificity in “Step 2.” (Pragmatism and theology as alternatives to ideology will not be separately discussed in this essay, but their inadequacies as alternatives will be apparent.) Of course, readers who are ready for real justice can skip ahead to “Step 3.”

The advent of ideology was the result of turning from theology to secular reasoning for a basis for governing governance. The birthplace of ideology was Europe. Conflict there which was inspired by the Reformation/Counter-reformation was instructive. It was not the first or the last religious-based strife in the world, but it was every bit as vicious and as self-perpetuating as the religious-based strife of today is.

Philosophers recognized there and then that the key to legitimate rules to govern communal governance must be universality. They saw that, whereas the abstract nature of beliefs means that any religion could be universal, people will kill and die for their particular religious beliefs. Thus, replacing theology with ideology in communal governance became a hallmark of modernity.

That process was aided and abetted by another hallmark of modernity, the scientific method. It was seen as ‘objectively’ explaining the physical world we inhabit. The beginnings of modern science had preceded the realization of the need for universality for legitimate rules to govern governance, and the success of science in its project encouraged philosophers to conclude that secular reasoning could provide such rules for humanity. In short, though it took some time for rules for governing governance to be separated completely from religion, those European philosophers and their intellectual progeny equated universality with objectivity and objectivity with secularism.

Postmodernists, Jacques Derrida coming first to mind, have critiqued the possibility of objectivity on the part of human beings. If one accepts that critique (as this author does), that nullifies that construct of conceptual transitivity. Certainly, no claim of “objectivity” for rules to govern governance is sustainable.

Since a claim of objectivity cannot be used to validate rules to govern governance, secularism in itself cannot provide those rules for us. In other words, just because an idea for governing governance is secular does not make it more valid than an idea for governing governance based on religion would be. Secularism as such is not inherently more valid than religion is.

Although ideology was invented by Europeans to replace religion as the basis for rules to govern communal governance, it is every bit as problematic as religion is in that regard. It is true that ‘doing the will God’ has ‘required’ people to commit awful acts and that ideologies do not recognize any external driving force of that kind. On the other hand, whereas an adherent of an ideology might or might not recognize moral constraints which transcend that ideology, ideologies in themselves recognize no external governor. Achieving ‘success’ for the ideology—establishing political systems, economic systems, and guidelines for individuals’ conduct—can become a self-justifying end in itself, permitting any means necessary.

In this essay the general criticism of the secular approaches to governing governance that have preceded real justice is that philosophers have merely substituted secular beliefs for religious beliefs. By doing that they have created ideologies that are in effect secular religions. As the last century of human existence has proven, ideologies are no more capable of universality than spiritual religions are, and at least as prone to inspire violence.

Like religious beliefs, the secular beliefs underlying ideologies are potentially a source of universality, but in reality a source of conflict. It is the nature of all beliefs that to have one is to feel that all people should share it. Otherwise, why have it for oneself? Moreover, any belief one does hold must be ‘better’ than any contrary belief of any other person, or one would drop this belief and adopt that one. The distance in the abstract from there to becoming a Believer, concluding that all others must share one’s beliefs, is frighteningly short.

To be sure, it will be a cold day in hell before any Believer admits to a desire for injustice. For Believers, though, justice is their getting what they ‘deserve’ and non-Believers’ getting what they ‘deserve’. That proposition has informed the modus operandi of both theological and ideological Believers, with, at their worst, pain, terror, and death as their chosen instruments. At their very worst, the amount of pain, terror, and death Believers are willing to inflict on other people becomes the measure of the validity of their beliefs.

 

Step 2: Seeing that Liberalism really is an ideology

Note: It is obvious that the term “beliefs” is very important to the ideas in this essay. In philosophy the meaning of that term is contestable, but here it conveys only what people normally think of when we use that word—propositions that cannot be ‘proven’ or ‘disproven’, but can only be taken ‘on faith’ as being true, valid, etc. Although we tend to use “believe” and “think” interchangeably in our everyday conversations, the “extra-rational” character of beliefs must be kept in mind (see “Step 3,” below).

 

Since the definition of ideology can be a fluid thing, let us start with the definition of that term as it is being used herein: an ideology is a set of ideas about governing communal governance that is based on secular beliefs. The beliefs underlying ideologies’ rules for governing governance can be big enough to form an entire worldview, but the impetus of an ideology is to put beliefs into practice in communal governance. “Governance” refers to the conduct of individuals as well as the structure and functioning of the political process and the economy of a geopolitical community.

Modernity has witnessed the birth of several meta-ideologies, including Nationalism, Socialism, Fascism, and Liberalism. Meta-ideologies have spawned siblings, both in theory and in practice. Let’s note, as briefly as possible, how Nationalism, Fascism, and Socialism conform with the above definition of ideology before applying it to Liberalism.

Nationalism emerged first. It is not a product of grand theory, but is rooted in the development of the nation-state as a unit of political organization in Europe. Its final shape was formed in the blast-furnace of Revolutionary France and used by Napoleon Bonaparte as the basis of his ‘legitimacy’.

Regarding Nationalism, the optional meaning of “nation” is significant, referring to ‘a people’ with a shared culture. Language is the fundamental element of culture, and languages were the common denominators in the process of forming nation-states. As a product of the French Revolution Nationalism referred to national self-determination—as opposed to monarchs deciding among themselves where national boundaries would be drawn and which people would belong to which one. The basis of Nationalism as an ideology is simply the belief that one nation is culturally superior to any other nation, to include whatever form of governance it might have. It

That belief was and is used to instill loyalty to the impersonal nation-state. That might sound benign enough, but combined with religion it was also the basis for the colonization, enslavement, ‘ethnic cleansing’, and genocide committed by Europeans and their descendants when they spread across the planet. By itself Nationalism has been the reason for many wars, including the worst war ever, World War One.

For fascists, governance is simply obeying the Leader. That brings to mind Thomas Hobbes’s necessary tyrant, or Fredrick Nietzsche’s übermensch, or one of Ayn Rand’s heroes if he—they were all men—happened to prefer political power to being an architect or whatever. In Fascism even the Leader is invariably portrayed (as in all authoritarian personality cults) as a mere instrument of the ideology.

In practice Fascism uses some belief as a hook on which to hang a more virulent conception of loyalty. A belief in racial superiority (their own, of course) has been the favorite hook of fascists. It would seem that by now the growth in knowledge of human development (as individuals and as a species) would have rendered racism completely preposterous, but ideologues do exhibit a propensity to subvert facts to belief. Within ideologies enthusiasm for such contrivances can be a means of measuring the loyalty of individuals to the group.

That does bring us to the ideology of Socialism. Whereas Fascism actually champions authoritarianism, however, Socialism has been more varied. It has been demonstrated that socialistic approaches to governance can coexist with political processes ranging from democracies to totalitarian regimes.

Socialism is based on a belief in equality—even though the most famous socialist, Karl Marx, denied it. He eschewed all ideals, including equality, as that would represent a turn away from the supposedly strict materialism of his paradigm. Yet, the point of his paradigm is that economic “exploitation” would one day be replaced with communal sharing similar to that which has existed in non-civilized human communities. Such sharing forms the starting and ending point of his “historical dialectic.” At the end of the process society would exist at a quantitatively and qualitatively ‘higher’ material level as a result of successive phases of economic development, to include the capitalist phase. According to Marx, that process would have been driven from start to finish by class conflict resulting from exploitation. While Marx argued that all that was a purely materialistic process, there is an undeniable element in that process as progress toward ‘what ought to be’. The very idea of exploitation does presuppose some sense of moral equality, which can only be a belief. In some ostensibly socialist systems that belief has been entirely ignored by the people in power, but that does not make equality any less important to the ideology of Sociaiism.

As well as underlying Socialism, equality is one of the twin pillars of Liberalism. Here we must distinguish between “Liberalism” and “liberalism.” I capitalize the word when referring to philosophical liberalism [a terminological distinction I got from Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy]. Philosophical iberalism is a meta-ideology which is the product of, principally, John Locke [Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689]. In that meta-ideology “proper governance” means ‘just’ governance, based on liberty and equality. It has propagated political ideologies ranging from libertarianism to conservatism to political liberalism to socialism (in a Liberal, non-Marxist form). That continuum runs from a greater emphasis on liberty to a greater emphasis on equality, although to be within Liberalism both must be present.

Many people who have accepted Liberalism deny that it is an ideology, proclaiming its ‘universal values’. In basing governance on the ideals of liberty and equality it has allowed a whole lot more room for individuals to govern themselves than Fascism and authoritarian versions of Nationalism and Socialism have. Even so, that does not make it any less of an ideology.

Within Liberalism liberty comes from a belief in Natural Rights. Those Rights are deemed by adherents to have been discovered by people, not invented. In addition to liberty, Locke enumerated among those Rights life and property; the Declaration of Independence drafted by the Continental Congress in 1776 substituted for that last one “the pursuit of happiness.” (“Property” would have raised the issue of slavery, which the Congress had agreed to ignore.) People sometimes refer to a ‘God-given Right’, but there is no Bill of Rights in the Bible or any other Holy Book.

Locke based his belief in equality on his (Christian) religion, but there is no more of a suggestion of political or social equality in the Bible than there is any notion of Rights in it (though there is an explicit insistence in a fundamental equality among believers in both Testaments of the Bible and other Holy Books,). At the same time, religion is not at all necessary for a belief in human equality. Atheists can believe in equality as enthusiastically as they can Natural Rights.

So, using the definition with which we started, Liberalism surely is an ideology. Through some combination of military might, economic power, and personal desirability, the ideology of Liberalism has triumphed globally. That is especially so in the economic sphere, but the governments of almost all nations at least pay official lip-service to Liberalism’s implications for governance. Even radical Islamic states call themselves “republics.” That, however, even if it were total, would not be the kind of universality that justice requires. An ethic of justice must be necessarily universal, such that its applicability to everyone—including oneself—cannot be denied by anyone.

The practical benefit of even that most successful ideology has proven to be limited, but it is because Liberalism, like all other ideologies, is based on beliefs that it is as dangerous as any other ideology. The internal logic of every ideology is the same: it is more important than people are. The ideology itself is more important than even its adherents are, and the group to which the ideology in turn refers, whether ‘the nation’ or ‘the race’ or any other social unit, is more important than other people are. That is where the claim of universality of Liberalism does have merit; that ideology does not refer internally to any particular group, but truly is available to any and every human being on the planet.

In the ubiquitous “contests of power” (Michel Foucault) among ideologies and between ideology and theology, however, Liberalism does require loyalty to the ideology itself. That is where it is susceptible to the same terrible tendencies as all other ideologies. The French Revolution, after all, had as its slogan, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” In the Terror that was instituted for the sake of that Revolution thousands of people were arbitrarily beheaded.

Just because Liberalism is an ideology does not mean that every Liberal nation will experience something like that; the fact that it is an ideology does mean that any Liberal nation could. To assert that no such thing could possibly happen in one’s own nation is to assign an intrinsic moral superiority to the people of the nation, taking Nationalism to the most dangerous heights of hubris.

 

Step 3: Taking the step to real justice

Real justice exists. It is available to us. That it is known as an ethical system to precious few people (so far) does not negate its existence. Real justice involves mutual respect, and there are many people who have an intuitive recognition of it and who put it into practice in their daily lives. ‘Respect’ and ‘mutual respect’ are constantly referenced as ethical standards.

To establish real justice as an alternative to ideology (and theology, and pragmatism) for governing communal governance, though, it has to exist as an ethical system. That is what this author has attempted to accomplish. The purpose of this “Step” in this essay is to convey the validity of the ethic of real justice as the essential component of a necessarily universal ethical system. (A brief summary of the implications of that ethic for personal conduct, the political process, and the economy is also included in an Addendum at the end of this essay.)

Again, the need for an alternative to ideology is all too obvious. While our situation is getting close to being desperate, however, choosing real justice need not be an act of desperation. Choosing real justice would deliver us from the dangerous waters upon which ideology took humanity to the safety and comfort of conceptual solid ground.

As we’ll see, the only way to deny the validity of real justice is to deny that human beings share an experience of material existence in common. As a philosophical position that is perfectly valid—though pretty far out there, even for that discipline. For sure, that notion can have nothing to offer any discussion of governing communal governance.

As a practical matter, applying the ethic of real justice to life would maximize liberty, reinforce political democracy, and transform the functioning of the market-based economy (without adding to or taking from the institutions that define that economic system). In effect, the paradigm of governance real justice would create would be an improved version of the familiar one based on the ideals of liberty and equality. All of that would be accomplished, though, with an ethic as real as dirt, not some imagined ideal. [To go directly to the economic implications of real justice, see the Links at the end of the essay, following the Footnote.]

For human beings, communal existence is part of our nature. Communities existed before the development of civilization. Communities will exist for as long as humanity does.

Communal existence requires governance. There will always be issues to be decided for every community of human beings, from the tiniest village to the greatest nation. With real justice the rules governing governance would be as simple as sand, as easily applied as mud, and as firmly established as bedrock.

Since secular reasoning is associated with rationality, as ideology fails it seems to be destroying people’s confidence in rationality itself. The ethic of real justice is strictly rational. It demonstrates the capacity for good in rationality as well as the depth of our intrinsic dependence upon it as human beings.

While economic malfunctioning and other problems we currently face are products of rationality, or byproducts of those products, only rationality can provide us with their solutions. Ideology has actually been used to impede the implementation of solutions for technical problems, such as global warming. [Such hubris is not limited to any particular ideology: Lenin made it an explicit tenet of Bolshevik ideology that the validity of “theories” of history and even science was subject to their compatibility with the goals of Marxism-Leninism.] Ostensible economic arguments have been integral to such efforts, but the affectation of ideology-as-economics is not rational. Protecting the economy from ideology might be the biggest, best improvement real justice offers. As well, however, real justice provides a rational basis for the democratic political process, which should encourage a more rational approach to more specific problems.

Getting from ideology to real justice begins, perhaps surprisingly, with the recognition that beliefs are a form of knowledge. To believe in God (which this author most definitely does) is to have knowledge of the existence of God. To believe in human equality is to know of its validity. To believe in Natural Rights is to know that they exist.

All beliefs, however, whether secular or religious, are what can be called extra-rational knowledge. They exist beyond our rational capacity. Since the rational faculty is the only means we have of evaluating anything, we have no way of evaluating, much less judging, beliefs (unless—skipping a tad ahead—a proffered belief directly contradicts knowledge verified within material existence, in which case the belief is irrational). We cannot know, rationally, whether or not any belief is Truth. Everyone must therefore accept, rationally, that all (non-irrational) beliefs are valid for the believer, while all believers must accept that their beliefs only have validity for those who share that belief (without coercion, etc.)

One consequence of the extra-rational character of beliefs is that anyone can reject any belief without being irrational. What’s more, doing so establishes a legitimate claim to be exempted from any ethic said to follow from a belief. That tells us that beliefs cannot provide a necessarily universal ethic of justice.

Since beliefs cannot provide a necessarily universal ethic of justice, relying on beliefs in the attempt to achieve communal justice actually creates injustice. Conflicts centering on rules to govern governance which are based on beliefs can only be contests of power. Even if such contests do not devolve into violence, the triumph of any faction means that some people are imposing their beliefs on others.

To reiterate, a sufficiently universal ethic of justice must be necessarily universal. While the rational realm is the only possible source of necessarily universal human knowledge, not even all rational knowledge is necessarily universal. The only possible necessarily universal human knowledge is knowledge that is verified by observation within material existence. [A discussion of the other form of rationalistic knowledge, what I term ‘consensual’ rationalistic knowledge (epistemologically similar to pragmatism), is beyond the scope of this effort.]

That does bring us to the conceptual objection to real justice mentioned previously. In philosophy it is known as the ‘duality’ problem. It goes back to the famous cogito of René Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” The question is, do human beings share the same subjective experience of material existence? For that matter, is material existence really ‘there’? In my book, A Just Solution, I do attempt a refutation of that objection to the possibility of a necessarily universal ethic following from observation within material existence. Here, however, let’s just say that an ethic which follows from observation within material existence applies to any being who considers oneself to be a human experiencing a material existence external to oneself which includes other human beings. (Would not any being claiming the contrary thereby be acknowledging an existence as one among beings with mutual claims on one another?)

With issues of epistemology and ontology behind us, we have reached the home stretch in arriving at real justice. It begins with another possible surprise. It turns out that believing in human equality does have a saving grace: it implies mutual respect.

Mutual respect makes a truly universal ethic of justice possible. Mutual respect has been explicit in the ethics of Liberal philosophers, including Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel. It was right there for Locke to see. If, as he said (more dialectically, alongside his assertion of a belief in liberty as an a priori Right—and setting aside his genderism), justice is freedom from the “arbitrary will” of another person, why did not he conclude that justice therefore requires that we engage in mutual respect for one another by refraining from subjecting any other person to one’s own arbitrary will? That would, after all, maximize practical liberty. Yet, not even mutual respect can yield a necessarily universal ethic of justice if it is based on any belief.

A requirement of mutual respect does follow from the observation that we humans have no choice but to effect choices (to choose among perceived alternatives and take action to bring that choice to fruition). No one can rationally deny the validity of that observation (however great the differences among individuals regarding their ranges of alternatives or their abilities to effect a particular choice). Therefore no one can rationally deny that an ethic following from that observation would apply to every human being, including oneself. An ethic of justice following from that observation would be necessarily universal. [Warren J. Samuels discussed ‘social power’ as the ability to effect choices in “Welfare Economics, Property, and Power,” Perspectives of Property, edited by Gene Wunderlich and W.L. Gibson, Jr. (1972).]

To arrive at such an ethic we must combine that observation with one corollary: no one can rationally demonstrate that anyone is in any way inherently more—or less— worthy of having one’s choices be effected than is any other person. That line of thought does point toward some idea of equality, but a requirement of mutual respect comes before that. We are impelled to conclude, rationally, that as human beings each of us has no choice in effecting choices but to respect the capacity of all others to choose for themselves. That is the ethic of real justice. [For more on real justice, see the Links at end of the essay, following the Footnote, and the Addendum following that.]

Justice has been a hopeful expectation of human beings for as long as civilization has existed—even if all previous ideas of justice have been dictated by beliefs of one kind or another. At long last, mutual respect in effecting choices allows justice to be affirmed universally. As for spiritual religion, unless a person’s Faith rejects the application of mutual respect in effecting choices to temporal governance there can be no religious objection to replacing ideology with real justice. Ideology, on the other hand, is the secularly extra-rational barrier to a universal ethic of justice that real justice must justly overcome, through rational persuasion. That sums up the abstract case for real justice.

The practical case for real justice is even stronger. It bears repeating one more time: applying the ethic of real justice to life would maximize practical liberty, reinforce political democracy, and transform the functioning of the market-based economy. In the process it would provide the means to solve problems that have always plagued civilization, such as unemployment, poverty, and taxation, and ameliorate many more. Finally, it would provide a framework for a more rational approach to tackling specific problems faced by any community—without impugning beliefs as a determinant of political action. That is much good to accomplish.

However much good would come from real justice, it cannot transform Earth into Utopia. No ethic can give us perfect foresight or change human nature, which will always include a capacity for doing harm to one another. Even so, the choice that humanity must effect could not be clearer: we must opt for real justice. Before Liberalism sinks completely into the ocean of history, taking any chance for justice with it, we must step from the watery grave into which ideology is descending onto the terra firma of real justice.

 

Footnote: The relationship between ideology and authoritarianism—and worse— has been central to the intellectual critique of modernist philosophy, in particular the ‘Enlightenment project’. “Critical Theory” has focused on the psychological and social bases of that relationship (e.g., Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Jürgen Habermas). Postmodernists (e.g., Derrida and Foucault) have focused their critique on objectivity as the basis of the supposed universal norms of governance that inform ideologies. (Objectivity is also an issue in Critical Theory, but in a different way, with different implications.) Considering ideology as a system of belief, without reference to its social or psychological roots or an absence of objectivity per se, does not make those approaches to a critique of it irrelevant, but it sure does make things simpler.

If I may interpret those more profound intellectual efforts as applying to beliefs, Critical Theory has attempted to discern how the rational faculty could legitimately evaluate/judge beliefs, whereas postmodernists have sought to demonstrate the impossibility of doing that without using other beliefs, arbitrarily privileging some over others. If anyone would go from there, however, to conclude that the rational faculty cannot efficaciously evaluate anything due to the debilitating interference of omnipotent subjective influence, such a conclusion is constantly refuted by the successful application in human existence of rationalistic knowledge, particularly rationalistic knowledge verified by observation within material existence.

 

Links

real justice and the economy: “A New and Different Monetary System for a Better Economy” on ivn.us or, in more detail, “THE MARKET-BASED ECONOMY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY—and Beyond” on the Home Page of www.ajustsolution.com

more on real justice: “How to Implement Mutual Respect as the Ethic of Justice” on ivn.us (which includes a much more detailed critique of Locke’s account of justice as well as what is contained in the Addendum, below) or the page “real justice” at www.ajustsolution.com

 

Addendum: A brief summary of the implications of real justice

Mutual respect in effecting choices is the definitive, sufficient, prescriptive condition of justice. It tells us how we must act to act justly. The more we take others into account, the more justly we are acting.

The minimum, necessary, proscriptive condition of justice draws the line between just and unjust acts. It tells us what we must refrain from doing to keep from acting unjustly. It is this: No one may co-opt any other person in the process of effecting any choice. Anyone’s participation in that process must be conscious, informed, and votive. That comes down to six prohibitions: no killing, no harming, no coercing, no lying, no cheating, no stealing.

Those prohibitions refer to both means and ends: no one can legitimately use any of those actions in trying to effect any choice, nor can doing any of those things as an end in itself be a legitimate choice for anyone to effect. No motivation can justify any of those actions, whether psychological, sociological, political, economic, or any other except, of course, as a commensurate response to defend oneself against an attack from another person.

With mutual respect in effecting choices as the ethic of justice we can still assign ourselves communal rights, including a right to private property. (That sure beats having to defend whatever one has or whatever ground one happens to be occupying against all comers.) On the other hand, the idea of a priori Rights, including a Right to liberty, is rendered null and void. With all people abiding by the minimum condition of justice, this ethic would provide the maximum liberty that coexisting people can enjoy simultaneously. That tells us that, properly understood, liberty is the product of justice, not its source, or foundation, or predicate, etc.

The mutual respect implicit in the ideal of human equality already exists as the true source of the justice in political democracy. The political process can be defined as the process of effecting choices for the community as a whole. The political system, then, is the set of institutions within which choices are effected for the community as a whole—with the offices of government as its functional core. With justice as mutual respect in effecting choices, every member of the community must be allowed to participate in the political process because everyone is affected by the choices effected within it.

Political speech is the part of the political process that transcends the political system. That tells us that political speech is something more than a right, but is its own element of justice in the political process. (Rights regarding other forms of expression must be decided in the political process.) Hence, liberty of political speech becomes the first condition of justice for the political process. That means it must be open to everyone in the community and cannot be externally constrained. Anything other than rational persuasion does violate the injunction against co-option, however, meaning lying and other forms of manipulation—much less coercion in any form—when participating in the political process must be renounced. [If there is something exceptional about the genesis of the U.S., it is that its formation came at the end of an extended period of (enough) liberty of political speech in which justice in governance could be robustly debated by—well, mostly older men of European descent—but the point is that those who in turn will have to live with the form of governance they would create must have the opportunity to express their ideas about the structure and intended functioning it should have (a lesson lost on contemporary efforts at nation-building)].

With liberty of political speech as the first condition of justice for a just political process, the second condition of justice is a democratic distribution of political rights. For present purposes let’s say that means that those rights are required for no one to exercise yet are available to all members of the community, but for non-arbitrary restrictions. Only a restriction which can be universally applicable can be non-arbitrary. Thus, age is a legitimate restriction on political rights, but gender and ethnicity are not. As for creed, the beliefs of every human being are arbitrary from the point of view of any other person with different beliefs; therefore, though any creed is potentially universal, creed cannot be used in determining the distribution of political rights.

With liberty of political speech and a democratic distribution of political rights, a just political process becomes a vehicle for procedural justice: the justness of the process produces just results. Beyond that, however, the conditions of justice for that process stand as constraints on conduct and outcomes in the process: the process may not be corrupted by unjust actions and may not result in outcomes which violate liberty of political speech or the democratic distribution of political rights.

To realize the conditions of justice for the economy we can use the political process as a template. As in the political process, liberty must come first: People must be free to decide how—and to what extent—they will participate in the economy. Similarly, the best way to get at the second condition of justice for the economy is to consider the second condition of justice in the political system. We can say that money is to the economic system as political rights are to the political system: It is the source of social power necessary to participate in it. That is true even of a barter economy. In that case the people involved in any exchange are producing their own media of exchange, their own ‘money’. In a money-based economy with legal tender such activity will be limited. Justice in a monetary economy requires the existence of a democratically distributed (sufficient) income. (In a barter economy the means of production would be at issue.)

Like democratically distributed political rights, a democratically distributed income would be one which was available to all members of the community but for non-arbitrary restrictions, such as age. One way to institute a democratically distributed income would be to have that income be the money supply for the economy. That is to say, the money supply would originate as the incomes of certain individuals. Again, the Links at the end of the essay (above) can be used to get to read more about real justice and its implications for the economy.

Editor’s note: This article was self-published by the author and has not been edited by any member of the IVN editorial team.

Photo Credit: larry1235 / shutterstock.com

Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


Learn More About IVN

We've updated article comments! Our new Facebook Comments system is much faster and easier to use. Note that your old comments may not display in the new system yet, but our team is working on a solution to import old comments.