Tibor R. Machan
In a recent talk, responding to the Arizona law that’s said to be aimed at containing illegal immigration, President Barrack Obama stated that this piece of legislation "threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans….” I am not enough of a student of the Arizona law to pass judgment on it now but I am definitely skeptical about the claim that Americans as such cherish "basic notions of fairness".
To start with, there is nothing in any basic American political document that mandates fairness across the land. Neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Bill of Rights (or the U. S. Constitution) insists that Americans be fair. And a good thing that is, since such a demand cannot be met. Fairness is a fantasy, a dream, one that has been widely shown to be impossible, not only throughout recent human political history but also in some of the most politically astute literature. It barely works at the level of family life, let alone in a huge country.
As to the former, the attempt to institute a system of total fairness across a major society went miserably astray in the former Soviet Union and its colonies. It is a failure in all remaining socialist systems such as those in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, each of which has leaders that stick to the rhetoric of fairness and equality as they keep their countries in a perpetual state of underdevelopment and act like fascist dictators (which certainly doesn’t follow egalitarian principles).
As to the latter, George Orwell’s masterful novella, Animal Farm, amounts to, among other things, a fierce indictment of the effort to politically engineer a society to be equal. Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem, is no less a superb fictional work that shows the viciousness of such an effort. And Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is a fine presentation of both the pros and the cons of a completely egalitarian world in which even good looks must be eliminated so as not to leave some folks disadvantaged.
Among the classic political economic works defending egalitarianism one will find that Rousseau’s Social Contract, Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s The Communist Manifesto, R. H. Tawney’s Equality, and Ronald Dworkin’s Sovereign Virtue are some of the most prominently published and widely embraced in political philosophical circles. Not each lays out the same position and, Marx and Engels, especially, present a somewhat nuanced type of equality as the social norm. But they all champion equality above individual liberty as the prime principle of social organization.
Today the dream of egalitarianism is with us in full force via Hollywood’s political culture–the movie Avatar, for example, presents an idyllic society of a specie of near-humans who behave as one might imagine those in a society wherein everyone is equal, and indeed uniform, akin to all the bees in a bee hive.
What is so off about President Obama’s remark is that America is precisely the country which is distinctive among most others for placing individual liberty as the first political principle that must be implemented and which government must secure. The equality Americans prize is "equality under the law," manifest, most evidently, in how before a court no one accused of a crime is supposed to be treated either favorably or unfavorably because of his or her race, sex, place of birth, and so forth–what in jurisprudence is referred to procedural equality, not the substantial type fantasized by egalitarians.
Rightly or wrongly, Americans as Americans do not cherish equality but individual liberty–that is what comes closest to being the official political philosophy of the nation. If Mr. Obama finds this misguided, he should state it instead of lying about the matter, which is what it amounts to saying that Americans as Americans cherish basic notions of fairness. It is especially bizarre to make such an allegation in connection with the criticism of the Arizona law since immigrants to this country, be these legal or illegal, do not in the main cherish equality but liberty. The great majority of them come here because their liberty is routinely curtailed in their native countries and they hope that they will be able to live as free men and women and choose to pursue their happiness according to their own, not their government’s, lights.