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Justice versus Social Justice

by John Hospers

John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the  University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous  books, such as Human Conduct, Understanding the Arts, and Introduction to  Philosophical Analysis, as well as several anthologies and more than one hundred  essays in journals and encyclopedias. He is president of the American Society  for Aesthetics, and was the first Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president  (1972). He is editor of the philosophical quarterly The Monist.

It is individual human beings who are born, live, enjoy, suffer, and die.  Individuals sometimes band together into groups; but groups as such do not live,  love, or suffer; only their individual members do. The individual, not the  group, is the unit.

Individuals interact with one another, in families and larger societies.  Sometimes they act wrongfully toward others; and one kind of wrongful action is  called injustice. But what does this mean? What precisely is involved in an  action being just or unjust?

Justice, in a tradition going back to Aristotle, means treating  individuals in accordance with their deserts. If a teacher gives a student a  C when the student deserves a B, the low grade is an injustice to the student.  It is equally an injustice when the teacher gives her an A which she doesn’t  deserve. Though the student is not likely to complain of her grade in the second  case, it is an injustice all the same, since it is treatment that is not in  accord with desert. Moreover, every case of an undeserved high grade involves a  diminution of the value of the grade; the more numerous the B students who get  undeserved A’s, the less the grade of A comes to mean, and the less it  distinguishes the genuine A student from the others.

There are some distinctions about justice which should be kept in mind before  we apply them to particular cases.

Distinctions About Justice

1. Justice has to do with the treatment of persons by other persons. The lion  is not being unjust to the antelope in killing it. The lion is not a moral  agent, and no right or wrong, no justice or injustice, is involved.

If a child is born crippled or diseased, this is a misfortune but not an  injustice. Injustice requires some person or persons to perpetrate the  injustice. (Even those who say that God caused the baby to be born crippled or  diseased are not likely to accuse God of injustice.) Congenital deformity is  something that unfortunately occurs, but it is not something that someone has done to someone else; no person has wronged another.

2. Justice depends on desert, and desert is a matter of past performance, not  of future possibilities. The grade a student deserves in a course depends upon  his past record of achievement in the course. If a man deserves a punishment for  a crime, it is because that person committed a crime in the past, not because  (for example) it would be useful to punish him as a scapegoat; punishing the  innocent is always unjust. Nor is it just to punish him because he might commit  a crime in the future. Preventive detention of persons believed to be dangerous  is sometimes used as a utilitarian mea-sure, to prevent the commission of crimes  in the future, but this is done from considerations of utility, not of justice.  (Justice is not the whole of morality, and whether preventive detention is ever  justified would have to be argued separately.[1])

3. Sometimes a law itself is unjust; if every driver who parked too long at a  parking meter were to be given a prison sentence, such a law, however  impartially administered, would be unjust because the sentence is harsher than  the offense deserves. But more often it is the administration of the law  that is unjust; one man gets five years for armed robbery and another man guilty  of the same offense is given a suspended sentence, or convinces the jury that he  is insane, thus receiving an insanity verdict which may let him out in sixty  days. Such maladministration of the law is often called comparative  injustice. Many prisoners who accept full responsibility for their actions and  do not claim that their sentences are undeserved, still complain of comparative  injustice: why were they sentenced when someone equally guilty was let go? Their  sentence may itself not have been unjust, but the injustice lies in the  lightness or absence of the other person’s sentence compared with theirs.

Justice is compatible with forgiveness if the person deserves  to be forgiven. But the only person who can forgive the aggressor is the victim.  If the offender asked the person he injured “Will you forgive me?” and the  victim said “No,” and a stranger then entered the room and said “That’s all  right, I forgive you,” the stranger could only utter the words, not actually  extend the forgiveness; only the aggrieved party can do that. “I don’t want the  mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs!” wrote  Dostoyevsky. “She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she  will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her  mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to  forgive.”[2]

As opposed to forgiving, pardoning is a legal act: a president or a  governor may pardon a criminal. Is pardoning compatible with justice? Again yes,  if the person deserves to be pardoned.

4. Justice is a very different thing from mercy, and mercy may be at  odds with justice. “But shouldn’t justice be tempered with mercy?” Let us  consider what this would involve. Suppose that five men have committed murder,  but one of them is let go as an example of mercy. This is surely a comparative  injustice to the other four, as well as an injustice to the one who is let go  (assuming that he deserves the assigned punishment). If mercy is so wonderful,  why shouldn’t every criminal be let go? That would really be  merciful! Why shouldn’t every teacher give every student an A as an act of  mercy? Because, of course, this would be a great injustice, especially to the  students deserving A’s. It would also be mercy to give everyone a job demanding  literary skill, even to persons who are illiterate—and more merciful still to  give them wages for doing nothing at all. Mercy in this sense would mean a total  abandonment of justice. (Mercy in a much different sense, such as “giving the  defendant the benefit of the doubt” in criminal cases [procedural justice],  giving him a chance to improve his conduct, etc., is desirable enough, but these  are already incorporated in the notion of just treatment; they are included in  justice, they do not supersede it.)

Justice vs. Collectivism

5. Most important of all, justice is individualistic: since the deserts of  individuals differ from one another, so should their rewards and punishments  differ from one another. That is why Aristotle said that justice consists of “treating equals equally, and unequals unequally.” If five persons have  committed no crime and five other persons have committed crimes with a one-year  sentence attached, it would be unjust to average out all their records and  condemn all ten to six months in jail. The innocent do not deserve the sentence,  and the guilty do. Justice is not a matter of averaging; it is a matter of  assigning to each individual his or her proper desert.

The example just given illustrates the opposite of justice, namely collectivism: that is, not considering a person’s individual deserts but  considering his behavior solely as a member of some group. Suppose someone in  tribe A has killed a man in tribe B, and in retaliation the members of tribe B  conduct a massacre of the entire tribe A. Only one of the members of tribe A was  guilty of murder, but all his fellow tribesmen are killed, not because they were  involved in the killing but simply because they were members of the same tribe  as the killer. Such tribal retaliations, though common in primitive societies,  are gross injustices because they involve the punishment of those who do not  deserve it. (A variant of this occurs when the members of tribe B select a  member of tribe A at random and kill him, even though the person killed was not  the person who was guilty; he was selected not because he was guilty, but simply  because he happened to belong to the same tribe as someone who was.)

Racism is a particularly pernicious form of collectivism. Persons who  cast racial slurs on others are not considering the individual merits or  demerits of the person slurred; they may not know the individual at all, except  that he is a member of some racial group (Jews, blacks, Ital ians, etc.). Though  the person’s individual qualities may be quite different from many other members  of the group, all this is ignored: all they know or care is that he is a member  of that group. “A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who  belong to the same race—and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of  geniuses who share his racial origin. It is hard to say which is the more  outrageous injustice: the claim of Southern racists that a Negro genius should  be treated as inferior because his race has ‘produced’ some brutes, or the claim  of a Nazi brute to the status of a superior because his race has ‘produced’ Goethe, Schiller, and Brahms.”[3]

Vagueness of “Desert”

All might agree that justice is treatment in accord with desert, and yet they  might disagree on particular judgments about justice because they do not agree  on what particular punishment, grade, compensation, etc. a person deserves.  Everyone agrees that a murderer should be punished, but there is much  disagreement about what specific punishment is deserved: should it be the death  penalty? should it be life imprisonment? should it be imprisonment for a stated  term with possibility of parole? should it involve incarceration in a prison, or  would duty on a work farm suffice?

There is general agreement about the severity of various offenses: murder,  which takes away the victim’s life, is a worse crime than assault and battery,  from which a victim may recover and resume his life thereafter; crimes against  the person are worse than crimes against property, which can usually be  replaced; and so on. Yet this is not always so: there are forms of mutilation  that are worse than death, and the theft of a valued and irreplaceable family  heirloom may be a worse loss to the victim than being mugged. Since each case is  unique, it is necessary to describe in detail the circumstances of each case in  order to form any estimate of the person’s desert.

Even with such a detailed description, along with a sincere attempt to  empathize with the situation of both parties, there will be disagreement about  desert. A woman will ordinarily recommend a severer punishment for rape than a  man will. A wife will tend to be more sympathetic to the position of a wife in  divorce court, and a husband will tend to be more sympathetic with the husband.  Those who do not care about animals will tend to be immune to pleas about  cruelty to animals.

“Put himself in the other person’s place” is a piece of advice that most  individuals can practice only very incompletely; and even when they try, they  will be likely to favor those who have been in situations similar to their own.  A criminal will be likely to be more concerned with the treatment of prisoners,  but a person who has been stabbed is more likely to identify with the victims of  stabbing and less likely to be worried about how the aggressor is treated in  prison. This ineradicable “human equation” will probably color all of a person’s  judgments about deserts—even a judge’s.

Is the Punishment Deserved?

In all this, however, it must be kept in mind that the only consideration  relevant to justice is whether the treatment (the punishment, the reward, the  grade, the compensation for work done) is deserved. Punishment should be  proportional to desert, whatever that may be; it should not be proportioned to  the usefulness of the punishment, as it is in utilitarian theory. The  question for justice is “What punishment does he deserve?” not “What punishment  would be most socially useful?” As a rule the two tend to coincide: the most  serious crimes (involving the worst injustices) tend to be those that also  require the strongest deterrent measures in order to prevent them from  recurring. But it is not always so. It might be socially useful,  especially during a crime wave, to convict an innocent person and punish him as  an example, thus deterring potential lawbreakers and giving the members of the  community a renewed sense of “law and order.” But of course the conviction of an  innocent person, no matter what its social utility, is always an injustice,  because the innocent person does not deserve to be punished.

When we turn our attention from the prison to the marketplace, we face  equally pressing problems. What should be our criteria for determining what  compensation a worker deserves? Is there such a thing as a “just wage” and how  do we determine it? Does justice commit us to “equal pay for equal work”? Is  discrimination in hiring unjust? Does the free market, when it is permitted to  function, result in injustice?

“Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Does justice require that employees receive equal pay for equal work? That  depends on what “equal work” means:

1. If it simply means equal time spent, this has very little to do  with justice. One employee may work diligently throughout the workday, and  another may spend half her time on the phone with her friends while letting the  customers wait in line (as frequently happens in government offices, such as the  Department of Motor Vehicles). To give two such employees equal pay would be un  just, though this is typically what occurs.

2. “Equal work” may mean equal effort expended. Two employees may each  work to their full capacity during the workday—they both “do their best.” Should  they receive equal pay? Again, not necessarily. The one may have more background  and experience and expertise in the job than the other; and ordinarily more  experienced employees do, quite justly, receive more. Also, in any kind of job  requiring imagination, one person may exert maximum effort and produce little or  nothing, while the other may with less than maximum effort achieve brilliant  results. Doesn’t the second deserve a higher return? (If he didn’t receive it,  another employer who appreciated ingenuity and initiative would probably hire  him at a higher wage.)

But if both exert that same effort, and the difference is that the second  employee is brilliant and the first is dull and rather stupid, isn’t it unfair  (unjust) to penalize the dull employee for a quality, such as unimaginativeness,  which he lacks through no fault of his own? If they’re both doing their best,  why give less to the dull one? Isn’t this an injustice? No: it’s true that it’s  not the dull person’s fault that he is not as gifted, but his lack of  intelligence is a misfortune (like a disease), not an injustice imposed on him  by other persons.

3. But “equal work” can also mean the product of effort, namely achievement. A student who deserves and receives an A in mathematics may  have a great natural aptitude for it, and may work far less hard than a duller  student did for his B or C. But the grade is a measure of achievement, not of  effort or time expended. The employee in a factory whose productivity is high  (either in quantity or in quality, or both) deserves higher pay, having  contributed the most to the organization that employs him. If high achievers  receive higher compensation, this is hardly an injustice.

Justice and Job-Discrimination

But of course not everyone does receive higher pay for higher achievement.  Some employees are compensated less because of their race or sex; some are  turned down as applicants because of this, before they have a chance to achieve  anything in a job at all. Isn’t this an injustice? And doesn’t justice demand,  as “affirmative action” programs insist, that the injustice be rectified by  giving the victims of discrimination preference in jobs available now?

That depends. (1) If it is not you but your ancestors who have been the  victims of discrimination, then giving special consideration to you in no way  helps them. To hire an under- qualified applicant because his  great-grandfather was a slave, is no help to the deceased slave; a grave  injustice was done, but nothing can be done now to remedy that injustice.  To reward someone now because another member of the same racial group was once  penalized is sheer collectivism.

(2) But if the person himself has been discriminated against in the  past, measures can usually be taken to correct it: past injustices can often be  corrected.

(a) You may have been the victim of job-discrimination because the  educational facilities in your neighborhood were poor; you never learned to  write or add properly so as to be qualified for any decently paying job. To hire  the underqualified person anyway is no solution: it is not just to students to  inflict on them a poor teacher because (for reasons that are not, or not  entirely, her fault) she was discriminated against in the past. And to the  extent that such hiring is practiced, the students in a school or fellow  employees in a factory come to view the new employee as a case of “sympathy-hiring,” rather than hiring on the basis of genuine qualifications for  the position; which does nothing whatever either to improve the quality of the  instruction or to promote harmony among races.

On-the-job training may help to remedy this defect—a device that many  employers use. And in the longer run, changing the educational system so that  these radical disparities in educational background no longer occur, is even  more effective. But hiring an incompetent employee is only an attempt to correct  one past injustice by perpetrating another one.

Curing Past Discrimination by New  Discrimination

(b) Suppose, however, that of two applicants for a job, A, who is black, is  more qualified than B, who is white, but B gets the job because he is white.  This is certainly a case of job- discrimination on account of race. The question  is how to remedy it. Suppose the position falls vacant; should A, who was turned  down before, now be hired in preference to the other new applicant, C? If they  are equally qualified, yes: this would help at ]east to correct a past  injustice. But suppose that C is more qualified than A is. Then hiring A rather  than the more qualified C constitutes an injustice to C. (It’s not C’s fault  that she is white, any more than it was A’s fault that she is black.)

There are many such cases in which acts of past discrimination can be  corrected only by committing another act of unfair discrimination in the  present, thus perpetuating discrimination, not eliminating it. If a past act of  injustice can be remedied by creating another one in the present, it may be that  the cure is worse than the disease; perhaps it would be preferable, rather than  to commit a second injustice to correct the first, simply to say no to  any such discrimination in the future. In that case, we hire whomever is most  qualified for the job, regardless of the race; and if by this procedure a past  act of unfair discrimination remains uncorrected (for this time only), at least  no future acts of discrimination need occur as a result.[4]

Other Aspects of Job-Discrimination

1. It has been assumed thus far that one’s race or sex is irrelevant to one’s  qualifications for a job. But this, of course, is not always the case. An  employer is not necessarily treating an applicant unjustly if he hires a man  rather than a woman as a bodyguard or as a bouncer in a bar; the woman is turned  down not because of her sex but because she lacks the physical qualifications  for the job. Similarly, a white actor is not being unjustly treated in being  passed over for the role of Othello, which requires a black actor to take the  part. If justice in hiring is based on one’s qualifications for the job,  sometimes a person may lack the qualifications precisely because of sex  or race.

2. It is worth noting that most employers will not turn down a qualified  black applicant in favor of a less qualified white applicant, even if only for  reasons of self-interest: his company will prosper only if he takes on the most  qualified applicants, regardless of race or sex. Why is the percentage of  unemployed black teenagers almost 50% today, whereas it was less than 10% in the  late 1940s? It is not because employers have suddenly turned racist; it is  because government interferences in the marketplace, which were intended to help  minorities, have actually hurt them. For example, minimum-wage laws have  prevented many teenagers from being offered summer jobs, and from receiving  on-the-job training (since before they acquire a skill the employer would lose  money by hiring them at the legal minimum wage). There are countless examples of  this, and a reading of Markets and Minorities by the distinguished black  economist Thomas Sowell should be sufficient to convince anyone of it, popular  propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.[5]

3. One should keep in mind the difference between justice and rights.  Many would contend, as I would, that no one has a right to a job: for  example, no employer should be forced by law to hire an employee he doesn’t  need, or even to hire an employee he doesn’t want on his payroll; if it’s his  own money he’s dispensing (and risking), he is within his rights to hire whom he  pleases. If he is a racist who refuses to hire blacks or Mexicans, he may well  suffer economically for his prejudices: if he fails to avail himself of many of  his best qualified applicants, he will himself be the loser, especially when his  non-racist competitor employs them; but that is a punishment he takes on himself  by being a racist. Many employers may have racist feelings, but if they  want to stay in business they do not let these feelings get in the way of their  pocketbooks.

His failure to hire certain persons is, then, not a violation of the rights of those whom he fails to employ; no one has a right to a job that  another person has to pay for. But in refusing to hire those applicants who are  most qualified, he is committing an injustice, because he is not treating  others in accordance with their deserts. The right to so treat them is  not incompatible with his being unjust in so treating them. Whether the  law should prohibit so treating them depends on one’s view of the law: whether  one believes, as the Founding Fathers (on the whole) did, that the law should  prohibit only violations of rights, or whether (as on more recent views) the law  should intervene also whenever there are cases of injustice.

Justice and the Market

It has often been alleged that the free-market system is unjust. Criticisms  of the free market constitute a very high percentage of the content of most  college courses in ethics and social philosophy. It may be granted at once that  no system is entirely just in every detail; there will always be cases of  injustice. But the market system is by far the least unjust of all economic  systems.

The Soviet Union does not have a market economy. A worker’s pay depends not  on his actual merit or productivity, but on what the bureaucrats in charge  decide to pay each worker in a given category. The government decides that  teachers shall receive a higher wage than physicians, and that factory workers  shall receive a higher wage than filing clerks. Theoretically at least, each  worker in a given category is supposed to earn the same—the assumption being  that each one is maximally dedicated to the ideals of communism and therefore  will exert maximum effort and achieve maximum productivity during his hours at  work. How does this system work out in practice? A description by someone who  defected from it provides a dramatic illustration:

Nobody in the bus factory was in a hurry to work; the workers  preferred to sit in the smoking room until the foreman appeared, when they all  dashed to their places. “Why should we hurry for the money they pay us?” said  the workmen. “Work’s not a wolf, it won’t run into the forest!” In the mornings  they were almost all drunk or hung over, and throughout the working day people  would be regularly detailed to slip over the fence for some vodka. Only one man  put in a full day’s work. The rest hated him, and when pointing him out would  rotate one finger meaningfully by the temple. They were always looking for  chances to do him dirt, either by surreptitiously damaging his machine or by  stealing his tools. “Want to be a champion and raise the targets?” they said  spitefully. It turned out that if one man exceeded the target, the target would  be raised for all of them the following month, and they would have to work twice  as hard for exactly the same money.[6]

The injustice of a system that penalizes the dedicated worker is too obvious  to require comment—not to mention the effects on the worker himself: nothing  ruins the morale of a human being more than being penalized for doing a good  job.

Market Rewards

A market economy, by contrast, rewards initiative and enterprise. Not every  employer recognizes talent immediately: there may be a period in which he pays a  certain employee less than he would if he knew the employee’s true worth. Yet  the tendency in a market economy is for each person to rise to the limit  of his ability. Since there are competing employers, if one employer doesn’t  recognize his worth, another one is likely to do so.

Don’t those who work in some kinds of jobs deserve more pay than others? Yes,  and the market sorts this out also. A person who does dangerous work, such as  walking along the catwalk of a high bridge for safety inspection, is not likely  to take such a job unless in doing so he earns more than he would as a janitor.  Nor is a person likely to spend years of his youth going through medical school  if at the end of the road he earned no more than he would have as a dishwasher.  And a physician with a good record of curing diseases is likely to have more  patients than one with a bad record; and doesn’t the first physician deserve his  greater reward? There is no one wage which one can describe as a just  wage (surely this depends on the health of the economy, and what employers can  afford to pay): if one wants a definition of a just wage, one could simply say  that it is the wage that one’s services can command on a free market. The fact  that some persons’ labor is worth more than others’ is largely taken account of  by the market itself.

A foreman complains that the manager who sits behind a desk all day receives  more pay than he does. But the manager has the responsibility of coordinating  workers’ efforts and turning out a quality product. And the president of the  firm, who earns more than the manager, has the awesome responsibility of trying  to anticipate next year’s market, and thus deciding how much of what to produce,  what materials to order and from whom; on such decisions depends the continued  existence of the firm. Doesn’t the successful discharge of such responsibilities  merit a higher income? Workmen and foremen who later become managers and members  of the board seldom complain any longer about the disparity in income.

There are those who say that no one deserves the high pay received by  some executives and corporation heads—that such high incomes somehow constitute  an injustice. But what if the executive who receives $500,000 a year is talented  and ingenious enough to save the company two million dollars a year without  sacrificing quality of product? He has certainly been worth more than his pay to  the company. The stockholders are anxious enough to pay him this, and even more  rather than see him captured by another company. Should they be prohibited from paying him what they believe he deserves?

Misfortune vs. Injustice

If someone is unemployed because there is no longer any demand for his skill,  he will have to set about acquiring another. But where is the injustice in this?  Who is the perpetrator of the alleged injustice? The buggy-maker who no longer  has any demand for buggies? Wouldn’t it be unjust to the buggy-maker to force  him to retain a worker he doesn’t need, when most customers are buying cars  instead of buggies?

Or suppose a man does have a marketable skill but at the moment there are no  openings in his area. Is this unjust? It is unfortunate for him that he must  either be unemployed or change jobs or move to another area, but there is no one  who can be accused of treating him unjustly. The more a free market is permitted  to operate, the more likely it is that he will soon find an outlet for his  skills. Again, his unemployment may be a temporary misfortune, but not an  injustice.

Suppose a farmer decides to grow soybeans this year, endeavoring to enrich  the soil and to increase the output of the same product that made him  considerable money last year. But suppose that many other farmers have the same  idea, and as a result there is an overproduction of soybeans and the price of  soybeans this year suffers a sharp decline. This is simply a reality of the  market: “Given constant demand, if there’s more of a product the value of each  unit declines.” Is this an injustice to the farmer?

If the farmer’s crops are lost through drought or flood, this is a  misfortune, not an injustice; but the fact that other farmers also planted  soybeans is a deliberately undertaken human action, not a condition of nature.  Still, where is the injustice? If the farmer had been wise, perhaps he should  have planted something else this year; but how is the fact that other farmers  also wanted to make money by planting soybeans an injustice to him? If he can  plant soybeans, why can’t they? It may be a misfortune that too many are grown  this year and a surplus results; but where is the injustice? Who has been unjust  to whom? If he had a reason to anticipate what other farmers would do, he is  stuck with the results of bad planning on his part; but if he had no way of  knowing, the financial loss can be described only as a misfortune, not as an  injustice.

Justice vs. “Social Justice”

Those who are engaged in “social engineering” often characterize the concept  of individual justice, described above, as outdated. What we need, they say, is social justice.[7]

But what exactly does this term mean? If justice is treatment in accord with  desert, and deserts are unequal, then justice demands that treatments also be  unequal. If everyone were given the same wage regardless of effort or  achievement, we would have a society in which hardly anyone would choose to work  at all; in the end there would be nothing left to distribute, and starvation  would stalk the land. The ideal of justice as complete egalitarianism—everyone  receives the same regardless of who does what or how much, or even if they do  nothing at all—is contradicted by the most elementary facts of reality. It is  not the idea of forcible redistribution that deters egalitarians—they have no  objections at all to that—but only the fact that once the goose has been killed  it can lay no more eggs.

Proponents of “social justice” do not, then, usually demand that every person  (or every family) receive the same income. For reasons of sheer survival, this  is not done even in the Soviet Union. What the proponents of “social justice” do  demand, however, is that everyone, regardless of effort, ability, or  achievement, receive a “decent standard of living”-which in urban America may  include not only food, clothing, and shelter, but a telephone, a television set,  and convenient means of transportation as “necessities of life.” And who shall  be required to pay for these things? Those whose income is higher; “justice  demands” that those who are “more fortunate” be required to contribute to those  who are “less fortunate.” These are the popular name tags, and the underlying  assumption is that if one person has more and another less, this is solely a  matter of “luck” or “fortune,” as if somehow individual ability and initiative  had nothing to do with im proving one’s lot.

It is far from clear, however, how A being forced to give part of his  paycheck to B is an example of justice: it would seem to be a case of injustice  to A, and a windfall for B. And even if such transfer payments should be made,  should they be done in the name of justice? The basis of justice is desert; the  basis of charity is need: in charity, we give to others because they need it; in  justice, we receive compensation (or punishment) because we deserve it. The  difference between justice and charity should not be obscured.

The “Underprivileged” and Why They Are  Poor

The poor are usually classified as “unfortunate” or “underprivileged,” as if  those who earned more had purposely deprived them. But this label, which social  planners automatically attach to everyone who is below a certain level of  income, applies only to some of them, certainly not to all. We must first  investigate, which social planners almost never do, why they are poor.

1. Suppose a neighbor of yours is about to make an investment which you know  to be fraudulent: he will lose everything if he makes the investment. Undeterred  by your pleas, he does it anyway, and the result is that he loses everything.  Would most people, including champions of “social justice,” be willing to hand  over part of their paychecks in perpetuity to a person who has merely been  foolish?

2. Suppose a lady has been thrifty all her life, saved for her old age, and  has a small house and yard; a second lady, with considerably more income, spent  it all on riotous living and is now destitute. Should the first lady be required  to give over part of her limited income each month to the second? (That is the  way things work out under the current welfare system; but is this justice?)

3. Assume that a worker has been able to pay into old-age insurance but  simply failed to do so, spending everything she earned. Now she is destitute.  Should others, who have provided in advance for their old age, be forced  to hand over a portion of their savings to the person who has not so provided?  To do so may be charitable, but is it just?

4. Now let us take a different kind of case. A person is ill or has a  physical handicap which does not enable her to work; she would like to, but she  can’t and her family has no resources. Shouldn’t “society” take care of her?

Coercive or Voluntary

This is certainly the best case for welfare; but the question remains whether  it should be government welfare (compulsorily paid by all wage earners) or  privately financed welfare (voluntarily contributed by those who are able).  Though the matter would require a lengthy discussion that is not possible here,  I suggest that the persons who answer to this description are a comparatively  small minority of the population, and that, once the enormous ball-and-chain of  high taxation (including social security payments) was removed from every wage  earner, and would-be entrepreneurs could start small businesses and take on  employees without the present high probability that their enterprises will be  bankrupted by taxes and regulation, there would be such a resurgence of  prosperity that government welfare would be quite unnecessary: private funding  would be quite adequate to the task, as it was during the first century of  American history when the standards of living were much lower than they are  now.[8]

Herbert Spencer was much wiser than today’s planners when in 1884 he  criticized “the tacit assumption that Government should step in whenever  anything is not going right. ‘Surely you would not have this misery continue!’ exclaims someone, if you hint at demurrer to much that is now being said and  done. Observe what is implied by this exclamation. It takes for granted, first,  that all suffering ought to be prevented, which is not true; much of the  suffering is curative, and the prevention of it is prevention of a remedy. In  the second place, it takes for granted that every evil can be removed: the truth  being that, with the existing defects of human nature, many evils can only be  thrust out of one place or form into another place or form—often being increased  by the change.

“The exclamation also implies the unhesitating belief . . . that evils of all  kinds should be dealt with by the State. There does not occur the inquiry  whether there are at work other agencies capable of dealing with evils, and  whether the evils in question may not be among those which are best dealt with  by these other agencies. And obviously, the more numerous governmental  interventions become, the more confirmed does this habit of thought grow, and  the more loud and perpetual the demands for intervention.”[9]

Try Freedom

With an unfettered economy, and a minimum of charity (and most Americans have  more than a minimum), the problem of poverty would become almost obsolete.  Economist Thomas Sowell may have overstated the case, but he had a valid point  when, in answering the question “How to get rid of poverty?” he answered, “Hold  a meeting of all the leading experts on poverty some where in the middle of the  Pacific and not let them go home for ten years. When they came back, they would  discover there was no more poverty.”[10]

It will be apparent by now that the demands of “social justice” are  incompatible with those of individual justice; to the extent that the first  demand is met, the second must be sacrificed. If the government takes money out  of Peter’s wallet to put it in Paul’s, it may have achieved greater equality,  but not greater justice. It is impossible for individuals to receive a just wage  on a free market and then be forced to part with a portion of it, for then they  receive less than a just wage.

The final irony is that the ideals of the champions of “social justice” are  not even achieved when they are put fully into practice. Because people will  not—and cannot—produce indefinitely without compensation, the final result of  massive transfer payments is equality of zero—universal destitution. That, after  all, is how the excesses of the late Roman welfare state gave way to the  destitution of the Dark Ages.[11]  It has happened many times in history, and it could happen again if the  proponents of “social justice”—that is, enforced collectivism—push their demands  so far as to cancel out the requirements of individual justice.


1.   See, for example, Frederick Schoeman, “On  Incapacitating the Dangerous,” in John Arthur and William Shaw, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Law (Prentice-Hall, 1984), and in Joel  Feinberg and Hyman Gross, eds., Philosophy of Law (Wadsworth, 1981).

2.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov,  Modern Library edition, p. 254. (First published 1882.)

3.   Ayn Rand, “Racism,” in The Virtue of  Selfishness (Signet Books, 1964).

4.   See Louis Katzner, “Is the Favoring of Women and  Blacks in Employment and Educational Opportunities Justified?” in Feinberg and  Gross, Philosophy of Law.

5.   See also Walter Williams, The State Versus  Blacks (McGraw-Hill, 1982); Warren Brookes, The Economy in Mind  (Universe Books, 1982).

6.   Vladimir Bukofsky, To Build a Castle: My Life as  a Dissenter (Viking Press, 1977), p. 123.

7.   See, for example, Richard Brandt, ed., Social  Justice (Prentice-Hall, 1962); Nicholas Rescher, Welfare (University  of Pittsburgh Press, 1972); Norman E. Bowie, Distributive Justice  (University of Massachusetts Press, 1971); Robin Barrow, Injustice,  Inequality, and Ethics (Barnes & Noble, 1982); Michael Bayles, Principles of Legislation (Wayne State University Press, 1978).

8.   See, for example, Henry Hazlitt, The Conquest of  Poverty (Arlington House, 1978).

9.   Herbert Spencer, The Man .versus the State  (Caxton Press, 1940), pp. 34-35. Originally published 1884. See also John  Hospers, Libertarianism (Laissez Faire Books, 1971), Chapter 7.

10.   Thomas Sowell, in Reason, December 1980  issue, p. 5.

11.   See Ludwig von Mises, Human Action  (Regnery, 1945), esp. pp. 767-769; also Isabel Paterson, The God of the  Machine (Caxton Press, 1943), pp. 38-40.

 

A Visit to South Africa

by John Hospers

John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the  University of Southern California. Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous  books, several anthologies, and more than one hundred essays in journals and  encyclopedias.

This article recounts experiences from Professor  Hospers’ six-week stay in South Africa last summer.

The media create a misleading impression of life in South Africa. It’s not  that what they report is untrue; it is what they decline to report that distorts  the picture.

I spent part of July and all of August 1986 in South Africa, under the  auspices of the Free Market Foundation of South Africa, giving lectures and  seminars at a dozen universities in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town,  Stellen-bosch, Durban, and Pietermaritzburg, as well as Namibia (Southwest  Africa) and Umtata (in the “independent republic” of Transkei). I spoke with  many people of various races and walks of life, and visited numerous areas, from  rural black school districts to the private palace of the Anglo-American Oil  Company. I walked the streets of cities for hours, meeting people and talking  with them, trying to capture the ambience of each place and to sort out what  were the sources of strife as well as of harmony, who was to blame for what, and  how the problems could be solved or ameliorated.

Economic Inequality

To the outside world, the key word to describe what is wrong in South Africa  is apartheid, which means simply that the races live apart. But apartheid  by itself has very little to do with the current unrest in South Africa. If  members of various races live apart by choice, little can be said against it; it  is forcibly living apart that is objectionable. This still occurs in  South Africa, notably in suburban enclaves like Soweto near Johannesburg: blacks  work in Johannesburg by day but must return to their dwellings in Soweto at  night. Yet a great deal of apartheid has been changed since my earlier visit in  1983.

• A few years ago, theaters, some shops, and all restaurants were segregated.  Now they are integrated, and few people seem to think anything of it.

• The mixed-marriage laws and pass laws have been repealed.

• Black families live in apartments in Johannesburg and other cities  alongside whites, going to the same shopping places and films and living their  lives much as whites do. When you walk the streets of the posh northern suburbs  of Johannesburg, you see almost as many blacks as whites, going to work and  entering and leaving their homes. This is strictly illegal, but nothing is done  about it.

• Formerly the government built tract-housing for black settlements and  rented them to black families. Now those families for the most part have 99-year leases, and for all practical purposes the homes belong to them.  The result is a great increase in beautification—lawns, gardens, trees and  shrubbery, newly painted houses—which always accompanies private ownership.

Yet the legalization of mixed marriages, integration of public places, and the abolition of the pass laws have had a much less positive effect than the white population assumed they would. This, I think, is because the basic cause of unrest has not been touched by these measures. Blacks do not give first priority to social relations with whites. What affects them most is the unfairness of the laws and regulations which do not permit them to compete economically on an equal basis with whites or even with Indians. The desire to rise in life, and to provide adequate support for one’s family, is constantly frustrated by the legal system. If apartheid were continued but economic opportunities for the races were equal, the current unrest would largely subside. But blacks are held back by government controls:

“If a white person wants to open a fish and chip shop in a white  area, all he has to do is fill in a form, find a zoned business site, and sign a  lease with the landlord. If he complies with health regulations, he is entitled  to sell fish and chips. No one must approve of him as a person; no questions are  asked about his nationality, competence, resources, or language. No bureaucrat  decides if there is adequate ‘need and desirability’ for such a shop. Simply  because he is a white in a white area, he is entitled as a right to run a fish  and chip shop or almost any other business or industry.

“For a black, the situation is very different. Before he can open a fish and  chip shop in Soweto, he has to ask an official for a site. The official may or  may not grant his request, for reasons which he need not disclose. He may say “yes” because he likes the applicant, or is related to him, or because he has  received a sufficiently generous bribe. He may say “no” for equally subjective  reasons. Once the site has been granted, the potential entrepreneur has to apply  to another official for a license. This may or may not be issued, for similar  reasons. Then on to the health officials. And the building inspectors . . .  until, many months and hundreds of rands later, he might be turned down for  unspecified reasons.

“South African blacks today have no experience with laws which are equally  applicable to all regardless of sex, creed, or color. What they experience now,  from day to day, is arbitrary rule by men, a system which by its nature is rife  with both real and suspected corruption. No self- respecting human being can be  subjected to such a system without feeling frustrated or angry.” (Leon Louw and  Frances Kendall, South Africa: The Solution, pp. 61-62. Amagi  Publications Ltd., 1986).

An end to such discriminatory legislation would solve a large part of South  Africa’s problems in one stroke. Whether the government is at the moment  prepared to do this is doubtful; but circumstances may yet force its hand.

The result would be beneficial to whites as well, for it would remove the  enormous tax burden of caring for blacks at government expense. Six million  taxpayers in a total population of 32 million sustain the entire remainder in a  huge welfare state. South Africa is a ¾ socialist state, providing (however  inadequately) for the daily needs of black housing, health, and education, at an  enormous and ever-increasing cost. The facilities are far from equal, of course:  black education is markedly inferior to white, in spite of vast increases of  money spent on it—an increase of 2600 per cent for next year alone, I was told  in Pretoria, enough to bankrupt the national treasury in a few years. (There  are, of course, some black taxpayers as well, and the 12 per cent sales tax, up  from 6 per cent three years ago, is imposed equally on everyone who buys goods.)  Many urban blacks, however, are tired of being “cared for”—they want to make it  on their own. What they suffer from is black socialism—being treated like  children who cannot take care of themselves.

The irony is that blacks tend to associate the present system with  capitalism, and therefore condemn it, often embracing socialism as the system  that will cure their ills—little realizing that it is socialism that they have  been suffering from all along, and that capitalism is their only means of rising  out of their present situation, creating industries and jobs and allowing  persons to rise to the limit of their abilities.

The government educational system is enormously frustrating to both whites  and blacks. A school building is built in a black development; soon the windows  are broken and the building vandalized. The government rebuilds it, and the same  thing happens again. How often are the taxpayers of South Africa supposed to  repeat this procedure? Whites are inclined to argue, “If that’s what they want  to do, let them stay in their own mess.”

But why do blacks do this? Because they see education as largely irrelevant  to their needs. If at the end of schooling you can’t get a decent job, the  argument seems to be what’s the use of education? Then one might as well destroy  the buildings which are the symbols of what is being forced upon them. These  actions are a response to black socialism, to which they have been subjected by  the white government; but socialism is not the way they identify it. They  identify it as a manifestation of white capitalism. Therein lies the tragedy.

The Clash of Cultures

The outside world pictures the blacks of South Africa as one unified force,  opposed to whites and Indians. In fact, however, blacks are deeply divided along  tribal lines. The Zulu dislikes and is suspicious of the Xhosa, the Xhosa  dislikes the bushman, and so on, far more than any of them fears or dislikes the  whites. Were it not for police intervention, there would be tribal wars and  massacres as there have been for thousands of years.

Most blacks are quite non-political; they are much more interested in meeting  their daily needs than in political action. They will not rise up against the  whites unless they can be whipped into a frenzy by outside agitators. They are  inclined to be easy-going, fairly passive, “mellow”—quite unlike the “edginess” experienced between the races in America. Violence is usually initiated by  teenagers and children, whose parents are ashamed for them and apologize in the  strongest terms for their behavior.

Most blacks who work for whites tend to be content with their lot. They are  employed, and at much higher wages than they could obtain elsewhere. They will  defend the whites against blacks of other tribes, toward whom they are openly  hostile.

I was a guest at a dinner at which a black man was seated, and the black  cook, after inquiring where he was from and what tribe he belonged to, refused  to serve him at table. She continued in this refusal even though her job was on  the line. She considered serving whites to be her proper place, but she would  have no truck with blacks of other tribes. She was somewhat reminiscent of the  housekeepers in the old American South, as in Gone With the Wind.

One might say, of course, that blacks should not be in such a servile  position. But economic non-discrimination would be the cure for that: as  opportunities increased, fewer would accept servile jobs. But at present, with  limited training and job opportunities (thanks to black socialism), the  arrangement appears to be quite acceptable, indeed advantageous, to both blacks  and whites.

Most rural blacks live much as they have lived for centuries, their tribal  customs unchanged, the principal change in their lives being white medicine,  modern homes, and the sale of their crops and wares to white customers. At the  other extreme, a small percentage of blacks have become quite Westernized; these  are the ones we see on American television. Between these extremes are the  semi-urbanized blacks, with one foot in each culture—a background of tribal  customs which goes with them constantly even while they are attempting to  compete with white laborers in the job market. The lot of this third group is  the most painful and trying—somewhat Westernized, yet unable to compete  successfully in the white man’s world.

Given a free enterprise economy, many of them would become able  entrepreneurs. Some of them already are, in spite of the system: 1 met black  landscapers and construction men who hired other blacks to lay tile and build  swimming pools and maintain lawns and gardens, and these were affluent by any  standard. These, of course, were the rare excep-tions-and they had no use for  political agitation. Most blacks, however, are still victims of the system,  unable to make a good life for themselves. They care about their own chances of  achieving a decent living much more than having a vote: When I asked “What would  you rather have, the right to vote or an extra thousand rand a year?” the answer  was always the same, and perfectly obvious.

The degree of tribalism, and the strength of tribal customs, are quite  unfathomed in the West, and are never shown on American television, although  tribalism is the most potent force in Africa. The following are only a few  examples of many (purposely diverse in character), told to me by white  university professors, white missionaries and social workers, as well as by  urban blacks.

• A man disappears from his home in a black settlement. The opposing  tribesman who has killed him conceals his body in the refrigerator and each day  he cuts off a piece and eats it. (Often he eats only the heart and the liver.)  This is a common practice called “muti.”

• A man comes home to find himself suddenly accused by other tribesmen of  theft or adultery (whether truly or falsely). He is pummeled to death or fatally  stabbed on the spot, while others dance over his corpse. Life is very cheap in  Africa.

• A girl has had two sons, strong healthy children. A third son is born, but  is dead within a few days. “What happened?” asks a white missionary. “He just  died.” The next year another son is born. “This time I will take care of him,” says the missionary, and does so till the child is six months old, at which time  the missionary has to leave, and places the child carefully in his mother’s  hands. When the missionary returns a few days later the new son is dead, again  without explanation. The reason turns out to be that a third son is a liability  to a family, and is killed. The first son takes over from his father; the second  son is there to do so if something happens to the first son; but the third son  if he later marries must present a dowry (unlike India, the dowry is contributed  by the husband’s family), and this often breaks the family financially. It is  easier just to kill him.

• Most black education is performed by rote: a teacher simply reads out of a  textbook. One geography teacher decides to explain the text instead of just  reading it. But his pupils still fail the matriculation test at the end of the  term. The students get together and decide that it’s the teacher’s fault for not  going strictly by the text. They take the teacher out and kill him.

• At the home where I stayed in Johannesburg, the black caretaker was quietly  reliable, like most African blacks more interested in tending the house than in  the future of South Africa. His predecessor in the job, however, had not been so  fortunate: blacks from another tribe had seen him crossing a bridge one night,  tied him up, lit a fire under him, and burned him to death.

White vs. Black?

Hundreds of tales like this are well known to both whites and blacks. They  make many whites fear integration in the cities: with such tribal savagery so  close to the surface, how could we but fear for our children going out at night? “Of course there has to be apartheid.” Yet the victims of these brutalities are  almost always blacks, not whites. And people with a long oral tradition do not  part in a few years with the thousand-year-old habits and customs of their  ancestors.

The white man’s world is still strange and alien to those who live in the  bush. “Let me take you to any black village,” one lady said to me, “and I  guarantee you will be a hero—as long as you can keep telling them stories about  the world outside. They will revere you and defend you, and for years afterward  they will tell tales about their great honor in having a white visitor from  another land.”

There is, indeed, a great reservoir of good will between the races in South  Africa—much more than in the United States. I sensed this in the stories, on the  streets, in endless conversations. Most blacks do not consider the white man  their enemy. Some whites consider blacks to be slow and lazy—and of course some  are; but a much more plausible conclusion is that the black is more deliberate,  with less of a sense of urgency. He can remember incredibly detailed  instructions without writing them down (the long oral tradition facilitates  this).

Ten years ago all truck drivers in South Africa were white; today they are  virtually all black, and doing a better job of it. There are many black trade  unions, black mining engineers, black doctors and dentists. More South African  blacks own cars than there are privately owned cars in the Soviet Union. Even  so, the African black is still new to the technological civilization that the  whites have built around him: South Africa’s incomparable roads and skyscrapers,  its mining and processing technology, its system of distribution and supply, are  the equal of anything in the West. Blacks have been the beneficiaries of  this civilization in the form of a higher standard of living and medical care  than they would have had otherwise, but thus far they have not been sufficiently  permitted to participate in it.

What of those who do not want to participate in it, but to remain with their  tribal customs in the bush? One is surely inclined to say, “Then they should not  be forced to be a part of the white man’s civilization.” They should not be  forced to adapt to the white man’ s world if they choose not to. But there is  one touchy problem here: what part should the white man’s law, derived from  Europe, play in the black man’s culture? To a large extent the white man’s law  lets tribal custom go its way without interference. Yet in known cases of ritual  murder or human sacrifice, shouldn’t the perpetrators of such acts be arrested  and charged with murder?

If the law does not intervene, the world will say that white law enforcers do  not care about human lives as long as they are the lives of blacks. If the law  does intervene, headlines will scream round the world, “White policemen molest  blacks in South Africa.” Whether the law takes the attitude of “let it be” to  tribal customs, or whether it attempts to intervene at least in the clearest  cases of tribal savagery, either way it will be the loser in world opinion.

The Solution?

Perhaps the greatest mistake in South African history was the creation of one  nation, the Union of South Africa. With such deep cultural and moral divisions,  how could one nation ever be generated from such a mix? Those who came to  America came largely from Europe, and shared a European culture and morality.  But those who came together in Africa had no such common bond.

What then is the solution? A very plausible one has been proposed by Leon  Louw and his wife Frances Kendall in their book South, Africa: The  Solution, which is now the No. 1 best seller in South Africa and has been  read by cabinet ministers and referred to by the Prime Minister himself, and is  creating a great ferment in the entire country. Many whites who had planned to  leave South Africa have stayed because of the book. They now see hope in the  book’s proposed canton system, like the one Switzerland has had for eight  centuries.

The nation would be subdivided into semi-autonomous states or provinces,  divided along roughly tribal boundaries. There would be a very limited central  government concerned only with a few matters such as currency and national  defense, but the laws would vary from province to province. Some whites, of  course, would have to move if they didn’t like the laws of the largely black  province they were in, and the same with blacks. But moving about is preferable  to civil war.

Provinces with a free enterprise economy would soon be more prosperous than  socialist provinces that might exist nearby, and would attract more people  toward them. Meanwhile a national constitution would prohibit discrimination on  grounds of race, color, gender, or religion, would ensure a universal franchise,  would protect property rights and civil liberties, and guarantee freedom of  movement and association.

“One person, one vote” is chanted by many Westerners who know little about  South Africa. Those in the bush do not know what a vote is. For those who do, it  means going along with what the chief says: a black lady I spoke with had been  wronged by her chief, but kept insisting “You can’t go against your chief,” indicating that I simply did not understand. Many whites fear that with a  five-to-one majority blacks will vote for anyone who promises them the  advantages that white civilization has achieved, without knowing yet how to  sustain it. They fear a future of “one man, one vote, once.”

What most whites fear is that, given unlimited and centralised political  power of the kind that whites have held and abused, blacks will evict whites  from their homes, nationalise their businesses and loot their property in an  orgy of redistribution and revenge. But there is a good deal of evidence to  suggest that this fear is more imagined than real.

True, there are many articulate political leaders who speak openly about the  day of reckoning when AZAPO would restore the land to its “original owners,” and  the ANC to “those who work it” in terms of the Freedom Charter. A handful would  like to see a fully-fledged Marxist dictatorship with no private property at  all. But the majority of blacks seem to want no more than the removal of all  barriers to black advancement and enfranchisement. . . .

None of the four independent homelands have adopted the policies whites most  fear. They have all repealed all race laws, but none have espoused Marxism.  Bophutha-tswana and Ciskei have recently taken major steps to free their  economies. . . . (Louw and Kendall, South Africa: The Solution, pp.  168-9.)

One advantage of Louw and Kendall’s solution is that economic freedom would  come first—hopefully at once; and then, when there are a number of prosperous  black entrepreneurs, they will not vote to Sovietize South Africa, for by that  time they will have a stake in their country and will have too much to lose.

Threats from the Outside

White South Africans have watched closely the fate of the “developing  nations” of Africa. They have seen one nation after another turned into a  one-party state—dictatorships in which the fruits of white civilization were  promised to all, property confiscated, billions going into the dictator’s Swiss  bank account, the rest redistributed in a vast welfare scheme in which there was  no “welfare” because without incentives there soon was nothing left to  distribute.

Successive dictatorships in Uganda, Tan-zania, and other central African  nations have killed millions of people. Mozambique, once a prosperous nation  under Portuguese rule, is now an economic basket case. In the midst of rich  natural resources and good soil, hunger and starvation are now rampant, the  economy totally destroyed, and hordes of starving families cross the border into  South Africa to find food and sanctuary.

Zimbabwe is already in effect a one-party state, whose dictator, Mugabe, is  systematically exterminating the minority tribe, the Matabeles. In Zimbabwe  today there are no jobs to be had: I talked with several illegal aliens from  Zimbabwe who worked as gardeners and small tradesmen in Johannesburg, sending  their wages back to Zimbabwe to support a dozen or more family members and  relatives.

Refugees from other nations continue to pour into South Africa; even with  racial discrimination they can earn many times ‘what they can in their home  countries, when they find employment there at all. Without South Africa many of  these people literally would starve.

South Africans wonder why the world has a special animosity towards them.  Every time there is even a small amount of violence—often genuine but sometimes  staged for the benefit of cameramen who have placed themselves in a convenient  location—it is highlighted that night on the world’s television screens.

When thousands are slaughtered in Uganda or Zaire, no cameramen are there to  record it, and it passes almost unnoticed. “If there are no pictures, there’s no  news”—and thus America knows nothing of Soviet labor camps or Vietnamese “re-education centers,” for no one is permitted to come close enough to  photograph them.

Yet it is South Africa, still a relatively open society in spite of  censorship, that comes in for selective indignation. Perhaps it is because “more  is expected” of white people than of black. But is that not itself a form of  racism?

Why should nations in the Soviet orbit receive preferential trading  conditions while South Africa is punished? Why does Zimbabwe, a police state in  which a single comment against the government can result in imprisonment  incommunicado for six months or more (we were warned before entering Zimbabwe to  think what we wished, but to say nothing), still receive American aid, while  sanctions are imposed on South Africa? Racial problems in the United States took  centuries to resolve, and are not entirely resolved to this day, yet South  Africa is expected to solve its problems by tomorrow morning.

A professor from the Netherlands gave a series of lectures at the University  of the Witwatersrand when I was also lecturing there, and was notified by his  home university that because he had spoken in South Africa his academic tenure  would be broken. South Africans cannot get passports to many European nations  because of its “racist policies,” but dignitaries from other nations which are  slaughterhouses have no troubles in this regard. “If you impose sanctions,” I  was asked, “why don’t you do it across the board, first to countries that  systematically kill all dissidents?”

I spent a week in Namibia, where everyone is officially in favor of  independence from South Africa. (Namibia has had no apartheid for ten years, but  this has made little difference: only economic opportunity can offer  advancement.) Yet more than half the Namibian economy is sustained by  transfusions from South Africa.

The Namibian Minister of Transport in Windhoek showed me a huge map  projecting his favorite dream: a railroad going from Walvis Bay on the west  coast, east through Namibia and Botswana, ending in Zimbabwe: “then we could be  independent of South Africa.” Unfortunately the building costs of this project  would amount to well over a billion rand, and where would such an infusion of  capital come from but South Africa, whose G.N.P. is more than that of all the  other nations of Africa combined? Similarly, the impressive University of Umtata  in the black republic of Transkei, where I gave three lectures, was built  entirely courtesy of the South African taxpayers.

Yet South Africans are well aware of international threats. Armed insurgents  from Angola continue to harass the residents of northern Namibia, though the  influence of SWAPO seems to be on the decline: the Ovambi tribesmen (over 60 per  cent of the population of Namibia) don’t want their property nationalized, and  the word has finally got through that that’s what SWAPO is all about. Today an  Angolan infiltrator into their midst can figure on a life-expectancy of no more  than a week (So I was told in a military briefing in Windhoek to which I was  invited, along with French and German diplomats.)

But conditions along the border with Mozambique have not similarly improved.  Soviet-financed terrorists continue to make armed raids into South Africa. In  the northern province of Venda, the chief fear of native families is not from  South Africa but from Mozambique: terrorists capture children in school or on  the way home, kidnap them and take them back into Mozambique, and they never are  seen again. When the South African army retaliates by raiding terrorist bases in  Mozambique, it is excoriated in the international press for venturing outside  its borders.

South Africans follow closely the progress of Soviet trouble-making in  Africa—the killing of dissidents and minorities (to fan racial hatreds), the  slaughter and systematic starvation of innocents, the random imprisonments, and  the kidnaping of children, taking them through Dares-Salaam to Siberia or North  Korea to give them training in terrorist tactics against South Africa.

The African National Congress (ANC) is a divided organization. Some of its  members desire only racial equality in South Africa. But the majority—so believe  most of those with whom I spoke—do not want any improvement of conditions in  South Africa: They want things to get worse, so that the entire social fabric of  South Africa will be destroyed in a civil war and a new communist nation founded  on the ashes of the present one. As for Nelson Mandela, the usual view was “if  he is released he won’t last a week unless he turns to Butholezi” (the moderate  Zulu chief, who may be the main hope for South Africa, but is seldom mentioned  on American television)—because Tambo (head of the ANC) would not tolerate any  competition for his leadership.

If civil war should come, it will be instigated by outsiders bent on the  destruction of the entire society (including all races), not from within—this  was the verdict of virtually everyone with whom I spoke.

As one surveys the thousands of people walking the streets of Cape Town and  Durban and Johannesburg, one finds it difficult to imagine how a black take-over  would ever be attempted, or how it could succeed if it were. Here are thousands  of black faces expressing no hatred or resentment or malevolence; these are  people going about the daily business of life, under conditions which in spite  of world headlines are gradually improving. Further improvements, such as  deregulation and the abolition of discriminatory legislation, could be initiated  tomorrow by act of Parliament. Others, such as satisfactory education for black  youths, would take many years to achieve, and probably cannot be achieved at all  through the public school system.

Reflecting on all this, I thought of the black shopkeeper in nearby Randburg,  with whom I talked often, helpful to a fault, who bore no ill will toward  anyone: ten years ago a white customer would have been unlikely to shop at a  store serviced by blacks, but no more. I thought of the white plumber I spoke  with, who still goes alone to Soweto every working day to install pipes and  bathrooms, with no fears for his safety. I thought of the white South African  soldiers on leave entering a bar in Durban, not joining other white soldiers  from the Transvaal for a drink because they preferred to drink with their black  Durban friends.

The world underestimates the residual good will between the races in South  Africa, which makes the streets of South Africa safer than those of any large  American city. The very existence of this benevolent attitude is difficult to  believe by those who are the victims of selective reporting by the American  media, but theawareness of it is inescapable once one has tasted everyday life  in South Africa as it is actually lived, not as it is contrived by reporters who  report only the outbreaks of violence.

The Effects of Sanctions

Many nations have imposed sanctions against South Africa in a show of moral  indignation against apartheid. The sanctions are an attempt to punish South  African whites; in fact, however, it will punish principally South African  blacks. As one foreign company after another pulls out of South Africa, there  will be massive unemployment—and who will be the first to be unemployed? The  unskilled laborers, of course—and at the moment these are mostly blacks. They  are the ones who will suffer the brunt of the foreigners’ indignation.

Many foreigners know this, of course, but they appeal to what they think is  the will of their constituencies (fanned by selective media coverage). Talk is  cheap, and the foreigners will be no worse off because of black poverty in South  Africa which their actions will cause. They may even feel a pleasing tinge of  moral righteousness for doing what they do—they have spoken their piece, and the  consequences will not fall on them. The very persons they officially wish  to help are the ones who will suffer the most. Many people will starve because  of the imposition of sanctions.

Sanctions will also seal the fate of the thousands of blacks who pour into  South Africa from the economically depressed nations to the north. They will be  sent back to their native countries, since there will be no more jobs for them  in South Africa. What will happen to the starving hordes pouring in from  Mozambique, who now flee into South Africa for food and sanctuary’? After  sanctions, they will no longer be able to be absorbed into the South African  labor force, and will be forced to return to the nations from which they have  fled.

Dr. Christian Barnard of Cape Town, the originator of heart transplant  surgery, recently wrote in the Sunday Times (Johannesburg, August 3):

Starvation means more than just pangs in the belly. It is the terrible agony  of a body literally cannibalizing its own tissues as it fights off death.  Perhaps you think you’ve seen it all on television documentaries of famine. Be  assured that the reality cannot be captured on film. There is a stink to  starvation that doesn’t show on a television screen, it assaults the nostrils  and revolts the stomach—a smell you can never forget: the stench of obscenity.  Never mind all the other uses of the word. Once you see a starving child you  know the real meaning of obscenity—a condition which is an affront to all  humanity.

It is then that another emotion takes over—anger; a kind of white-hot fury at  the conditions which allowed this to happen. There is a need to look for a  target—to find something to smash, someone to blame. . . . I feel that anger  when I read of churchmen who call for economic sanctions. I try to believe that,  like the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ, they know not what they  do.

But belief comes hard when you consider that those who ask for the bread to  be taken out of the mouths of other people’s children know their own will never  suffer. No churchman’s salary will stop when trade comes to a halt. Priests and  prelates, like the lilies of the field, toil not for their cash. It comes to  them on a silver plate. And it keeps coming whether the stock market rises or  falls. When the sanctions bite, no one will knock on the door to repossess the  furniture. The cars in the garage will be safe and the church will not call in  the mortgage on the rectory, the manse or the deanery. Bishops will be safe,  too. Princes of the church live in palaces where sanctions don’t apply. Church  walls are thick. Especially high church where they build monuments of dead stone  to a living God. It’s hard to hear the cries of the unfed when you’re  inside.

Southern Africa is home to more than 60 million people. A quarter of the  population are below the age of 14. Let me spell it out. Sanctions, which is  just another word for starvation, will place 15 million children under the  threat of famine. Politicians throughout the world have voted for this appalling  project, but nobody asked the children . . .

I can offer sanctions-loving churchmen a thought. It is a short step from  being the Lord’s Anointed to believing oneself God’s Mouthpiece, but would the  Almighty really risk the life of a single child—just to replace a white Caesar  with a black one?

What is needed, of course, is an increase in the number of available jobs;  but as long as sanctions are in effect, any such increase will be impossible.  Without capitalism (including free trade) a nation cannot enjoy the fruits of  capitalism—prosperity. “The fruits we require,” wrote Barlow Rand chairman Mike  Rosholt in the Pretoria News (July 11), “will have to be in the form of a  very much larger cake than we have ever been able to produce, even in relatively  good economic times, because it will have to fund the reforms already announced  to produce a considerable backlog of jobs and to satisfy black demands for a  more equitable distribution of national income. All this without permanently  damaging the private sector and killing all individual initiative. We shall  certainly not produce that larger cake in the recessionary conditions we now  face.”

The Prospects

What South Africa now needs is economic prosperity, a prosperity that will be  impossible as long as sanctions continue. With growing prosperity, an  improvement in the lot of the blacks would come, particularly in the wake of  deregulation and decentralization—something the government has not proceeded  with fast enough, but which the necessities of peaceful survival will  increasingly force upon it.

Meanwhile, the future is clouded. With foreign backing, the ANC will be  strong enough to plant bombs in the cities and create conditions of terror which  will bring all improvements to a halt. With enough foreign assistance, such  organizations will in time be able to make South Africa at least as  uncomfortable as Northern Ireland. Then there may be enough violence to satisfy  even the international media—and the billion or so dollars per year that the  Soviet Union spends on the disruption of South Africa may prove to have been  well worth the price they have paid to bring it about.

Regulation and Productivity

Overregulation Is Making the United States Increasingly Non-Competitive
by John Hospers

People don’t enjoy having their lives regulated, whether they are children  rebelling against parental commands or adults whose actions are subject to  legislation by government. Still, don’t we need regulators with coercive power  such as only government has? What would happen if everyone could, without  penalty, forge checks, violate contracts, dump poisonous wastes into the soil,  and manufacture cars that are accident-prone? The market sometimes regulates  itself, but not always: people will often profit by causing injury and damage to  others.

The problem is that the watchdogs themselves are imperfect. They are  vulnerable to bribery and corruption, and most of all, operate with gross  inefficiency. Moreover, those who are entrusted with positions as watchdogs  often have an inordinate desire to increase their own powers. Regulating others  often gives them more satisfaction than their income does, and they spare no  effort to keep on increasing their own regulatory powers. And often nobody  watches the watchers.

I shall present three examples, deliberately taken from a diverse array of  activities, to illustrate how this problem affects the business community.

1. Environmental Regulation

Not many people set out to make their natural environment dangerous for human  habitation, or desire to render entire species of living things extinct. Laws  are enacted to inhibit those whose actions have this effect. Today, however,  regulations have become so all-encompassing that no business and no landowner  could long survive if all the regulations now on the books were strictly  enforced. For example, there are countless underlings in the Departments of  Interior and Agriculture who are empowered to say to farmers, “That mud puddle  in your back field is hereby declared a wetland,” thus making it no longer  permissible for farmers to cultivate such land although they still continue to  pay taxes on it.

Thousands of letters were sent out in 1993 from the Bureau of Reclamation of  the Department of the Interior, informing the recipients that the Bureau  intended to look for endangered species on their land. What if the landowner  refused to permit such inspection? Then, since the absence of endangered species  could not be confirmed by inspection, uncultivated parcels would be labeled as  habitat for endangered species.

What happens if a piece of land is declared a habitat? Strict controls on use  then come into play. “When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had designated a  habitat-study zone, one family lost $60,000 worth of production a year.”[1] Since the zone is off  limits to crops, a farmer cannot replant there. Moreover, banks no longer will  make loans to buy such properties because they are aware that the buyer will not  be able to use the land for planting crops.

Congress passes a law; the “beef” in the law is the enabling clause which  permits the regulatory agency to make whatever regulations it deems necessary  and proper to implement the law. Those who are subjected to the regulations must  obey every one, however trivial or burdensome, or else receive large fines or  even jail sentences. Usually the act is applied by its enforcers beyond the  scope of what was envisioned when the law was passed. Already every landowner is  subject to the intricately detailed provisions of the Clean Air Act, the Clean  Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National  Environmental Policy Management Act, and so on. They are drowning under a flood  of regulations, from which the only benefit may be to the regulators, keeping  them in well-paid positions at the expense of the taxpayers.

The mission of the national Biological Survey is “to catalog everything that  walks, crawls, swims, or flies around this country.” To do this their agents  must be able to enter every parcel of land in the United States—not every  decade, as with the census, but on a continuous basis. “Landowners fear that the  net effect will be to transfer de facto control of thousands more acres  to the federal government.”[2]

2. Housing Regulations

In past decades, prior to the massive interference of the federal government,  inexpensive housing was far less of a problem than it is today. Cheap rooms  could be had, for a dollar or two a week, with no particular amenities and  perhaps a bathroom down the hall shared by several tenants.[3]  But in most cases American cities these “flop-houses” facilities were torn down: “We can’t have people living like that.” The government tore down the building  and built other ones at much higher cost. Most of those who had previously  occupied these buildings could not afford the new ones.

To limit the cost to tenants, rent control measures were initiated, but of  course such controls only prevented new housing from being built, and massive  shortages developed. Who wants to risk losing money on real estate in New York  City? Landlords who can sell do so at a loss and get out.

But rent control is only the most notorious form of regulation. In most  states it is illegal to refuse to rent a room or apartment to someone because he  or she is a welfare recipient: the ultimate threat of the renter whose every  whim is not satisfied is “I’ll report you to the Welfare Board and then you’ll  never be able to use your buildings for rental again!” It is a pervasive desire  of landlords not to rent to welfare recipients; in general, owners say, they  have little sense of responsibility; they are “all rights and no  responsibilities.” Many tend to be slovenly and messy in their personal habits;  they demand privileges not in the contract; they leave lighted cigarettes where  there are no ashtrays, and leave the flushing of toilets to lesser beings.  Landlords do what they can to avoid renting to them, but if they say “I’m  evicting this person because she has dirty habits” they will be told “No, you’re  trying to evict her because she’s on welfare, and that won’t work.”

New regulations are constantly introduced to make ownership of rental  property more burdensome. Every door (in some states) must be equipped with a  large metal rod on a spring so that it will automatically close in case of fire.  (This costs about $50 per door.) With new regulations being continuously  enacted, the landlord’s margin of profit, already precarious, often disappears  entirely. Moreover, it profits the tenants to break some pipes or destroy some  electrical fixtures because they don’t have to pay rent until these are  repaired.[4]

Meanwhile a new state law (in Minnesota,for example) specifies that if the  owner does not pay his entire property tax in the year it is due, the entire  property can be confiscated the following year. (What happens if the owner has a  bad year? The government confiscates the property, and may operate it at a loss,  payable by taxpayers.)

3. Mining

In a recent Roper public opinion poll, people were asked their opinion of  each industry. Of 222 industries, mining ranked next to last; only tobacco fared  worse.[5] But mining was,  and is, more heavily regulated in the United States than in any other industrial  nation.

Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan decided to build a new copper smelter in  Texas City, Texas. Japanese officials were assured by state and federal  officials that all the relevant permits would be issued in 12 to 18 months. The  first application was submitted in June of 1989. Then came three years of  conflict among environmental groups, permitting agencies, and company  management. Air-and-water discharge permits had to be obtained; the U.S. Army  Corps of Engineers had to issue its own permit; and an assortment of permits  from state, county, and city agencies were also required—more than thirty in  all. The Army Corps of Engineers promised a decision within sixty days, but  waited 21 months.

Exhausted by the attrition, Mitsubishi finally cancelled the project. The new  chairman of the Texas Water Commission said that when his permit came up for  review in four years he would demand zero discharge of waste water—technically a  virtually impossible demand. The air discharge permit from the Texas Air Control  Board would take most of a year; building the plant would take another two  years, and less than a year after that the company would be faced with the  zero-discharge requirement. For these reasons Mitsubishi abandoned the project  in March of 1992. They decided to build the identical copper smelter in Japan,  where all the required permits were obtained in 14 days and the plant was built  in 17 months. The president of Key Metals and Minerals Engineering Corporation,  Dr. Thomas Mackey, wrote, “This action ended a marvelous opportunity for the  U.S. to acquire a minimum-pollution energy-efficient modern copper smelter which  would have been strategically located on the Gulf of Mexico’s coast . . . .”[6]

As a result of this and numerous similar incidents, Japan is ahead of the  United States in the development of mining technology. For many years the United  States was a net exporter of copper. Today the United States has been surpassed  in copper production by Chile. Gradually we are becoming non-competitive.

In 1992 the Congress passed a bill which may seem trivial by itself, but  taken together with a mass of similar ones, is a significant straw in the wind  on the future of mining in America. As a result of the new legislation, whenever  your company buys an electric motor you are now required to buy “the most  efficient” one: 96 percent efficiency is now mandated, whereas the earlier  requirement was 94 percent. So what, one might say, what’s a difference of 2  percent? The catch is that it must be 96 percent-efficient when operating at  full speed. The 96 percent efficient motor is more efficient at full speed,  but it has less starting torque. In fact a conveyor belt could never get  started with the newly required motor. But since the 94 percent efficient  motor is no longer permitted, users must now go from a 96 percent-efficient  motor of 100 horsepower to one of 200 horsepower, just to get the motor  started.

Once the 200-horsepower motor is running, it doesn’t require all that extra  energy it can easily do with 100. But since the 100-horsepower motor that would  do the job is now outlawed, it is necessary to use the 200. The extra energy is  wasted, but no other option exists that is not illegal. By contrast, Japan can  still use the 94 percent-efficient motor. American equipment will be more  inefficient and more expensive, thanks to many laws such as this one.

The new law does not save energy—it requires industry to waste energy. It  does its bit to make the United States non-competitive. It is assisting the  gradual process of de-industrializing America.

Conclusion

Regulation—actually, more suitably called “prohibition”—of limited scope is  necessary to prevent people from harming other people, that is, when one person  or group would otherwise violate the rights of others. But the vast majority of  today’s regulations are not of this kind, but could better be called regulation  for regulation’s sake. It is these that are eroding America’s industrial base  and making the United States increasingly non-competitive in the world  economy.

It was not always so: America today would be unrecognizable to those who  lived here a century ago, thanks to the labor and ingenuity of many thousands of  productive individuals—inventors, manufacturers, merchants, farmers, and  countless others employed by them and associated with them. But in the last half  century an opposing force has gathered momentum, threatening to bring these  productive advances gradually to a halt. The conflict is between those who have created this vast array of goods and services, and those whose aim is  to control the creators. Will the economies of other nations, not as  burdened as ours by harassing regulations, replace the United States as the  economic leaders of tomorrow? At present it is far from clear what the outcome  will be. []

Notes

  1.    Jeff A. Taylor, “Species Argument,” Reason,  January 1994, p. 53.
  2.    lbid., p. 52.
  3.    See William Tucker, The Excluded Americans:  Homeless and Housing Policies, Regnery-Gateway, 1990, Chapter 4.
  4.    Albert Lee, Slum-lord, Arlington House,  1975.
  5.    Engineering and Mining Journal, December  1993, p. 14.
  6.    Ibid., p. 16-B.

 

The Future of American Leadership

by Allen West

Allen-West-Jr-ROTCToday I’m visiting Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Florida to visit  with the Cadets of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) unit.  I  try to visit JROTC units wherever I travel, because truth be told, my purpose  and direction in life started in JROTC back at Henry Grady High School in  Atlanta in 1976.

The importance of this program, along with Young Marines and Navy Sea Cadets  is invaluable to the future of America. Here is where we develop the next  generation of principled, courageous, and patriotic leaders for our nation. Here  is where we hone our young people in the areas of discipline, dedication, and  establish within them a sense of pride and purpose. I was fortunate to get all  of this in the inner city of Atlanta. Sadly, across the nation today, we see  widespread failure and lack of respect for authority. To this day, I still  remember the men who were my JROTC instructors: Lieutenant Colonel Pagonis,  Major Heredia, Master Sergeant Buchanan, and Sergeant First Class McMichael.

Fortunately for me I had both a mom and dad at home, but I also had these  exceptional men, combat veterans from Korea and Vietnam, who kept me on the  right path. They saw something in me as a young teenager I didn’t realize I had  in myself. I believe, I know, that the next generation of great military and  civilian leaders are there in our high schools wearing the respective uniforms  of our nation’s armed services.

It’s critical that we alumni of JROTC go back and be living examples for  these young men and women. Therefore, I challenge everyone out there who was  once a JROTC Cadet to go back to your school and speak to the current group of  Cadets. I implore you to give them a target to aim for, and provide a goal for  which they can strive to achieve. Let these young men and women know the  greatness of America and that they do not and should not have to settle for  anything less. Don’t let these young men and women end up following examples so  prevalent in our culture, which are not so positive.

A Critique of Faith

by Dr. John Hospers

l. Religious faith

I devote the opening section of this essay to a brief summary of Sam Harris’ book

The End of Faith, with some deletions and a few additions of my own.

When I say to you, a trusted friend, “I have faith in you,” I am relying on my past experience of your character and disposition to make a statement about my present attitude toward you. Many professions of faith, however, are not of this kind:  they express a present attitude which has little or no basis in fact.  When we read, for example, that water has been turned into wine, or that a person already dead has come back to life, we have no such basis in our past experience; indeed, what is alleged is something contrary to our experience of how the world works; it is “pure faith´ in the absence of any evidence to sustain the belief.  Many of the ancient Greeks believed that there were numerous gods—Zeus on Mt. Olympus ruling the earth, Poseidon ruling the seas, Pluto ruling the underworld, and so on.  There were many forms of polytheism, as well as various forms of monotheism such as belief in the Old Testament god Yahweh.  There is no empirical evidence that would enable us to determine which of them, if any, is true; belief in them is entirely a matter of faith.   We have only the words in a supposedly sacred text.(We have independent evidence for the existence of Jesus, but not of Noah or Moses or Abraham.)

Not only have we no way to verify any of these beliefs, but there is an added problem: many of them contradict one another, so these beliefs cannot all be true.   Zeus cannot be king of the gods if Zoroaster also is; nor there one and only one god if there are also numerous gods.  If a belief is true, another belief that contradicts it cannot also be true.  Aristotle’s Law of Non-contradiction holds, regardless of the field of discourse in which we are engaged.

Even within the same religious text, there are alleged truths that contradict one another.  The god of the Old Testament is seen and heard:  he talks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.  But God, we are also told, is eternal and invisible.  The infant Jesus was taken into Egypt, but (according to another Gospel) was not taken into Egypt.  God is the author of all things, and thus also of evil, but he is, we are also told, not the author of evil; Satan is.

How can people believe these mutually contradictory statements?  (1) Sometimes, I think, the belief rests on some ambiguity:  it is true if you take it in one sense but not if you take it in another:  Jesus was a man who was born in Bethlehem of Judea and died like the rest of us, but also he was God who existed “from all eternity” and “before the foundation of the world”.  This certainly seems like a contradiction, but some theologians have attempted to work out ways in which it is not.   (2) Most believers, however, fail to notice these discrepancies because they don’t really bother to read the passages in question.

They mouth the lines as part of a religious liturgy, but the repetition of the words has been almost automatic:  they do not think them through or try to connect them with other passages with which they are at odds.

Nor do they try to relate them to their everyday experience, as they do when talking about themselves or what goes on in their familiar world.  They believe, at least they do not doubt, that (perhaps in their own lifetime) Jesus will return to earth “on the clouds of heaven” to bring “the legions of the saved” into eternal paradise with him.  Yet if they were actually to see a robed figure appearing to them out of the sky and swooping  earthward, they would probably be as surprised as anyone else    They do not doubt, either, that the resurrection of Jesus was genuine:  they do not cite, as their preachers do, numerous religious authorities who proclaim to them that Jesus’ resurrection is just as certainly  true as the existence of the church in which they are sitting; they don’t think about these religious authorities, they just believe on faith that somehow after they die they will live again.

What is it that prompts people to entertain such beliefs and continue to hold them throughout a lifetime even in the face of contrary experience?    Some say is “hope, grounded in the promises of Scripture”; others, that it is hope entertained in desperation; others, that it is  “believing something you know darned well isn’t so”.  For the most part, believes Harris, it is the psychological difficulty or inability to face reality, the fact that “this is it” and death ends our mortal existence.  People find life unbearable without belief in a hereafter, particularly when life has not dealt kindly with them and they have nothing to live for in the here and now.    The parents’ six-year-old daughter has just died of a fatal disease and they desperately want to see her again; what buoys them up is the faith that they will one day be with her again.

At this point I could wish that the author had been more explicit about what the content of their belief is supposed to be:  The parents believe they will see their daughter again, be with her, and love her.  For how long?  Presumably forever.   If the parents will not see her until they reach heaven in sixty years, will she still be a small daughter at that time?  That is how the grieving parents imagine it:  they do not imagine her as a grown woman, and certainly not as an old woman some years later (and certainly not as one who in the course of time dies).   It’s their little girl, now—years later they might not feel so strongly about it any more.  Also, would she still look the same as she did here—surely not as she did when ravaged by the disease?  Would she still have those fits of coughing or sneezing as she used to, or that little limp, and the inability to digest certain foods? Or would she have no defects whatever, not even the peculiarities of personality which irritated some people and endeared her to others?   Surely the parents would imagine her as having the characteristics they liked or approved of (not quite the same thing!).  And would she coexist in heaven alongside a younger sister who had not yet been born when this one died?  And what would their relations be with each other: warmth, familiarity, a bit of strangeness perhaps?

One could speculate forever about how such things should be imagined, or exactly what there would be to imagine. (Harris does not venture so far.)  In any case, the grieving parents don’t try to imagine the future situation (happiness with their daughter in heaven) in any specific detail.  It is enough that they see her again (for how long? Forever? Might they not tire of it eventually?) .  Never mind such details as to how such things are possible, or apparent obstacles like the Law of Non-contradiction, which they have never heard of anyway.   Their primary wish is to be happy again, which they find impossible without her.  It would seem that in such a situation one doesn’t adjust one’s feelings to the facts (don’t we all think we should?) but one adjusts the facts to one’s feelings—a Randian recipe for psychological disaster.

2. Faith and morality

The above is a summary and critique of a world-view based on faith, which Harris presents in The End of Faith.  The author, however, also delves somewhat summarily into moral philosophy, or at any rate into moral pronouncements.    What apparently unites these pronouncements is the view, shared by most people at least in the West, that pain and suffering are evil and should be avoided unless such pain and suffering lead to greater happiness or fulfillment.  He repeatedly condemns the Crusades and the Inquisition  as the wanton infliction of suffering.  Also condemned are a large number of Biblical commands and prohibitions:  “What, after all, is the punishment for taking the Lord’s name in vain?  It happens to be death (Leviticus 24:l6).  What is the punishment for working on the Sabbath? Also death (Exodus 3l:l5).  What is the punishment for cursing one’s father and mother? Death again (Exodus 2l:l7).  What is the punishment for adultery?  You’re catching on (Leviticus 20:l0).”  (page 115)

Moreover, the details of such punishment are often spelled out, though modern believers have only a limited visualization of them.  “If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far   away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following.  You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy l3:7-ll)” (page l8)

Most people today, however, do not read such passages, or even know that they exist.  They are somewhat embarrassed if they happen to come across them, but if they are committed to believing that the entire Bible is the Word of God, they dare not openly reject such passages—since they are apparently “stuck with them,” they simply ignore them or “pay them no heed.” But they cannot reject them outright if their eternal salvation depends on acceptance of the entire Bible.

The author does condemn torture and killing in all its forms (including capital punishment), including the Nazi, Soviet, and Chinese communist regimes.  But the main target of his condemnation is none of these, but current Islamo-fascism as manifested especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Fundamentalist Muslims differ from their

Soviet predecessors in at least one important respect:  the Soviets were deterred by the fear of nuclear annihilation.  Today’s Islamo-fascists are not deterred by threats of death: by killing unbelievers, they are promised a blissful hereafter for themselves.

Pacifism, says Harris, is an unwillingness to die, combined with a willingness to let others die at the pleasure of the world’s thugs. Islamo-fascists exhibit, by contrast, a willingness to die, combined with a commitment to making every unbeliever die.

Such is the ultimate result of accepting religious views based solely on faith.

Harris reserves the term “moderate Christians” for   believers in Christianity who don’t take their faith very seriously.  “Moderate Muslims”, however many of them there are, do not take theirs seriously either. The fate of the world in the twenty-first century, he concludes, may hinge on how many moderate Muslims there will be in the coming years.

I must say that I find that conclusion extremely plausible.