It is very hard to have an adult discussion about distributive justice when the very notion sends some people’s minds sliding down slippery slopes to Hitler and Stalin (see yesterday on the ad stalinem). A recent exchange illustrates this point. Last month, fellow Chicagoan Harold Pollack wrote a reply to Greg Mankiw’s defense of the 1 percent. Pollack argued for some version of distributive justice. This prompted the following comment from John Goodman, health care policy person:
In some ways this is all very surprising. After all, the 20th century was the century of collectivism. It was the century of communism, socialism, national socialism (fascism) and the welfare state. Each and every one of these isms was devoted to taking from some and giving to others. After all these years and all that misery you would think that someone, somewhere would have perfected an argument for forcible redistribution of income. And yet what we find today at the leftwing blogs is truly pitiful.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. The left is intellectually bankrupt. It has been that way for almost a half century.
Sorry, but this is moronic and just a bit insulting, as Pollack himself notes in a comment on the post:
“In some ways this is all very surprising. After all, the 20th century was the century of collectivism. It was the century of communism, socialism, national socialism (fascism) and the welfare state. Each and every one of these isms was devoted to taking from some and giving to others. After all these years and all that misery you would think that someone, somewhere would have perfected an argument for forcible redistribution of income….”
Having grown up with refuseniks and the children of holocaust survivors victimized by the first three isms you mention, I find this crude paragraph especially insulting. Social democracies and liberal welfare states–whatever faults they may have–should not be likened to to criminal authoritarian regimes. That’s not the way to conduct reasonable political discourse. Harold Pollack
That bolded sentiment is exactly right. Goodman, ever clueless, responds:
Harold makes a point that deserves a thoughtful response.
I do indeed see all the collectivist isms of the 20th century as forming a continuum. Some were more brutal than others in practice of course — a lot more brutal. But ideologically speaking, the differences among them are differences of degree, not of kind.
This is how people in the 20th century also saw things. Roosevelt, Stalin and Hitler all believed they were more ideologically similar to each other than to classical liberalism. In fact for all three, the principal philosophical enemy was liberalism. This is also how Woodrow Wilson and other progressives thought. (See Jonah Goldberg’s lay history of the early 20th century progressives for a very readable summary.)
Also, this is the way they thought in the universities.
It’s a slippery slope, he insists (also, Jonah Goldberg, seriously?). Pollack replies:
My last comment on this unfortunate thread. The distinction between the first three isms and the rest resides in institutions which respect political liberty, the rule of law, checks and balances, and other features of constitutional democracy. The U.S., Sweden, Britain, France, and year-2013 Germany have these institutions, laws, practices, and political norms. Nazi Germany, the USSR, and many other authoritarian regimes of the right and left did not.
That was nice of Pollack to try one more time, but Goodman’s entire approach is a textbook slippery slope to Communism and Hitler. I don’t know if any more refutation is necessary.