Alright, let me add my two cents to the whole liberalism – socialism chasm.
Now, to not get too deep into a definitive vicious circle, I suggest we stick to very simplified statements, such as: socialism is the idea supported by people who demand equal everything for everyone, liberalism is the other idea put forward by people who think it does not make sense to demand equal everything for everyone.
Let us start off from an example by Will Kymlicka, professor of philosophy at Ontario’s Queens university.
When trying to criticize John Rawls’ philosophy of social justice, he… Oh wait. Let’s step back a little. Rawls, John Rawls is an American philosopher, or let’s say, he was an American philosopher that died in 2002, best known for his magnum opus “A Theory of Justice”, published in 1971. While Rawls himself categorized himself as liberal, there’s a fine nuance still. John Locke would be considered liberal, too. Yet, not the same kind of liberal. As with everything in life, definitions never amount to a definite description of what is talked about. However, Kymlicka , even though approving of many liberal standpoints, belongs to a political philosophy niche called Communitarianism.
So, here we are again. Kymlicka criticizing Rawls, a communitarian against a liberal, both very much concerned with the discussion on the theory of justice.
Regardless of how magnus his opus is, Rawls’ argument on justice can be beaten down to an initial point of a very interesting conversation that can detect a lot of fallacies in one’s opinions and even go as far as to concretize extreme examples that usually would be accepted in a normal conversation.
An example such as Kymlicka’s.
So, again. When he was trying to criticize Rawls’ argument on social justice, he put forward an example that was set out to point out a blank in his philosophy, even to discredit it.
Imagine two persons, who have both grown up in similar environments, are equally talented, and at first seem to have an equal amount of money/property. Person A wants to play tennis all day long, so, his motivation to work solely drives from his wish to buy enough land for a tennis court, or for the consequential lifestyle that follows. Person B wants the same amount of property, yet he wants it to cultivate vegetables for private consumption and as well as for sale on.
After a while, person B, the gardener sets out to be richer than the tennis player. So far, so good. According to Rawls’ argument of justice, this difference in income can only be justified when the less advantaged, meaning the tennis player, is granted a specific subsidy by the gardener. So, a difference in income can exist in a Rawlsean world, but in order for it to justly exist, it needs its justification by the redistribution of income.
You might want to know why Rawls finds a redestribution to be mandatory. He is very well aware of the existence of a priori talents and advantageous societal environments (such as from which family one is raised by) that can lead to less equal opportunities, or starting points in general. It is important to note that he does not find their existence to be unjust, he is aware of them in a very neutral manner as he finds them to be “natural facts” of life. But regardless of their “nature” and their unavoidable effect on people’s different opportunities, he finds it possible to turn this unjust starting situation into a situation that can lead to more equal and fair opportunites. Kymlicka however sees his logics as completely fallacious. Then to him, that would mean, the gardener becomes a slave for the subsidized tennis player. He loses his freetime because he chooses to work. The tennis player however does not lose any of his freetime because he chose not to work, yet he does not need to redistribute his income. In plain English that would mean: he does not need to give away his money to the gardener.
It is a very simple, and interesting critique of the Rawlsean philosophy of social justice. It is also one of the very widespread and repeated arguments of self-proclaimed hipster liberals nowadays (with that term I signify all of you slightly politically interested mammals who deeply despise modern forms of slavemanship and admire egoism for the mere reason that it is less complicated to focus on oneself.) You might agree with it until now, but be reserved: there is a fallacy in this critique, and the example falls short of suitability.
The critique cannot be applied to Rawlsean philosophy in any kind of way, as Rawls’ theory is a theory of the institutions and not of the individual. His observations demand for a just social arrangement, an arrangement that consists of political and economical institutions that are responsible for distributing income, chances and so on and so forth. Examples built on self-fantasized stories about individuals hence fall short of suitability.
And now, ask yourself why you agreed to Kymlicka’s argument at first.
You agreed because you find it sensible to reward the industrious, hardworking gardener rather than the hedonistic tennis player. In short: the gardener deserves more money. Kymlicka touches upon the intuition of most people with which people incline to judge whether income is rightly distributed or not: The special effort the gardener put into his work makes the difference in income justifiable and thus, he deserves to be treated more advantageously than the tennis player. But, step outside your usual framework and accept the there is a hidden nuance that makes it difficult to signify with which judgemental mechanism one is evaluating the respective situation with. Do you think the gardener deserves more because his subjective achievement was to undertake a work that just wasn’t fun, or because of his objective achievement to contribute more to society in form of offering more food to more people?
But what would happen if the gardener happened to love what he was doing and the tennis player chose to cultivate vegetables as well (but hate it, of course)? Would you then redistribute money from the gardener who loves doing what he is doing to the hardworking and not so hedonistic tennis player?
Also, you agreeing to Kymlicka implies that you have faith in the market, as it will sufficiently reward the gardener because there will be enough supply and demand to make his enterprise bloom. The market however cannot guarantee for justice, if, let’s say, his potatoes do not find any demand anymore, or there will be other potato suppliers.
So, amidst this theoretical thought experiments, would you say you can safely say who has contributed to society and who has not? Who deserves more money and who does not? Who deserves to be granted a subsidy and who does not? Would you be able to quantify effort and merit? The essential question that is being asked here, is: if you are rich, would you give something back to society, and why or why not?