Looking back on another biennial election, one of the defining issues that separates and distinguishes the statists—the “left-wingers”—from the traditionalist pro-individual rights advocates—what the left calls “right-wingers” like me (a label I proudly accept as herein defined)—is our radically different concepts of class warfare.
Progressives—those generally running under the label “Democrat”—retain a more or less Marxian paradigm whereby the modern-day version of the proletariat (“the poor”) are being unfairly exploited and victimized by the upper class (“the rich”) and their bourgeois lackeys (“the middle class”), and so the power of the state must redistribute wealth to reduce this allegedly unjust economic inequality.
Many right-wingers happen to think that the left’s obsessive egalitarianism is wacko. First and foremost, while we believe in equal, impartial treatment before the law and (for those of us who are men and women of faith) that all humans are equal in the eyes of God, we maintain that economic equality is profoundly unnatural, unrealistic, and undesirable.
The insuperable problem confronting the egalitarians is that God or nature—take your pick—did not make us equal in talent, skills, ability, industriousness, motivation, endurance, vision, etc., and so the result cannot be similar economic productivity and wealth. Because their prime directive holds that all humans must share in a more equal division of wealth than what results in a state of individual liberty, egalitarians have declared war against nature or God. They believe that the creator of our natural differences made a cosmic error that they must rectify, and many leftists pursue this goal with a fervor aptly characterized as messianic.
I don’t know anybody on the right who thinks that poverty is a good thing. We righties seek to increase opportunities for the poor to make the same climb out of poverty that our own ancestors (sometimes just a generation or two ago) made in the past. We favor educational choice so that poor kids can be liberated from failing schools. We seek to create the right conditions for a vibrant, growing economy with lots of new jobs so that poor Americans can have the satisfaction of achieving success on their own. We don’t obsess about the rich or try to cut them down to size, but recognize that unless they are crooks or political cronies, they have earned their fortunes in the marketplace by creating value and serving others.
The left, by contrast, is divided between genuinely compassionate people who want to lift up the poor and the misanthropic “mean greens” whose ideological abhorrence of affluence arrays them against the poor. Where those leftists who wish to reduce poverty differ from righties is in their approach. Progressives feel they aren’t doing enough for the poor unless they are doing something to the rich. They expend more energy on implementing policies that take from the rich than on those that uplift the poor, and as a consequence, the poor languish behind. Indeed, many on the left seem to prefer to keep the poor dependent on government programs (the cynical practitioners of the Curley strategy).
We on the right—that is, we who do not regard the state as an economic provider or redistributor or caretaker—are part of the dominant American tradition of not believing in class warfare. We view America as the Land of Opportunity and upward mobility where individuals are not trapped in rigid, static social classes, but where freedom makes it possible and, indeed, commonplace for individuals to achieve success and make great economic strides.
Alas, though, as I have written before, there is a class warfare in which righties need to engage. It is the growing division into a governing elite versus the rest of us. Federal employees indeed have become an economic and political aristocracy. If they had earned their superior affluence in the economic marketplace, we would congratulate and commend them for their success. But by enriching themselves through the political process, by which everything they receive is taken, not earned, from those of us in the private sector, their superior economic status is hardly admirable. Getting ahead through the mechanism of the state is the Old World path to prosperity, not the American Way. Combine the government bureaucrats’ higher incomes with their increasingly arbitrary exercise of power (EPA, NLRB, IRS, etc.) over the rest of us (not to mention, their incompetence and clumsiness—e.g., CDC, FDA, TSA, etc.) the feds have become a class, one against which we the people need to push back against before, like Gulliver, it’s too late.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Mark Hendrickson, is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College, where he has taught since 2004. He is also a Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with The Center for Vision & Values, for which he writes regular commentaries. He is a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review, sits on the Council of Scholars of the Commonwealth Foundation, and writes the “No Panaceas” column in the Op/Ed section of Forbes.com. Mark’s published books include: America’s March Toward Communism (1987); The Morality of Capitalism (editor, 1992); Famous But Nameless: Inspiration and Lessons from the Bible’s Anonymous Characters (2011); and God and Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism (with Craig Columbus, 2012). Mark Hendrickson’s Archives at The Moral Liberal.