Nathan Sass

The Left’s “Fairness” vs. the Right’s “Justice”

In 2012 Elections, Barack Obama, Economics, Politics, Tax Policy, Taxes on February 7, 2012 at 6:00 AM

The left loves to throw the word “fair” around a lot.  The President uses the word “fair” as often as he says “let me be clear”.

So……let me be clear (sarcasm intended), fairness and justice are NOT the same thing.  Furthermore, we are a nation founded on the concept of justice, not fairness.   Fairness has nothing to do with our system of government, and should not be a criterion for our laws or policies.

Before you freak out, allow me to explain further.

Fairness is a largely subjective concept.  Every person determines what is fair in their own mind, based on personal circumstances.  For example, people who are not “rich” believe it is absolutely fair that the top 10% of earners pay 80% or more of the income taxes in the US.  The top 10% would disagree vehemently.

Justice on the other hand is objective, not subjective.  Justice exists outside any personal biases or circumstances.  It is totally impartial and unaltered by your personal views on any subject.

This difference is why we have “criminal justice system” and a Department of Justice and not a “criminal fairness system” and a Department of Fairness.

The left has used “fairness” to justify almost every single policy they support for decades.  According to them, everything from progressive taxation to affirmative action is justified because it is “fair”.

Of course this “fairness” like all others is subjective.  The group who receives preferential treatment believes it to be fair, while the group who does not sees it as a huge wrong committed against them personally.

This use of “fairness” by the left inevitably results in deep divisions among the voters and much social discord.  Those on receiving end of the “fairness” of the left are supremely happy while those on the other end of the “fairness” are outraged.

Policies that are rooted in “fairness” on everything from taxation to spending to social policy will ultimately divide the population into two distinct groups that necessarily see the other side as immoral, evil and a direct threat to them.

Any argument against these policies is then refuted with a simple pronouncement from the left that the right is unfair and therefore hateful, mean, racist, bigoted, etc. only because they oppose what is determined by the left to be “fair”.

The left therefore paints any opposition as the very source of evil on Earth.  This ultimately results in things like Occupy Wall Street and the Wisconsin Recallistas; groups of people who truly believe that those that they oppose are evil and possibly sub-human.

Sadly, the right has largely allowed this premise to continue unchallenged and has never developed the political will to attack it.  This failure has allowed the left to frame the debate in a manner that provides them the perceived moral high ground of “fairness”, further dividing the populace.

Contrary to the left, the policies of the right are (or should be) rooted in justice.

Conservatives advocate a merit-based society where personal achievement is rewarded regardless of who or what that person is.  We generally advocate policies that do not favor one group over another, or benefit one group at the expense of others.  We seek to have policies that rely on justice, not fairness.

The right, however, will never have the moral high ground in an argument over “fairness”, because the left has staked out that position and advocates policies that benefit large enough groups of the population to make it appear to be the majority.

Unfortunately, in the last 15 years too many conservatives have fallen into the trap of operating on the premise of fairness, and have advocated policies that are “fair” for groups on our side.

It has become an “anything you can do, I can do better” mess of fairness everywhere and justice nowhere.  Corporate tax breaks are just one of many examples of the “fairness” of the left being repurposed by the right, and it is just as wrong when we do it.

Solely from a strategic standpoint, fighting the left on their battlefield is an exceedingly poor plan.  The right must refuse the bait to argue over “fairness” and advocate instead for justice, even when that means removing things that give preferences to our supporters.

If the right and the GOP refuse to argue on “fairness” and instead insist on arguing for “justice”, we will regain the moral high ground.  Every American has it deep within their souls to want justice.  It is an ideal that is encoded in the Constitution itself.  The 14th Amendment actually specifically calls it out and guarantees it to every American.

Policies that are based in justice can and will be winners for the GOP and the right, provided that we are very clear that our desire is not to be fair, but just.  The GOP and conservatives must regain our credibility by first calling for the removal of all of our side’s “fairness” based policies.  Only then can we legitimately demonstrate that we seek to promote justice for all everywhere, and will fight every effort to deny justice to anyone for any reason.

Then we will be able to advocate for larger policy changes that have their foundation in objective justice tempered with mercy, not subjective fairness lacking any justice.

A flat tax is a tax system based on justice, not fairness.  It has so far failed to be popular only because we have allowed “fairness” to be the measure, not justice.

Affirmative action is not a just policy.  It is unjust to discriminate against, or give preferences to, any specific group over others.  As advocates for justice, we must fight both with equal vigor.

Right to work legislation is just, and closed shops are unjust.  Justice demands that every person must be allowed the right to join, or not to join, a union of their own free will.

Massive deficits are perhaps the largest injustice.  We are literally stealing from generations yet to even be born to satisfy our desires today.  Aside from the scale we are doing it, it is no different from a parent stealing their infant child’s identity to run up debts and never pay them.

Requiring a balanced budget is the only just policy where spending is concerned.  We must call for it as a call for justice for our children.

Until conservatives, and more importantly the GOP, reclaim the moral high ground and advocate for justice in ALL our policies, we will continue to fight an uphill battle.  As Sun Tzu said, “The MORAL LAW causes the people to be in complete accord with their leaders, so that they will follow them regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”

Defeating the left and their ideas is not impossible, and in fact when done under the auspices of justice, it becomes far easier than one would believe.

Justice is at the core of the American experience, and policies centered on impartial and universal justice are intrinsically American.

Conservatives and the GOP must become the loudest, most aggressive and fearless advocates for justice since the founders themselves if this nation is to continue to be Ronald Reagan’s shining city on a hill.

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  1. I agree that fairness is subjective (i.e. statements like “the rich should pay their fair share” are entirely subjective and thus meaningless). However, there is a subjective element to justice as well. People can and do disagree on such things as how much punishment for a crime is necessary to achieve justice (e.g. capital punishment vs. life imprisonment for major crimes like murder).

    The insight you’re hinting at here is that, when it comes to things like justice, the left and the right have different goals and definitions of what constitutes justice and fairness. A great book on this issue (defining justice) as well as similar conflicts in definitions (e.g. “equality”) between the left and right is Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions”. I highly recommend it.

    • In your argument, you are using the term “justice” in the courtroom sense, and in that case you are correct.

      However, I am using justice in the classical sense, meaning universal and equal application of rules or laws with preference for none.

      In this sense, justice cannot be subjective.

      For example, flat tax of 10% with no allowances or deductions is “just” in that it taxes all incomes identically.

      Even applications of allowances and deductions can be done in a just manner, by allowing them for all incomes equally. For example, a flat tax rate of 3.5% for any income below the FICA limits, and 10% for all income thereafter for all earners will result in a “just” tax system that applies to all persons equally at any income level, including Social Security and Medicare taxes.

      When using the term “justice” to mean a universal and equal application of laws or policies in all cases, you necessarily eliminate any possibility for subjective applications. And when you do that, you remove any possibility for abuse of the law to favor one group over another. Unjust application of the law is the root of corruption, and only just applications of law can eliminate it.

      • I agree with your definition of justice, but my point is that the left does not use this definition of justice. When I say justice has a subjective element to it, I do not mean to imply that justice itself may be subjective — but one’s definition of what exactly justice IS can be subjective. Plato wrote an entire book trying to define justice, and to this day the left and right do not agree on a single definition of justice.

        The left defines justice more along the lines of equality of outcomes rather than equality of the process of applying rules and laws. The left considers it just to intentionally apply rules and laws unequally (which, of course, requires subjective application!) in order to force “equal” outcomes that correct for the “injustices” of the “system” (hence the use of concepts like “social justice”).

        Your example of a flat tax is a good example of justice in the conservative sense since it applies taxes equally as a proportion of income. But this is unpalatable to leftists because it does not result in equal outcomes of disposable income — hence the left’s desire for “progressive” tax rates to more or less equalize disposable income.

        I can’t do justice (pun intended) to Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions” in these short posts, but I’ve tried to explain briefly how the left and right disagree on the definition of justice. I really recommend reading it!

  2. I believe the Left’s definition of justice to be flawed. In the human experience, a guarantee of equal outcomes always leads to reduced productivity and innovation. Productivity and innovation should be rewarded, because the society as a whole will be enriched, both economically and culturally. Humans work for rewards. The greater the rewards, the more intense and fruitful the efforts in the long run. Sadly, the left’s concept of justice is born of nothing more than envy. They would rather punish the most productive so that they (the Left) don’t fall too far behind on the economic ladder. The unfortunate corollary to this is that the Left will employ the police power of the state to rob the most productive to purchase the satisfaction of the least productive. Eventually this leads to despotism, which culminates in anarchy and revolution. Either that, or you simply run out of other people’s money and you have the current economic “revolution” that has overtaken the former Soviet Union. Everyone is worse off in either case… except, of course, for the new entrepreneurs, who achieve just results by being more effective capitalists than anyone else. This involves lots of hard work, which is justly compensated by the marketplace. So, the Left’s definition is hopelessly flawed. It simply attempts to deny human nature… which is undeniable. History is filled with evidence of this. So is the daily news if you can find unbiased reporting of “just the facts.”

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