The question of justice has long been debated. Its subjectivity sparks heated arguments for rigid, philosophical constructionists and social egalitarians alike. After reading a post by Caleb Crain, with The New Yorker, entitled “The Case Against Democracy,” I started to question the morality of fairness. The premise behind the author’s provocative title is the dangerous apathy of the average American voter. The writer opens with,
“Roughly a third of American voters think that the Marxist slogan: ‘From each according to his ability to each according to his need’ appears in the Constitution.”
This is appalling, as it attests to our extreme ignorance. He continues to denote Plato’s fear of democracy. It should be no surprise the revered Greek philosopher detested democracy since, after all, it killed his mentor—the famed Socrates. And also, the writer quotes President James Madison, who feared a “tyranny of the majority,”
“There are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some regular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.”
(For instance, in recent memory, Brexit.)
Crain continues to ponder the possibility of a more “epistocratic” form of government. This is a newly coined term meaning, “government by the knowledgeable.” This idea hints toward Socrates’s radical proposition: categorize the populace into three distinct classes according to their abilities and train them up under the leadership of the philosopher king(s). Obviously, it’s a little more complex than that, but it is virtually regarded as impossible and purely theoretical since it could never be implemented. I digress.
I began to question fairness as it pertains to justice since, as the writer suggests, discriminating against voters for their race, socioeconomic status, or literacy is immoral. However, the state of the voting pool is abysmal. So, how do we get around this?
First, justice is different than fairness. Justice is the legitimate, legal, authorized action the government may take to ensure the protection of the people. I do not mean retribution. Retribution is the fancy word for vengeance. Though we glorify vigilantes in movies and action flicks, this is not a reality we could possibly endure with a clean conscience. In other words, retribution = vengeance. Vigilantes use vengeance. Vigilantism is illegal. Therefore, retribution is, or should be, illegal .
(Side note: This is why torture is illegal. But this can be explained in a following post.)
However, fairness is the egalitarian, humanitarian notion that, like justice, there is a right and wrong, but it assumes all persons are rational. And we know that’s not true. Not only because much of the correctional facilities are filled with mentally ill persons but because we (i.e. the United States and allies) are at war with, for example, a severely stunted, barbaric, pre-medieval ideology—militant Islamic extremism. One cannot possibly—rationally—flip a coin to decide whether one ideology (e.g. kill everybody that draws a cartoon of the Prophet) has the same validity as another that attempts to rationalize and think logically to find a suitable governmental institution that would benefit the people, much less compare the two. Moreover, this is why deterrence doesn’t work since it assumes all persons are rational. With an irrational populace, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, it is impossible to even propose an all-encompassing solution to curb crime and corruption and satisfy all involved. In other words, fairness cannot exist, nor should it. Let me explain.
Fairness and justice, though different, can overlap. Both infer impartiality and honesty as good things. However the subjectivity of justice and the, as aforementioned, irrationality of humankind makes it virtually impossible to form an egalitarian society. Equality sounds great. But at what cost must one become equal? Though all persons are indeed persons, we all differ in talent and ability. This is the complementarian approach. Matthew Henry says it best,
“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Obviously, this presupposes Christianity, but its application is universal. If we were all the same, there would be no diversity. And without diversity, there wouldn’t be anything new to learn. We would all believe, think, and do the same things. This is boring.
Furthermore, again from the Christian perspective, if life were fair, redemption would be unattainable.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9 ESV).
It is by grace we don’t get what we deserve. We deserve wrath and judgment (1 Thess. 1:10). Justice was still carried out through the death and resurrection of Christ, but this unfair, redemptive forgiveness transcends above any man’s ability to strive after holiness. This is why we can love “because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
Back to the original premise, if fairness doesn’t exist, then it’s okay for epistocrats, plutocrats, and/or oligarchs to rule over the people as philosopher kings, disregarding the Constitution, right? Not so fast. Quoting Winston Churchill, Crain writes,
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In other words, this is probably as good as it’s going to get. The United States is the longest living democracy. We aren’t perfect, but there is still room for improvement. That is how we solve the ignorance epidemic: we collaborate, deliberate, compromise (not our conscience), and spar intellectually until good ideas take formation.
This is why, alluding to President James Madison’s prior quote, the voting process is cumbersome. Moreover, direct democracy, in my opinion, would be a disaster. This is why we have Representatives and Senators and the Electoral College. These aren’t meant to impede the democratic process but to ensure an equal, not necessarily fair, vote.
I will end with Benjamin Franklin’s closing speech, addressing the delegates assembled to draft the Constitution after four months of deliberation in the summer of 1787:
“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others…
I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views…
I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution…”