Inequality and Social Injustice

In a recent post, Norman Geras  correctly takes Heather Stewart to task for regarding communities as the prime arbiters of moral disputes but one could challenge the idea that inequalities of birth are morally objectionable.

If A is born into a family which is loving, educated and wealthy then, yes, A has a fundamental advantage in life compared to B who was born to parents in poverty and without education. But is this really a moral injustice? It’s not a fault which could be laid at the feet of A when he reaches adulthood. He is a responsible free agent, he is free to choose how to conduct his life. Instead to fit the scenario of origins into a moral injustice paradigm, we subscribe to placing the fault at the feet of society. Society is not a free agent but a collection of free agents in relationships (which constitute this and that) who are individually free to choose how they might regard the posed question of social injustice.

To place this ‘moral injustice’ of B’s relative disadvantage at the feet of us all is itself an act of moral violence. We are each then implicitly accused of creating or sustaining a partial notion of injustice and asked to intervene ‘collectively’ though the state, which action is predicated on the fiction that this represents the collective will of society or the collection of free agents in a series of relationships with one another. This also disregards the autonomy of the free agent as a collective solution lacking consent then becomes the tyranny of either a minority over the majority or vice versa.

Is this notion that inequalities of birth are inherently morally objectionable actually an attempt to ennoble resentment at another’s fortune of birth? Are we attempting to use B as an excuse to pull down A to an ‘intermediate’ level and thereby satisfying our own envy of another’s fortune? These are questions which we must pose to cut through the mire of moralising resentments which have afflicted public thought in recent times.


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