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Commonplaces

Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.



Envy has been said to be pure evil because it wishes to deprive others even though we gain nothing for ourselves. That is not quite the case. The political action [Christopher] Lasch called for results in redistribution. It may be that academic intellectuals would gain only the satisfaction of seeing the better-off lessened, but there are many classes of people who will receive income that is transferred to them from the wealthy through government. For such folks, the emotion of envy is reinforced by cupidity. . . . Helmut Schoeck states:

Since the end of the Second World War, however, a new "ethic" has, astonishingly, come into being, according to which the envious man is altogether acceptable. Progressively fewer individuals and groups are ashamed of their envy, but instead make out that its existence in their temperaments axiomatically proves the existence of "social injustice," which must be eliminated for their benefit. Suddenly it has become possible to say, without loss of public credibility and trust, "I envy you. Give me what you've got." This public self-justification of envy is something entirely new. In this sense it is possible to speak of the age of envy. [Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, 1979, p. 179]

. . . The desire for equality of incomes or wealth is, of course, but one aspect of a more general desire for equality in such matters as social and cultural status. "The essence of the moral idea of socialism," historian Martin Malia wrote [in The National Interest, Spring 1993], "is that human equality is the supreme value in life." Socialism is thus merely the manifestation in the field of economic organization of a more general yearning that operates across the entire culture.

Robert H. Bork
Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1996, pp. 69f)


Society Commonplaces #18 March/April 2020

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