Trying to Making Rawls Work

They lost community and cleaned up the mess with mass incerceration. If the late 20th century proved anything, it was that the decline in community and character led to social decay. This decay was not, as Pat Buchannan or Ronald Reagan would put it, the fault of the New Left and the hippies. At least, in what the New Left and the hippies were trying to do which was not Rawlsian liberalism. Jane Jacobs, who is much more than Martha Nausbaum the antithesis of John Rawls, was a bleeding heart leftist who literally became Canadian to protest the Vietnam War.

The 1960s, of course, was most remembered for its leftist radicals but peace and love never became terribly popular as political causes and most people in that decade didn’t want those things. The commune people, the organic people, and the active socialists are the leftists I would align the most with and were the ones most inclined to Jane Jacobs and who had a thick morality. The ones with moral conviction and the courage to sacrifice on its behalf. The cultural hippies who joined to be themselves without compassion for the Vietnamese, the veterans, the Black, the environment, and the rest are the hippies who won the 1960s more than anyone else. The cultural hippies.

The political hippies who marched with the Civil Rights protesters and chained themselves to trees expected an Aristotelian sense of civicism of their fellow ctiizens the cultural hippies did not. The SDS and the SNCC required moral courage and the willingness to sacrifice for the causes of righteousness, tye-dye shirts and classic rock did not. The New Left had among its ranks, arguably, the most moralistic people of the century putting Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell to shame.

The New Left had some major figures of the Christian Left, Rudi Dutschke, the Abbie Hoffman of Europe, was a devoted Christian. He openly forgave the man who attempted an assassination on him and not just in a statement but engaged in a written correspondence with him. It is a selfless and radical love that makes me metaphoricaly orgasm and want to emulate him. A man who tried to end poverty, end war, end dictatorships, and in the name of a radically loving Christian socialism.

Of course, the New Left were less derided as the premature utopians with noble but quixotic goals that they were and more irresponsible, vagrants, without morals which may have described some of the cultural hippies who joined the hippies for free food and fewer hygene standards but the average SDSer or SNCCer believed in personal honor, virtue, sacrifice, and responsibility way, way, more than the average person. Plenty of them would have given themselves up to the wheel, the rack, the gallows, or the stake to save a neighborhood from poverty. Perhaps quixotic and prematurely utopian, they were as noble as any Eagle Scout.

The public reacted to them for many of the same reasons they reacted with such hostility to the malasie speech by Jimmy Carter. The political, not the cultural, side of the New Left expected civicism and sacrifice for their neighbors. The public enjoyed the freedom and rights of the cultural revolutions and hated any responsibility so they became Rawlsians. Rawls is the perfect philosopher for people who reacted badly to Jimmy Carter’s exhortation to sacrifice for the greater good since Rawls was against any significant civicism or responsibility to do anything except respect the negative liberties of fellow citizens.

The liberation from the erstwhile constraints of the old order required that humans were evolved enough to be endowed with the responsibility of freedom. If the paternalism of social mores were to be dismantled then adults had to be decent with one another. The last decades of that century proved that adults needed the paternalism of community because they were not willing to form an Aristotelian fraternity of the polis as the political New Left would have them do. Unwilling to sacrifice, first, and second, too ignorant of the abstract sociological forces their response to urban decay and the social collapse was to heave police and prisons on it. Really, that was the only way to make Rawls work.

They heaved way more than they would have needed to had they enacted gun laws, had single-payer health care, free universities and tech colleges, and had made the middle class lifestyle easier to stay in through being pro-union. In addition to having no community or personal honor system, they increased the poverty rate but so long as they had the police and incarceration they could suppress the only thing that mattered to them, acute; personal, safety with the cheapest social program: the punitive coercive force of the state. As said in earlier articles, if you happen to be a wealthy sociopath, the police are a cheaper solution to crime than poverty reduction.

The rising crime rate in Sweden and the rise in right-wing populism in countries with more socialism does verify that social democracy does reduce social problems but not overwhelmingly (other factors such as not having assault rifles everywhere does, kind of, make it overwhelming so that adjective is controlling for some variables) and combining social democracy with community, honor, and well-designed community solves them so much that Norway might have no prisons if it adopted those policies. We could realistically abolish the prison system if we combined social democracy with that Jane Jacobs-y community and thick good stuff.

In summation, Rawls could only work if artifically supported by massive inorganic policies involving a huge bureaucracy. In America, we use more stick than carrot and in social democracies, they use more carrot than stick. The latter is vastly superior. Still, both are inorganic and we should try to combine the carrots of the institutions and the state with organic community and cultural solutions to make a healthy post-Rawlsian society.

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