There is little of value in this essay, although a few useful points can be distilled from it.

First, some communitarians hold that “people are by their very nature parts of a larger whole — society, tribe, humanity, the ethnic group or the community — and so belong to a group the members of which are owed loyalty and solidarity from them.” (68) But as adults, we choose our associates. We are not perpetually beholden to any particular community. The nature of man as a social creature manifests itself in his decisions which specific relationships and friendships to cultivate and which to neglect.

Second, there is the familiar argument that “that one does not deserve one’s assets does not mean that others may take them away. One does not deserve a lot of things that others have no authority to take from one — say, an extra kidney, a good second eye, one’s labor and talents, etc.” (70) However, Machan does not discuss merit or desert in any detail.

Third, under laissez-faire capitalism, rich people earn their fortunes mostly by faithfully serving the consumers and improving the living standards of the masses. “Unlike… many… who have earned and kept earning their wealth through innovation, wheeling and dealing, or other honest means, the bulk of the rich in the past gained it mainly by way of conquest and subjugation. … Getting wealthy honestly is, then, relatively new. It may take a while before we will all consider it as clean and treat poverty as filthy — since very few of the poor will have any excuse for being poor any longer.” (71-2)

Fourth, Robert Nozick had a theory of why intellectuals opposed capitalism:

Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus. …

Schools became the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better. …

To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them?

Machan proposes a slightly different explanation: general demands for equality are a childhood atavism: “children grow up being treated rather fairly by parents, who owe all of them (in the family) decent treatment. … parents have basically promised their kids to treat them equally well, provided they have the wealth to do so. … Yet having grown up with the justified expectation, based on the promise, of equally good treatment or fairness from parents and teachers, it makes some psychological sense that this expectation be extended to governments… Yet… the government is not a parent…” (69)

I think we need to grow up.

1 Comment

Wiley Rozgonyi · November 1, 2017 at 3:16 pm

If you like small government you need to work hard at having a strong national defense that is not so militant. Personal liberty is the purpose of government, to protect liberty – not to run your personal life, not to run the economy, and not to pretend that we can tell the world how they ought to live.

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