Silly Quote of the Day

[L]eft- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical....[T]he goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.

People do not like injustice. The knowledge that injustice is being done to others offends their sense of morality; the knowledge that injustice is being done to them makes them angry and resentful. Both these emotions contribute to a desire to use the political system in order to counter injustice. So it is very helpful for the right wing to achieve its goal if the existence of injustice, and the unjust effects of the policies it endorses, can be concealed.

Providing this concealment is the role of right-wing political writers. Thus, a priori, given that injustice exists and that right-wing policies are unjust, you might expect the ample use of lies, misdirection, and sophistry from these guys.

By contrast, the role of left-wing political writers is to cause people to believe that there is injustice, and that right-wing policies make it worse. Given, once again, that both these points are true, all that left wing political writers need to do is report the truth.

Of course, both these arguments rely on the empirical claims that there is injustice, and that right-wing policies make it worse. There's plenty of evidence that this is so, of course.

- Benjamin Hellie, approvingly cited by Brian Leiter

I generally enjoy reading Brian Leiter, even though he is pretty far to the left. Even when he posts something with which I disagree, which is true most of the time, I can still respect his writing ability and intellect. But this quote, which "strikes [him] as exactly right," is just silly. What is the intended message Benjamin Hellie is trying to convey? Of course the left believes it's own ideology is just and the ideology of the right is unjust, in the same way the right believes the reverse. That is why people often disagree so vehemently in politics, in a way that people do not disagree in other venues.

But where is the argument here? Simply stating "me good, you bad" isn't very interesting, nor does it have any chance of changing anyone else's mind, nor does it even do much to make those who already agree with Benjamin Hellie any more confident in their position. It is the literary equivalent of a caveman grunt, and I can't understand why someone like Brian Leiter would find such a silly comment at all worth quoting, or why someone like Benjamin Hellie (who I am not familiar with, but is presumably smart enough to be a professional philosopher) would find it at all worth writing. I've heard more intelligent political commentary from Rush Limbaugh.

Share this

Interesting to note the

Interesting to note the (hardly subtle) shift of the argument between its inception and close.
Specifically, Hellie begins with a claim about the goal of the right wing. He ends with claims of empirical support for the effect of right-wing agendas. A kinder and gentler person might suggest that this is merely a case of a 'suppressed premise' to the effect that the repeated effects of an agenda are the intended effects of the agenda. But since this is hardly a premise, being rather more of a manifesto in need of substantial elaboration and, more, justification, one suspects that that something else is at work here.
Regardless, the claim that one could distinguish right-wing from left-wing agenda results is both disturbing, and empirically laughable.

Shirley Knott

Neither Hellie nor Leiter

Neither Hellie nor Leiter are making arguments, they are witnessing their faith. When ideas degenerate into ideology and dogma, when belief displaces knowledge, believers feel compelled to testify to their beliefs. It alerts everyone that they are no longer capable of reasoned discussion and are immune to contrary information.

People like Hellie generally

People like Hellie generally define "left" and "right" in idiosyncratic ways, to suit their own agendas. The "right wing" like the left, is a catch-all, and includes a wide spectrum of movements with very differing degrees of libertarianism vs. authoritarianism, populism vs. elitism, etc.

I find the kinds of left-wingers and right-wingers I like get along pretty well together. If you go to a meeting about homeschooling, organic gardening, alternative energy, etc., you'll generally find them split right down the middle between fundamentalist Christians and back-to-the-land hippies.

You'll probably find a similar affinity between neoconservatives and New Republic/DLC liberals--the right and left wings, respectively, of the corporate center.

The fuss here is with the

The fuss here is with the use of the word "justice" which is of course the subject of wide dispute. Hellie has since claimed that he meant "interests" which actually makes his argument, though not valid, much stronger.

It is not correct to say that that arguments over interests are so value-laden that they cannot be debated. It would clearly be in the interests of the poorest 20% in the US, if the top 10% had some of their money redistributed down to them. Taken like this, Hellie's point is that the right has a vested interest in keeping the poor under the impression that their lot is not as bad as it really is. On this level the argument works.

jdsm, I agree that interests


I agree that interests can and should be debated, but that would require an economic argument about social welfare and costs and benefits of various policies. Hellie did not present any such argument, but simply assumed that left-wing policies further the interests of the majority, while right-wing policies do not. This assumption is not tenable without extensive justification.

And I disagree with your claim that it would clearly be in the interests of the lowest quartile to redistribute wealth. This ignores the costs of redistribution, the role of income mobility, and the libertarian claim of justice.

Micha, I accept your first


I accept your first point. If hellie wants to argue about interests he should give an argument. On the second point I disagree but the costs of redistribution, role of income mobility and libertarian claim of justice all require threads of their own so I won't get into it. If you live in Finland, as I do, it "seems" clear but of course that's not to say it is. It's even plausible to argue that it's clear in Finland but not the US but anyway...