Law and Justice
JANUARY 01, 1983 by HANS SENNHOLZ
Dr. Sennholz heads the Department of Economics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He’s a noted writer and lecturer on economic, political and monetary affairs.
Justice is a cardinal virtue that renders to another what rightfully belongs to him. It is the ideal of man, the rule of conduct given to mankind. By necessity of nature man has certain rights, or claims in justice, which are moral and lawful to possess or obtain. These rights are antecedent to and independent of the state, rights which the state must not violate. In fact, the state, or civil society, is instituted to preserve these rights to its subjects, to adjudge rights as between individuals—to render justice. The idea of right and justice is the general basis of the legal and governmental institutions of what is known as Western Civilization.
The Declaration of Independence acknowledged the existence of natural rights in man and the duty of government to protect them: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . . . That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men . . . . That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”
That declaration, while heard around the world, did not uproot those forms of government that make the state the sole and only source of rights. Throughout most parts of the world the source of all rights, laws and justice continued to be the king or sovereign, who derived his authority from God. The rights of the individual were dependent upon royal decree.
Various forms of modern government are built on this very philosophical concept. In totalitarian countries the supreme state denies the value of the individual and his rights except insofar as they may aid or assist the state. To be just is an attribute of the state; to obey to the utmost of his ability is the duty of man.
The representative governments of Western countries have been moving in the same old direction. Many now are defining justice as the freedom of each individual to exercise and enjoy all his rights as long as such exercise does not violate superior or equal rights of others or the common good. No longer is the individual in the possession of inalienable rights to enjoy “as long as he does not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain them.” The state creates “equal” or even “superior” rights or defines “the common good” that takes priority over the rights of the individual.
New Rights for Old
The state creates new rights because the old rights of property are deemed to be deficient in morality and justice. Property rights are said to lead to large accumulations of wealth and “unearned incomes” while many workers are kept from keeping enough of what they produce to meet their basic needs. Property rights, therefore, must give way to the right of all members of society to subsistence, that is, to the goods and services needed to support life.
The reasoning that rejects the property rights and creates superior rights is taken from the intellectual armory of modern socialism. It is based on the exploitation theory, the concentration theory, the class-conflict theory, and other fallacious and oft-refuted notions and doctrines. And yet, their wide acceptance and great popularity have given rise to a new code of morals that bring forth the superior rights.
Men continuously recast their laws, as their notions of justice change. In the long run, laws are affected by changes in moral outlook, and laws in turn have a great influence in shaping or perverting men’s sense of justice. Law and justice thus reaffirm each other in the denial of natural rights that are inalienable.
The massive redistribution system that characterizes all contemporary governments is solidly founded on modern notions of justice, which in turn are reaffirmed by the reality of law. Millions of Americans who have accepted the socialistic reasoning plead for redistribution by force because it is “just.” And many more millions of Americans are accepting the system as “just” be cause it is the law. Altogether they comprise a vast majority eager to use the system to their own benefit.
In fiscal year 1983 the federal government, in the name of justice, is subsidizing approximately 95 million meals per day, or 14 per cent of all meals served in the United States. Through Medicaid and Medicare, it is paying for the medical care of approximately 47 million aged, disabled, and needy Americans. Through Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance it is providing steady cash payments of up to $868 per month to 24.5 million people who are 62 or older. Federal support for the elderly will average $7850 per individual. Through the Food Stamp program it is providing assistance to 18.6 million participants. Through student assistance programs it is making available 6.9 million post-secondary awards and loans to students or their parents. (Executive Office of the President, March 12, 1982, Press Release).
All these beneficiaries are enjoying state-given rights that are superior to the inalienable rights to property. In fact, the former are resting on a denial of the latter, being financed by forced exactions from income and property producers.
Most Americans are embracing the new morality of income redistribution. But many Americans are yet aware in their working code of morals that there are contradictions and discrepancies between the new justice and the old. They usually seek to resolve the conflict of principles by adopting a double yardstick of morality: “Whatever I am receiving from the apparatus of redistribution is ‘social justice’; whatever is paid to others may be unjust.”
Plundering One Another
In the name of “social justice” almost one-half of the American population now are taking income and wealth from the other half. A few may still base their claims on the right to subsistence; the vast majority advance other claims based on law. The elderly who comprise some 11 per cent to 12 per cent of the U.S. population and receive 28 per cent of federal budget outlays, are entitled to the benefits by law. The law is “just” and, therefore, the individual benefits are “just.” After all, they paid taxes in the past which created the legal right to benefits in the present. Young people claim the right to federal and state assistance because they are “needy” in the present and will pay taxes in the future. Both groups, and many others, fully concur on the justice of their claims because the funds are “legal” and “available.”
The temptations of the law have a great influence on perverting man’s sense of justice. Many individuals who are clearly aware of the double-yardstick of morality readily succumb to it as soon as they are tempted by redistribution benefits. The champion of justice in freedom and free enterprise may quietly accept the superior justice of the state as soon as he is legally entitled to Social Security and Medicare benefits. The industrialist who throughout his successful career scorned and scoffed at the new morality may embrace it as soon as he is falling on hard times. They all have been corrupted by the new justice of income redistribution.
There are few men who choose the right with invincible resolution, who resist the greatest temptations from within and without. They do not choose to live after the world’s opinion, but, in the midst of the world, cling to the principles of moral law. The world cannot do without them, but they are very odd and often troublesome to the world.
The new justice proclaimed by the state and anchored in law elevates the state and its political process to the position of omnipotent power and supreme judge. In the end, it denies and seeks to eradicate all inalienable rights while building a totalitarian order. But the justice that surpasses man’s political designs can never be crushed; it springs forth again and again from the evil con sequences of injustice.