There is something very troubling about the radical left end of the political spectrum and many of us sense it. I use the radical left here as an umbrella term which encapsulates the calls for social justice, equity, equality, Marxism and Democratic Socialism. The common factor across these forms is the call for justice, fairness and equality. Behind these seemingly benevolent goals are often sinister motivations. These “virtue-words,” as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called them, are merely a mask for malevolent motivations.
A recent article in Reason Magazine discussed a study published by several psychology professors about the motivations underlying the call for economic redistribution. Among their findings was that “When given two hypothetical policies—lower taxes on the rich resulting in more revenue to help the poor versus higher taxes on the rich but less money for the poor—one in six people preferred the second, more spiteful option. This willingness to hurt the poor to pull down the rich was predicted only by the individual’s proneness to envy.”
Envy is much of what is driving the radical left, although admittedly there is more to it than that. The study found that compassion and self-interest also predicted support for redistribution, but let’s focus on envy for a moment.
Actions usually have both positive and negative motivations; the stance we take on an issue is motivated by something which we are “for” and something which we are “against.” Often, our negative motivations are unknown to us, and therefore they are unconscious. It is frequently the case that negative motivations are more powerful than positive motivations.
The conscious and unconscious mind have a compensatory relationship. When actions are primarily driven by negative motivations and those motivations are unconscious, we consciously rationalize them with benevolent motivations. Rationalizations are explanations we give for our actions when the actual reasons for those actions are unknown to us.
George Orwell, who was himself a socialist, said that most socialists do not care about the poor, they just hate the rich. More to the point, they hate anyone who has more than them; they are driven by envy.
The previously mentioned study had another interesting finding: “A taste for fairness” did not predict support for redistribution. The calls from the radical left for equality, justice and fairness are compensatory rationalizations for their underlying and primary motives of envy, resentment, vengeance and a lust for power. Fairness is merely a mask.
What underlies the call for fairness is a deep resentment of the world structure. Many on the radical left are bitter because life is unfair and they desire vengeance. They envy anyone superior to them in success or ability and they desire power in order to cut those people down.
Suppressed, and therefore unconscious feelings of envy and hatred, compose a psychological state which philosopher Soren Kierkegaard referred to as “ressentiment.” He said, “The ressentiment which is establishing itself is the process of leveling.” By that he means that ressentiment is the drive to cut everyone down to the same level to make everyone equally mediocre.
The radical left views success, hierarchies and relationships between people as being characterized solely by arbitrary power, privilege and discrimination. This is not the case. Intelligence and trait conscientiousness are two of the best predictors of success in life; this would not be the case if success were due to arbitrary power. The view of the radical left is a rationalization they produce for their feelings of envy and hatred towards anyone more successful than they are.
This hatred of superiority results from deep feelings of personal inferiority. To rationalize this hatred, success is viewed as arbitrary and unjust. The degree to which someone feels themselves to be inferior is the degree to which they desire power over others.
If success and superiority are unjust and arbitrary, then redistribution is justified. If you are one of the people who is enlightened enough to see that hierarchies are arbitrary, then you should take charge of the redistribution. The power that then results from taking charge of the leveling process is viewed as justified. Put differently, if all relations come down to arbitrary power then it is justifiable to take power for oneself.
So, not only is success seen as arbitrary and unjust in order to rationalize the underlying hatred of it, but also to rationalize the desire for the acquisition of power for oneself.
A basic component of freedom is equal treatment under the law. If the law treats everyone equally, then unequal outcomes between people will result. To achieve social justice, or equality of group outcomes, people must be treated unequally and therefore unjustly.
Here is another way of thinking about it: The radical left views inequality as unnatural and unjust. But that is not the case. Humans are naturally unequal in faculties and abilities. Because of that, where there is freedom, there will be unequal outcomes between people. In order to level everyone and achieve equality between people, there cannot be any freedom. So, as philosopher Roger Scruton points out, the leaders of the radical left, who supposedly want to “liberate” people from oppression, would have to become the greatest oppressors in order to keep people equal. They would have to become omnipotent tyrants. And maybe that is precisely what they desire.
Nietzsche said: “Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for ‘equality’: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtuewords!” Of course, this is not always the case; some people on the far-left are genuinely motivated by compassion. However, the mob is taking advantage of the naivete and gullibility of the compassionate. I think we would all be wise to take Nietzsche’s advice to “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”
Sam Dugan is a fourth-year student majoring in economics with a minor in philosophy. He can be reached at SD829860@wcupa.edu.