At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

According to his profile, Darren Hutchinson is a professor of “Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, Law and Social Change, and Equal Protection Theory” at the University of Florida.  At his blog, Dissenting Justice, Hutchinson takes yours truly to task for a recent article of mine in which I contend that the enterprise of rectifying “income inequalities” is antithetical to individual liberty, for the former demands an intrusive, activist, all meddling government—i.e. a government as diametrically opposed as any to that delineated by the U.S. Constitution.

The title of Hutchinson’s post is essentially self-explanatory vis-à-vis his position: “Town Hall Author Jack Kerwick is WRONG: States Also Help to Combat Income Inequality.” Hutchinson thinks that since the individual states have been busy at work implementing one redistributive scheme after the other, he has disproven my thesis. 

In fact, he has only reinforced it.

Hutchinson notes in boldfaced print that “the national government often partners with states and local governments to ameliorate the conditions of income inequality and to subsidize poor households” (emphasis added).

It is telling that Hutchinson—a professor, mine you, of Constitutional law—refers to the “national” government, for the men who ratified the Constitution did so precisely to insure that America would not have a national government, but a federal one. The latter, constrained as it is by numerous “checks and balances”—including and especially that of the sovereignty of the states that gave birth to it—cannot address income inequalities without transforming itself into something—a national government—that would’ve been as unrecognizable as dreadful to the Framers. 

Hutchinson also disingenuously refers to a “partnership” between “the national government” and the states designed to “combat” inequality.  First of all, there is no such partnership.  Over quite a stretch of time now, the national government has been laboring tirelessly to subvert the Constitutional design by usurping the sovereignty of the states. Courtesy of just the sort of redistributive projects that Hutchinson and his ilk encourage, it has been remarkably successful: the “federal” government is supreme.

Thus, the national government no more “partners” with its tributaries, the states, than it “invests” in “public” enterprises.  It bribes and coerces the states to do its bidding.

But let’s just say that this isn’t so.  Hutchinson nevertheless acknowledges that, whether with or without the states, it is indeed the national government that is working away to rectify inequalities.

Hutchinson’s response to my position not only goes no distance toward undermining it. It strengthens it.

Yet Hutchinson’s post still supplies much food for thought. Like other leftists, he equates income inequality with income inequity.  It needs to be noted that this is a classic instance of question-begging or circular reasoning, for whether differences in income are inequities is exactly what needs to be determined.  By equating the two from the outset, Hutchinson cooks his position, for he assumes as a premise that which needs to be proven.

But the problem with redistributionist reasoning runs even deeper than this. The whole outlook can even be said to be rooted in a fallacy, what logicians call the argument ad populum: an (emotional) appeal to the masses. 

It isn’t just that inequalities aren’t necessarily inequities.  “Inequalities” in income aren’t even necessarily inequalities; they are differences. There is, though, a good reason why the Hutchinsons of the world wouldn’t think to trade in the word “inequality” for “difference” when advocating on behalf of redistribution.

“Equality” is a moral ideal with a storied history stretching back centuries in Western culture. In America specifically, equality has figured to no slight extent in informing our collective moral imagination—even if equality has by and large referred to equality before God and/or equality under the law.  

Socialists know all of this, but so as to invest the raison d’ entre of their ideology with moral legitimacy, they resolved to exploit the concept of equality for all that they could bleed from it.  Hence, differences in income—regardless of how these differences came about—are transformed into “inequalities.”  

Differences, you see, are what we expect to witness in an open and free society.  Of differences, the Hutchinsons of the world are indefatigably telling us, we are supposed to be, not just “tolerant,” but enthusiastic.  Differences are supposed to be celebrated.

This is another reason why socialists never want to call income differences for what they are.    

The champions of redistribution must resort to rhetoric and logical fallacies to defend their ideology, for they realize that the only argument that can be given for it, if stated openly, would promise to offend the sensibilities of ordinary folks. 

As John Rawls, perhaps the most influential political philosopher of the last half of the 20th century, once put it, no one is entitled to gain or lose “from his luck in the natural lottery of talent and ability, or from his initial place in society, without giving (or receiving) compensating advantages in return.” Since we deserve neither our natural talents nor the opportunities we’ve had to develop and showcase those talents, no one deserves to keep the fruits of their labors—unless compensation is made by “those who have been favored by nature” for those with whom it has just as undeservedly burdened with “arbitrary handicaps [.]”

What this means is that people’s natural talents and challenges are to be treated as “common assets.” And common assets are to be controlled by the government. 

When Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren infamously said to entrepreneurs about their businesses that “you didn’t build that,” they weren’t misspeaking.  A person’s talents and opportunities are not to be treated as his; they are common assets to be used for the common good. 

Only on such an assumption, an assumption from which the lover of liberty must recoil in horror, can income “inequalities” be judged “the defining issue of our time,” as Obama described it.    





In his speech for the Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, marked for New Year’s Day, Time’s most recently elected “Person of the Year” decried the “widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs.” Pope Francis, it is obvious, is hammering the same theme that he sounded a few weeks ago when he called upon the world to reject “trickle-down economics,” “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” for “such an economy,” he informed us, “kills.”  

The left is thrilled by this Pope’s remarks.  As a traditional, practicing Roman Catholic Christian and lover of liberty, I decidedly am not. 

While Pope Francis is correct to admonish us to condemn murderous economies, what he is describing doesn’t exist.  Furthermore, we must grasp that he articulates not the cardinal tenet of Christian charity, but an ideology of welfare-state socialism.     

Contrary to what many a contemporary cleric would have us think, Jesus never once—never ever—spoke about the need for His disciples to “narrow the gap” in “income” and “wealth” between “the rich” and “the poor.” He never once deplored “inequality,” for He came not in the service of an ideology of Equality, but in the service of saving humanity from its sins.  The only “economy” in which Jesus ever expressed an interest is the economy of salvation. 

Of course, this does not mean that Christians should be indifferent to the world’s affairs generally, and “economies” that “kill” in particular. What it most certainly does mean is that if it is the latter that our discipleship calls upon us to resist, then it is on just those economies, those “systems,” that we must set our sights.

And “the free market” ain’t one of them.

At a minimum, within “capitalist” orders, standards of living for all have risen to an extent that even the nobility of earlier times never could have imagined.  The poor has nowhere been better served than in such societies. At the same time, it is economies of the kind on behalf of which the Pope advocates—particularly those within which there exists an obsession with promoting greater material “equality”—that have eventuated in greater rates of suffering and death.

“Capitalism” is indeed deserving of its share of criticism.  But socialism is deserving of a significantly larger share. 

Christian charity is doubtless among the noblest, most beautiful things to have ever graced this fallen world of ours.  As much as its critics hate to admit it, the fact is that the vast majority of the planet’s charitable organizations, and all of the most influential of such organizations, are inspired by the person of Christ: charity—love—is the greatest of commandments for the disciples of Jesus.      

However, Jesus was clear that charity is not defined by material conditions. Those “in need” can and not infrequently are from all walks of life.  If being alive for more than a handful of years isn’t enough to convince people of this, then maybe some reminders of the fact that Jesus befriended, and served, the wealthy, as well as the poor, the powerful, as well as the powerless, might do the trick.  Christ, let us not forget, not only healed the servant of a Roman centurion; He commended the soldier—an agent of the Roman Empire, mind you—for having more faith than that of anyone that He had encountered up to that point in Israel. 

It is crucial to grasp that this incident with the (relatively wealthy) Roman soldier was no fluke: in spite of the sense of His fellow Jews that they were living under oppressive foreign rule, and in spite of the fact that Christ Himself was eventually executed by Rome, He never once so much as critiqued the Roman government—while He tirelessly critiqued the children of Israel.

Jesus never condemned human slavery, and even told parables featuring slaves and slave masters, parables suggesting that slave masters had authority (even if qualified by God’s authority) over their slaves.  He as well told a parable of an employer in which he clearly affirmed the employer’s right to pay his laborers just the wage that they agreed to be paid—regardless of whether he chose to pay other laborers differently, or unequally.

The point here isn’t that Jesus was an advocate for slavery, “capitalism,” or any other “ism.”  The point is that He was not an advocate of any.

Jesus was concerned not with changing “super structures,” “systems,” “states,” and/or “economies.” He was concerned with changing people’s hearts.  Perhaps He realized that focus on the former detracts from focus on the latter.

Pope Francis and people everywhere would be well served to realize this as well.     

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, National Review Online (NRO) published comments from several self-avowed “conservatives.”

John Boehner, for example, alludes to Mandela’s “‘long walk to freedom” while praising him as “a champion of peace and racial harmony.”  Marco Rubio went even further. Lamenting that “the world has lost one of history’s most important figures,” Rubio reassures us that just as “men and women striving for justice and fairness around the world have drawn inspiration from Nelson Mandela,” so his “example will live on for generations to come.”

Tim Scott lauded Mandela for being a “transformational figure, a man who truly changed the world.” Mandela, he continued, “walked a long road to freedom and embraced the fundamental human belief in equality.”  Scott insists that “all freedom-loving people mourn his passing.”

Tea Party idol Ted Cruz said of Mandela that he “will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe,” for he was a man who “stood firm for decades on the principle that until all South Africans enjoyed equal liberties he would not leave prison himself [.]”  “Because of his epic fight against injustice,” Cruz concluded, “an entire nation is now free.”

These judgments on the part of conservatives of a man who was an avowed “democratic socialist” and communist sympathizer, a man who was on America’s list of terrorists until as recently as 2008, reflect, at best, the height of moral confusion.  At worst, they reveal gross intellectual dishonesty.

To cut to the chase, American “conservatives” claim to prize the Constitution and the “limited government” that it enshrines.  But the vision of liberty for which the Constitution’s Framers seceded from England, a vision for which they pledged all, is antithetical to that of Mandela.  

Though few people, and even fewer public figures—regardless of their politics—will say it, the liberty bequeathed to Americans by their ancestors is seen as a species of bondage by those on the left. That is, Constitutional liberty as it was conceived by the Patriots of the 18th century can only be thought of as an obstacle to be surmounted by those who think of “liberty” in terms of a material condition that government must bring about for its citizens.

To put it even more simply, Constitutional liberty must be anathema to “democratic socialists” and other communist sympathizers, for liberty, as the residents of the Anglo world once conceived it, consists in a decentralization of authority and power, a government with many voices, so to speak, severely limited in scope.  This form of government in turn entails a robust system of private property, for only under such a system is power diffused far and wide.  

Now, Mandela was a “democratic socialist.” He was also a communist, or at minimum, a communist sympathizer.  Translation: the man who our “conservatives” are now extolling as a great apostle of liberty disdained private property, or what, in good socialist fashion, he derisively referred to as “capitalism.”  Mandela was an adamant advocate of redistribution who thought that “capitalism” was the vehicle by which whites in his country privileged their own racial and class interests.

To those self-described “conservatives” who acknowledge Mandela’s violent past while attempting to dismiss it on the grounds that he matured while in prison, there are two responses in the coming.

First, two years after he was released from prison, Mandela was captured on video—a video that can be found on YouTube—singing along with the members of his African National Congress and the South African Communist Party his organization’s anthem.  The anthem affirms the need for all members to “kill the whites.” 

Second, as Ilana Mercer notes in her excellent study of the plight of her former homeland, Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa, Mandela’s presidency launched his country on a trajectory that has resulted in making the new South Africa a place in which “more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under the detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades.”   

None of this, of course, is to justify or even sympathize with apartheid. Mercer’s family, for example, lead by her father, a Rabbi, was anti-apartheid long before it became fashionable to be so.  Nor is to detract from the fact that Mandela was indeed a man with conviction who was willing to sacrifice all for what he believed was right.

The point here is that so-called “conservatives” contradict their own cause when they recognize in an avowed socialist, a communist sympathizer, a champion of liberty.  To see that this is so, Cruz and company should ask themselves but two questions:

Is Barack Obama a great champion of liberty?

Would the Framers of the Constitution have regarded Mandela as a great inspiration of liberty?

This past Thanksgiving, I explicitly explained to my Facebook “friends” that there was no point in extending holiday salutations to those of them who insist upon viewing the European settlers as genocidal maniacs who were intent upon exterminating America’s first peoples.  Anyone with such a view of the founding of this country and, more exactly, the occasion and the people that gave rise to the American tradition of Thanksgiving couldn’t conceivably be interested in commemorating this event.

Given the extent to which professors of the so-called “genocidal” origins of America and Thanksgiving took offense, I began to suspect that they can’t really believe what they say.  

Consider, if the first settlers were genocidal, then they were, in essence, no different from, say, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or any of history’s genocidal murderers.  And if this is so, then it would be as obscene to celebrate, to give thanks for, the legacy—the country—that they’ve bequeathed to us as it would be obscene for anyone to celebrate, to give thanks for, the legacy of Hitler and company. And if the Indians really were the peace-loving, nature-loving pacifists that the Genocide Truthers make them out to be, then the crime of which the settlers are accused is that much more horrific, as horrific as that of the Nazis marching off scores of docile innocents to their deaths.

A more straightforward example makes the point that much more effectively: A decent person convinced that a grave injustice had occurred wouldn’t so much as entertain the possibility of accepting millions from someone who he knew murdered an innocent to obtain the fortune in the first place.  A good person who was initially unaware of the injustice, but who learned of it later, would seek to rid himself of its poisonous fruits.  No decent person would willingly accept “blood money.”

Similarly, no decent person would willingly accept a “blood country.”     

Yet those who scream loudest about the “genocide” perpetrated by the settlers not only continue living off of the legacy of their ancestors; they actually take offense from, of all things, a person’s refusal to extend to them a simple Thanksgiving greeting.

If their deeds are any indication of their beliefs, they cannot really believe the nonsense they spout regarding genocide.

That injustices were inflicted by Europeans against some of the indigenous peoples of the lands that would later be called “the Americas” is undeniable.  However, for anyone remotely familiar with the complexities of the historical record, it is equally undeniable that Europeans most certainly did not perpetrate anything at all on the order of a systematic “genocide.”

But fiction is simpler than fact, the few principles of an ideology much easier to master than the nuances and intricacies of real history. And the fictions of an ideology are obviously more amenable to the crusade on behalf of which the ideology exists in the first place.

The “Genocide Truthers” are ideologues—whether they realize it or not. In contending that America is rooted in the systematic annihilation of the peaceful peoples of a pristine paradise, they imply that their country’s institutions are soaked in blood. This in turn further implies the need for a program, not of reform, but of a fundamental transformation.  And the latter is simply another way of saying that America as it has always been constituted since its founding needs to die.  The slate needs to be cleansed and a new country needs to be constructed from the ground up.

America is not now nor has she ever been the equivalent of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.  If she was, she would deserve as much as these tyrannical regimes deserved to perish from the Earth.  And America’s founders were not the equivalent of the monsters of the 20th century.

To admit this, however, we must abandon once and for all the invidious fiction that America’s settlers were genocidal murderers.