A War without Warfare

A War without Warfare

By Simone Gao, host of Zooming In

Donald Trump’s true enemy may not be CNN or Nancy Pelosi or even Robert Mueller; his true enemy might be John Rawls, the modern American political philosopher of the liberal tradition who Bill Clinton said “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself."

Although Rawls passed away in 2002, his “justice as fairness” theory is still very much alive. Often considered the 20th century’s most important political philosopher, he was the mastermind behind the liberal left’s philosophical foundation. Many members of the intellectual community may not view themselves as Socialists; however, nearly all of them follow the teachings of Rawls.

In his California GOP convention speech a few months ago, Steve Bannon said we are in the next cycle of American history, coming after the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Great Depression.

“But I’ll tell you, the next 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years, we’re going to be, this country is going to come through this, and it’s going to be one thing or the other. It’s either going to be the country that was bequeathed to us by the previous what, 12 or 13 generations? Or it’s going to be something totally different.”

In a sense, Bannon is right. What’s really going on in America today is a fight between two thought systems. Of these two systems, one is based on a Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian tradition that also incorporates the Enlightenment’s defined private and public boundaries. The essence of this system was conveyed in the Declaration of Independence while the American Constitution allows an institutional realization of it.

The other system centers around John Rawls’ theory of social justice and covers Socialism, Communism, and welfare statism at various levels.

What are the differences between these two systems? Before discussing their differences, we need to discuss their supposed similarities. They both claim the pursuit of freedom and equality. For example, the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” On the other hand, Rawls’ A Theory of Justice spends a preponderance of texts discussing freedom and equality. His intent was to show that notions of freedom and equality could be integrated into a seamless unity he called justice as fairness.

Both systems claim that they aim to achieve justice, equality, and freedom. The difference lies in where they think the concept of justice, equality, and freedom come from. Consequently, that in turn alters the path each follows to achieve justice as they’ve defined it.

The equality and freedom referred to in the Declaration of Independence originate from Christian beliefs. They believed that the creator bestowed each individual an undeniable right to equality and freedom. In Christian beliefs, God’s creation of man reflects his own goodness and perfection. Although man is fallen, we are perfectible. In other words, humanity is the same because it was bestowed by God equally. This is what we call the Universal Brotherhood. We see the same rationale in the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism. In Stoicism, this world is rational. If there is something capable of ordering and organizing a rational world, that something must have enough in common with what it organizes and influences. In other words, that rationality is the same. That is the relationship between the creative force of the universe and the creature he created. Again, on this level, all men are created equal.

Based on this logic, the moral order of human beings came from the grace and example of God or the creative force of the universe. It is the foundation of a Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian civilization.

But Rawls’ theory of justice differs. In his theory, justice can be created by man. By explaining the proper perspective we should take when thinking about justice, Rawls includes a thought experiment he called the "original position," in which people are tasked with choosing a political-economic structure for society. Each person, however, decides this while behind a "veil of ignorance” in which they have no idea what their background is, including their gender, race, socioeconomic position, etc. The only thing they know is that they have the basic capacities to participate and be a member of the society they’re choosing. Rawls believed that only a system designed behind the “veil of ignorance” can represent justice and fairness.

Simply put, Rawls’ justice is one designed by man, and it takes precedence over God’s moral order. Therefore, in Rawls’ theory, man-made justice is not connected to traditional moral values. For example, if a government legalizes same-sex marriage, under Rawls’ theory of justice, the action is to protect the lifestyle chosen by the individual. Namely, such laws protect the rights of an individual. For this reason and this reason alone, it is just. However, under traditional law, a government would deny same-sex marriage based on God’s teaching, as God only acknowledges marriage between a man and a woman.

Summarizing the above, Rawls’ theory of justice is a value-neutral theory. He claimed that his definition of justice is not based on moral judgments. However, in reality, it would be impossible not to convey moral judgment when such justice is implemented. For example, if the government legalizes same-sex marriage, it approves such actions. That is a judgment right there, and this judgment is delivered by man instead of the divine.

For several decades, American elites, including presidents, have been implementing Rawls’ justice. President Obama is an exemplary model. He apologized to the world, announcing that America has no right to assert its values upon others and that America’s mission should be to present a value-neutral role to protect the diversity of humanity.

Contrasting to that is President Trump. He relentlessly repeats the theme of One Nation Under God. I suspect Trump may not have been a serious Christian before he became president. Nevertheless, he understands that Judeo-Christian belief is the foundation to this country’s social structure and cultural origin.

In conclusion, I believe that the most important order in this world is to define what is “good vs. evil” and “right vs. wrong.” More important than that might be where the standard comes from. Does it come from the divine, a monarch, or the people? Only after this order is set can morality, culture, and institutions be developed.

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白雲詩社人文鍾

白雲詩社人文鍾