The Search for the Just Society
Edward J. Dodson
INSTRUCTOR'S MANUAL, LESSON 8
This final lesson introduces a comparison between the five
theoretical socio-political systems either advocated or practiced,
with discussion on:
Consistency with the principles of
a just society; and
Actual conditions in societies whose people must live under these
A second important objective of this lesson is to discuss
Liberalism, not as a distinct socio-political philosophy but as a
range of policy positions relating to key socio-political issues.
LIBERAL vs. CONSERVATIVE
These terms have become labels that are generally thought to
categorize the policies an individual supports:
A liberal generally approves of
government intervention to achieve an equality of treatment in areas
of civil liberties, and a range of equality of opportunity to
equality of result in terms of property/income ownership.
A conservative generally favors a narrow definition of government's
responsibilities in the area of civil liberties as well as equality
issues where property/income owners are concerned.
In practical terms, there is a considerable cross-over by liberals
and conservatives on many issues.
Over time, the conservative position over the very concept of a
welfare state has softened in order to accommodate objectives of
order and societal stability.
Both liberals and conservatives have championed the vested
interests of various groups within society, effectively defending
privilege (i.e., sanctioned inequality of opportunity) in
The system of laws, government programs and administrative
agencies that has evolved over the course of the 20th century has
established the policy agenda of liberalism.
This policy agenda occupies the centrist position between two
distinct socio-political systems: state-socialism and
Understanding the differences between these systems requires that
we abandon our preconceptions of left/right, liberal / conservative.
There are six main policy issues that make up the agenda of
State Socialism vs. Cooperative Individualism
Policy decisions will pull a society closer to state-socialism if
there is greater emphasis on: (a) security (i.e., order) than on
protecting individual liberty; and (b) redistribution of wealth
instead of allowing producers to keep what they produce.
The terms distribution and
redistribution are somewhat misleading, inasmuch as the natural
order of things will eventually lead to a redistribution of
wealth from those who actually produce to those who control
access to land (i.e., nature). Because this is a natural flow
and can actually be facilitated by voluntary agreement on the
part of all citizens, what the titleholder or occupier of land
receives can also be thought of as a distribution of wealth.
Centrally planned economic activity rather than allowing markets
to function solely on the basis of voluntary win-win transactions.
Positive law as a constraint on individual actions, even those
that meet the test of justice, rather than on moral/ethical
Centralized authority versus decentralized administration of
Representative and delegated democracy at the expense of
widespread participation in the political decision-making process.
Adoption of the above policies in the aggregate will pull a
society into the realm of state-socialism. Conversely, full adoption
of policies that achieve greater individual liberty (that is, are
distributive where wealth is concerned), allow a fair field with no
favors to operate in economics, rely heavily on moral and ethical
constraints on behavior (i.e., nurturing), give very limited powers
to a central authority and guarantee widespread direct participation
for decision-making on societal issues, and will bring society close
to cooperative individualism.
Movement too far to the left supplants liberalism with harsher
forms of state-socialism and, potentially, totalitarianism.
Communitarianism and Anarchy
Policies directed beyond the bounds of cooperative individualism
to the right pull societies into what are historically unchartered
waters, where human behavior has run counter to the degree of
cooperation and selflessness demanded.
THE ROLE OF NATURAL LAW
Socio-political arrangements that allow natural law to freely
operate may create an equality of condition but cannot secure or
protect equality of opportunity.
Only cooperative individualism (by prohibiting sanctioned
inequalities) establishes the conditions fo equality of opportunity.