• Occasional Quotes: Roger Scruton on the false promise of abstract “justice” and the path to totalitarian domination

    The pursuit of abstract social justice goes hand in hand with the view that power struggles and relations of domination express the truth of our social condition, and that the consensual customs, inherited institutions and systems of law that have brought peace to real communities are merely the disguises worn by power.

    The goal is to seize that power, and to use it to liberate the oppressed, distributing all assets of society according to the just requirements of the plan.

    Intellectuals who think that way are already ruling out the possibility of compromise.

    –Roger Scruton in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands

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    Scruton’s insight is a deep one, I think, and builds directly on Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution (done only a year after the Bastille fell, long before the Terror, which he anticipated).

    Scruton’s point is also an appreciation of the Anglo-American system of common law, which solves real problems in practical ways and builds a stable framework of law incrementally, from the bottom up. That, in turn, facilitates decentralized cooperation among people and firms who make their own decisions, by their own lights.

    That is Hayek’s goal, as well, and the core of his crucial distinction between top-down statutes and regulations and the laws that emerge from countless decentralized transactions.

    Those are big themes. Yet they come together succinctly in Scruton’s quote, from his recent book.