Entitlement and resentment

There has been much discussion over the last week about the coalition government’s first 100 days. Some of this analysis has been useful (like that on this blog), whilst much of it has been rather odd. There has been a rush to judgement as if we can state with some certainty what the government is and isn’t going to do after only 14 weeks.

However, the task that the government has set itself – to reduce the size and role of the state – is a long-term task, and what makes it more difficult is that the key change is not merely a matter of economics and politics, but involves a significant cultural shift.

The biggest cultural change that the government needs to make is to eradicate the sense that people are due certain entitlements. Instead of assuming that they are entitled to benefits and services as of right, people need to come to terms with the fact that what they receive comes at the expense of others: welfare benefits can only be granted to some because others pay tax. Calling a benefit an entitlement ignores the fact that the money has to be earned by someone and then taken by government.

Matching the idea of entitlement is the problem of resentment. This is the sense that government does not work for us, does not care and might actually be operating against us. Some who feel this resentment do so because they feel they are paying taxes that are being squandered on others. But the highest level of resentment actually comes from those who benefit most from the entitlement-based system of welfare. It is those who benefit the most from welfare and the professionals who depend on these structures that feel most strongly that the state is against them.

I would argue that this latter form of resentment arises precisely because of the belief that welfare recipients, backed by welfare professionals, are entitled to certain goods and services as of right and without having to make any contribution themselves. What matters now is not what one does but the mere fact that one is. The job of the new government is to change this attitude and make it clear that benefits come with strings attached. This is a task that will take much longer than 100 days.

Peter, the legitimate authorities in political society determine what is the material common good. This is the judgement which emerges from the application of the formal common good to the facts of a particular case. The formal common good means: ‘the ensemble of social conditions which enable individuals, groups and families to attain their legitimate goals relatively thoroughly and easily.’Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were the legitimate authorities in their time, but that doesn’t mean it was wrong to try to overthrow them. They committed crimes of genocide, and the first two also committed aggression. Hy maternal grandfather set out to assassinate Hitler in 1943 or 1944, and rightly.

Michael, I agree with your last point, but it does not detract from the point of legitimacy.Interestingly, though, you use the same term – legitimacy – with regard to the common good. What you haven’t done, as tim rightly points out and as I have asked you to several times, if get beyond the subjectivity of your key concepts: for instance, I imagine that many would come up with conflicting ensembles of social condition to adjudicate on what the common good is. Unless, that is, you believe that one particular view should dominate over all others.

Michael, on your use of the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, surely you have cause and effect the wrong way round: we should not kill because of the right to life. Otherwise it would have not moral force or purpose.

Your point is correct, in that there are several different ways in which to realise the common good. And there is nothing merely subjective about my key concepts, because they are based on objective truth. They are subjective to the extent that they are given over to human judgement.The commandment “Thou shalt not murder” (Hebrew: “Lo tirtzakh”) is a divine commandment. It means that my duty to God is to refrain from killing you. That duty entails a right of yours in relation to me.

Michael – too much assertion and too little thought. You skip between necessity, utility and divine injunction in an arbitrary manner, seemingly to form an answer to the last response and without any heed for self-contradiction.On your last comment, you commit the same error as before: how, when all we have is human judgement, do we distinguish in any practical sense between objective and subjective? Who decides on what is objective truth and how do you decide without the mediation of personal judgement?

All those commandments did is codify and extrapolate existing moral stances, not form their source. As Peter says, you have it the wrong way around.I know it bootstraps – my point is that the bootstrapping is illegitimate, as is your irrational extrapolation to say it was murder to not employ someone. The obligation to live is upon the very same individual, not upon others.“justice” and “common good” are highly subjective. Some think enforcing the Hijab with violence is for the common good, or the killing of homosexuals or the imprisoning of drug users. Subjective. I do not see much in the way of “objective truth” forming the basis of your assertions.

First, you have to admit that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that reason can discover it by observing things and extrapolating their natures – their essences considered as principles of activity. If you deny that there is any such thing as objective truth, then there can only be what is true for you, which might be different from what is true for me, both irreconcilable with each other and with what is true for one who thinks enforcing the hijab with violence is for the common good.

I am sure there are objective truths, but that does not mean I must accept your version of how they are discovered or established.

If we can’t even agree on method, or even that a simple faculty like observing things can elicit objective truths about things, then we really are in trouble.If I observe how human teeth work, I discover that they will usually break if used to chew stones, but rarely if used to chew food. So it follows that teeth are for chewing food, but not for chewing stones.

Michael,Observing things MIGHT elicit truths, but is no guarantee, as it is down to interpretation and reasoning. Further, you mention “extrapolate natures – their essences considered as principles of activity” which is quite a different kettle of fish. Your example shows a lack of critical reasoning. Just because teeth do not break in activity X, does not mean they were intended for that purpose. Observing things would mean one sees what is done with teeth in practice. If one is not careful or thorough, one could deduce that teeth were there to smile at people.

Michael, forgive me for saying so, but it really is a bit much for you to criticise Tim on method; you have changed the basis of your argument consistently throughout this thread and have refused to acknowledge any inconsistency. Merely stating something as categorically as possible and then closing one’s eyes to other views is not a methodology. Your last post, for instance, makes the simple error of assuming that normative laws operate in the same way as scientific one, when they clearly do not. All you have done so far is to make a series of (often contradictory) assertions and then refused to engage with criticism.

Peter, you say that normative laws operate in the same way as scientific ones. That sounds like ‘no ought from an is’. Karl H Peschke himself gives the example of teeth and stones and observes that Hume objects that from these facts no definite conclusions can be drawn as to what me morally ought to do. Peschke answers in three steps: (1) The use of things according to their intrinsic laws and purposes guarantees their serviceable and efficient use; (2) The realisation of man’s existential ends is the reason why a purposeful use of beings is demanded – a contrary use will impair these ends; (3) The final answer is the ultimate end of man.

And back round we go again Michael, with you seemingly unable to comprehend how arbitrary your concepts are. I argued that normative laws do not operate like scientific ones: breaking a scientific law disproves it, whilst breaking a normative law calls for some appropriate again, but it does not invalidate the law. And that is why Hume is correct and Peschke wrong on this point. Peschke’s notions of ‘intrinsic’, ‘existential ends’ and ‘ultimate end’ are question-begging and return us to the normative question of who decides and how, a question you seem too hidebound by dogma to engage with.

Science and philosophy are different subject disciplines, if you don’t mind my stating the obvious. Scientific laws are discovered or verified by controlled observation and experiment, and they disclose what is the order in nature. Normative (or moral) laws dictate how rational beihgs ought to act.Hume is correct only until we bring in the notion of a Creator (the ultimate ‘is’) from whom alone can conclusively be derived an ‘ought’ insofar as he is the supreme Legislator and Judge.

Michael, state the obvious as much as you like: we must all concentrate on what we are good at. Science and philosophy are indeed different disciplines, but we are trying to discuss the nature of science and the statements one can make as a result and that is properly a philosophical issue.Forgive me again, but your last sentence explains your frequent self-contradiction: you start from a particular dogma and then seek to justify it without question. This is the inherent weakness of all theological speculation – it is cannot bear the weight of any analysis of its starting principles and so has to weave a complex web of obfuscation in order to preserve itself.

Peter, why don’t you study the work of Thomas Aquinas? The Summa Theologica is available on line at http://www.newadvent.orgNot even you would dare write him off as an intellectual lightweight.

Michael, I already have a copy of the ‘Summa Theologica’, thank you, and a tremendous work it is, which carries great historical interest. Aquinas is certainly no lightweight, but nor does he provide the last word on all matters and so quoting him does not end the argument or make one more consistent. As I stated above, Aquinas’s problems, like all theologians, are his base assumptions, not how he reasons from them. Theology by definition starts with its end result and then works backwards to justify them. That is why is so much more limited that other academic disciplines: it always begs the question of what if we don’t believe and can never answer it.

Michael, Hume is only correct until you bring in irrational, unfalsifiable belief, of course.Your stance is faith-based and this subjective. It disregards basic freedoms. Legislating those freedoms away does not invalidate them, rather it invalidates the legitimacy of the entity so legislating. Nobody is infallible, so if they say things that are fundamentally flawed, then one must reject those things. If they attempt to couch logic in a bed of belief, it must be rejected also, for one cannot build on sand.

Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher as well as a theologian, and his metaphysics is robust even if you strip away those parts of his work which depend on the existence of the fact of divine revelation.

Michael, I completely agree with you on Aquinas, but, if you’ll permit me, that is your problem and not mine. I’m more than happy to see Aquinas as one of the greatest philosophers and I have a lot of time for the modern form of virtue ethics that have been built on his work. Indeed, getting back to the initial point in my blog, such thinking can be used to justify the form of reciprocity I argue should replace entitlements.But the problem – for you – is precisely the dependency on divine revelation and the fact that this has led you into continual confusion and contradiction.

Tim and Peter, you’re both on the verge of confusion. Tim, you say that my stance is faith-based and disregards basic freedoms. On the contrary, if you start with the first principle of philosophy: the maxim ‘things exist’, then you can deduce that there is a Creator who makes moral demands on creatures, and you can do so without asserting that there is divine revelation.Now, how do you justify, on postmodernist grounds, the proposition that men ought to be left free to do as they will instead of being made to do as they’re told?

Michael, a clever ruse – call someone else confused to hide your own confusion.Of course, you can deduce an enormous amount from the premise ‘things exist’, not much of though need be inevitable.I’m not sure why postmodernism has suddenly popped up. After all it is yourself, not Tim or me, who has rested your argument on subjective premises and then shifted your ground once you are challenged.Perhaps we could get back to the subject of the blog, assuming that is you wish to debate rather than ignore what is being asked of you.

Michael, the only risk of confusion is if we adopt your framing.In no way can you rationally go from “things exist”->”Creator”->”moral demands” without massive self-serving presumptions.For a start, if a Creator existed for all time, then why not “things”, thereby removing the need for a Creator. Even if a creator existed, who is to say they want moral demands? “demands”? I do not have to “justify” why Man should be left free – it is for others to try to justify who has the authority and legitimacy to be the ones who want to tell man to “do as they are told”.

All right,let’s get back to topic: In relation to entitlements: “What matters now is not what one does but the mere fact that one is.”What we’ve been doing all this time is arguing about first principles. What one does is the basis of acquired rights. The fact that one is is the basis of natural rights.What is the metaphysical basis for the existence of a capacity for earning, and for the existence of an acquired right? And for the existence of natural rights.

Michael, I was criticising this idea not supporting it. My argument was against the idea that one ought to receive a benefit without regard to any conditionality and without regard to the fact that this benefit is derived from the income of others. I feel therefore you have misunderstood my point. To help you I promise not to use irony again (whoops).I feel your last two paragraphs are not really back on the topic at all but are an attempt to return to your previous arguments We have been through this already without really getting anywhere.

Ah, now we’re getting to it! Should the receipt of benefit be made conditionality on willingness to work? The answer is affacted by the answer to two other questions.(1) Is work a basic right or a good for everyone? In that case it must be guaranteed to everyone irrespective of its commercial profitability or social usefulness.(2) Is work the privilege of the productive? If it is, then there is likely to be a contingent of people who are not. Therefore they have no business to be in a workplace and ought not to be expected to work.

Man is born free. If that man does not commit force or fraud upon another, they should not be impinged upon. Talk of their “rights” is disingenuous if in so doing you are taking away superior rights to furnish them, and that is what you have been doing. This does not mean Man is subordinate to Mankind, it means Man is subordinate to the prejudices and beliefs of other Men, which is fundamentally illegitimate. Unless there is consent at each individual level, the real term for it is slavery.When one talks of Rule of Law and rights therein, that is another matter, for those rights are freedoms from, not a right to. Those rights constrain the State, not obligate another.

1) If work is “a good” – and that is a vague term anyway – it does not follow that it must be guaranteed. It is not a “right” as I have aid time and again, for it would then force others to provide it. However, nobody should “ban” people from working.2) Work is not a privilege of the productive nor idleness the expectation of the unproductive. Many people who are unproductive “work” and are “paid”. Do they “earn”? The key is if their earnings are coerced. So, if a private company employs the grandson of the Chairman, so be it, but if a politician spoons in their offspring at a cost to the public purse, I object greatly.

PeterI was interested in the research evidence, used to make the initial commentary on “entitlement and resentment”. The assertions made about “people” are quite wide ranging. Are the views expressed a hunch, or is there verifiable factual and numerical information to support them? Who are these “people” exactly? How many of them are there?The phrase “eradicate the sense of entitlement” is a great political slogan; implying these “people” are afflicted with some psychological disorder that needs to be cut out.Speaking to real “people” from outside the Ivory Tower may enlighten on their real plight and confirm or disprove the hypothesis; even provide enlightened solutions.

Michael, I was merely repeating what I said last week! As to getting somewhere, I fear not because, as Tim has stated, you insist on misusing concepts or indulging in very imprecise language.I actually think that you are being more individualist than either Tim or I. You see concepts such as ‘rights’ and ‘good’ as intrinsic qualities rather than relational entities. However, if you see rights as relational they are always competitive and so we need to look at rival claims rather than base any decisions on absolutes which will tend merely to be grasped by the more powerful.

“If that man does not commit force or fraud upon another, they should not be impinged upon.”There’s a value judgement if ever there was one. Why should they not be impinged upon?Now, suppose you took morals out of it altogether and said: ‘Liberty is the highest good.’ If I must preserve my liberty, then I must obey the law of the state whatever it is. If I break it, I am likely to lose my liberty, as the police usually turn up in numbers and each one is bigger than I am.

If work is neither a right nor a good, then it is a matter of indifference whether people work or not. If people work under a contract then they earn by force of the contract. But why ought their counterparties keep the contracts? If no moral or legal reason can be given, then they do not earn.

Michael, It is not a value judgement, but stating the obvious that nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should be so impinged. As for your second paragraph, it makes no sense. It has been made clear that “laws” in themselves are not justification, for they could be the result of despotic tyranny. The framing you present is not valid, but incomplete and arbitrary.“But why ought their counterparties keep the contracts?” Simple – non aggeession: no force or fraud. Breaking the contract is fraud and indeed a form of theft – theft of the worker’s time and labour.

Still, my point to Michael bears repeating since it didn’t elicit a response from him…Of far greater importance than coercing some business into hiring someone they don’t want to because people have some kind of “right to work” is removing as many barriers to entry as possible that prevent what Michael called people with no “productive property” starting something up for themselves.Lack of access to capital was identified 160 years ago by the likes of Proudhon and William B Greene as a fundamental factor in leaving so many people dependent on being able to sell their labour services alone to employers and downward pressure on wages as a result.

To JHarris re the evidence for my comments. First, i should admit to the loose use of ‘people’: what i should have said was a general presumption towards. The basis for my argument is the work of many academics such as Murray, Wilson, Marsland, and others who find a general presumption towards entitlement. Likewise politicans such as Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton have actively talked about ‘the entitlement society’. Likewise there is a considerable literature on the culture of resentment. So it is not a hunch, even if it not something that could be tested in the quantitative manner you imply.

To continue in response to JHarris: I explicitly suggest there is a culture of entitlement and resentment and do not see it as a psychological quality. It is a relational problem and not an inner condition. It can be eradicated not by re-education or medication but through altering incentive structures, sanctions and the manner in which benefits and taxes are considered. My point was to suggest – and without any metaphysical intent, despite Michael’s determination to draw me in – that there are two sides to the equation of benefits and not merely the issue of how much individuals receive from the state.Sorry for the anonymous post above – I was using another PC this morning.

Let’s assume, Tim, that nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should be so impinged. If morals is removed entirely, then nobody has legitimate justification as to why people should not be so impinged.A morals-free universe is one of unrestrained liberty with no opposable claim against impingement founded on anything resembling justice. In other words, it means a free-for-all, the rule of the strongest, in a universe which is nasty, British and short.

I concur with Peter’s comments 3:11 and 3:17 and of support for Jock Coats in the need to dismantle barriers to independent self-employment.I would also add that one major factor in making it easy to employ someone is to also make it easy to fire someone. Strong labour laws make employing someone very risky. You end up only employing “dead certs” and taking no risks, for once you have someone, they are hard to get rid of. If one could “take a gamble” on someone, you would see more liquidity in the job markets. You might have the same number of unemployed, but you might find that people remain unemployed for shorter periods and in terms of mental health, that can only be good.

Michael, your segue to removing morals entirely is non-sequitur. Further, we must establish what you consider to be “morals”, for this may well bring us back to subjective ideas and beliefs, not any objective position. I am not going to agree that YOUR idea of morals is essential to even have a concept of legitimacy without your first outlining what you mean by it. I refuse to allow you to sneak your framing of “morals” in as a basis/foundation.Nice try. No cigar.

Morals is that set of precepts which tell us what we must and must not do, and which could come only from a Supreme Being who imposes them on us on such terms that we cannot relieve ourselves of the obligations they impose. Last month Archbishop Chaput of Denver Colorado gave an address in Slovakia in which he said the following.“There is no inherently logical or utilitarian reason why society should respect the rights of the human person. There is even less reason for recognizing the rights of those whose lives impose burdens on others, as is the case with the child in the womb, the terminally ill, or the physically or mentally disabled.”http://www.archden.org

Michael, no there are very logical and utilitarian reasons for respecting persons, especially as it is done by other persons and not society as such, and this should be obvious merely by looking at how people actually behave. To suggest that it is entirely due to a Supreme Being takes us back to theological fallacy of prior presumption I tried, and failed, to get you to engage with a day or so ago. You really are very stubborn in your dogmatic certainties. Do you never feel the need to think for yourself?

The blog name is the blog name of Peter, but the voice is the voice of Ayn Rand.

Michael, I hope not. I have very little time for Rand as a person and still less for as a thinker. Her problem was that she sought to develop a theology instead of a philosophy. I’m on the side of Edmund Burke and the little platoons.

Ayn Rand? Nonsense.Try and name a logical system (e.g. consequentialist) that does not have justification for the non-aggression principle.In fact cold hard logic and survival supports the non-aggression principle (and property rights that spring logically for it) for an animal that needs to co-operate and divide labour to survive and thrive. At the core is the concept of consent and voluntary collectivism. The Welfare State is not a voluntary collectivist concept, for there is no opt-out. It is imposed upon a geographic monopoly. It is Totalitarian in nature.

Tim, rights cannot spring from anything but a moral or legal order. Otherwise, non-aggression is whatever the strongest say it is. We aren’t animals but people possessed of reason.Totalitarian? Au contraire! Totalitarian is whatever claims the whole person, in the internal and the external forum, as though it were a religion or a secularist world-view, and at the same time coerces that total claim through the agency of the state. If only Hans Buchheim’s book on the subject were still in print.

Tim, I’m not sure it is helpful referring to the welfare state as totalitarianism. It dramatically overstates the true situation and isn’t helpful.In any case, there are many relations that are not voluntary, or cease to be so after a particular decision is made. My wife and I chose to have children but once they arrived we cannot renege on our responsibilities.Indeed, thinking about it, the relationship between parent and child is one of the few areas where entitlements properly exist and commitment is unconditional. But this is because of the nature of the bond that exists, and which does not exist in many (or any) other relationships.

Michael,I am not talking about rights and again you try and bring in your version of “morals”. We ARE animals, animals which can reason.and @Peter, yes, I did say the Welfare State is Totalitarian IN NATURE. If I am wrong, say where people can opt out of paying into employment insurance, health insurance or education. They cannot. One is forced not only to pay, but to pay into a single scheme under pain of imprisonment. It needs to be said as many people seem to be in denial of this fact and use pretty words as a figleaf.I am not suggesting we remove all the welfare state, but end the State monopoly (and no, that does not mean “privatisation”).

Further, we see the “cost to the NHS” being used to control peoples’ lifestyles, we see hounding of private schools and even more, home educators. The description Michael gives of Totalitarianism is not that far off from how some hold the Welfare State, the NHS and State schooling in the domains they operate.Peter, I agree, there is a responsibility once you have children, but that is a consequence of one having them, i.e. directly one’s own actions, not the consequence of another’s.

Tim, the sense of personal responsibility for one’s choices, be it over children or anything else, is precisely my point. But still, the relation ceases to be voluntary, and in case of the children it never is.On totalitarianism, I just think that this language is too excessive for what is a fairly mild organisation within what is an open democratic society. We should reserve these labels for when it really counts. in addition, it allows those who don’t agree with a libertarian position to dismiss your views as extreme. I’m not sure that the ability to opt out is a definition of totalitarianism in any case: it is far too inclusive a definition.

Thesis: ‘The Welfare State is totalitarian in nature because one must pay into it on pain of imprisonment’.Therefore (1) national defence, police services etc are totalitarian in nature because people must pay taxes on pain of imprisonment.Therefore (2) the rule of law is totalitarian in nature, because many laws bind on pain of imprisonment.Therefore (3) a free society must of necessity be lawless.

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