The Liberal Democrats have been telling us they want to “hardwire fairness back into national life.” Britain, for all its many strengths, they argue, “is still too unequal and unfair a country where the circumstances of your birth and the income of your parents still profoundly affect your chances in life.”
Although the government should remove certain obstacles to fairness in society (legal privileges and so on), it is something else again to enforce fairness. This can only be done by creating a state-run machinery for determining deserts and entitlements which would, in practice, play to the gallery of the many special interest groups in modern Britain. In adopting its “fairness” agenda, Nick Clegg’s party seems to view capitalism as a zero-sum game in which every winner produces a loser or in which success always comes at the expense of the poor and the state has to sort out the resulting position and make it “fair”.
The Liberal Democrats seem to adhere to John Rawls, the great egalitarian magician, and his “principle that undeserved inequalities call for redress; and since inequalities of birth and natural endowment are undeserved, these inequalities are to be somehow compensated for…Those who have been favoured by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out.”
Accordingly, the Lib Dems are asking everybody to hand to them the natural power over their livelihood and allow them to undertake “radical action” in order to make Britain fairer according to their “plan”. At issue here is nothing less than the struggle between the rule of law, as Edmund Burke once understood it, and the rule of leveller egalitarianism – the battle between different individual skills and talents in free competition for excellence and the envious cry for “fairness” that throttles creativity and breeds resentment of achievement. It is interesting that the party rarely – if ever – mentioned freedom in its election campaign. The reason is clear. The pursuit of fairness – in the way desired by the Lib Dems – and the pursuit of freedom are in conflict.