Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Envy

Envy is the leitmotif of much of what passes for public discourse in New Zealand, as evident on talk-back shows and in Letters to the Editor; in the clamour for knocking down tall poppies and looking for feet of clay in the greatest of heroes; in the glee with which people greet the downfall of achievers in any field of endeavour; and in the permanent sneers on the very faces of the standard bearers for the envious.


Envy is resentment of the achievements, strengths and virtues of others, dressed up in the bromides of moral indignation: “Who does he think he is?!” “You can’t be that successful without being a crook.” “Why should he get any credit for what he was born with?” “Just because he had a few lucky breaks…” etc. Students of envy have noted its close links with egalitarian doctrines such as socialism, and agree on one fascinating conclusion: the desire of the envious is not so much to have themselves raised up to the level of those whom they resent, but to bring the achievers down to their own level.

“The envious are more likely to be mollified by seeing others deprived of some advantage than by gaining it for themselves.” – Henry Hazlitt. “They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed, they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die…” – Ayn Rand. “The apparently innocuous demand for equality… in fact conceals only the desire for the demotion of those having more assets, and those who are in some way higher up, to the level of those lower down.” – Max Scheler.

Among the many sops to envy in New Zealand politics is the ongoing commitment to a ‘progressive’ soak-the-rich income tax system. Consistent with the above quotations, the system gains support precisely as the opportunities for individuals to prosper personally are increasing.

The ongoing dominance enjoyed by this emotional sickness is one of the main threats to New Zealand’s economic future.

“The time has surely come when we should stop behaving as though the envious man were the main criterion for economic and social policy.” – Helmut Schoek, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Bill of Rights.'

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