Archive for envy

On Appeasing Envy

Henry_HazlittBy Henry Hazlitt

Any attempt to equalize wealth or income by forced redistribution must only tend to destroy wealth and income. Historically the best the would-be equalizers have ever succeeded in doing is to equalize downward. This has even been caustically described as their intention. “Your levellers,” said Samuel Johnson in the mid-eighteenth century, “wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.”

And in our own day we find even an eminent liberal like the late Mr. Justice Holmes writing: “I have no respect for the passion for equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.”[1]

At least a handful of writers have begun to recognize explicitly the all-pervasive role played by envy or the fear of envy in life and in contemporary political thought. In 1966, Helmut Schoeck, professor of sociology at the University of Mainz, devoted a scholarly and penetrating book to the subject, to which most future discussion is likely to be indebted.[2]

There can be little doubt that many egalitarians are motivated at least partly by envy, while still others are motivated, not so much by any envy of their own, as by the fear of it in others, and the wish to appease or satisfy it. But the latter effort is bound to be futile. Almost no one is completely satisfied with his status in relation to his fellows.

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