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[Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-15, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]
When experiencing harm, dissatisfied citizens have the well-known custom of complaining about having been treated unjustly, and they blame politicians for having failed to deliver on their original promises. This complaint shows two things: firstly, everybody takes absolutely for granted that in a system of rule humanity is divided into opposites — executors of sovereign power dictate the living conditions and opportunities to which the rest of the population have to subject the conduct of their lives. Secondly, it is noteworthy that those subjected to the sovereign do not simply make fools of themselves when they demand being treated justly by the authorities, but instead count on — and can indeed count on — getting a hearing at least. That may have its particular forms in the bourgeois state, but it is something that in principle the citizens and the modern constitutional state share with their respective historical predecessors. As a political power insists on treating its subjects justly and judges its use of force accordingly, it is willing to listen when this kind of complaint from “below” is directed at it. And when subordinates complain, they always invoke justice vis-à-vis their sovereign because it is first and foremost a maxim of sovereign power. The sovereign doesn’t merely want to suppress the self-interests of those it subjugates and repress their will, but wants to rule justly.
It is necessary to differentiate: what characterizes every system of power apart from all historical specificities is the quality of force that it uses and that distinguishes it from simple private force. The law is the basic way in which rule is generally exercised, in that ruling authorities execute their power over land and people according to principles which are commonly embodied in rules and regulations — in a catalogue of rights and duties for public offices, public order, the practice of punishment, etc. The methods the authorities have used to execute their law are as different as the specific social relations of reproduction which the rulers have shaped through a suitable order into a functioning basis of their power. Feudal lords laid a claim on the subsistence economy of their peasants with a “tithe,” recorded their commands and prohibitions in writing, allowed these to be read out to illiterate subordinates, delegated their enforcement to lowly officials, and entrusted armed troops with protection of their lands from encroachment by the next lord over. Modern law prevails over a capitalist economy; the political power is executed by public officials in the form of impersonal, universally valid and independent principles that are defined by the state, which on the other hand commits itself to them so that they appear as principles of organization separate from the will of the state. In all their specificities, the various forms of rule are all examples of one general principle: sovereign rule is force administered by functionaries according to rules. And this always includes the self-commitment of the sovereign power to its own purposes that have been translated into rules and regulations. Whether in the shape of accountability to be delivered to superiors, of political party organs with specific responsibilities, or of legally codified procedures which make sure that legal forms are observed and that the state respects the rights it has conceded to its citizens — the principle of self-examination and self-discipline is inherent to any sovereign rule.
In contrast to law, justice is the particular ethos of any sovereign rule with which, in its control over land and people, it implements its self-commitment to its own rules. It is also true that whether as “mirrors for princes”[*] where the virtues of the ruler and the exercise of rule were laid out, whether as formalized self-examination like in the modern constitutional state through a hierarchical system of authorities in which the rulers anchor the ethos of justice in institutions — the various forms of rule differ in the ways justice is requested as a maxim of sovereign power, and which particular material of the execution of political power nurtures questions of justice for its subjects. But the principle is always the same: justice is the ideal practiced by any sovereign rule that its law, which is valid by virtue of force, is also worthy of its validity. It is the self-imposed imperative in the subjugation of people under its command and through the sovereign self-commitment to its own principles of rule not to simply impose law but rather to deserve to rule those who are thereby affected. This is why subordinates owe their rulers not merely obedience, but appreciation.
The complaints that dissatisfied subjects direct at their rulers in the name of justice essentially have one thing in common: the claim that “those above” should really meet the subjects’ legitimate demands. This sense of justice is taken for granted but has its reason in the standpoint of the opposite side. While using force against their subjects, rulers claim their rule matches those they rule. In executing their principles, rulers claim not only to have decreed their subjects the guidelines of existence under their supervision, but at the same time to have established an order that conforms to their subjects’ will. Of all things, carrying out an antagonistic relation is supposed to realize a relation of mediation free of this antagonism. This is why the severity and rigor of rulers carrying out their duties do not contradict the ethos of just rule; conversely, severity and rigor are explicitly required of the rulers for imposing their will on their subjects to match with them. Justice is simply the practiced contradiction of using sovereign power over people and at the same time negating the contradictoriness of this power relation.
Nowhere else is a ruling power held in higher esteem as the executive organ of justice than in the field of punishment. The authorities do not concede the punishment of evildoers to private lynch mobs; instead they themselves exactly determine who is guilty of what, and establish an equivalence between crime and punishment that satisfies general criteria. They are therefore widely regarded as executors of their decent people's legitimate sense of vengeance.
But that is not the truth about punishment. When a sovereign power detects violations of its law committed by its subjects, it proceeds to damaging the offenders. In its punishment, the ruling power grades the severity that it ascribes to the offense. For all the differences in what is defined as a violation of rules, and the ways in which rulers proceed to penalize it, punishment follows a general principle: by damaging the offender, in some places going as far as executing him, the ruling power demonstrates in practice the unshaken, continued validity of its monopoly on force and its principles — it pointedly enforces the restoration of its law.
For this, a just and fair ruling power usually circulates the corresponding interpretation that the restoration of its rule-making monopoly is at the same time a service rendered to the community of decent subjects. In taking the standpoint of fair punishment, the ruling power assumes that the collective of its subjects is a community of righteous people, and it rates all the misdeeds it criminalizes as a breach of its order as a moral violation, as an improper deviation from the standards of social decency. A will to morality is taken for granted and is not only regarded as the truly affected victim of the violation, but, as the one affected, it also demands fair atonement; after all, the will to self-discipline that the state takes for granted and that its citizens also cherish seeks to be satisfied. The ruling power wants to be perceived and recognized as the competent advocate of this will. Victims possess a sense of vengeance, indeed, which a sovereign power takes out of their hands by virtue of its laws, and generalizes as a matter of its own order. This vindictiveness is thus legitimized insofar as ‘punitive justice’ fosters the viewpoint of appropriate retaliation as ethos of its measures. It is therefore also clear for the offenders’ side that their just punishment, by the harm inflicted on the incriminated persons, reflects their breach of morality, and that this punishment provides an essential contribution to their reconciliation with the community of the righteous. Of course, keeping this community intact sometimes also requires a definitive ruling of irreconcilability.
Justice in punishment is the sovereign’s claim that inflicting harm on an offender, the reason and purpose of which is to enforce its monopoly on force, at the same time realizes a correspondence — between the legitimate interest of the community of all decent people in the offender’s atonement, and the repentance of the offender by accepting his punishment, with which he demonstrates his sincere contrition as a prerequisite for his reintegration into the community of the righteous.
A sovereign power may practice an ethos of rendering a service to the “true essence” of its subjects; obeying their “nature,” their “will,” their higher purpose attested by God, human rights, or by some other supreme authority — in what respect and by which means it claims to correspond to its subjects follows neither from the formalism of submission nor from the principle of justice.The particular content of its correspondence is instead a result of the particular social modes of reproduction which a ruling power regulates as the basis of its subjects’ existence, thus establishing these modes as a source of its own power.
The bourgeois state reflects the economic practices of its capitalistic society. It bases itself on an economy in which production and work are done for money, respects the self-interest of its citizens to acquire property in the form of money by exchanging commodities and services for money, and thus respects their efforts to compete over the private appropriation of the wealth of the society. In its practice, the state takes for granted that all means of social reproduction are subject to the claim of private disposal, and that with the money they earn, its citizens hold in their hands the objectified power to obtain all purchasable products of labor. The state recognizes the antagonistic relation of wills between competitors who mutually exclude and at the same time depend on one another. In the exchange of goods and services for money, citizens exercise a conflictual cooperation, and the bourgeois state serves this contradictory money-materialism by sanctioning it as a legal relation of equal and free wills. It guarantees person and private property; it protects the competing citizens as private legal subjects from the violations they have to expect from their competitors in pursuing their interests; it empowers them thus to freely exercise their conflicting interests in the form of rights; and conversely, it forces them in the pursuit of their materialism to relativize themselves to the competing interests of others, as they too have equally been granted rights. In this way, the legal codification of the economic relations that the bourgeois state in practice presumes in its society indeed matches the self-interest of its subjects. With its established legal order, the sovereign power over capitalistic society serves the private interests of the citizens: it makes the antagonism of private owners over monetary wealth universally binding as the solely permissible form of social cooperation.
A contract is the legal form in which a ruling power governs antagonistic interests. The state codifies the antagonistic wills of its competing citizens as a legal transaction in which legal persons that are equal and free consensually contract their mutual exchange of goods and services. The law secures the terms of the contract — terms that cover what is being agreed to and govern the details of mutual obligation — thus regulating the antagonistic relation of citizens in the form of a legally binding agreement that sets their alienable property as equivalents.
The reproduction of capitalistic society takes the form of a ragbag of the most varied contractual relations; the contract is therefore the elementary object to which the constitutive lie of bourgeois rule refers. The ethos of the contractual relations is commutative justice (justice in the exchange of equivalents). This is the promise of the bourgeois state to have actually achieved — with the voluntary agreement formalized in contract — firstly the exclusion of cheating, i.e., fairness in competition; secondly, with the legal agreement of conflicting wills to have achieved their compatibility at the same time; and thirdly, in principle, through the equation implemented by the two sides in an exchange relation, to have realized an equivalence of giving and taking. Consequently, the virtue of exchange may be used in different ways: the invoking of fair execution of contract is used to sanctify unequal outcomes or those that create dissatisfaction; if a contractual relation produces unsatisfactory results, it may cast doubt whether these had really been based on performance, i.e., conformed to the equivalence of giving and taking. In both cases, it is apparent that justice in the exchange of equivalents, because of what it is particularly based on, is not only the universal virtue of political power in dealing with those subjected to it; it is also the fundamental maxim of social intercourse, a claim that the citizens raise against one another — the elemental ethos of bourgeois society.
This is a permanent spur to a considerably more weighty antagonism than the formal one of competing private subjects in their antagonistic cooperation and its coverage by contract law.
In contract law, disparate exchange relations are regulated as contractual relations. The principle, set into law, of “do ut des” [Latin: “I give that you might give”] applies even where only the form of an exchange takes place: in the relation of wage labor and capital.
Since everybody's survival is made dependent on the disposal power of property as measured in money, it is therefore of vital importance whether one has disposal over enough money or must first earn some; hence the citizens are divided into two classes. The vast majority who lack privately owned resources have disposal over nothing but their capacity to work, while a minority have exclusive disposal over the social means of life and the means of production for manufacturing them. By virtue of their legally secured economic disposal power over the material sources of social wealth, this minority possesses the power to command the work of all those who must earn a wage for the purpose of making a living; they do this by serving to increase the private wealth of a capitalist owner. This owner is empowered by the sovereign’s legal protection to determine, according to his interest in enrichment, the living conditions of wage earners, while the latter has free disposal over their person. Their sole prospects in their permanent struggle for money lie in being employed under the command of capitalist wealth.
As the state also regulates wage labor as an exchange of equivalents, the commanding power of capital over society’s labor power appears in practice as a contractual relation between equal and free legal subjects who contract the exchange of work and money. This necessitates all sorts of legal regulations which extend far beyond contract law, and a remarkable progress in regard to justice is made: of all things, the class antagonism between wage-earners and those who exploit their work to increase their own wealth is claimed to be a mediation relation that has been stripped of this fundamental antagonism; of all things, capitalistic private property exercising its economic power over the society's work capacity is claimed to be a fair exchange of equivalents through the contractual formalization of the exchange of “work” for “pay.” Justice in exchange is thus the constitutive lie of an economic power relation, which makes it all the more productive as the maxim of the ubiquitous contractual relations — and hence it is also not the last word in matters of justice.
From the point of view of justice, the overall results of the capitalistic mode of production — the production and distribution of social wealth in the form of an income hierarchy of poorly and well paid workers on the one hand, and a few capitalist owners on the other — provide the grounds for the ideal of distributive justice. What has been decided with the capitalist command over social labor in practice — the general distribution of wealth, unequal and benefiting just one side — becomes the starting point for assessing whether the disparities and inequalities are acceptable or unreasonable. Distributive justice offers a quid pro quo: it translates the incommensurability of different “incomes” — ranging from the wages earned by dependent employees to the profits made by those who profitably exploit others’ labor — into a merely quantitative difference of shares that can be earned from an imaginary, great big money-pie. The ideal of fair discrimination is by itself useless for reaching a decision regarding the extent to which the social results of class division and income differences are acceptable or not. Hence the principle of distributive justice is upheld by another criterion that is to determine the appropriateness of distribution: the principle of meritocracy requires that quantitative differences in pay correspond solely to the contributions made by the income recipients. It is the ideal that the inequalities that are the perpetual product of capitalist competition are justified by different contributions. Thus a second quid pro quo is added to the first. The qualitative difference between “contributions” at opposite poles — command over social labor on the one hand, and being commanded on the other — is represented as mere quantitative difference in basically the same thing, a small or large contribution to social prosperity from which everybody gets his fair share according to his contribution. But using the criterion of merit-based justice to determine what are truly appropriate income differences is a tough task. No sooner is it applied in a specific case than it loses any clarity of distinction: anything at all can be declared a “contribution” that justified a certain, since appropriate, ”consideration” in return; conversely, any equivalent that is claimed can be denied by pointing to an insufficient “contribution.” That, however, does little damage to the ideal of a merit-based distribution of wealth but rather gives rise to lively and endless argument in its name.
The prevailing judgment that distributive justice, despite merit-based consideration of individual contributions, leaves something to be desired, not only in individual cases, but systematically with regard to whole sections of the population, leads to anything but recognizing that distributive and merit-based justice are false ideals of capitalist competition. Instead, two more aspects of justice are postulated by asking what is to be blamed for causing this discrepancy defined as injustice.
Equal opportunity sets its sight on the conditions that should be met so that there is a way of judging unequal results of competition as adequate. Citizens — generally of a certain type — dissatisfied with their success in competition attribute their adversities to the circumstance that they cannot make the contributions that they in fact could make. This explanation is an interesting feat of translation. For in practical life, the people complaining in this way are confronted with the fact that they are made objects of a comparison with regard to their suitability in the world of competition, and according to criteria that they do not have under their own control. That means that their “qualification” only counts if, and only to the extent that, employers demand knowledge and skills according to their (the employers’) calculations. Further, that in the course of this demand, everything that a person is innately capable of doing, learns to do, and in the end can do has to measure up to the ever-changing demands of capitalist owners. And that decides what opportunities one gets and what becomes of them. Practical experiences of this type are indeed the source of the discontent that citizens display. If they expect a remedy for their discontent from “more equal opportunities,” however, they muddle up who is subject (doer) and who is object (done to) when their suitability is compared: one is confident of one's ability in principle to pass the test of the competition into which one has been thrown, and takes the circumstances, i.e., the requirements of “the society,” as conditions whose imagined purpose is to help one realize one’s own potential. The notoriously negative results of such comparison are then blamed on the dominating economic actors and their interests in only one sense: the results are turned into a task of “the society,” thus ultimately mandating the politicians to make sure that everybody can turn himself into a useful subject, equipped with all the currently required features, and gets the same access to the practical tests of competition as everyone else.
Under the heading ‘equal opportunities,’ criticism of the unequal distribution of citizens’ personal happiness becomes an affirmation of competition, thus of the authority to whom it is owed. In this competition, everybody should finally be able to get a real chance to realize his potential by means of external conditions — education, training, labor market … — as well as by conditions that the individual creates in himself. Of course, even equal opportunity does not pass the acid test. Whenever necessary prerequisites or deficits with regard to equal opportunities are identified, a permanent debate is certain to follow: What could possibly be a condition for equal opportunities so that individuals can make their contribution? Is it really equal opportunity if workers’ children receive targeted support, or is the opposite the case? These questions simply cannot be decided on the ground of the ideal of fair, competitive conditions. Sometimes in the name of equal opportunity, unequal results of competition are attributed to unfair discrepancies between individual potential on the one hand and work delivered and rewarded on the other; sometimes they are attributed to insufficient ambition or inadequate talent, over which another nice and endless dispute ensues: Does the latter lie in the genes or in the environment?
From the viewpoint of distributive justice, which discovers injustice in unequal results of competition, yet another transition can be made: in the name of social justice, corrective action is demanded in order to act upon the social result of distribution. To the extent that the bourgeois state recognizes in practice its responsibility for that correction, it gets active in this matter as welfare state. It confronts the contradiction that its wage-dependent citizens can’t make a decent living from their source of income, and accordingly intervenes in the results of competition. It socializes part of the national wage bill and redistributes it within the class so that the contradiction in the wage as a source of income remains in place for the entire class, and thus remains lastingly useful for capital. At the same time, the social state claims to have rendered a service to social justice, i.e., the ideal of appropriate compensation for disadvantages where competition — assumed to be more or less fair — and its merit-based income leads to unwanted results: quite a few citizens can’t make a living from the wages they earn; a large number of them, compelled to compete over employment opportunities, earn no income at all because capital simply has no use for them; and so forth. The question whether compensatory measures are adequate gives rise, once they take shape, to an incessant dispute about who should get something, when, how much, and if anything at all because other aspects of justice are negatively affected, etc. This dispute does no harm to the ethos of social justice; on the contrary, it ends up applying aspects that are meant to serve as yardsticks for the ideal of social participation: merit-based justice makes an honored appearance here, too. As a former contributor to social wealth, a citizen is not only entitled to receive appropriate compensation in general, but also even if, or because, he is currently dependent on assistance due to not being or despite being used, and this compensation should in all fairness be proportionate to his “merits.” The dispute over the concrete reality of the ideal of social justice is thereby enriched with an additional point of view.
The standpoint of fair compensation for disadvantages, however, also allows the conclusion that consideration of previously made contributions is judged to be an inadequate criterion for social assistance. In the end, the needs of those affected are actually honored for the first time — in fact in all the wretchedness fitting and proper for them in the capitalist money-economy. Needs which are worthy of recognition from the social viewpoint are called ‘the poverty line,’ and the benefits provided help with survival. In this sphere, justice has had its day. Its place is taken by the ideal of charity, which expressly distances itself from the rigors of the equivalence principle. The state for its own political reasons, along with compassionate philanthropists, takes on the maintenance of capitalist pauperism, which support is well-understood as a service to human dignity — that says it all about this higher good.
It has repeatedly been shown with each criterion for justice that no sooner has it been taken seriously as criterion for practical guidelines than it turns out to be untenable. On the other hand, this is merely the starting point for a permanent renewal of the demand that exchange should really be fair, leading to satisfactory results for everyone in this society — in the form of a progressive clarification and correction of exchange justice. Whereby its dishonest character as an ideal of capitalist class society is conceded ever anew and at the same time denied.
The various justice viewpoints take root and become accepted as virtues of society on account of the social conditions whose ideals they are always upholding — or more precisely: on account of the citizens’ necessary dissatisfaction with each other and with their authorities, and conversely the sovereign power’s dissatisfaction with itself and its subjects. The executors of the bourgeois state, the parties competing for power, professional opinion leaders, social interest groups, or the ordinary citizen — no one voices their dissatisfaction without claiming his entitlement to justice. Every criticism is ultimately expressed by invoking the ideals of ruling power and community as the legitimating reason for any kind of objection, which achieves the unwavering reproduction of all aspects of justice.
While invoking the ideal that its rule over its citizens produces a match between itself and its citizens, as well as between its citizens, the bourgeois state generates nothing but antagonistic interests, damaged interests, and thus a society full of dissatisfaction. It accommodates the permanent discontent with its authoritative orders harbored by citizens by making criticism of the execution of its power justiciable. In the form of a separation of powers and legally codified procedures, the bourgeois state institutionalizes a self-check by which it examines the legality of every aspect of its rule over its citizens. In substance, this is a necessity of the reason of state under which this political power is exercised over its class society, ensures the legal functioning of its citizens' interests, and guarantees the safeguarding of its purposes in the form of official duties of its professional functionaries. From the position of a just power, this objective necessity in principle also guarantees that all official ideals of justice are honored. The state checks itself or allows itself to be checked as to whether it follows the formalism of legal proceedings by which it subjects its citizens to the conditions of capitalist competition. These legalities are claimed to be realization of the bourgeois criteria for justice in that the state opens a path for its citizens to complain about injustices, and meets this demand with its perfectly structured self-examination.
The discrepancy between the objective truth of the legal formalism and what it is supposed to represent has of course not been removed with that. It leads to disappointment on the part of the citizens, who throw the difference between law and justice back at the authorities as their failure; and on the part of the state to the recognition — not transgressing the legal framework — that its officials have to act tactfully and sensitively while subsuming its society under the law. The law anticipates that searching for the principle of which a legal case is supposed to be an example regularly poses problems for its administrators. It therefore authorizes those in charge to make discretionary decisions where necessary, and in this way do justice to the ‘spirit of the law’ — a trained sense of justice serves as a corrective to the abstract nature of law.
The alleged unity — in principle — of state power and justice is affirmed not only by the form the state’s power takes, but also by the way in which politics is conducted in a democratic state, i.e., as a permanent conflict between the government and its opposition. Almost every political measure a government adopts and implements arouses discontent and criticism of the way government offices are used. More than anyone else, politicians from the opposition find fault with the government’s politics. Most of the time, their criticism is even based on objective necessities of state power, in economic, social, budgetary, or other political considerations. But when propagating their criticism, they make sure that the matter bothering them is portrayed as an offense against the virtues of executing political power. Therefore, they habitually present their objections from the standpoint of justice.
The democratic opposition thus makes an essential contribution to attesting the ethos of bourgeois rule. By institutionally opposing the government, the opposition fulfills the function of translating any self-generated or popular discontent with politics into political alternatives for which it wants to be elected. And they do all that in the name of the promise to honor thereby an obligation to all aspects of justice. As there is a possibility that opposition parties, with their noble promises, are elected to the control centers of state power, they are regarded — as long as they are “grounded in the constitution” — as the guarantee anchored in democratic procedures that the ideals of the use of force that are invoked as the criterion of criticism are also actually politically effective.
Both the bourgeois state’s self-check of the formalism of its rule and the democratic method of rule with its electable political alternatives as the culmination point of all legitimate discontent are a concession made by the state to its citizens. The path is thereby opened not only to give voice to their damaged interests as criticism of their competitors or of politics, but also to proceed to action with demands. They are allowed to organize themselves in interest groups, make objections and demands with respect to the course of competition or of politics, and strive for the success of the interests they represent. This license is accompanied by an offer: they may call for justice when criticizing and demanding, i.e., they are allowed to insist on a just and fair consideration of the concerns they advocate for. This offer, however, has a downside: it is at the same time moral signposting for the critically demanding citizens concerned — if their complaints and demands are to be recognized, the citizens must plead for their concerns in the name of socially valid criteria of justice. And that achieves what is crucial in the matter: when citizens are invited to morally justify interests, they are at the same time asked to recognize the political order and the capitalist class-society regulated thereby. This means that the offer requires citizens to relativize their material interests to the principles of the ruling power and to prevailing economic principles.
The license to make demands in the name of all ideals of competition entails a directive to be constructive. This has particularly far-reaching effects where the ideal of a just exchange serves as the constitutive myth of the class relation between labor and capital. By being granted the right to fight for a livable income, the part of the population whose interests are systematically damaged is tied down to its function. This legal authorization restricts labor disputes to pursuing the constructive goal of preserving the conditions of wage labor. The state confines the conflict that characterizes its economy by delegating it to the parties concerned to settle it as partners in collective bargaining, by modifying their struggle with legal regulations, and by attaching the proviso that it has to result in the restoration of social peace. The ideal that a good life can be had from earning a wage is thereby maintained — if only it is a fair wage. The labor union, i.e,. the organization of a method by which aggrieved workers recognize the need to strike back against capital, aligns its objectives and targets with the legal situation as defined by the state. It dedicates itself to the ideal of fighting for a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. The fighting organization of wage earners, of all things, thus translates capitalist exploitation into an issue of fair exchange. And more than that: modern representatives of labor follow the maxim that workers’ interests are ultimately compatible with wage labor, which they take so seriously that they allow their active fighting to blend into constructive participation in a neatly defined hierarchy of wages. They cooperate in defining performance parameters that make diverse activities quantitatively comparable so that an exactly calculated amount of money can be assigned them as fair remuneration. The capital side with its unrelenting interest in reducing wages readily contributes the applicable criteria.
The labor unions take on responsibility for a truly just and fair social order, as energetic advocates of wage earners who in their status as recognized bargaining partners stand up for the equation that the working population is entitled to a fair wage and thus a standard of living that matches their contribution to social prosperity. In practice, they are active supporters of the swindle with which the ruling authorities codify the capitalist class-state, namely, that the legally formed services to submission and order have a mediating character.
The bourgeois public, forming its opinion on each and every thing under the sun, uses justice and its sub-aspects as a yardstick for any criticism. While the citizens concerned subsume their damaged interests and related claims under aspects of justice, the “fourth estate” takes the ideals of capitalist society as the starting point from which disparate discontent is made commensurable. It seeks, takes up, and cites damaged interests from the perspective of a just order; of a competition that is based on merit and fair opportunities, not only in school and at the workplace but also in private life; from the perspective of a government that acts responsibly and is, in addition to these maxims, also committed to social justice; etc., etc. Damaged interests are thus upgraded to inconsequential indicators for the critical public’s view that a much more significant damage is present in the failure to respect the criteria of justice. This may, as needed, include one of two sides. In one case, the dissatisfaction of politicians, employers or employees, taxpayers, consumers or environmentalists all serve as material for journalists to express their concern about (un-)fair social conditions; in another case, the same material serves to denounce complaints from the same standpoint as unjustified, since merely particularist claims.
For the public, this provides a constant politicization of damaged interests. The newspaper-reading, TV-watching, and internet-surfing citizen can hardly escape the many offers promoting firstly his own discontent and, secondly, discontent in general. He is served a pluralism of opinions that sanctify his damaged interests in the name of a general concern. And he is supplied with news that notoriously teaches him to feel outraged about injustices that he would never in his life have discovered himself. The citizen is addressed, informed, and entertained as the imaginary caretaker of a truly just and fair social order.
The citizen, being an advocate of a just order, accepts his responsibility above all where he really and for once is the “master in his own house.” As a private individual, he lives justice as the ethos of his own way of life. Since the private sphere is his realm of freedom, he fulfills himself here as master of a just and fair order that is also his own.
In actual fact, private life is a dependent variable of competition in the workplace. At the same time, it is the sphere for whose successful organization a self-confident citizen shoulders the trials and tribulations of competition. These hardships may indeed fall differently on the diverse members of a “modern working population,” and the conditions under which people organize compensation for themselves in their private lives may also be different (for the wage-earning majority of the population, everything is dominated by the pressure to make do with scarce financial and time resources). But across all classes, the inevitable grievances are coped with according to a universally valid viewpoint: the standpoint of justice turns the private sphere into a matter of fair exchange.
All kinds of people — be they assembly line workers, school teachers, or executives — organize their private lifestyles according to the maxim that a just reward ultimately awaits in the realm of freedom for all the various travails that come with working life. True to the principle that these travails must eventually pay off, the citizen stylizes everything he does for others in daily life as an advance service, everything he hopes to gain from others as a reward that he deserves on account of his sacrifices. Every adversity and disappointment he experiences gains the status of an obligation denied him as a breach of duty. For this reason, any and every dissatisfaction arising in his interpersonal relations with friends and acquaintances or with his family or even lovers serves to justify a right to his own satisfaction, which the world kindly has to acknowledge and take into consideration. And as the citizen would like to realize his legitimate needs finally for once in his private life, he can easily make the transition from his custom of denouncing failures of fair consideration to using private violence. Whether verbally in the form of accusations and insults or physically lashing out — the private sphere is the space in which the citizen with his sense of justice is actively engaged as a vigorous champion of his own regime of rights and duties.
In this way, the true nature of justice, to be the ideal of a force relation, finds its way into private life as a guiding principle.
Because life in a capitalist society produces permanent dissatisfactions, the call for justice is as much consistently upheld as invariably disappointed. This is the basis of a transition for which countless offers for a higher justice stand by. There are genuine religions as well as so-called new or alternative religions that fasten on all kinds of disappointment in order to elevate them to a generalized question of principle, abstracting from all concrete detail — how do things look for justice in life and in the world in general. They stand ready to interpret diverse dissatisfactions as a universal despair about the unfairness of life in general. They put forward various offers to answer the question about the true meaning of earthly existence — and they thereby attest as court of last resort to the real struggle for existence in the competition for money, profit, and respect with all its devastating results: justice is made into an intellectually challenging ideal known as such, admittedly counter-factual and yet meant to be the true “reason why” of the reality of life. The unshakable belief that one will ultimately be somehow rewarded for fulfilling one's duties, along with the comforting reassurance that a just reward for all the troubles in this world awaits in the hereafter, makes its peace with the world.
* From Latin specula principum, a notorious example being Il Principe (Machiavelli).
1 Philosophers in particular will not accept this. For over a thousand years, they have been trying to prove what cannot be proven, i.e., that particular aspects of justice, in the end even specific directives for it can be deduced from the abstract idea of justice, from the formalism of a worthy relation of correspondence.
2 The standpoint of the imaginary caretaker will stop at nothing. Justice in gender relations has even overtaken grammar — in the form of an obsession with “political correctness” in everyday language and even in the sexless realm of science: woe to the one who violates the right of the female sex to “gender-inclusive” pronouns. The content of the statement in question can easily become a side issue from sheer indignation over being “excluded.”
© GegenStandpunkt 2017