Editor’s Note: In the current issue of National Review, Jay Nordlinger has a piece called “Take Two: D’Souza films again.” It’s about Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author and filmmaker, and his new movie, America: Imagine the World without Her. Nordlinger has been expanding on his piece in Impromptus. For Parts I and II, go here and here. Today concludes the series.
In our rolling conversation — rolling in more than one sense, because we’re aboard the rock-star bus — Dinesh makes a familiar point, but one that bears repeating: Capitalists are terrible at defending capitalism. They will defend it on grounds of efficiency, but not on grounds of morality or justice. We will lose capitalism, says Dinesh, unless we learn to defend it, rhetorically, against its enemies.
You recall what the Marxists used to say, and probably still do (I haven’t listened to them in a while): “‘Freedom!’ say the capitalists. Yeah: the freedom to sleep under bridges.”
For my money, Dinesh’s most compelling insight is that justice is a more powerful idea than freedom, in political debate. Justice will trump freedom every time. The Left eats our lunch, over and over.
“What do little kids say?” Dinesh points out. “‘That’s not fair! That’s not fair!’” It is elemental.
In the old days, people didn’t ask whether the king made the economy grow. They had one question: “Is he just or unjust?”
“The Left recognizes the power of justice,” says Dinesh, “and they recognize the vulnerability of America, because capitalism is a counterintuitive system that has never been in tune with our instincts about justice. Look at the teacher, the plumber, and the rock singer. If you were distributing their salaries, how would you do it? Your distribution would probably look different from the market’s.”
I have a memory of speaking at a Renaissance Weekend, many years ago. (This is a recurrent Democratic jamboree, and I was a token, which was fine. My hosts were wonderful.) I said that Orwell spoke of the “law-and-liberty countries,” and that Robert Conquest had described himself to me as a “law-and-liberty man.”
In the Q&A, a man very angrily said to me, “You left out justice!” (Turned out, he was a judge.) I said that I thought the rule of law and liberty included justice.
President Obama talks about fairness constantly — constantly. It is “the core theme of his presidency,” as Dinesh says. Couple of memories (further memories).
Obama was debating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries. A moderator, Charlie Gibson, brought up the capital-gains tax, pointing out its history: When the rate had gone down, revenue had gone up; and when the rate had gone up, revenue had gone down. “So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”
Obama answered, “Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness.” Yes. Economics is out the window. Cause and effect is out the window. Real, practical consequences are out the window. All that matters is something psychological: someone’s notion of “fairness.”
At National Review, we were speaking with someone in the Republican House leadership. This was about four years ago, I would say. The leader said that, in budget negotiations with Obama, the Republicans would make economic arguments — and the president would ignore those arguments, coming back with the theme of social justice.
Rich Lowry, our editor, said, “Does he really say ‘social justice’?” The congressional leader said, “Well, he says ‘fairness.’ That’s his word: ‘fairness.’”
I love the way Daniel Hannan, the British politician and writer, began a recent column: “Would you rather live in a 1000 square foot house where everyone else’s was 800, or a 1200 square foot house where everyone else’s was 1400? I sometimes think it’s the most elemental question in politics.”
Dinesh D’Souza says, “The Founders’ idea of freedom is the solution to injustice.”