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Guilt and Luck

May 20th, 2004 · No Comments

I’m never surprised to come across some tendentious self-congratulatory piece of the “if you’re not a liberal at 18…” variety, wherein some conservative muses on what kind of personal pathology might induce people to persist in the immature “liberal” phase past the age of reason. But it’s always a little disappointing when philosophy professors stoop to it. In this case, the idea is that liberals are those who never had to work terribly hard, feel guilty about their undeserved wealth, and infer that success and failure in general are the result of luck.

The really indefensible part is that things like “effort” and “hard work” and “discipline” are set up in opposition to luck when, of course, whether or not you end up with a disposition to those things is itself largely a matter of luck. What were your parents like? What kind of community did you grow up in? Surely if anything deserves to be called “immature” it’s the comic-book fantasy that each of us is some self-creating Prometheus on a hill of fire. Of all the reasons to be an economic conservative, this adolescent Horatio Alger notion of desert is surely the worst; there’s something especially preposterous about seeing it advanced as the most “mature.”

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