Worcester Sun recently published an interview with Worcester’s chief diversity officer, Malika Carter.
Carter seems sincere in her desire to broaden opportunity in Worcester. She has, for example, worked to better explain the civil service process and city hiring opportunities to groups traditionally unaware of or poorly informed about them.
But while it is critical that government guarantee equality of opportunity, it is equally critical that government not try to guarantee equality of results.
On that point, I am concerned. Not because Carter explicitly endorses such a position, but because her words echo that distinctively modern “philosophy” which, because it lacks core guiding principles, is unable to discern any limits to government.
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Recognizing and remedying injustices, along with urging the poor and disenfranchised to participate fully in society, are laudable. But without clear philosophical guidance, such laudable instincts can yield prescriptions that run afoul of common sense, natural law and constitutional principles.
For example, to claim, as Carter does, that institutions “were built for power, to keep the power in and keep the powerless out,” is neither true nor helpful.
In Western societies, at least, institutions develop organically, as the product of the societies and peoples they serve, and generally serve them well. That is particularly true in the United States, where our institutions reflect three centuries of democratic governance, with a distinctly anti-royalist adjustment in 1776 and a powerful corrective toward equality in 1861 and following.
That doesn’t mean our institutions are perfect, or those who run them are incorruptible. But what appears to trouble Carter is simply this: The powerful are powerful.
What can one say in reply, beyond that such is the nature of things? Well, this: That some now powerless people may well make excellent leaders, but their current powerlessness is no guarantee of it.
History is replete with examples of once lowly people who, once in power, were worse than those they supplanted. The French Revolution comes to mind.
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In economics, Carter sounds equally unmoored. Imagine, she suggests, that those “doing a lot with a little bit were at the top of the economic food chain. Imagine how much better our institutions would be …”
Would they? Unlikely. Economic history is shaped not by what a few believe to be just and equitable, but by what many find profitable and useful.
In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), Adam Smith wrote that the rich, despite their natural selfishness and rapacity, and despite aiming to simply gratify their own “insatiable desires,” wind up employing many people and dividing up “with the poor the produce of all their improvements.”
The rich, he writes, “… are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the [necessities] of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society …”
Nor, as Carter suggests, are institutions necessarily better because they are diverse. They are better when the most qualified, competent and wise individuals occupy positions of responsibility and power, regardless of their age, skin color or sexual preferences. To pretend otherwise is folly.
Does this mean that we must yield to the most powerful and Machiavellian among us? No. It means we must exercise moral judgment and reason to discern the best among us and place them in leadership roles.
Does Carter believe that? If so, her interview gives little evidence of it. She speaks of “not stepping on toes,” of withholding judgment, of seeing all points of view.
Well, diplomacy is fine, but leadership requires action and judgment in accordance with a cogent moral code. Respect for others cannot extend so far as to permit any position, and certainly not Carter’s “platinum rule” whereby “you treat people the way they want to be treated.”
Some Americans, after all, seek respect for their desire to replace the Constitution with sharia law, or to practice plural marriage, or to abuse children.
Most public officials will never deal with such extremes, but any governance not guided by moral philosophy eventually collapses in confusion, self-contradiction and failure.
“People have fundamental beliefs and I’m not in the business of changing them,” Carter told the Sun.
Well, I am. Some beliefs – racism, socialism and government control of education – are demonstrably wrong, and I seek to persuade those who hold them to change their minds. But at the top of my list is the belief that government can cure all our ills.