[Translated from Landplage, October 1999]
Injustice is the extreme reproach by the opponents to the social reforms and savings program of the government. This has little to do with resistance to the victimization ordered by the politicians. Objections such as “antisocial,” “inequitable,” “unbalanced,” “social difficulties” and “always at the expense of the little people” form fitting democratic background music for a policy that in principle lowers living standards to a new level.
A value with a negative logic
Anyone who calls for justice has already swallowed the prescribed sacrifices. The objection demands only a balanced distribution of the victims, whose necessity one has seen for a long time. And this demand follows a very peculiar pattern: a politician brings into play the idea that pensioners could get along completely fine for a few years without a pension increase and already the next demand is on the table (already in the name of the pensioners!) that it is only fair if the wage earners make a few wage concessions. If the health insurance company does not pay for eyeglass frames any more, while hearing aids are replaced, then injustice is shouted. And if patients must be saved on, it is automatically clear that the healthy must also give up a few dollars. Thus the different members of a class are played off against each other and provoked: the pensioner judges the worker, the healthy the sick, the men the women, the student the housewife, the youth the elderly, and back again. The message is always: one must be fleeced because the others have already been fleeced – this is simply a requirement of justice.
This illogic enjoys enormous popularity with the objects of the economic measures. The damaged people and/or their representatives do not think at all of rebelling against the imposed sacrifices. All the hardships and troubles inflicted by the state are always directly translated into the higher spheres of rights and justice, where they are guaranteed to have nothing more to do with their own interests. If the victims take a political point of view, thus the point of view of the nation, the national economy or whatever else the “affected persons” may recognize as higher interests, the only viewpoint that counts is whether one has not already gotten too much of the established damages. But how should that be found out, if not for the fact that the appropriate sacrifices have been imposed on other members of the nation? The damage of the other proves one’s own justice.
A class-conscious criteria
But this is still not all, by a long shot. If, in the name of justice, burdens are demanded of those who have much more profitable sources of income than wages, it seems that this does not simply mean the abstract idea of a symmetrical burden-sharing. The conception that the rich should be burdened a lot and the poor a little, because the former have plenty of money and the others are always broke anyway, is unworldly. It ignores the fact that justice is very closely related to the coordinates of the world in which it is dispensed, and this is just capitalism. The distribution of burdens must do justice – not to the social situation of an individual – but to the in force purposes of the society and its economic growth. Not how much money one has in one’s wallet is the question, but for what is it intended: does it serve as a means of subsistence or does it contribute as an investment and increase capital in the national accounts? Justice adheres to the material logic of the free-market economy and its distribution of roles between employers and job seekers. With the same majestic equality, it demands the entrepreneurs gain every amount of growth, thus always become enriched from their worldwide business, just as it demands the employees work for them more cheaply. So profitably invested capital is just not available to correct the often criticized social imbalances in the budget cuts, but only the private fortune of the capitalists. And there is also little leeway there because the achievements of this important class in particular must be fairly remunerated.
An ideology useful for the state
No wonder that justice ranks at the top of the scale of the values of politicians and is very welcome as a criticism of the “modernization” of the welfare state. No wonder also that the fleeced citizen’s irritated sense of justice is so extremely suitable to electoral competitions. When one’s own damage has long been accepted, cosmetic corrections of the otherwise sacrosanct savings program with obviously symbolic – but with the deepest feelings of justice inflating the chest – demands like burdening the rich by re-establishing the wealth tax, burdening pensioners a little less or the like, can be obtained cheaply for a few popularity points.
The lack of inhibition with which the disappointed sense of justice is wooed, by which passive voters are to be brought back into the fold with a little hypocrisy, gives evidence of how finely separated the material interests of the citizens are from this viewpoint of their civic thinking and feeling. Nobody is as ready for incineration as justice-demanding citizens. Hypocritically demonstrated, without practical consequences, the “feeling for social justice” should provide the people with the feeling of being recognized as equal members of the nation.
Just as the impression of a fair rule can be so cheaply produced, so the ideological achievement of this value is enormous: it obligates the victims of the system to acknowledge all the official government orders over their living conditions. Politicians are undisputedly justified in imposing any restriction on their interests, if they only dispense justice. This criterion is then strictly a topic when political or union representatives, journalistic pundits or religious moralizers worry whether the whole imposition of the reform policies would not shortchange justice. Anyone who warns about a “splitting of society” and an “endangerment of the social peace” worries about the intactness of the civic-patriotic convictions of the affected persons and their acknowledgment of class society as their proletarian homeland.