Conservatives, libertarians, and well-meaning and rational people in general often remark on the unfairness of many practices of the “progressive” media and other institutions of today’s Left. Selective prosecutions, for example. The fact that those same publications that mocked Dan Quayle for his verbal clumsiness are totally dismissive about any concerns regarding the verbal weirdness of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Many, many other examples.
It is true. The unfairness is obvious and palpable. But, listening to these entirely-justified complaints, I am reminded of a passage in Arthur Koestler’s 1940 book Darkness at Noon.
The protagonist of this novel is Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik who has been arrested by the Stalinist regime and is facing trial and probable execution. Among his musings are the following thoughts:
It is said that No. 1 (Stalin) has Machiavelli’s Prince lying permanently by his bedside. So he should: since then, nothing really important has been said about the rules of political ethics. We were the first to replace the nineteenth century’s liberal ethics of fair play by the revolutionary ethics of the twentieth century. In that also we were right: a revolution conducted according to the rules of cricket is an absurdity. Politics can be relatively fair in the breathing spaces of history; at its critical turning points there is no other rule possible than the old one that the end justifies the means.
We introduced neo-Machiavellism into this country; the others, the counter-revolutionary dictatorships, have clumsily imitated it. We were neo-Machiavellians in the name of universal reason — that was our greatness; the others in the name of a national romanticism, that is their anachronism. That is why we will in the end be absolved by history; but not they. . . .
Yet for the moment we are thinking and acting on credit. As we have thrown overboard all conventions and rules of cricket-morality, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic. We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought down to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it. We are sailing without ballast; therefore each touch on the helm is a matter of life or death.
And this is indeed the logic of so many of our present-day “progressives.” They have convinced themselves that we are not in one of those “breathing spaces of history” in which fairness is to be expected–rather, everything must be about ultimate things, must be “existential”, to use one of their favorite terms.
But to what extent do they want to throw out the rule of fairness because they believe we’re at a critical turning point at which no other option is possible…versus to what extent is it the other way around, i.e. they are motivated to believe we are at such a turning point because they want to throw out the rule of fairness?
And how many of them have ever considered the possibility that perhaps it is precisely those critical periods in which the rule of fairness is particularly important?