Ciboski: Hierarchies

Sep 18, 2019

As the sociologist Max Weber observed, the fates of human beings are not equal. People differ in their states of health, wealth, and social status.

Those who are advantaged tend to view their position as legitimate and deserving, while those who are disadvantaged are often seen as being at fault for their condition, regardless of the reason. As Weber says, “That the purely accidental causes may be ever so obvious makes no difference.”

As Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley writes in his book How Fascism Works, the history of liberal citizenship—of equality under the law—has generally been one of expansion, gradually encompassing people of all races, religions, and genders. This is true, too, of political philosophy. Influenced, for example, by theorists of disability, philosophers have expanded the notion of human dignity to include those who cannot, under most circumstances, employ their capacity for political judgment.

In the 21st century, most liberal thinkers have included a generous recognition of universal human status and dignity to include the ability to feel physical suffering, to feel emotions, and to express identity and empathy in multiple ways. By contrast, according to fascist ideology, nature imposes hierarchies of power and dominance that are flatly inconsistent with the equality of respect presupposed by liberal democratic theory.

As Stanley says, fascists argue that natural hierarchies of worth do exist, and that their existence undermines the obligation for equal consideration. He says one sees a valuation of this kind in the words of the many white supporters of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election who regularly spoke of their disdain for “undeserving recipients” of U.S. government largesse in the form of healthcare, referring, often to their fellow black citizens.

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