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Politics of Envy

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In summary, the data described here found weak support for the widespread contention that envy and political liberalism are linked, and suggested that what linkage exists is principally due to the tendency of envy to weaken with age (with liberalism weakening somewhat over the same period). However, the relationship between political ideology and sentiments such as envy and resentment is potentially multifaceted and complex, so the topic deserves further empirical study. It is hoped the present article may help spark interest in this potentially rich area of investigation. Conflict of Interest Statement

Regardless of the reason for income inequality, those with populist leanings have reached a consensus that it endangers America’s economic and political well-being. The Working Group on Extreme Inequality claims that concentrated wealth gives a disproportionate share of political power to the affluent, weakening democracy and ensuring greater corruption in government. Voter turnout is low because the poor believe they will be disenfranchised. City dwellers set themselves apart by income level, discouraging community involvement.

The Politics of Envy

Our culture wants to destroy those we used to hail as heroes. This is a further step of envy. Not only does it drive us to destroy those around us who are great, it also tries to convince us that those we used to hail as heroes had no goodness in them at all. If we are to combat envy, however, we must look to heroes. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon The results provide some evidence for the common claim that there is some relationship between political liberalism and enviousness. It appears, however, to be a weak relationship (at least as measured here). One could view this finding from two perspectives. On the one hand, a correlation of +0.11 accounts for less than 2% of the variance. Moreover, the correlation that does exist appears likely to be principally accounted for by youth being associated with liberalism and with envy. Given the small correlation, one might argue that it is unlikely that people would be able to detect such a weak relationship through informal observation ( Jennings et al., 1982). Thus, one could suspect that the widespread belief that enviousness and liberalism are related probably mostly reflects commentators’ a priori theories rather than their informal empirical observations or that they have mistakenly attributed envy due to youth to envy due to political orientation. Indeed, in his treatment of the sin of hatred in SummaTheologiae Part II-II, Question 34 , Aquinas identifies envy as its chief source. He says that “since envy is sorrow for our neighbor's good, it follows that our neighbor's good becomes hateful to us, so that ‘out of envy cometh hatred.’” I also show that the thesis is more dogmatically asserted than argued for, and that what arguments these writers do give for their claims rest on crude logical fallacies, easily exposed errors of social science, and the rhetorical tactic of shrilly abusing as “racist” anyone who dares disagree with them. These writers also demonize Western civilization, which they claim upholds inequity, as “racist,” “white supremacist,” and otherwise uniquely oppressive. They favor policies of racial discrimination against those alleged to benefit from “white privilege,” and a program of reeducation to bring discomfort and self-doubt to those whose minds have purportedly been molded by “whiteness,” “white consciousness,” and “white fragility.”

The best way to combat the vice of envy is to understand true worth. For this, we must look to heroes. Some would say that a hero is one who saves you. More than that, I say a hero is one who inspires you to save others. He is a person like us who surpasses us. A hero is a human Call to Greatness. Getting married and staying married would help put low-income Americans on the path to upward mobility. Government could take an active, positive role in promoting marriage by removing tax and welfare rules that penalize it. Political scientist James Q. Wilson has called for the "Department of Health and Human Services [to] launch an ambitious program . . . to identify and test marriage promoting programs so that those that work can be widely advertised."If you asked most people if they preferred a politics based around fairness to one of envy, what would they say? Envy, though, is used over and over again to dismiss even mild challenges to the ruling class, because it is so emotive. Irrational feelings are utilised politically but often sanctioned by a gleam of so-called logic. I would say it suits the elite to encourage a widespread culture of envy. There is a point in the history of society when it becomes so pathologically soft and tender that among other things it sides even with those who harm it, criminals, and does this quite seriously and honestly. Punishing somehow seems unfair to it, and it is certain that imagining “punishment” and “being supposed to punish” hurts it, arouses fear in it. “Is it not enough to render him undangerous? Why still punish? Punishing itself is terrible.” With this question, herd morality, the morality of timidity, draws its ultimate consequence. (p. 201)

In chapter six – Envy as the Path to Power – Hendershott comes close to the insight of Steven D. Smith’s recent “Pagans and Christians in the City” where modern politics was explained as a fight between those with a transcendent religion, i.e., conservative Christians, and those with an immanent religion, i.e., secularists. Building on Christian libertarian Doug Bandow, Hendershott writes: You’ve got something I want. I can’t have it, so I’m going to destroy what you have. I don’t want anyone to have it unless I can have it.” The most troubling thing about this is that many of our fellow citizens (and non-citizens) agree with this way of thinking. We have almost reached the point where the takers outnumber the donors. This is a shame not only for the donors, because the takers are losing their souls, and don’t even realize it. An envious man cannot move ahead in a positive way – he is frozen – and therefore has robbed himself of the self-satisfaction that the successful man knows very well. Political ideology was self-categorized on a five-point scale from (1) far-left, center-left, middle of the road, center-right, to (5) far-right. Finally, participants completed the DES ( Smith et al., 1999). This scale consists of eight items including: (1) I feel envy every day. (2) The bitter truth is that I generally feel inferior to others. (3) Feelings of envy constantly torment me. (4) It is so frustrating to see some people succeed so easily. (5) No matter what I do, envy always plagues me. (6) I am troubled by my feelings of inadequacy. (7) It somehow does not seem fair that some people seem to have all the talent. (8) Frankly, the success of my neighbors makes me resent them. Participants respond to these items on a five-point scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. The individual DES scores were summed for analyses. We also examine just items that focus on material wealth or success (items 4, 7, and 8) as it could be argued, as pointed out by a reviewer, that these most closely tap into the type of envy implied when the term “the politics of envy” is used. ResultsAs Winston Churchill famously said, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” They are all men of ressentiment … insatiable in outbursts against the fortunate and happy and in masquerades of revenge and pretexts for revenge: when would they achieve the ultimate, subtlest, sublimest triumph of revenge? Undoubtedly, if they succeeded in poisoning the consciences of the fortunate with their own misery, with all misery, so that one day the fortunate began to be ashamed of their good fortune and perhaps said one to another: “it is disgraceful to be fortunate: there is too much misery!” (p. 124) René Girard has argued that the major driver of all conflict and violence is mimetic desire — desire that is aroused by the craving of another. For Girard, all envy is mimetic. In his work on Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and scapegoating, Gil Bailie, the founder and president of the Cornerstone Forum and a former student and longtime friend of Girard, appears to understand the relationship between mimetic desire and violence better than anyone.” Less familiar, but no less incisive, is what Friedman said next: "Freedom means diversity but also mobility. It preserves the opportunity for today’s less well off to become tomorrow’s rich, and in the process, enables almost everyone, from top to bottom, to enjoy a richer and fuller life." Capitalism, in the form of the U.S. economy, is not a zero-sum game. If the rich have more, the poor do not have less. Income inequality certainly exists at any time, but differences in long-run income status are "a sign of dynamic change, social mobility, equality of opportunity." Nietzsche’s account of envy is consistent with Aquinas’s (even if, again, his application of this analysis to a critique of Christianity is certainly not). But there are differences of emphasis. Like Aquinas, Nietzsche takes envy to involve sorrow at another person’s possessing more of some good. But he consistently focuses on the greater power of others as that which the envious person cannot bear. Like Aquinas, Nietzsche takes hatred to be envy’s natural sequel. But he puts much greater emphasis on how envy and the hatred it spawns can harden into a seething and poisonous ressentiment intent on destroying its object.

For the envious, says Nietzsche, the supreme victory would be to get those they envy to adopt their perverse inversion of morality and thereby come to despise themselves the way the envious despise them. In On the Genealogy of Morals , he says:


Now, I am sure not all the members of the BCA are vampires, but they sure would not be advocating for this because it is the “right thing to do”, they are doing it because they know it is good for the bottom line of their business members. However, as Aquinas immediately goes on to note , this needs qualification. Not every kind of sorrow at another’s good amounts to envy. Suppose someone who means to harm you or your loved ones gains power by which he might do so. For example, it might be a rival at work who gains a position of influence by which he might get you fired. Such a position is a kind of good, and naturally, you grieve that he has achieved it. But that is not envy. Rather, it is a perfectly healthy concern for your own well-being and that of your loved ones. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said of Envy: “Envy according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life… Charity rejoices in our neighbor’s good, while envy grieves over it.”

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