I just watched Pat Buchanan on Rachel Maddow’s show railing against discrimination against white males. In Pat’s mind, there is no difference whatsoever between the discrimination that Black’s and Hispanic’s suffered in the past and the discrimination that a white man suffers when a promotion that he feels he deserved goes to a minority. Pat’s sees them as equally unjust.
There is another concept of justice that doesn’t seem to figure in Buchanan’s analysis, i.e., corrective justice. Corrective justice is the concept that when a wrong has been done, there must be a remedy that puts the wronged party in the position he would have been in had the wrong not been done. It is the basic concept underlying the computation of damages in tort and contract law. The idea is simple. It is not enough to simply cease doing the wrong. If I have been stealing eggs from my neighbor’s henhouse for the last year, I don’t do justice simply by stopping. I must compensate him for the eggs that I stole.
As nice as it would be if we could simply decide that all decisions in the future will be made on a color blind basis, that does not constitute justice because it does not put the wronged parties in the position that they would have been had the wrong not been done. It is unfortunately the case that any remedy for past racial discrimination must necessarily take race into account. So while I am sure we all appreciate Pat’s generosity in allowing Blacks and Hispanics to be considered on an equal basis in the future, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
None of this is intended to suggest that affirmative action is in fact the proper way or even a reasonable way to address the injustices that have been done in the past. The people who benefit are not necessarily the ones who suffered as a result of the injustice and the people who are penalized are not necessarily the ones who are responsible for the injustice and may not even have benefited from it. Nevertheless, Buchanan’s notion that we just wipe the slate clean doesn’t work either.