Struggling With The Golden Rule

Vivian Gornick reviews Michael Sandel's new book on justice. A taste:

Let’s go back to the Golden Rule. As I grew older, I sawwith a shock from which I don’t think I ever recoveredthat this Rule, while excellent in theory, was not workable in practice. Transgression was alarmingly ever-present. People simply could not accord each other the “justice” of treating one another as they themselves wished to be treated. Let me revise that. Forget people. It was I who couldn’t help transgressing. With all the good will in the world, I soon came to see that I myself was a swamp of fears, fantasies, and defenses that caused me to forfeit the integrity needed to act with Golden Rule fairness toward those around me.

My temper was ungovernable; an aggravated sense of insecurity caused me, in exchange after exchange, relationship after relationship, year after year, to do exactly what the Rule said it was impermissible to do: I scorned and humiliated, I challenged and confronted, dismissed and discounted; suffered when I acted badly, but could not bring myself under control. The source of the transgression lay deep in the wounded unconscious: it commanded me. I loved many people in the abstractfelt for them, sympathized with them, romanticized thembut I could not give them the only thing that mattered: what Kant called “respect,” the one basic recognition required to bypass that fatal sense of degradation. In short, the chaos within prevented me from acting as though others were as real to me as I was to myself, although in theory they were. And here we come to a crux of the matter.

It is thisthe chaos withinthat is hardly ever addressed in Justice; although it is this, precisely, that is responsible for the all-important gap between practice and theory.

(Hat tip: 3QD)