Well, the City Journal’s pretty far out on the right (sometimes a little nutty, resuscitating compassionate conservatism?), so you likely know where you’ll end before you begin.
What it seems Kirsch defends are forms of transcendentalism (i.e. Plato’s World Of Forms, or the possibility of knowledge beyond experience) against Raymond Geuss’s idealism, neo-Marxism and Leninism (as Kirsch has him: narrow-mindedly analyzing who has the power and the means of production).
From Plato’s Republic, Kirsch raises Plato’s extensive discussion with Thrasymachus:
“When one looks at justice clearly, Thrasymachus insists, he finds that it’s nothing but the disguise worn by power: “I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.”’
There are likely many who think like Thrasymachus among us. In fact, we have all probably found ourselves thinking like this at times…
However, Kirsch implies that Geuss is not even as consistent as Thrasymachus:
“The unjust is lord over the truly simple and just: he is the stronger, and his subjects do what is for his interest, and minister to his happiness, which is very far from being their own,” Thrasymachus says…
It follows that the only logical course for any human being is to try to be happily unjust, rather than simple—that is, stupid—and just.’”
Join in the game, or be a useless crank or a coward? Bottle it all inside like Thrasymachus and then when you see Socrates discussing the idea in public, unleash all of your anger at such an idealistic fool? Or maybe like Geuss, you put it all in your philosophical idealism and encourage others to overthrow a common enemy? Kirsch ends with:
“The world of Thrasymachus is a war of all against all, in which the powerful will always win. If Geuss does not want to inhabit such a world—and who does?—he should acknowledge that the inquiry into the nature of justice, which has occupied philosophers from Socrates to Rawls, is not an ideological trick, but the necessary beginning of all attempts to make the world more just.”
Not a bad point, though I’m already sympathetic to the theme.
Just A Thought-Of course “justice” is not merely a code for “social justice” and the neo-marxists, feminists and postmodern American left. Obviously, it’s a central concept to the church. The origin of many of our laws comes from the moral thinking of the church and the assumption of transcendance (it comes from God, and God is outside of us). These laws, in turn, protect many of our freedoms.
Here is a quote from John Locke that could be quite relevant to someone like, say, Dr. Martin Luther King…who obviously thought about the nature of justice quite often:
“For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour’d with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven.”
See Also: Just because the law comes from a belief in a transcendant God doesn’t necessarily follow that one can’t be moral, law-abiding, and Godless: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder