Bigotry has many wellsprings, but it always draws on the groundwater of envy. "How can that (choose your slur) have two horses when I only have one?" the envious man asks. Hence August Bebel's famous description of anti-Semitism as the "socialism of fools."
In America, we have our own politics of fools. John Edwards leads an all-star cast of liberal politicians and intellectuals (Edwards is decidedly not the latter) who worship at the altar of Invidia, praying that she will exact penance from the undeserving half of our "two Americas."
Like the "scientific socialism" that concealed envy behind a slide rule, today's liberals invoke social science as justification for their covetousness. In one famous study, a majority of people said they would rather make $50,000 if others earned $25,000 than earn $100,000 if others were making $200,000.
Such studies are deeply flawed. For starters, as Arthur Brooks notes in the current edition of City Journal, they don't address the question of whether people would be happier in a world of total equality. Rather, they ask whether people would be happier in a world of inequality so long as they could be richer than everybody else.
More damning, however, is that these studies turn a vice into a virtue. With the exception of the self-esteem movement, which glorifies pride, it's difficult to imagine another area where we so shamelessly tout a sin as the basis of public policy. All men lust in their hearts; shall we dole out concubines for those of us who can't live like Hugh Hefner?
Envy has its social utility, of course. Schoeck argues, along with Nietzsche, that envy helped hone our sense of justice. Fine. But America is supposed to be different, in part because unlike, say, Germany or Russia, America had no feudal past and hence lacked the historic breeding swamps of envy. America's egalitarianism is supposed to be political and nothing more: No man is the involuntary servant of another. Beyond that, he is the captain of his self.
The man who orders a better meal than me has done no harm to me. And it is no man's (or bureaucrat's) job but my own to cool the fever of my futterneid.