James Coleman in a passage written for The Public Interest, some 32 years ago, well before the Shah’s overthrow and the ascendancy of the Ayatollah Khomeini, had this to say while discussing John Rawls’s and Robert Nozick’s widely different ideas on inequality:
Whereas for Rawls, a central authority is entitled to distribute the fruits of everyone’s labor, for Nozick, only the individual is entitled to the fruits of his own labor, and he has full rights to the use and disposal of them.
This idea contains the essence of what still most divides the world, and also our nation. Today in Tehran the protesters are sensing, perhaps for the first time for they are all young, the median age of Iranians being some 25 years, that the fruits of their labors ought to be theirs.
The central authority, an old man with beard and black turban, senses, indeed knows well that if he doesn’t do something he risks losing everything. So out into he streets he sends his hired thugs to beat down the protesters that they become docile and once again return to doing what they’re told to do.
So far he is successful. Today things are calm in Tehran and the fruits of the labors of the protesters are not within their grasp. The old man is again determining just how best he and his henchmen should distribute the fruits of everyone’s labor.
Did John Rawls not recognize that justice, let alone equality could never spring from a central authority? Did he not recognize that all fruits came from individual trees. As in our garden, so in our nation the very best we can do is to help individuals to flower and to produce.
If the old man looked about him he would see that his country was poor, and that no riches would ever arise from the central authority’s, his, oppression of the people. While equality of possessions among the citizens of Iran may never have been his goal, equality of behavior, in particular of obedience to him, was. And now he is confronted by the dismal fruits of his own labor.