Political philosopher Matt Zwolinski has a nice, little post at the Bleeding-Heart’s blog concerning the notoriously complicated problem of historical injustice. The fictional tale he uses to introduce the topic brilliantly exposes the untenability of the argument that we should ignore the past and “start fresh from where we are.” I also love his critical comment about how the dogmatic commitment libertarians have to methodological individualism tends to blind them to how the world actually works, which leads them to cast insensate moral judgments on disadvantaged persons (Bryan “the Western poor are undeserving” Caplan is a case study in this callous way of thinking):
Second, an over-reliance on so-called “methodological individualism” sometimes leads libertarians to be unnecessarily obtuse in thinking about historical injustice. “Only individuals act,” we sometimes like to say. Or even “there are no groups, only individuals.” But there are groups, and they matter. Individuals belong to families that transmit economic, cultural, and other advantages (and disadvantages) from one generation to the next. Individuals have racial, religious, and ethnic identities, and those identities shape the way they are treated by other individuals and institutions both consciously and subconsciously, intentionally and unintentionally. Put these two kinds of identity together and it’s easy enough to see that injustices against an individual in one generation can negatively affect other individuals in later generations. And that systematic injustices against certain groups of individuals can have systematic effects on other members of those groups in later generations.