The cause of reparations is back in vogue. Self-proclaimed representatives of peoples from around the world are claiming that other races owe them for past injustices, payable in cold hard cash. Justice must be done, no matter how much time has elapsed since the atrocities, or how little, if any, relation people alive today have to the original perpetrators of injustice.
That’s not to trivialize the abuse that past generations of certain races have undergone. African-Americans certainly suffered under slavery. The Armenian genocide did claim victims. Greece, like many other European countries, was indeed damaged by Nazi Germany. You’ll notice, however, the common thread through all of these claims: few, if any, of the original perpetrators are still living. Yet their descendants (or other members of their ethnic or national group) are nonetheless tasked with paying for their crimes.
I can play that game too. As it turns out, I’m descended from a long line of oppressed peoples. Hundreds of years ago, my family was exiled from Spain for being Jews. I also have Scottish heritage from Clan MacGregor, which was persecuted and actively banned by the Scottish Parliament, forcing my ancestors into hiding. I am Mexican by citizenship and upbringing, and less than 200 years ago the United States conquered over half of Mexican territory. More recently, the U.S. has wronged the Italian quarter of my heritage by briefly rounding up and interning Americans of Italian descent, which my grandfather thankfully escaped (likely due to the fact that he was born on American soil). By my estimation, then, the Spanish, Americans, and non-MacGregor Scots have all wronged me, and owe me reparations.
On closer examination, though, none of these peoples ever harmed me, or my ancestors. It was the Spanish crown that banished members of the Valenzuela family. The Parliament of Scotland, and not my fellow Scots, persecuted the MacGregors. The government of the United States of America invaded my ancestors’ homeland and annexed their land, while the Roosevelt administration imprisoned my Italian kinfolk. I have no quarrel with any race or nationality. Oppressive governments are guilty of wronging those before me.
Now we come to the point where the great farce of reparations begins to take a dark and sinister turn. When all is said and done, the government owns nothing. Everything that the state possesses is first taken from its subjects. Ask for reparations from the state, and you are seeking possession of other people’s property, people who had no hand in harming your ancestors to begin with. In other words, you are seeking to perpetuate the cycle of theft and abuse that caused select groups of people to seek reparations in the first place. As always, we are inevitably worse off by involving the heavy hand of the state. Instead, we should seek to end violence and oppression, using voluntary institutions to aid disadvantaged groups in regaining societal equilibrium, and leaving past atrocities to fade into the annals of history.
Mankind has done unconscionable things to other human beings over the course of history, with some effects still felt by minority groups today. However, seeking retroactive justice from the state, in many cases the prime culprit of these very atrocities, can only lead to further misery and wrongdoing. We should instead seek to end the institutionalized aggression and theft that leaves peoples seeking reparations to begin with.