Justice is a rough and ready virtue. We understand without difficulty gross violations of justice: the civil rights marches of the early Sixties, which provoked a vicious response from segregationist state governments, banked on the ability of Americans to perceive and reject wholesale injustice. The Jim Crow South collapsed because it was visibly loathsome, even to itself.
That’s the traditional approach. It judges large matters, and settles them roughly. Minute and perfect justice, in which every person obtains his just desserts exactly, is not to be hoped for this side of paradise.
To the rationalist, on the other hand, nothing can be too minute for righteous rage. The rationalist is a lover of formulas, and nourishes a childish delight in symmetry. If “equality” is the formula for justice, then only complete and perfect equality, in every aspect of human life, can be tolerated, and the slightest failure — the smallest pea under the mattress — should will bring forth gigantic media crusades and calls for redress and punishment.
The result of this attitude is usually comedy: large claims about small matters tend to sound funny. This piece by Heather MacDonald, on a crusade to allow women into the “men’s grill” of the Phoenix Country Club — pursued and publicized by the mighty NYT — is a pretty hilarious example.
The Phoenix Country Club has male and female members and a common dining room. But like many clubs, it has separate men’s and women’s grill rooms — an innocuous arrangement to which members agree by joining the club. The Times points out darkly: “Women at the club are not permitted to have lunch in the men’s grill room with their husbands after a round of golf.” It could as justly have observed that after the same round of golf, men at the club aren’t allowed to lunch with their wives in the women’s grill room.
The Rosa Parks role in this break-down-the-barriers battle is played by the Van Sitterts, a couple who, two years ago, wanted to eat eggs together in the men’s grill room rather than in the club’s formal dining room. Having failed to persuade the board to change its policies — presumably because most members are happy with the single-sex socializing options — they did what any self-respecting aspirant to victimhood does today: they went whining to the government. Instead of resigning their membership and joining another club, they petitioned Arizona’s attorney general to intervene. The AG was only too happy to comply, brushing aside the legal nicety that private clubs are in theory not subject to antidiscrimination laws and ruling that the club was violating those laws, since (pending renovation) the women’s grill room has neither a television nor its own bar. Television and booze are available elsewhere in the club, and women can bring drinks into their grill. But in the spirit of angry young wives who tally every pair of socks that they and their husband fold, the absence of absolute tit-for-tat equality in one room’s appurtenances means that women occupy an unbearable position of inferiority. [. . . ]
Time was when liberals would have professed to care about the dishwashers in the Phoenix Country Club, not the members who send them their dirty dishes to be washed. But the narcissism of today’s elites knows no bounds. Undoubtedly, a certain percentage of the Times’ readers found their blood boiling at its front-page expos of alleged second-class status among society’s most privileged members. With any luck, this most decadent stage of the privileged Western women’s movement is also its last.
Blacks in the Jim Crow South were victims of injustice. The Van Sitterts — great name — are simply members of that exclusive institution, the victims’ country club.