Social Justice: A Theory

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by rtwngAvngr, Apr 18, 2004.

  1. rtwngAvngr

    rtwngAvngr Guest

    Jan 5, 2004
    Thanks Received:
    Trophy Points:
    Social Justice: A Theory
    Traditional liberal trump card is a conservative idea
    Outside of left-wing organizations and propaganda machines (such as PETA , Greenpeace and the NAACP), the term “social justice” does not appear all too frequently. Considering how infrequently conservatives use the phrase “social justice” as a trump card, one could be lead to believe they have something to hide (especially, strangely, after reading The Times).

    Things however could not be more contrary. Since, when understood outside the narrow bounds of bugs, bees and trees, the concept of Social Justice is one of the Republican Party’s strongest selling points, it will be worthwhile to describe exactly what this concept entails. This will be done by first outlining what is meant by the term “just” (what justice sounds like), and then, secondly, describing what features a society said to be just will have (what justice looks like); as well as what features will properly define a society as unjust.

    The first problem we find is coming up with a definition of justice itself. For the purposes of argument, we will be using the Platonic definition of justice, which says as follows: Justice is to give to each what is his. By the term “what is his”, we do not mean one’s belongings, but rather we mean what one deserves, that is, what is good to give to the individual. In the case of personal interaction, this means treating others in the way they ought (for their own good) to be treated, that is, giving to others what is good and edifying for them (i.e. punishment to villains, medication to the sick, comfort to the sorrowful, truth to the ignorant). This we will describe as Personal Justice, which must be distinguished from Societal Justice.

    F.A. Hayek was want to claim that the term “social justice” is empty and meaningless, because society is not an intentional agent (that is, since it does not commit acts, it can not have justice). We will agree with this idea that justice is a feature of the acts of individuals rather than of a society, but, rather than concluding with Hayek that “social justice” is a meaningless term, we will simply say that it does not mean the same thing as Personal Justice, and must be defined separately. Societal Justice is based not on personal interaction, but on laws and the administration of a governing body. Since laws and administrative actions must apply universally, a society is not able to give to each what is his on an individual basis, and therefore can not be seen to perform justice in the sense commonly used. Rather, since a society can not perform justly as an agent, its duty will be to perform justly as a protector. The point of Societal Justice will then be to act as a protector of the ability for Personal Justice to take place. This is to say that Societal Justice exists to allow Personal Justice. We conclude then that a just society is one that protects its individuals’ ability to pursue good.

    The means to this end will make a just society much akin to the classical libertarian ideal, having as a main demand leaving individuals free and unobstructed to prosper (self-determination). This will be done mainly through the punishment of criminals, which are those whose actions in some way inhibit others’ ability to pursue good and prosper. A just society can then be rightly called one in which the wrong are punished and the rest are let prosper.

    We will next state briefly the main features that mark a society as unjust. It is unjust for a society to make any law which prohibits or thwarts its individuals’ ability to pursue good; except in the case that the pursuit of good for one individual impinges on the ability of another individual to pursue good (such as in the case of theft and robbery). Laws prohibiting free speech and publication, transportation and commerce, or any other act of liberty would be generally seen as unjust. It is also unjust for the society to redistribute goods (such as through taxation) or otherwise interfere with economic outcomes, because no universal rule (of material wealth) can give to each particular individual what is best for him or her.

    It must be said that material goods are not unqualified goods (meaning they can have either a good or a bad effect on their recipient); such as with money, which can both give one the leisure to pursue higher things or become the vehicle for corrupt indulgences. Any institutional redistribution of material wealth is then unjust, since it will not necessarily add to the good of the individuals, and additionally has the psychological effect of making a society lose its incentive for industry—as seen in the escalating despondency and stagnation of Marxist nations as individuals see their output distributed to others.

    From what has been said (particularly about how enabling Personal Justice is the end of a just society), it seems reasonable that a religious society (or one with a shared morality) might want to prohibit things which it sees as intrinsically wrong and contradictory to the pursuit of good. It could be said that certain administrative actions are always of benefit to all recipients and could never be otherwise. These would be actions in which the ability to pursue good is not affected, but in which it is only the ability to pursue evil which is disrupted. For example, in a society that considered the use of contraception to be intrinsically wrong, no pursuit of good (except, perhaps, the triumph over temptation) would be inhibited by the banning of condoms; rather the possibility of evil would be avoided.

    While we have shown here that it can be just for a society to act paternally in prohibition, it is not likewise just for a society to act paternally in coercion (mandatory action); except in order to preserve liberty (i.e. taxation for police and military protection). Any coercion not done in the name of protecting the liberty to do good is seen as limiting the liberty to do good. For instance, while it may be good (and personally just) for person A to give assistance to person B, it is not just for a civil body to force A into assisting B. This is unjust for two reasons. First, because, even in a religious framework, no one can make another person act for good (that is, against one’s free will), but rather can only restrict the person’s means to be evil.

    While it is for the society to protect and allow the pursuit of good, it is for the individual to pursue the good, since only through free acceptance of good can one win reward. Making a good act (such as munificence) mandatory steals the act’s glory and may somewhat diminish the ability for a truly (as in freely chosen) good act; as in the case of someone who is taxed so heavily that he can not give to charity. This first principle will also apply to forced worship; and indeed forced education as well. Secondly, coercion (as opposed to volunteering) of any one person to support any other person, such as through welfare or universal healthcare, amounts to slavery; and when it is done in the form of taxation can be called theft as well.

    It is quite common for an observer to look at a society with disparate living conditions and say, “This surely can not be just, we have a rich few living beside a poor many!”, but this is not necessarily true. That such a society need not be unjust is explained in the following two ways: Firstly, on the principle of equality; which says that, while we are all equal in worth as human beings, we are not equal when it comes to talent and good fortune. Some persons are naturally smarter and harder working than others, and because of this they are prone to end up more opulent. This of course can not be blamed on a society, but rather is the work of Him who made us. The second reason for the disparity in wealth is greed and the imperfection of man. If each man acted correctly and with Personal Justice, the need in the world would be dissolved. If each man acted justly, as he should, the situations (poverty, disease, ignorance) which spawn coercive social programs would simply not exist. What seems like injustice in the modern world does not then need be the fault of the society, but can often be attributed simply to the greed and varying talents of mankind. All that is required for a society to be materially just is that its individuals have not interfered in others’ ability to pursue good in the course of their prosperity, as Robert Nozick would point out.

    We have started with the principle that, since a society can not act on an individual level to promote good, and since the good for every individual is different, the job of Societal Justice is to create an environment where Personal Justice can flourish. Therefore, we have concluded that a just society’s main task is protecting the ability of individuals to act justly (mainly through law-enforcement), and any administrative action ordered apart from this end is considered unjust. Since prohibiting an element of society that is agreed not to have any ability for good does not limit individuals’ freedom to seek Personal Justice, we have concluded that such prohibition is just. However, while prohibition can be just, it has been shown that no coercive act (outside of preserving liberty) of the society is just, since the coerced individual can not be praised for the act, and additionally has his or her time and output taken involuntarily; which we call theft.

    One final description of a just society comes from the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water (i.e. give one the liberty to perform good), but you can’t make him drink”. A just society is one that leaves access to water, but does not force its individuals to imbibe. After considering the Left’s social agenda in light of true social justice, Americans are faced with the following choice: either move right, or start slurping.

Share This Page