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Social justice is the quality of a society's generalized right-ness. As there is no objective, known standard of what is just, the term can be amorphous and refer to sometimes self-contradictory values of justice. It is generally thought of as a society which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and a just share of the benefits of society. (Different proponents of social justice have developed different interpretations of what constitutes fair treatment and an just share.) It can also refer to the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.
Social justice is both a philosophical problem and an important issue in politics, religion and civil society. Most individuals wish to live in a just society, but different political ideologies have different conceptions of what a 'just society' actually is. The term "social justice" is often employed by the political left to describe a society with a greater degree of economic egalitarianism, which may be achieved through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or property redistribution. The right wing also uses the term social justice, but generally believes that a just society is best achieved through the operation of a free market, which they believe provides equality of opportunity and promotes philanthropy and charity. Both right and left tend to agree on the importance of rule of law, human rights, and some form of a welfare safety net (though the left supports this latter element to a greater extent (e.g. to provide for capable individuals in society) than the right).
Social Justice features as an apolitical philosophical concept (insofar as any philosophical analysis of politics can be free from bias) in much of John Rawls' writing. It is fundamental to Catholic social teaching, and is one of the Four Pillars of the Green Party upheld by the worldwide green parties. Some of the tenets of social justice, sometimes renamed civil justice, have been adopted by those who lie on the left or center-left of the political spectrum (e.g. Socialists, Social Democrats, etc). Social justice is also a concept that some use to describe the movement towards a socially just world. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality.
The political philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) draws on the utilitarian insights of Bentham and Mill, the social contract ideas of Locke, and the categorical imperative ideas of Kant. His first statement of principle was made in A Theory of Justice (1971) where he proposed that, "Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others." (at p3). A deontological proposition that echoes Kant in framing the moral good of justice in absolutist terms. His views are definitively restated in Political Liberalism (1993), where society is seen, "as a fair system of co-operation over time, from one generation to the next." (at p14).
All societies have a basic structure of social, economic, and political institutions, both formal and informal. In testing how well these elements fit and work together, Rawls based a key test of legitimacy on the theories of social contract. To determine whether any particular system of collectively enforced social arrangements is legitimate, he argued that one must look for agreement by the people who are subject to it. Obviously, not every citizen can be asked to participate in a poll to determine his or her consent to every proposal in which some degree of coercion is involved, so we have to assume that all citizens are reasonable. Rawls constructed an argument for a two-stage process to determine a citizen's hypothetical agreement:
- the citizen agrees to be represented by X for certain purposes; to that extent, X holds these powers as a trustee for the citizen;
- X agrees that a use of enforcement in a particular social context is legitimate; the citizen, therefore, is bound by this decision because it is the function of the trustee to represent the citizen in this way.
This applies to one person representing a small group (e.g. to the organiser of a social event setting a dress code) as equally as it does to national governments which are the ultimate trustees, holding representative powers for the benefit of all citizens within their territorial boundaries, and if those governments fail to provide for the welfare of their citizens according to the principles of justice, they are not legitimate. To emphasise the general principle that justice should rise from the people and not be dictated by the law-making powers of governments, Rawls asserted that, "There is . . . a general presumption against imposing legal and other restrictions on conduct without sufficient reason. But this presumption creates no special priority for any particular liberty." (at pp291-292) This is support for an unranked set of liberties that reasonable citizens in all states should respect and uphold — to some extent, the list proposed by Rawls matches the normative human rights that have international recognition and direct enforcement in some nation states where the citizens need encouragement to act in a more objectively just way.
The basic liberties according to Rawls
- freedom of thought;
- liberty of conscience as it affects social relationships on the grounds of religion, philosophy, and morality;
- political liberties (e.g. representative democratic institutions, freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of assembly);
- freedom of association;
- freedoms necessary for the liberty and integrity of the person (viz: freedom from slavery, freedom of movement and a reasonable degree of freedom to choose one's occupation); and
- rights and liberties covered by the rule of law.
- Main article: Catholic social teaching
Catholic social teaching comprises those aspects of Catholic doctrine which relate to matters dealing with the collective aspect of humanity. A distinctive feature of Catholic social teaching is its concern for the poorest members of society. Two of the seven key areas of Catholic social teaching are pertinent to social justice:
- Life and dignity of the human person: The foundational principle of all Catholic Social Teaching is the sanctity of all human life and the inherent dignity of every human person. Human life must be valued infinitely above material possessions.
- Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable: Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgement God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." The Catholic church teaches that through words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. When instituting public policy the "preferential option for the poor" should always be kept at the forefront. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. People are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor."
Even before it was propounded in the Catholic social teachings, Social Justice appeared regularly in the history of the Catholic church:
- The term "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit Luigi Taparelli in the 1840s, based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. He wrote extensively in his journal Civiltà Cattolica, engaging both capitalist and socialist theories from a natural law viewpoint. His basic premise was that the rival economic theories, based on subjective Cartesian thinking, undermined the unity of society present in Thomistic metaphysics; neither the liberal capitalists nor the communists concerned themselves with public moral philosophy.
- Pope Leo XIII, who studied under Taparelli, published in 1891 the encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), rejecting both socialism and capitalism, while defending labor unions and private property. He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. In this document, Leo set out the Catholic Church's response to the social instability and labor conflict that had arisen in the wake of industrialization and had led to the rise of socialism. The Pope taught that the role of the State is to promote social justice through the protection of rights, while the Church must speak out on social issues in order to teach correct social principles and ensure class harmony.
- The encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order, literally "in the fortieth year") of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage, subsidiarity, and teaches that social justice is a personal virtue as well as an attribute of the social order: society can be just only if individuals and institutions are just.
- Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") of 2006 teaches that justice is the defining concern of the state and the central concern of politics, and not of the church, which has charity as its central social concern. The laity has the specific responsibility of pursuing social justice in civil society. The church's active role in social justice should be to inform the debate, using reason and natural law, and also by providing moral and spiritual formation for those involved in politics.
- The official Catholic doctrine on social justice can be found in the book Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 and updated in 2006, by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax.
The Green Party
Social Justice is one of the Four Pillars of the Green Party. Social Justice (sometimes "Social and Global Equality and Economic Justice") reflects the general rejection of discrimination based on distinctions between class, gender, ethnicity, or culture. Green Parties are almost universally egalitarian in their outlook, seeing that great disparities in wealth or influence are caused by the perversion of or total lack of social institutions that prevent the strong from plundering the weak.
Several local branches of the worldwide green parties define social justice as the principle that all persons are entitled to "basic human needs", regardless of "superficial differences such as economic disparity, class, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, or health". This includes "the eradication of poverty and illiteracy, the establishment of sound environmental policy, and equality of opportunity for healthy personal and social development."
Social Justice Movements
Social justice is also a concept that is used to describe the movement towards a socially just world. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality, and can be defined as "the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society" .
There are a number of movements that are working to achieve social justice in society.  These movements are working towards the realization of a world where all members of a society, regardless of background, have basic human rights and an equal opportunity to access the benefits of their society.
Social Justice was also the name of a periodical published by Father Coughlin in the 1930s and early 1940s.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Coughlin's organization was known as the National Union for Social Justice and he frequently used the term social justice in his radio broadcasts. In 1935 Coughlin made a series of broadcasts in which he outlined what he termed "the Christian principles of social justice" as an alternative to both capitalism and communism. Coughlin's views, which centered around monetary reform, have had no notable influence on those using the phrase "social justice" today, many of whom consider Coughlin's views to have been anti-Semitic.
Criticism of the idea that there is an objective standard of social justice has come from several circles. First, there are moral relativists (such as the Sophists), who do not believe that there is any kind of objective standard for justice in general. Second, there are cynics (such as Niccolò Machiavelli) who believe that any ideal of social justice is ultimately a mere justification for the status quo. Third, there are libertarians who believe that social justice violates the non-aggression principle. Additionally, postmodernism has also developed its own critique of the concept of social justice.
Many other people accept some of the basic principles of social justice, such as the idea that all human beings have a basic level of value, but disagree with the elaborate conclusions that may or may not follow from this. One example is the statement by H. G. Wells that all people are "equally entitled to the respect of their fellow-men."[cite this quote]
Additionally, social justice may be unfeasible economically. Many water-poor countries have recognized a "basic right to have drinking water" and then provided that access accordingly. This often resulted in water sources being over used and then decimated.
On the other hand, some scholarsTemplate:Who? reject the very idea of social justice as meaningless, religious, self-contradictory, and ideological, believing that to realize any degree of social justice is unfeasible, and that the attempt to do so must destroy all liberty.
The most complete rejection of the concept of social justice comes from the Friedrich Hayek of the Austrian School of economics: "The phrase 'social justice' is ... simply 'a semantic fraud from the same stable as People's Democracy'." The purported goal of social justice is to eliminate economic inequities, but because these inequities are largely a result of individuals' own choices, they can only be corrected by controlling said choices.[attribution needed]
- Black theology
- Centre for Social Justice
- Civil rights
- Counselors for Social Justice
- Distributive justice
- Equality of opportunity versus equality of results
- Equality of outcome
- Equal opportunity
- Equity (economics)
- Global justice
- Justice (economics)
- Liberation theology
- Rule of law
- Social action
- Social criticism
- Social engineering
- Social equality
- Social injustice
- Social responsibility
- Teaching for social justice
- Anti-Capitalism and the Terrain of Social Justice by Sam Gindin
- American Social Justice Party (new U.S. political movement)
- Defining Social Justice by Michael Novak
- Centre for Social Justice (UK)
- Global Justice Movement net
- The Global Green Charter
- Facing History and Ourselves- Social Justice Organization
- Human Nature: Justice versus Power Noam Chomsky debates with Michel Foucault
- Social Justice in Context (pdf)
- Social Justice Wiki
- Social Justice Review
- Social Justice: Voices from the South
- Social Justice' Isn't Any Kind of Justice', Professor Antony Flew, London, Libertarian Alliance, 1993. A brief critique of the concept from a libertarian/free-market perspective
- A Dangerous Obsession by Thomas Sowell
- Institute for public policy research - Commission on Social Justice
- The Struggle to Subdue Luck, by Anthony de Jasay, Foundation for Economic Freedom, Jan. 8th, 2007
- The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society
- Matthew 25:40.
- Option for the Poor, Major themes from Catholic Social Teaching, Office for Social Justice, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
- Just Comment - Volume 3 Number 1, 2000
- See UNHD 2006 Report on Water Scarcity and Justice, available at http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/pdfs/report/HDR06-complete.pdf
- "The Fatal Conceit - The Errors of Socialism", 1988, University of Chicago Press, quoting Charles Curran.
- Atkinson, A.B. (1982). Social Justice and Public Policy. Contents & chapter previews.
- Quigley, Carroll. (1961). The Evolution Of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis. Second edition 1979. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund. ISBN 0-913966-56-8
- Rawls, John. (1971). A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-88010-2
- Rawls, John. (1993). Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press (The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy, 4). ISBN 0-231-05248-0
- For an analysis of justice for non-ruling communities, see: Gad Barzilai, Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- For perspectives from Christian-informed contexts, see Philomena Cullen, Bernard Hoose & Gerard Mannion (eds.), Catholic Social Justice: Theological and Practical Explorations, (T. &. T Clark/Continuum,2007)
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