Wednesday, November 8, 2017

V. “Doing” Social Justice



No virtue — and social justice is a virtue — can be imposed by force, a monopoly of the State, (human) nature’s only legitimate monopoly.  Force can be used to prevent injustice or punish wrongdoing, but not to impose virtue.  Everyone is free to be unvirtuous, as long as in being so he or she does no harm thereby to others or to the common good.

Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.
That does not mean, however, that people who refuse to act in a socially just manner are doing right.  They may only be refraining from doing wrong — but, even so, are completely safe from coercion . . . or should be.
It often shocks the “Social Justice Warrior” to discover that social justice is not whatever a ruling élite or “the People” find expedient or convenient.  As Father Ferree noted, “Social Justice is not at all the vague and fuzzy ‘blanket word’ that gets into so many popular speeches.  It is an absolutely clear and precise scientific concept, a special virtue with definite and rigid obligations of its own.” (Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice, op. cit., 12.) As he explained further,
Social Justice . . . embraces a rigid obligation. In the past when it was not seen very clearly how the duty of reform would fall upon the individual conscience, the idea became widespread that reform was a kind of special vocation, like that to the priesthood, or the religious life. It was all very good for those people who liked that sort of thing, but if one did not like that sort of thing, he left it alone.
All that is changed! Since we know that everyone, even the weakest and youngest of human beings, can work directly on the Common Good at the level where he lives, and since each one “has the duty” to reorganize his own natural medium of life whenever it makes the practice of individual virtue difficult or impossible, then every single person must face the direct and strict obligation of reorganizing his life and the life around him, so that the individual perfection both of himself and of his immediate neighbors will become possible. (Ibid., 52.)
Three, construing social justice as a religious thing tends to alienate people who have mild to extreme “allergies” to religion and anything connected with it.  They see words or concepts with religious connotations and, without bothering to discern the underlying principle, automatically reject anything that is said.
The "language" of social justice comes from the Catholic Church.
The fact remains, however, that it is impossible to discuss social justice intelligently (or at all) without mentioning religion.  Worse, from some people’s perspective, the “language” of social justice derives from that of the philosophy and theology of the Catholic Church, and the concept was developed within that milieu.  A true understanding of social justice cannot be gained without understanding the religious concepts, beliefs, and situation that led to its development, any more than it is impossible to understand biology without knowing something of the environment within which creatures live.
Does that mean, then, that only Catholics can understand social justice?  Of course not.  It is, for example, possible to speak German without being a German, and use the products of German ingenuity (such as the diesel engine or aspirin) without having any sympathy for or even liking for Germans or Germany.  Learning to speak German, however, is much easier if one knows something about German culture, attitudes, beliefs, and so on.
Columbus: right idea, wrong result . . . more or less.
Thus, gaining a true understanding of social justice requires at least being aware of how, why, and by whom the concept was developed, whether or not one accepts anything except the final result as true.  After all, Christopher Columbus was apparently convinced to the end of his days that he had found a short-cut to the East Indies, but North and South America did not disappear in a puff of smoke because his belief happened to be wrong.
The issue, then, is not one of religion, or even which god or gods (if any) has one’s allegiance.  It is not even whether “Church” or “State” should be supreme, although that gets closer to the main point.
And that is?  Identifying a new (and incorrect) conception of the human person, of human dignity, that takes sovereignty away from people, and vests it in some form of society, whether civil (State), religious (Church), or domestic (Family) that has taken over from real social justice.  Often called "social justice," this is really the basis of socialism, modernism, and the New Age.
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