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What does “social justice” mean?


What does “social justice” mean?


By Mencken’s Ghost

Feb. 24, 2011


My son is majoring in engineering at a large state university.  As with most universities across the nation, his school devotes so much time to proselytizing about social justice that he could declare social justice as a second major.  Social justice seems to have even pushed aside diversity, multiculturalism, sustainability, oppression, and global warming as the cause du jour on campuses across the nation.


The term “social justice” is never defined but has feel-good ring to it, similar to the words “fairness” and “equality.”   Like driving a Prius with a “Coexist” sticker on the bumper, it conveys the message that the speaker is sensitive, tolerant, caring, enlightened, environmentally correct, and, most important of all, morally and intellectually superior to--yuk!--Republicans.  (The Prius driver loses credibility when she parks her car in the five-car garage of her 10,000 sq. ft. home, which consumes more fossil fuels than a fleet of SUVs.)      


Rumor has it that if a male college student whispers the words “social justice” into a coed’s ear, it is even more seductive than wearing a pink breast-cancer ribbon or feigning a love of babies and puppies.  President Clinton knew this.  He gave a National Humanities Medal to John Rawles, the renowned philosopher and author of treatises on social justice.  Soon after, Monica Lewinsky was on her knees in the Oval Office. 


On a serious note, what does the term “social justice” really mean?  Given that the nation’s youth are being indoctrinated in social justice in colleges across the land, and given that the same version can be found throughout other major institutions, including K-12 schools and mainline churches, this is an important question.


The problem is that the users of the term don’t define what it means.  Nor do they cite the metaphysical or epistemological basis of their beliefs, or point to a specific moral, political or economic philosophy or philosopher, including such renowned ones as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel, Kant, Marx, Sartre, Hobbes, Hume, Mill, Locke, Rousseau, Rawls, and Oprah Winfrey (just checking to see if you’re paying attention).  This makes it necessary to deduce their underlying philosophy from what they say and do in practice and what they advocate in terms of government policy.


Listen closely and you’ll note that they advocate much more than providing the poor and so-called disadvantaged with the necessities of life, medical care, and education that they are unable to provide for themselves.  Going way beyond the soft collectivism and minimal government coercion of John Rawles, they seem to advocate a complete reordering of society and an overthrow of free-market capitalism.


For example, I have asked scores of social justice advocates what the tax rate should be on those in the top income quartile.  They respond with something like this:  “Whatever it takes to attain fairness.”  When asked if a tax rate of 95% could be justified, they respond with a resounding “Yes!”


Further probing reveals their core beliefs.  Thinking in terms of groups, classes and races, they believe that the state, collective, society, and common good are more important than the individual.   Accordingly, they do not think that government force should be restricted to the protection of the life, liberty and property of the individual--a restriction that would mean that aid to the poor would be voluntary, not coerced.  This puts them at odds with such libertarian philosophers as Lysander Spooner, Isabel Patterson, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick.  In brief, these thinkers believed that when government force isn’t restricted to the protection of the individual, the result is injustice, misery, and, in the worst case, to tyranny and genocide, as was demonstrated in the 20th century by the ideological cousins of communism, fascism, and Nazism.   


For sure, social justice advocates do not subscribe to the free-market capitalism of such economics thinkers as Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman.  They don’t even believe in a mixed economy of equal parts of socialism and capitalism, which is close to what the United States has now.  Rather, they believe that capital and profits are expropriated from the labor of the working class and should be returned to the rightful owners.


Based on what they actually say, do, and advocate, those who espouse social justice on college campuses and elsewhere are Hegelians and Marxists. 


Why don’t they admit it?



“Mencken’s Ghost” is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at ccan2@aol.com.


4 Comments in Response to

Comment by Rob Conley
Entered on:

They do admit it.  I've spoken to those directly and indirectly who openly say they are Marxist.  This seems to be the direction of this country and it will likely be its down fall if this unattainable Utopian dream continues.

Comment by Jonathan Connelly
Entered on:

Social justice is wealth pairity for all humans on Earth. See “POPULORUM PROGRESSIO ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PAUL VI ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES” MARCH 26, 1967 “Unless the existing machinery is modified, the disparity between rich and poor nations will increase rather than diminish” “existing machinery” is a free markets.  

Comment by Thomas Paine
Entered on:

Was Thomas Paine a Marxist for writing Agrarian Justice?

Comment by TommiT
Entered on:

I spent this past summer reading the four major prophets and the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament.  Each of them wrote a great amount about justice.  The thought that struck me the most is that God holds the leaders of society accountable for the administration of justice. I believe that the philosophical and theological basis for social justice comes from the Heavenly Father whom the prophet Amos quotes in Amos 5:24 "Let justice flow like waters and goodness like a mighty stream."  That is probably too general for the article's author, but I believe it is a good starting place.