What is Social Justice, and Why Won’t Anyone Really Define It?

Social justice . . . a really nice sounding phrase that apparently isn’t that easy to define.  The words themselves would lead us to embrace them; after all, we’re a country that believes in the idea of liberty and justice for all, and uses that very phrase in our Pledge of Allegiance.  But beware, as always is the case with politics and politicians.  What is the definition of “is” anyway?

According to the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, “Social justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”

So, social justice includes violating the rights of those with more resources in order to redistribute them to the “oppressed,” while at the same time empowering all to “exercise self-determination and realize their full potential.”  Does the “all” include those whose resources have just been forcibly taken?  I don’t think they needed someone from Berkeley “empowering” them prior to the pillaging of their resources.  (Then again, maybe that’s part of the plan.)

For any thinking person, the question remains: if that for which some individuals have worked is taken in order to empower others, how are the original owners able to “exercise self-determination and realize their full potential” unless these two ideas–self-determination and potential–are completely divorced from economics.  If so, the question must then be answered as to why the redistribution would need to occur in the first place.  In other words, #1 and #3 are completely contradictory and cannot both be achieved in the same society.

As if that isn’t enough, someone now needs to hand a few opportunities to those who haven’t availed themselves of the myriad already available in this great society.  It’s unclear exactly what that would look like.  Maybe something like the student with the 4.0 who worked hard and excelled in sports and student government just needs to have someone “redistribute” his “opportunities” and give them to the guy who spent his high school years smoking dope.  Put a few of these guys in elite schools and we’ll call it diversity.

Now, the redistribution of responsibilities is a fascinating idea.  From #2 we can make the assumption that the “roots of oppression and injustice” are to be blamed on a society that rewards productive behavior and attempts to suppress, through punishment, destructive behavior.  This could mean that those who engage in productive behavior would need to be responsible for the destructive behavior of others, and possibly those individuals who have chosen a destructive path are now responsible for the productivity of others.

This sounds like a little experiment tried in the country of Zimbabwe once upon a time.  Among its many horribly destructive policies of the past 30 years is the “socially just” redistribution of that country’s wealth:  its land, and thus the responsibility of being productive on that land.  Beginning in 2000, many white landowners were forced from the land which they had farmed and it was redistributed to poor blacks.  That country has been sent into a tragic economic tailspin, in part due to this policy.

During the period since these redistributive policies began, the decrease in food production has been estimated at 90 percent.  A nation which less than a decade ago was able to produce enough food to feed its own population and export the surplus has now found itself in the position of needing food aid for over 50 percent of its citizens.  The beneficiaries of these new “wealth and responsibility transfers” lacked the tools and expertise to contribute to the economy to the same degree as those from whom the wealth was confiscated.

When those individuals who had the responsibility of producing food for the nation as a natural consequence of free-market principles did so because they chose to use their land in this manner, the people were fed and the nation enjoyed the benefits of surplus.  When the responsibility of producing food was redistributed to the “oppressed,” and the “victims of injustice,” all of society suffered.  I guess this is what the School of Social Work means when they state that “social justice is a process, not an outcome.”  The outcome may be the creation of greater poverty, starvation, and disease, but the process is apparently what they find important.

Historically, the natural state of man is one of poverty and oppression.  In free societies, all are lifted by the hard work an innovation of the productive, and all have the opportunity to be one of those who blesses the lives of mankind through their chosen profession, whatever it may be.  John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, says, “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.”

In this idea of social justice, the “greater good” (which ultimately always turns out to be a mirage anyway) can never been used to deny justice to the producers and possessors of resources simply because they have more; it encapsulates the ultimate value of freedom of the individual to realize his full potential, or not.  It is his choice and it respects each to make that choice.  While not politically correct, it is the only “social justice” on which a prosperous nation can be built and if we want to become one again, the only one through which that can be accomplished.

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