This was originally posted in 2007, and an email from a fellow blogger (Tom at Responsibility) called it to mind. Tom sent an email with a reference to a Wall Street Journal article that he thought I might be interested in – and I was so interested I decided I’d post something in response. Big hat tip to Tom 😉 While this isn’t a response to the WSJ article, it is a bit of background and foundation for an answer, which I hope to post before Monday. So, the original post from August 6, 2007:
I’ve heard that nasty word “social justice” once again, and I’m always interested enough to ask my erstwhile conversation partner what he means by this interesting compound idea. Erstwhile? Former conversation partners because I’m generally opposed to the common or popular notion of what “social justice” constitutes, and my opposition seems to color me as Satan himself to some of the liberal nutroots I’ve engaged in conversation (despite their intense opposition to religion, it is ok to label opponents as the minions of Beelzebub). Taking the adjective social away from the concept at least leaves the actual noun being modified in some fashion. Make no mistake, English works precisely this way.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand. It wasn’t simply a man; it was a little green man!”
Granted, that’s poking a little fun, but whether used rationally or irrationally, that’s the way we use our language. Clearly, progressives are trying to make it plain that they are NOT talking about the classical meaning of justice, and hence, the adjective “social.” I had always thought justice by nature and definition must be social. Something else is meant in this case – so, for comparison, let’s take a look at the origin of the word “justice.” I’ll use the Online Etymology Dictionary:
1140, “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment,” from O.Fr. justise, from L. justitia “righteousness, equity,” from justus “upright, just.” The O.Fr. word had widespread senses, including “uprightness, equity, vindication of right, court of justice, judge.” The word began to be used in Eng. c.1200 as a title for a judicial officer. Meaning “the administration of law” is from 1303. Justice of the peace first attested 1320. In the Mercian hymns, L. justitia is glossed by O.E. rehtwisnisse.
Generally, “the administration of law” was once a common understanding of the term “justice.” On the other hand, the term “social justice” uses the adjective “social” to incorporate the notions often associated with socialism/communism. The always popular “take from those who are more prosperous and give to those who are less prosperous” – whether on a national or global scale depends largely on who is promoting the idea. For example, Anthony Brunt at the University of Iowa puts it this way:
The first component of social justice is a minimum standard of living in the realms of employment, health, housing, and education. This is the portion of social justice that is best dispensed through government agencies. According to the 1999 U.N. Human Development Report, for forty billion dollars the most disadvantaged portions of the world can achieve basic healthcare, education, sanitation facilities, potable water, and an adequate food supply for all. To contrast this amount in relative terms, last year Microsoft chairperson Bill Gates had an estimated net worth of fifty-two billion dollars. I do not believe that allocating an additional forty billion dollars will strain those living in a state of luxury.
Only somewhat tongue in cheek, Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton in A Field Guide to Left-Wing Wackos, says that communists are “Anyone who likes the things you have, wants them for his own, and doesn’t mind if a totalitarian state is what it takes to make that happen.” This idea of using a government to accomplish their ends is highlighted by Brunt in the next paragraph of his paper, albeit for logistical concerns.
Why even mention this topic? Because I find it at least a little ironic and humorous that this unusual group of liberals shares so much in common with the very people they are so opposed to having any influence on our society. Truly, the only real difference between the liberal nutroots and the Christians in this case is the means by which they ameliorate poverty. I really cannot say it better than C.S. Lewis on this topic, and he makes the point so forcefully, I’ll close with a small portion of The Problem of Pain:
Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere “opiate of the people” have a contempt for the rich, that is , for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from “liquidation,” and place in them the only hope of the human race. But this is not compatible with a belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil; it even implies that they are good. The Marxist thus finds himself in agreement with the Christians in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands – that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed. (C.S. Lewis, 1940, pp. 108-109)
P.S. The question to ask is: “Is poverty a/the ‘root cause’ of crime?”