Thursday, April 26, 2012

Social Justice, II: Individualism, the Wrong Path

Yesterday we looked at some commentary on CESJ's effectiveness in getting the "One Percenters" even to discuss the Just Third Way. The problem with the critique, however, was that while it focused more or less on the principles of economic justice, it ignored the principles of social justice. We have to keep in mind at all times that the end does not justify the means.

For example, some people think that the way to achieve a society characterized by widespread ownership of capital is to take from the rich and give to the poor. That's one way . . . except that you don't establish a society in which we restore property for some only by violating it for others. Others redefine capital or private property or liberty or some other natural right — or the natural law itself — thereby achieving the desired goal by establishing it as a fiction.

No, you can only achieve the desired end of the Just Third Way by making sure that your means are fully consistent with your ends. You can't take short cuts, even with the best motives in the world. Thus, the strategy our commentator from yesterday laid out is a virtual archetype of the sort of social activism against which CESJ co-founder Father Ferree warned, and which he saw was ultimately ineffective.

Is it useful? Yes — in its place, but it is not the panacea for social ills that the activists of the 1960s or the Tea Partiers or Occupiers of today believe. It is a short cut that can lead to a permanent detour as people start to focus more on maintaining "the movement" or preserving "the organization" than in reaching the goal the movement or organization was established to reach. As Father Ferree explained,

"The favorite 'social technique' of our own time is the 'peaceful' demonstration, especially when media coverage is likely or can be arranged. Subsidiary aspects of the demonstration are boycotts, sit-ins, organized lobbying pressures, single-issue 'advocacy' and then — crossing an invisible line which is hard to define and harder still to hold — civil disobedience, violent demonstrations, and, ultimately, terrorism!

"Despite the social intent of all such techniques, and their almost universal arrogation to themselves of the terms 'Social Justice' or 'Justice and Peace,' these techniques are all radically individualistic. There are several criteria which can be applied to test this:

"1) They are directed immediately to some specific solution already determined in the mind of the 'activist'; they are never a willingness to dialogue with other and differing opinions on what the problem really is.

"2) They are always intensely concerned with the methodologies of pressure, not with those of competence in the matter in question.

"3) They all require 'time out' from the day-to-day social intercourse of life, and raise the question of how many objects one can juggle at any one time without dropping some or all.

"4) Any 'demonstration' is by definition a demand on someone else to do something. It takes for granted that whatever is wrong is the personal work of someone else, not the common agony of all; and it always knows exactly who and where the someone is.

"All this can be summed up in the observation that the 'social activist' as we have seen them so far, is an earnest amateur by profession.

"This is not to say that such 'professional amateurism' is always wrong. It is wrong as a normal methodology. If it obeys the same principles which would permit a just war, or the insurrection against an entrenched tyrant, more power to it! But it is a hopeless and hence unjust substitute for the patient and full-time organization of every aspect of life which we have seen in the necessary implementation of Social Justice." (Rev. William J. Ferree, Forty Years After. . ., p. 38.)

Was our critic wrong, then? No — but he or she wasn't completely right, either . . . and it's that "completely" that renders the effort ineffective, as we shall see when we pick up this series again next week.

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