Yesterday we talked about the nature of truth. That’s just a starting point, however. Nowhere is the problem of truth, and the application of truth, more evident today than in the question, “What is virtue?”
What many people seem to want these days is the feeling of virtue without the trouble of having to be virtuous, and of having their own subjective opinions validated as right even in the face of objective knowledge to the contrary.
This necessarily involves an attack on truth itself or (more often) an attack on those who attempt to stand by the truth. There is no easier way to feel virtuous without actually having to acquire and develop virtue than to find fault with others — especially when those others are somehow perceived as having more, or being better, than you.
In this way envy is transformed from the ugliest of the Seven Deadly Sins into the highest virtue. This pseudo virtue usually goes by the name of “social justice.”
Is that what “social justice” really is, however? Of course not.
Social justice is the virtue directed to the common good. It involves removing barriers through organized effort that inhibit or prevent full participation in the institutions of the common good, such institutions being the social aids to the acquisition and development of virtue.
Social envy (to coin a term), however, is concerned with pointing out and attacking the presumed sins or flaws of others that are allegedly causing the decay of society. It is always the other guy who is the problem, never the complainer.
Social envy gives an enormous feeling of virtue to activists by convincing them that they are not evil people and sinners such as those against whom they demonstrate and protest. It justifies the extremely aggressive pacifism we see in many of today’s movements for something they seem to think is peace and justice:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:10-12)
As CESJ co-founder Father William Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., described this sort of pseudo social justice, and, incidentally, the importance of the product the media are selling in pandering to this sort of thing,
“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 principals 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.”
According to natural law scholars and papal social teachings, the source of the massive disruption we see in the social order and the root cause of many of the problems we see afflicting people and nations is the shift from certain knowledge (reason) as the basis of the social order, to subjective opinion (faith). This is the case whether we’re talking about religious faith in God, or secular faith in the State.