Today’s subject, social justice, involves us in a double difficulty. First, there is a problem with defining it. To many people, “social justice” means State action to take up the slack when individual justice and charity just don’t seem adequate, and people are in need. When that happens, so the theory goes, the State steps in and mandates or imposes desired results. Not surprisingly, this error is virtually identical to the error many people make with distributive justice. Even less of a surprise, many people confuse distributive justice with social justice by defining both in the same way, and thus both incorrectly.
As we have seen in a number of postings on this blog, social justice is the particular virtue directed to the common good. Social justice does not mean that the State takes care of everybody’s individual goods, e.g., food, clothing, and shelter, when they cannot take care of themselves or private charity fails. Rather, social justice means restructuring the institutional environment in such a way as to enable people to take care of themselves through their own efforts.
That’s the general concept of social justice. As applied in the economic common good, social justice is the feedback principle that detects distortions of the input or outtake principles and guides the corrections needed to restore a just and balanced economic order for all. Unjust barriers to participation violate this principle, as do monopolies, or when some people use their property to harm or exploit others.
Economic harmony results when participative justice and distributive justice are operating fully for every person within a system or institution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “economic harmonies” as “Laws of social adjustment under which the self-interest of one man or group of men, if given free play, will produce results offering the maximum advantage to other men and the community as a whole.”
Social Justice offers guidelines for controlling monopolies, building checks-and-balances within social institutions, and re-synchronizing distribution (outtake) with participation (input). The first two principles of economic justice flow from the eternal human search for justice in general, which automatically requires a balance between input and outtake, i.e., “to each according to what he is due.”
Social Justice, on the other hand, reflects the human striving for other universal values such as Truth, Love and Beauty. It compels people to look beyond what is, to what ought to be, and continually repair and improve their systems for the good of every person.
It should be noted that Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler referred to the third principle as “the principle of limitation” as a restraint on human tendencies toward greed and monopoly that lead to exclusion and exploitation of others. Given the potential synergies inherent in economic justice in today’s high technology world, CESJ feels that the concept of “social justice” is more appropriate and more-encompassing than the term “limitation” in describing the third component of economic justice. Furthermore, the harmony that results from the operation of social justice is more consistent with the truism that a society that seeks peace must first work for justice