Yesterday we looked at the common good, that vast network of institutions that create the environment within which human beings as political animals carry out daily life, suggesting that a justly structured common good is a fundamental building block of the Just Third Way. Having gone over the basics of the common good, we are now prepared to do more than suggest such a thing. We can come right out and say it:
We start as a given that dignity and sovereignty begin with the human person, and not with any institution. Still, the institutions of the common good — “social habits” — are important, because they are thus the social manifestation of the common good, within which people acquire and develop individual habits.
Preferably what people acquire and develop are habits of doing good (“virtue”), but they can also be habits of doing evil (“vice”). While institutions do not actually force people to do wrong (there is always a choice, even if the choice is to do wrong or die), they can make wrong seem right, and encourage evil if the institutions are poorly structured. In that case, having become structures of injustice instead of justice, the institutions are in need of reform.
Nor is it proper to sit back and wait for “somebody else” (usually the State) to do what needs to be done. Social justice places a responsibility on each person to work with others to perfect the social order and all its institutions to support the empowerment and development of every person. This is “the act of social justice” — restructuring institutions so that virtuous action becomes the optimal choice again.
“Social virtue” is not everyone in society acting virtuously, or collective acts of individual virtue. Rather, it is concern for the common good, which must be maintained properly in order to provide the optimal environment for people to acquire and develop virtue.
Social virtue is therefore not a substitute for individual virtue, but the means by which individual virtue becomes possible. It is a different “order” of virtue, not a combination of individual and general virtue with a good intention for the common good; the common good is something specific, not vague, and is directly attainable by human beings.
Social Justice (the feedback and corrective principle): the balancing of participatory and distributive justice, and the responsibility of each person to work with others to correct the system when participative and distributive justice are not operating. Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler labeled this third principle as the “principle of limitation,” “anti-monopoly principle” or “anti-greed principle”); it has also been referred to as the “principle of economic harmony.”