“I Want It Now” seems to be the modern mantra, whether for individuals or social reformers. The problem is that instant gratification seldom satisfies on a fundamental level, and almost never gets at the root of the problem causing what ends up being an inordinate desire. As a result, gratifying every whim leads only to increasing demands on the part of recipients, and a diminished ability to meet those demands on the part of those charged with bestowing them.
|"It's not justice or charity, but justice and charity!"|
Instant gratification, of course, is an attempt, often well-intentioned if misdirected, to replace the fundamental principle of a well-ordered society — justice, with distribution based on equality of opportunity and means and proportionality of inputs — with charity, a principle of distribution based on need. This attempts to circumvent the simple fact that, just as social justice is not a substitute for individual justice and charity, charity is itself not a substitute for justice.
Rather, charity fulfills justice, it does not replace it. As Pope John Paul I said in his audience of September 6, 1978, “charity is the soul of justice” — justice being a constant theme throughout his brief pontificate.
Thus, charity is not a “shortcut” or a circumvention of justice, but the essential conclusion to the necessary first step of justice. It is never (or at least should not be) a case of justice or charity, but justice and charity, even though time may elapse between the two, as (for example) when an emergency requires charity to keep things going, such as in a famine or natural disaster. Immediate charity may be needed, but it is not a permanent solution to the problem, which is to fix the problem so that justice and charity resume their respective places.
|"Social justice moves slowly and gradually."|
And true as that is for individual justice and charity, it is all the more important for social justice and social charity, which are directed at making it possible for individual justice and charity to operate, not to replace them — and that takes time . . . which creates a problem. With so many people demanding instant gratification and results, the idea quickly grows that social justice means giving people what they need now, not in making it possible for people to get what they need by their own efforts.
Yes, there will always be a role for charity, especially to fulfill justice and as an expedient in an emergency, whether individual or affecting the entire world, but it remains charity, not justice. Rebuilding systems and institutions — the work of social justice — takes time, however, and is an essential first step in ensuring that individual justice and charity can function. As Father Ferree explained,
Second Characteristic: It Takes Time
A second characteristic of Social Justice (which comes directly from the fact that it can be done only by groups) is that it moves slowly and gradually. When John Jones owes Bill Smith fifteen dollars on January 2nd, he must pay Bill Smith fifteen dollars on January 2nd or be doing wrong. Individual justice is done all at once at a definite time. But not so with Social Justice. In the example above [in the previous posting in this series] of the change from a dishonest to an honest community it is clear that the process took some time — probably a long time.
|"Individuals are often unable to ensure justice."|
An even better example is the one that Pope Pius XI proposed; namely, that of an individual employer who was helpless to insure justice. The remedy which the Pope suggested was that this employer had the duty to organize with the other employers so as to prevent unjust competition and permit fair treatment to the workers.
Here is an interesting point: When the process of organization begins it is clear that the employer in the Holy Father’s example is not paying a living wage. Furthermore, and this is important, he will not pay a living wage until he has succeeded in reorganizing the industry in cooperation with the other employers. For only in the measure in which that reorganization succeeds, will his helplessness to pay a living wage disappear. [N.B.: expanding the base of capital ownership among workers solves the underlying problem of inadequate income, but Fr. Ferree's point here is not the necessity of a living wage as an expedient, but that of organizing for the common good to solve a specific problem, as is clear from the next sentence — ed.] Yet from the very moment that he begins reorganizing that industry with his fellow employers, and all during the time which it takes to reorganize it, he is practicing Social Justice.
When he hears such doctrine, an individualistic moralist will howl to high heaven. He will say that the payment of a sub-living wage is unjust, is wrong; and that the employer is not allowed to cooperate in that injustice. Direct cooperation in evil, he will say, is wrong in all circumstances, and cannot be permitted. Either the employer must pay a living wage, or get out of the dirty business.
Evidently a man who would maintain so intransigent an opposition to evil would have a thirst for justice, but if he should succeed in driving out of that business the only employer who wants to reorganize it, it is difficult to see what good he has accomplished.
Pope Pius XI, in the same discourse on the fundamental instability of human institutions which was quoted earlier, has this to say about the necessary time lag in social work: “To tend to perfection, but to do what is possible: there you have the program to which human forces are permitted to pretend. If God demands something more, then He does it Himself. . . .”
This compromise with reality, this willingness to accomplish one’s end slowly and painfully, this “collaboration” in an evil institution until the change can be accomplished, this “remaining in a dirty business” in order to clean it up — all this is hateful to good people who have not grasped the essence of Social Justice.
In the past, these individualists, or “radical non-participationists” as they like to call themselves (from their doctrine of “radical non-participation in evil”) could be excused for their attitude, because no one was very clear on how a social problem could be attacked anyhow; and their theory of heroic resistance and even martyrdom was about as good as any. Now, however, that the doctrine of Social Justice has been completed under the inspired pen of Pope Pius XI, many of these good people are going to have to change their fundamental assumptions and ideas. If they do not, they will find themselves willy-nilly “collaborating in evil” — the great evil of social injustice.