So far in our discussions on social justice in this brief series we’ve looked at the “laws” of social justice, at least those CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. discerned in his work and described in his pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice (1948). Of course, the laws of social justice are not human statutes, like the speed limit or how to file your taxes. Such things can be changed as expedient to fit human needs, and even abolished completely if enough people were to demand it.
|Pope Benedict XV|
Unlike purely manmade laws, the laws of social justice are based on the nature of social justice itself, albeit necessarily expressed in human terms, like the laws against murder or theft. These can never be changed, or what you have is not social justice, but something else entirely because you have changed a thing’s substantial nature, which only a Creator can do — and in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief, God as a perfect being doesn’t change anything’s nature, as it all derives from Him and is based on His Nature.
That is not to say that the ways in which the laws of social justice or any other law based on nature does not have an infinite number of ways to apply them. While the underlying law of nature can never be changed, how it is applied must be changed and adapted to changing conditions, or what was once a good law can turn into a very bad law. As Pope Benedict XV said on this very subject in his first encyclical back in 1914 when admonishing the modernists about their efforts to change nature (which means, ultimately, changing God),
Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.” (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, § 25.)
For example, suppose the human law against murder specified various ways other people could be killed, but failed to mention abortion specifically. Would that mean it is all right to kill someone while still in utero?
|Human law must be consistent with divine law, but don't confuse them.|
Of course not, even if the human law was changed to read that killing someone in utero is not to be considered murder or even homicide. That would not change the underlying natural law against murder. It would only be a feeble and transparent attempt on the part of human legislators to change nature itself by exempting some forms of murder from the definition of murder.
Suppose, however, human law recognized abortion as homicide, but imposed a less severe penalty or, in mitigating circumstances, no human penalty at all? This, despite pro-choice rhetoric to the contrary, has been the case throughout most of history. Nor was such differentiation limited to abortion. Killing a slave incurred less of a penalty than killing a freeman, and the killing of a freeman imposed a lesser penalty than killing a noble, and so on.
That would not change the fact that killing a human being is considered wrong but would be an attempt to shape human law to circumstances, imperfectly of course, and unjust to a degree, but sometimes necessary to keep the social order from dissolving in chaos. As Aquinas noted, sometimes the law must allow what is immoral to continue for a time until the situation makes it possible to correct the injustice.
|Monsignor Aloysius Taparelli|
And that is what social justice is all about. Social justice is not concerned directly with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, stopping abortion, or any of the other “corporal works of mercy.” That is, was, and always will be a matter of individual justice and charity. Rather, social justice is concerned with introducing changes into the system (our institutions) to make it possible to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, stop abortion, or anything else.
For example, ever since Monsignor Aloysius Taparelli first used the term social justice in the correct (if extremely vague) modern sense in the 1840s, followers of “the democratic religion” of socialism have been hard at work convincing people that socialism and social justice are equivalent terms. If, however, they would keep in mind the one principle of social justice that Taparelli laid down: that whatever is done for the common good must be done within the parameters established by the natural law.
Primarily, of course, this means respect for the life, liberty, and private property of every child, woman, and man. No one, not even for the highest reasons or the greatest justification, may violate the natural law and call it “social justice.”
Nowhere is this more evident today than in how people have played fast and loose with the natural right of private property. Anxious to obtain the results they ardently desire, socialists, modernists, and New Agers insist either that “property” has either changed its meaning, or never meant what people thought it meant for thousands of years.
|Dr. Heinrich Rommen|
Obviously, this is nonsense. Private property is a natural right, and the natural law is based on God’s Nature — not some demagogue’s idea of God’s Will (that strangely always seems to be just what the demagogue wanted all along). No one change what property means or claim to have discovered a new meaning without at the same time necessarily implying he or she has commanded God and changed His Nature, which is something no one, theist or atheist can claim to have done.
No, as the solidarist jurist and political scientist Dr. Heinrich Rommen pointed out in his book on the natural law, the universal prohibition against theft necessarily implies that private property pertains to the natural law — and that means that it cannot be changed. Its form and application, yes, but never in such a way as to negate the underlying right itself.
The bottom line here is that the “laws” of social justice cannot be changed in their substance (only in how they are applied), or what you have is obviously not social justice. It may be something very good in and of itself, or it may be something very bad, but it is not social justice once you have redefined the nature of the thing — however badly you want it or however good your intentions.
And the same goes for the characteristics of social justice, which is the subject we will begin addressing tomorrow:
· Only By Members of Groups
· It Takes Time
· Nothing is Impossible
· Eternal Vigilance
· You Can’t “Take It Or Leave It Alone”
Now, although these characteristics are not the substance of social justice, a thing would not be social justice without them (there is a deep philosophical issue here about form and substance that we need not get into). Of course, other things can and do have these characteristics, but simply having them does not make something social justice, while not having means that something is not social justice.
For example, a human being is alive, but that does not mean that something is a human being because it is alive; being alive is not essential to being a human being . . . just to being a living human being — and that is as far as we will go until tomorrow.