Today, as we noted in yesterday’s posting, we will be looking at the “problem of legal justice” from the standpoint of CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. This is not as clear-cut a question as many today believe who take as a given that “social justice” is simply socialism with a religious whitewash. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To condense the rather checkered career of the term social justice into a brief summary is essential if we are to understand Catholic teaching on this subject. Unfortunately, a condensation can do little more than present assertions without giving the supporting arguments or evidence.
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
Fortunately, there are resources available for anyone who wants to understand the precise definition of social justice in greater detail. These are a short, to the point version, Introduction to Social Justice (1948), a pamphlet by CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., and an in-depth philosophical analysis, The Act of Social Justice (1941, ©1943), Father Ferree’s doctoral thesis. Please note, however, that while the pamphlet is much easier to get through than the book, both require that the reader leave preconceptions behind and approach the subject with an earnest desire to seek the truth, rather than to reaffirm current opinions.
Plus, if all goes well, possibly within the next couple of months we will also have a resource — as yet untitled — relating the rather sad history of how social justice and socialism came to be confused (and also show how modernism and the New Age got jumbled into the mix). Both the technical analysis and the history are, as you might expect, essential if we are to understand where John Paul I was coming from — or any of the popes since Gregory XVI, for that matter.
|Pope Gregory XVI|
We begin with the definition of social justice. Pius XI first used the term in a precise sense, distinguishing it from legal justice; Aquinas had confused matters by using the term "legal justice" for both the general and the particular virtue. Earlier usage of the term social justice used it in the sense of a general justice with a good intention for the common good. Social justice proper, however, is the particular virtue whose object is the common good of all human society, rather than, as with individual justice, the individual good of any member or group. It is one of the basic social virtues in the field of social morality. Social justice guides humans as social beings in creating and perfecting organized human interactions, or institutions. It is the principle for restoring moral balance and harmony in the social order.
Social justice encompasses and operates within every level of the social order, from the macro-level (the “common good” of society) to the micro-level of each organization and enterprise. It organizes systems so that they provide every member of that system with equal opportunity and access to such social goods (or social tools) as money, credit, and the ballot, in order to be able to participate fully in the system.
Social justice imposes on each member of society a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development. To the extent an institution violates the human dignity and rights of any person or group, organized acts of social justice are required to correct the defects in that institution.
We see in this definition how social justice differs from legal justice. While both have the common good as their respective objects, legal justice as a general justice is indirect in its effect and can only “function” through and by means of other virtues entirely. Social justice, however, is a particular virtue, and therefore has the common good as its direct object, and thus social justice has an act that is distinct from that of all other virtues.
|Aristotle: virtues are both general and particular.|
The implications of this understanding of social justice are profound. First, it becomes immediately obvious that socialism and social justice cannot possibly be equivalent terms. Socialism is directed to the good of individuals, specifically, meeting people’s material needs. Social justice, on the other hand, is directed to the good of institutions, that is, to those social habits or tools by means of which people are assisted in meeting their material and other needs.
Realizing that socialism and social justice are two very different things leads to a second and equally important implication. That is, social justice is in no way a substitute or replacement for individual justice and charity, or any other individual virtue. It is a specifically social, not individual virtue.
This is because once we understand that the abstraction of the collective that is created by man cannot possibly have any rights that do not come from actual, flesh and blood human beings created by God, we instantly grasp the fact that a social virtue of any kind cannot supersede or be superior to any individual virtue. The job of all the social virtues is to enhance, support, enable, or otherwise assist the individual virtues, not take over from them.
Other implications are more esoteric, but nonetheless profound for all of that. First among these is the realization that the common good changes from a vague and general notion equally well described by the collectivist term “general welfare,” to something explicit and particular. That is the vast network of institutions — again, social habits or tools — within which human beings as “political animals” acquire and develop virtue and so become more fully human.
|Aquinas: legal justice is both a general and a particular virtue.|
In a more limited, individual sense, of course, the common good — the good common to every single child, woman, and man who has ever lived, lives, or will live — is the “analogously complete” capacity each human being has by the mere fact of being a human being to acquire and develop virtue (“human-ness”). In a social sense, then, the common good manifests itself as that vast network of institutions within which we become virtuous.
That is why every single human being has a natural right to participate in all institutions of the common good in which he or she otherwise qualifies to participate, and to exercise all natural rights. If this were a philosophy textbook, this would be the place to discuss the concept of “analogy” and why being “analogously complete,” while not meaning “the same” or “identical,” necessarily means that all human beings have equal rights by nature, the most important of which are life, liberty, and private property.
This is not, however, a philosophy textbook, so we will just say that while “analogously complete” does not mean “the same” or “identical,” it is close enough to the true concept to get the idea across for the purposes of this discussion. The important idea here is that all human beings have equal natural rights that, if they are otherwise qualified, they may exercise on the same terms as everybody else within defined limits.
Obviously, admitting that there are qualifications to the exercise of rights allows the possibility that some people will be denied the exercise of rights on the grounds that they are not qualified — and this is a very great danger, indeed. A white racist will instantly claim that all black people are by nature inferior and unqualified to exercise rights. A black racist will make the identical claim about white people. The rich will declare the poor are incapable of owning capital, while the poor will insist the rich are too immoral to have possession of wealth. Abortionists will stake their souls on their assumption that one human being’s right to privacy or anything else trumps another’s right to life.
And so on. That is why the fundamental principle of law in a just system is that no one may be judged guilty of a crime or unqualified to exercise a right without actual proof of guilt or incompetence. Nor can we admit the concept of collective or inherited guilt. People must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
|Jefferson (et al.): All men are created equal.|
This discussion, of course, assumes as a given that we are talking about “civil society,” that is, the State. Adults in civil society are presumed to be all of equal status until and unless it is proven otherwise on a case-by-case basis. Rules governing “domestic society” (the Family) and “religious society” (the Church; a misleading term as in context it refers to all organized religion) are different. Within a family, for example, minor children are under the tutelage of their parents or guardians and, while their natural rights may not be violated — or are not supposed to be, anyway — neither may those rights ordinarily be exercised fully until the minors are emancipated and they enter civil society.
Thus, while legal and social justice both have the common good as their object, in the case of legal justice the common good is the indirect object of a general virtue, while in the case of social justice the common good is the direct object of a particular virtue. Further, while legal justice has no particular “act” and can only achieve an indirect effect by the exercise of other virtues, social justice does have a particular “act” and has a direct effect through that act.
Finally — and we did not mention this before as it derives from the results of the above discussion — legal justice functions indirectly by the acts of individuals as individuals to other individuals. Social justice, however, functions directly by acts of individuals as members of groups to other groups or institutions. No one can carry out an act of social justice on his or her own initiative for his or her private interests, only as a member of an organized group for the interests of the group to that group or another institution.
Given all this, how did social justice ever become confused with socialism? That is what we will look at tomorrow.#30#