Now we come to the “Fourth Law of Social Justice”: “Each is Directly Responsible.” This one puzzles quite a few people, because they tend to think of social justice in terms of demanding individual goods from those who have them, for redistribution among those who don’t have them, not in making it possible for people to meet their own wants and needs through their own efforts — in other words, putting the onus on someone else for whatever you want done, whether individually or socially.
No, as Father Ferree explained, social justice does not consist of demanding that somebody else do something. Rather, it consists (in part) of realizing that each and every person — you and I — is responsible, not some amorphous “other.” Thus,
Fourth Law: Each Directly Responsible
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
This brings us to the next great law of Social Justice. Every individual, regardless of his age or occupation or state of life, is directly responsible for the Common Good, because the Common Good is built up in a hierarchical order. That is, every great human institution consists of subordinate institutions, which themselves consist of subordinate institutions, on down to the individuals who compose the lowest and most fleeting of human institutions. Since every one of these institutions is directly responsible for the general welfare of the one above it, it follows that every individual is directly responsible for the lower institutions which immediately surround his life, and indirectly (that is, through these and other intermediate institutions) responsible for the general welfare of his whole country and the whole world.
This is a far cry from older ways of thinking that did not see that the Common Good was made up of this vast network of institutions. Especially in economics the theory was prevalent that each person should make his living as best he could and let the Common Good take care of itself, or at best let the State take care of it.
Ordinarily, we’d now give our “take” on this law, but fortunately for all of us, Father Ferree did it better than we could. Soon after he co-founded the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) he began working on a revision and expansion of his pamphlet Introduction to Social Justice, from which the above quote is drawn. As a “Footnote to the Nineties” (which were in the future when he wrote in 1984), he commented,
|It may be good, it may be essential . . . but it's not social justice.|
The favorite “social technique” of our own time is the “peaceful” demonstration, especially when media coverage is likely or can be arranged. Subsidiary aspects of the demonstration are boycotts, sit-ins, organized lobbying pressures, single-issue “advocacy” and then—crossing an invisible line which is hard to define and harder still to hold—civil disobedience, violent demonstrations, and, ultimately, terrorism!
Despite the social intent of all such techniques, and their almost universal arrogation to themselves of the terms “Social Justice” or “Justice and Peace,” these techniques are all radically individualistic. There are several criteria which can be applied to test this:
1) They are directed immediately to some specific solution already determined in the mind of the “activist”; they are never a willingness to dialogue with other and differing opinions on what the problem really is.
2) They are always intensely concerned with the methodologies of pressure, not with those of competence in the matter in question.
3) They all require “time out” from the day-to-day social intercourse of life, and raise the question of how many objects one can juggle at any one time without dropping some or all.
4) Any “demonstration” is by definition a demand on someone else to do something. It takes for granted that whatever is wrong is the personal work of someone else, not the common agony of all; and it always knows exactly who and where the someone is.
|Pope Pius XI|
All this can be summed up in the observation that the “social activist” as we have seen them so far, is an earnest amateur by profession.
This is not to say that such “professional amateurism” is always wrong. It is wrong as a normal methodology. If it obeys the same principals which would permit a just war, or the insurrection against an entrenched tyrant, more power to it! But it is a hopeless and hence unjust substitute for the patient and full-time organization of every aspect of life which we have seen in the necessary implementation of Social Justice and in the now defunct techniques of “Catholic Action.”
Thus, no one who appreciated the concept of Social Justice as it has come from the pen of Pius XI can afford to neglect the study of his parallel concept of Catholic Action. They complete and explain each other.
Judging from this, Father Ferree might have had a problem with “Social Justice Warriors” — just as they might have had a bone or two to pick with him. Still, the fact remains that the Fourth “Law” of social justice is that social justice is, ultimately, up to each individual personally, not someone else.