THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

What “Social Justice” REALLY Means

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, individual and social virtue are two different things, and each has a specific job to do that complements, but does not replace, the other.  Individual virtue is directed to the good of individuals, of human persons.  Social virtue is directed to the common good, that is, the institutional environment within which human persons realize their individual good.


Try telling people that, however.  No matter how often or how carefully (or loudly) we give these definitions of individual and social virtue, people with a vested interest in the current system or their own egos will insist, sometimes in varying degrees of hysteria, that what we really mean is what they mean and we’re lying if we say otherwise.

Of course, the only social virtue with which most people are familiar is social justice.  Or (we should say) with which they think they are familiar.  People who call themselves liberals (by which they usually mean radicals or revolutionaries) define social justice as people getting what they deserve, usually from someone else, i.e., redistribution.  They view this as a good thing.

Klaus Schwab


People who call themselves conservatives (by which they usually mean reactionaries or elitists) define social justice as people getting what they don’t deserve, usually from someone else, i.e., theft.  They view this as a bad thing.

They’re both wrong.

Nevertheless, in common with many others, Klaus Schwab of the Great Reset defines “social justice” as providing directly for people’s material wellbeing, generally on a large scale or “socially.”  The term is not, however, a way of describing the social exercise of individual justice or charity, redistribution, or welfare, regardless how great or widespread the need.

Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli


Now comes the part that really throws a lot of people.  We have to bring in religion, and not just any religion, but Catholicism.  Why?  Because “Catholic social teaching” developed as a discrete field of study specifically in response to what Pope Gregory XVI called “the new things”: rerum novarum, socialism and moral relativism.  In the 1830s, “social justice” was being used in so many ways that it meant nothing.  Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S.J., then defined a “principle of social justice” that defined the term as acting virtuously at all times with a concern for the common good.  He did not mean “redistribution.”

Not only that, but socialism was first presented as “the Democratic Religion” to replace Christianity, especially Catholicism.  The idea of socialism was to create a perfect world, what they called “the Kingdom of God on Earth.”  The basic program was re merge Church, State and Family into one organization.  This would be done by abolishing private property, organized religion, and marriage and family.  Robert Owen’s speech to that effect on July 4, 1826, outraged not a few people in the United States.

Pope Pius XI


So, if you want to talk about social justice, you pretty much have to drag religion into it.  Plus, the key figure in the development of a precise definition of social justice as a particular virtue was Pope Pius XI.  As he defined it, social justice is the particular virtue directed to the common good.  Its purpose is the reform of the institutions of the common good to enable people to practice the individual virtues more effectively.

Not unexpectedly, that requires explanation.  This is especially so since most people today do not have the background or training to understand the terms with the necessary precision or in the sense they were originally meant.

In his doctoral thesis and, later, in a short pamphlet on the subject, Father William Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., framed his analysis of Pius XI’s social doctrine as a kind of “detective story.”  As Ferree saw it, Pius XI was faced with a very complicated situation.  Not only had socialists managed to reinterpret Rerum Novarum to mean the opposite of what Leo XIII intended, they had also taken the principle of social justice worked out by Msgr. Taparelli half a century before Rerum Novarum and used it to mean redistribution and a substitute for the individual virtues of justice and charity.

Fr. William J. Ferree


Added to that was the general understanding of “social justice” in intellectual circles.  As far as anybody could make out, “social justice” seemed to be a type of “legal justice,” but with a general intention added that the common good be benefitted within the framework of Christianity. (There are at least two brief instances of the use of the term social justice in curial documents prior to Pius XI, and they were consistent with Taparelli’s notion of social justice as a principle rather than a particular virtue.  These were in 1894 in a reference to the demand for reparation (Acta Sanctae Sedis, 1894-1895, 131) and by St. Pius X in a 1904 encyclical when he stated St. Gregory the Great was a defender of social justice (Iucunda Sane, § 3).)

That is, Aristotle’s legal justice described the indirect effect that the individual practice of the natural virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice has on the common good.  What Taparelli added was the indirect effect of the practice of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity on the common good when carried out in conformity with the Magisterium of the Church.

Frankly, that was not much help.  It implied that if people are individually virtuous and good Catholics, then society will somehow take care of itself.

Pius XI, however, knew that was not the case.  It was obvious that being individually virtuous often had little or no effect on the rest of society; “It happens all too frequently” that even people in authority “are helpless to ensure justice.” (Divini Redemptoris, § 53.)

Rejecting the idea that individual virtue understood in the traditional way is sufficient is what had led to the rise of socialism as the Democratic Religion in the first place.  The system was not working as the priests and politicians said.  Something new and different was obviously needed so that people could once again enjoy a decent material life, and the socialists had stepped in to fill the need.

And that is what we will look at in the next posting on this subject.