In the previous posting on this subject, we looked at the origins of the term “social justice.” While it has and continues to mean many things, Msgr. Luigi Taparelli gave the first consistent and “scientific” definition of social justice in the 1830s. As he defined it, social justice is a “general virtue,” meaning — strictly speaking — that it is not a true virtue, but a principle guiding the practice of actual, “particular” virtues, such as prudence, fortitude, temperance and, above all, justice among the natural virtues, and faith, hope, and charity among the supernatural virtues.
Thus (according to Taparelli), social justice describes the beneficial, albeit indirect, effect that the practice of particular virtue has on the whole of society. He had to say “indirect,” because if social justice had a direct object, it would be a true virtue instead of being limited to a principle. In other words, Taparelli simply “baptized” what Aristotle had called “legal justice.” According to Aristotle, legal justice described the indirect effect being individually virtuous had on the whole of society. Taparelli added that if you were individually virtuous as defined by natural law as Aristotle said and also within the framework of Christianity, it was social justice. Taparelli assumed that neither the natural law discerned by reason nor Catholic doctrine accepted by faith could change.
Unfortunately, “social justice” was such a good term that the socialists got hold of it and began using it to mean distribution based on need instead of equality of inputs (commutative justice) or proportionality of inputs (distributive justice). By even more twisting, the socialists effectively abolished commutative justice, and redefined distributive justice to mean distribution based on need.
Thus, social justice, legal justice, charity, and distributive justice all meant pretty the same thing in the socialist lexicon . . . which caused no little confusion when the new definitions met head-on with the old terms. The socialists thereby mixed up what is discerned by reason and what is accepted on faith, changed it to suit themselves, and proceeded to invent a new religion that often went by the old name of Christianity, but that really didn’t have too much in common with traditional forms.
As a result, social justice got a very bad name. The only time anyone heard about it was in connection with coercive redistribution. Prior to 1923, there were only two vague references to social justice at the Vatican, and it wasn’t completely clear that they were using it in the same sense as Taparelli.
So, what happened in 1923? Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical on Thomas Aquinas that mentioned legal justice and social justice as if they were two separate things, along with commutative justice, distributive justice, charity, and all the other virtues that the socialists had mixed together. Later, he made it clear that he considered social justice far more than just a principle. It is a way of affecting the good of society directly through acts of social justice instead of only indirectly though acts of individual justice (and all the other virtues).
|Might makes right|
Although few people realized it (being blinded by the socialist definition of social justice), this was a revolutionary idea. It meant that instead of having to grit your teeth and try to do what is right by yourself and sometimes have to force other people to do what you think is right (which is actually a pretty serious wrong!), there was a way to act directly on the social order and reform it so that people could become virtuous instead of being forced to be virtuous, usually by somebody else’s definition.
That’s the problem between how the socialists used social justice and how Taparelli and Pius XI used the term. To the socialists, it meant that people could be forced to do good . . . at least as they defined it. To Taparelli and Pius XI, social justice meant reforming society to provide the proper environment within which people could be virtuous . . . as they themselves defined it. The socialist version of social justice offends against human dignity at the most profound level. The real version of social justice assumes respect for human dignity without exception.
What Taparelli and Pius XI did was show that the socialist idea that people must be forced to do good (actually, much older than the socialists; every tyrant in history has had the same idea that might makes right) was not merely wrong, but one of the most profound evils anyone ever came up with. It completely disregards the reality of truth and reason and tries to impose someone’s faith-based personal vision on everyone else.
It also changes the whole idea of what it means to be human, and thus the whole idea of liberal democracy. Democracy means government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln put it . . . but what do you mean by “the people”? Do you mean the collective? Do you mean a chosen elite? Or do you mean each and every human being?
We’ll look at that in our next posting on this subject.