Today’s posting requires a little explanation. In general, social justice is the virtue that acts directly on the common good and indirectly on individual good. The idea that social justice is simply a replacement for individual charity and justice when those two virtues fail to operate or operate effectively is a complete misunderstanding of social justice.
The key to understanding social justice is that social justice does not replace any virtue. Instead, the job of social justice is to make the practice of other virtues possible, not to replace them. Insisting that social justice replaces other virtues does nothing to correct the underlying problems that prevented or inhibited the other virtues from operating in the first place. If individual justice doesn’t work in a specific situation, using the force of the state to make it work according to some preconceived program will only increase injustice in the system, not establish justice or charity.
The key to understanding this is that while you can sometimes force others to do what you want them to, and even bring about good results, the fact remains that it is not virtuous. Virtue cannot be coerced, or it is not virtue. Forcing others to do what you think is right — even when it is — doesn’t make others virtuous. It just turns you into a tyrant.
Thus, social justice cannot be a coerced replacement for individual justice or charity, as it thereby ceases to be a virtue.
That brings us to social justice as a principle of economic justice. In the economic common good, social justice governs how participative justice and distributive justice function with regard to the good of individual persons, but also looks to the structuring of economic institutions and the common good as a whole. When the principle of social justice is added to the principles of participative and distributive justice, economic justice becomes something specifically social.
Social justice is thus the feedback principle that detects violations of participative and distributive justice in a system or institution. It rebalances (or enables) participative justice and distributive justice to function again when the system deviates materially from either essential principle.
Social justice includes a concept of limitation that discourages greed and monopolies, which prevent most people from equal opportunity and access to the means to participate fully in the economy as capital owners. Kelso and Adler originally called this third principle of economic justice the principle of limitation, and specifically mentioned greed and monopolies as targets for limitation.
As this was inadequate considering the social doctrine of Pius XI and the personalism of John Paul II, CESJ expanded it to the more comprehensive term social justice. (Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto. New York: Random House, 1958, 68, 82-86.) Frequently problems with wealth and income distribution can be traced to a problem with, or lack of, participative justice in the institution or system itself.
Enabling every person to enjoy the universal human right to become an owner of productive capital becomes increasingly critical with respect to the act of social justice itself — organizing with others to build and maintain a just social, political and economic order. Capital ownership enables people to carry out their social duty more fully to the common good, in fact, when they can participate in it as capital owners, empowered, independent, and responsible. As Father William Ferree noted,
Man is a social being and is bound to aid and support the Common Good of himself and his fellows. He can best discharge this obligation when he is owner of the things he administers and is thus free to direct them to the Common Good in his use. An agency responsibility is always narrower than the responsibility of ownership; so a full preoccupation for the Common Good can exist only in one who has the broad responsibility of ownership. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., “A Turning Point in History,” Every Worker an Owner. Arlington, Virginia: Center for Economic and Social Justice, 1987, 32.)