In one of the great ironies of history, the term “social justice” was coined (in the 19th century) by a conservative Italian priest, in opposition to attempts to unite his country under a centralized (and therefore despotic) “liberal” regime.
Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, S. J. (1793-1862) laid the foundations for neo-Thomism, and for modern Catholic Social Doctrine. He coined the term subsidiarity, the significance of which only becomes clearer as the forces he opposed tighten their stranglehold upon the freedoms and virtues that principle is meant to cultivate.
To the addled activist mind (my apologies for the repetition), “social justice” means the eradication, by any possible means, of every inequality designated by zirself as unjust. (Inequalities not currently in fashion need not apply.)
In practice, this bit of jargon smooths the way for a concentration of power into the hands of an administrative elite, who may then hand out boons and banes as it suits them, while the hoi polloi desperately maneuver to position themselves among the favored (or, that being impossible, the tolerated), or suffer the consequences of failing to do so.
Today, many sensible minds understandably eschew the term social justice altogether, preferring to speak of—and pursue—nothing but justice itself.
They are correct, as far as substance is concerned. To whatever extent “social justice” departs from justice, it is unjust, and hence to be repudiated with all one’s heart and soul.
What Taparelli was concerned to provide, however, and what Catholic Social Doctrine still teaches, when taught correctly, is a new name for an ancient form of (honest to goodness) justice.
Insofar as every human being is equal, the classics observed, justice seeks to balance the books between man and man. If you give me $10, I owe you $10 or its equivalent, and justice will either motivate me to pay it promptly, or entitle you to appeal to the authorities to induce me to behave in a more gentlemanlike fashion.
Insofar as human beings are political and social creatures, however, life is about more than ten dollar bills. Accordingly, there is another kind of justice, one pertaining to the requisite conditions enabling each person to pursue happiness with a reasonable hope of success.
If you and I decide to sail the seven seas, you being an experienced pilot and I not, justice not only does not demand, but positively forbids us to grant control of the ship according to lots, equal shares, or any other method based on our (merely) natural equality. This is for the simple reason that such equality, real as it is, bears no relation to the vital question of who can keep the water out of our lungs long enough for us to reach the port breathing.
Social justice, Taparelli concludes, requires human beings to exercise, and respect, all forms of individual and organizational authority requisite for the flourishing of persons in society.
While unpacking this is a complex matter, one thing is clear: true social justice warriors will do all in their power to deny authority to those who would use it to steer our ship into the unjust waters of social suicide, and slavery.
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