The concept “social justice” means different things to different people. Justice is often equated with social equality, a mistaken notion if there ever was one. In looking for a helpful way to explain the meaning of justice, baseball comes to mind. Rarely are teams equal in ability. This is especially true with the younger age groups. What if umpires had the jurisdictional authority to level inequities at the request of a manager who believes that the opposing team has better players? Both teams know the rules going into the game. Umpires are present to ensure that the rule book is followed to the letter.
As long as the players and coaches follow the rules and umpires enforce the rules, justice prevails even if there are inequities. It is not the job of an umpire to eliminate disparities. Who would ever want to play the game if the rules always change at the discretion of an umpire?
In reality, the cry for “social justice” is a call for the State to do something to fix economic and relational inequities without any regard to a universal principle of justice. By describing justice in social rather than legal terms, our attention is immediately drawn to national problems that can only be fixed by a civil government with enough power to enforce its policies. So then, advocates of “social justice” believe that the State plays the major role in rectifying so-called social problems because they are national in scope. Antonio Martino points out, however, that the expression “social justice . . . owes its immense popularity precisely to its ambiguity and meaninglessness. It can be used by different people, holding quite different views, to designate a wide variety of different things. It’s obvious appeal stems from its persuasive strength, from its positive connotations, which allows the user to praise his own ideas and simultaneously express contempt for the ideas of those who don’t agree with him.”1
Anyone who criticizes policies that carry the label “social justice” are immediately considered to be callous, insensitive, uncaring, and lacking in compassion. Those who oppose “social justice” policies are not against treating people in a just way. They firmly believe that most if not all social justice policies that involve the State are wrong and, in the long run, do more harm than good.2 Attaching the “social justice” label to a program does not make it a just and helpful program anymore than attaching a Mercedes Benz hood ornament to a Volkswagen will make it a luxury car.
Foes of sophisticated and expensive governmental programs designed to help the poor and implemented by distant bureaucratic agencies may be right on target with their opposition. They have history on their side. Confiscating literally trillions of dollars in taxes from one segment of society and redistributing the collected revenue to another segment of society and calling it “social justice” does not mean that it is in fact the just thing to do. “Social justice” is not in operation when the State takes upon itself the right to confiscate so-called excess capital from the rich to care for the poor, especially when the Bible opposes confiscatory taxation and such policies do not work.
- Antonio Martino, “The Myth of Social Justice,” in Three Myths by Arnold Beichman, Antonio Martino, and Kenneth Minogue (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1982), 23. Quoted in Ronald H. Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church (Milford, Michigan: Mott Media, 1983), 5–6. [↩]
- “AFDC was to take care of widows with small children. . . . Nothing in the New Deal [Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Workman’s Compensation, and Unemployment Insurance] provided help just because a person was poor or hampered by social disadvantages. . . . By the fifties it had become embarrassingly, outrageously clear that most of [the women receiving benefits] were not widows. Many of them had not even been married. Worst of all, they didn’t stop having babies after the first lapse. They kept having more. This had not been part of the plan.” Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 17–18. [↩]