In common parlance “social justice” = communism or Leftism more generally, meaning for our purposes it can be translated as “injustice”. We already have plenty of words for labeling general iniquity, and if this were all “social justice” is, we’d have no need for it. Among Catholics, when “social justice” is used, the speaker is usually dividing up the moral law in his mind into “social” issues that have to do with money and “private” or “moral” issues that have to do with sex. This use is unfortunate for implying a host of falsehoods: that our business dealings and treatment of employees are not matters of personal sin and righteousness, that our conjugal relations don’t have enormous social ramifications.
When I use the words “social justice” (as I occasionally have), I’m trying to make different distinctions. A more fruitful distinguishing factor of social as compared to private justice would be either 1) having to do with the irreducibly common good vs. individual goods or 2) having to do with the duties of large corporate bodies (especially states) entrusted with the common good vs. individual duties. However one defines it, social justice should in principle deal with the entire moral law, only from the perspective of corporate justice rather than individual righteousness.
That viewing pornography is wicked and should not be indulged is a truth of private/personal morality. That pornography should be banned is a matter of social justice.
If an employer fails to pay his employees a just wage, this is a personal sin for which he may well be personally damned. That laws should forbid this and–as far as possible–the economy be devised to make it unprofitable are matters of social justice.
When we say that abortion is a matter of social justice, we mean that the natural law not only forbids women to commit this sin, but that it obligates communities to explicitly and legally renounce it.
What about those areas of morality where laws are counterproductive, such as politeness? Even here, social justice makes demands, but in terms of what behavior communities commend and how their officials comport themselves.
Filed under: Forgotten Virtues |