"Social justice" has proven indispensable to its proponents because of its ambiguity. 'Social Justice' Defined

By George Hawley

The disciples of the left have abandoned some of their more enthusiastic calls to action in recent years ("workers of the world unite" just isn’t turning out the big crowds anymore). But whenever they need an excuse to assault American society, both then and now, there is still a handy phrase that always helps advance their goals: "social justice."

Take Julian Bond, for example. Two years ago, the Chairman of the NAACP roused the organization’s membership by stating: "We are a force to be reckoned with: well-educated, well-informed and strongly committed to social justice. And we vote."

That’s fine, but what did he mean? What are they voting for?

Those who use the phrase "social justice" as a means to justify their proposals — the usual crowd of former Communists, multiculturalists, New Dealers and the perpetually confused — decline to offer any definition. Therefore, we will simply have to make an educated guess based on the policies advocated by these intransigent crusaders.

After examining what the "social justice" warriors call for, one can only assume that their catch-all expression means the following: America’s hopelessly antiquated founding principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, private property, and the self-directed pursuit of happiness all need to be undermined and replaced with collectivism, socialism and cultural relativism (i.e., Western Civilization is evil and to be blamed for all the world’s problems).

Thankfully, publicly verbalizing any of that outside a college classroom, a Hollywood cocktail party, or the offices of CBS News and The New York Times would launch a would-be elected official into the political wilderness to languish for at least a couple of years. As a result, statists avoid admitting what they really think by hiding their agendas behind ambiguous slogans — just as Representative Dennis Kucinich did when he proclaimed, "I am a candidate for social justice" during his left-most bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

To wit: the left uses the phrase "social justice" simultaneously to claim moral high ground and to avoid addressing the weaknesses of their catchphrase arguments. By declaring that all of their positions advance "social justice," anyone who opposes them must necessarily be a cruel bigoted Neanderthal. After all, what reasonable person could be against "justice"?

As a general rule, the less logic there is behind an argument, the more often the words "social justice" are uttered in defending it.

For instance, it is hard to develop a legitimate case against economic globalization; it has been an astonishing creator of wealth, both here and abroad. It is even more difficult to explain what purpose is served by rioting in Seattle, Genoa or Quebec. But in order to justify criminal behavior, one apparently just has to say the magic words. "This is an all-purpose social justice movement," Ralph Nader said, in supporting WTO rioters.

Others can’t stand that the Boy Scouts is a private organization with a right to select its own members based on their individual choices. The left hopes that if they repeat their favorite slogan often enough, the government will eventually force the Boy Scouts to conform to their vision. In the words of Scouting for All, "Americans who believe in social justice have been offended and violated by the social injustice perpetrated against them," because the Boy Scouts have not been legally compelled to admit atheists and gays.

Still others voice concerns that school vouchers threaten not only the government’s near monopoly on primary and secondary education but the teacher’s union, as well. In fact, those on the left continue to insist that school choice undermines "social justice" despite the fact that such options will mostly benefit poor inner-city children. "When you preach about social justice, you are preaching [against] vouchers," noted Charlene Mills, a pastor associated with People for the American Way.

The left has declared that every policy they support — from socialized medicine to racial preferences to the confiscation of guns to campaign finance reform — falls under the ever-growing umbrella of "social justice." This is truly a bizarre molestation of the English language. Every one of their schemes to promote "social justice" is deemed to be virtuous only because it expands the size and scope of the government at the expense of the freedom and responsibility of the individual. The left has been allowed to get away with this for far too long.

Using the state to take from some in order to give handouts to the victim group of the week is not justice, just as keeping factories from opening in the world’s most impoverished countries is not economic progress. Undermining the individual rights embodied in the First, Second, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments, not to mention other constitutional hurdles that stand in the way of an egalitarian, centrally planned society, is definitely not justice.

"Social justice" has proven indispensable to its proponents because of its ambiguity. If it could generally be understood to mean something like, the "equal protection of the laws," it would perhaps be tolerable, but the left rarely uses it in that context. They use it because it is much easier to run on a platform of "social justice," than on the more accurate description: social-ism.

George Hawley is a Research Associate at the Center for Individual Freedom. He is a senior at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

December 1, 2004