Although the term “justice” has been in use for thousands of years,“social justice” was coined in the late 1800s and became prominent in the 20th century. Catholic bishops, including Pope John XXIII, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have embraced it as a means of helping the poor. Over time, however, scholars have recognized that it is more related to Marxism than to Scripture and therefore deserves rejection rather than approval. Yet the Church has for the most part ignored that development.
Social Justice is principally based on the notion that inequality in society is based solely on discrimination and oppression, and can only be overcome by diversity, affirmative action, and redistribution of wealth by the State. Here are some refutations of that notion:
Austrian-British economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek called social justice “A demand that the state should treat different people differently in order to place them in the same position. Making people equal—a goal of governmental policy—would force government to treat people very unequally, indeed . . . [but] the minute that an institution starts redistributing society’s goods, it becomes unjust and the more a set of institutions commits itself to addressing inequalities, the more inequalities it causes. … To give in to the temptations of distributive justice is to empower the state, invite collectivism, socialism, and ultimately tyranny.”
American Philosopher Michal Novak wrote, “[W]hole books and treatises have been written about social justice without ever defining it. It is allowed to float in the air as if everyone will recognize an instance of it when it appears. This vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, ‘We need a law against that.’ In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.”
Statistician and Economist Ben O’Neill argues that “since the program of social justice inevitably involves claims for government provision of goods, paid for through the efforts of others, the term actually refers to an intention to use force to acquire one’s desires. Not to earn desirable goods by rational thought and action, production and voluntary exchange, but to go in there and forcibly take goods from those who can supply them! It is the principle of the thief, the rapist, the criminal, who sees his whims and desires as reason to impose himself forcibly on others.”
More recently, distinguished social philosopher Thomas Sowell has offered a range of scholarly data debunking the contentions of social justice (see his book Social Justice Fallacies). For example, he demonstrates that discrimination is neither the only nor the most important factor in failure to achieve. A mother’s diet during pregnancy can significantly impact the child, as can the country’s geography, climate, national prosperity, government, education system, culture, and most important, whether the father is present in, or absent from, the home. He also explains how affirmative action can hurt both the qualified student who is denied admission and the unqualified one who finds the program too difficult and drops out. And he exposes the fallacy that all the poor remain so throughout their lives, when in fact the majority become more prosperous as they age.
It is ironic that the Catholic Church, having been one of the most powerful opponents of Marxism, is now among its most effective enablers. Even more ironically, the Church is doing so in the name of Christ.
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