‘Social Justice isn’t what you think it is’
Author(s): Michael Novak and Paul Adams
Publisher: Encounter Books
Length: 336 pages
Release Date: November 3, 2015
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ocial Justice has been my deepest interest since my former Lay Dominican chapter decided to explore it for a year of on-going formation. The first question that the facilitator asked, to illustrate what social justice meant, was, “How many people in the world live on less than two dollars a day?”
The question struck me as odd for a couple reasons: first, why a “dollar,” why not a “yen”? Second, what did the amount of money have to do with social justice?
In a new book, Social Justice isn’t what you think it is, Michael Novak and Paul Adams answer this latter question — the amount of money has nothing to do with social justice. The amount of money that a person lives on, especially a person to whom money has no place in their culture, is meaningless. In another Lay Dominican chapter, we had a woman from Nigeria tell us about daily life in a village. If a person’s home developed a hole in the roof or wall, no one ran out to the Home Depot and bought materials. They gathered the materials from the same place that they obtained them when they built the home. No money at all was involved! As it turns out, the question was actually political, ideological, and meant to suggest a victim and an oppressor.
The real question, “what is social justice,” has many answers. For Friedrich Hayek, a German social philosopher, social justice was a “mirage — a meaningless, ideological, incoherent, vacuous cliché.” Looking at that original question about money, we can see why.
To the Church, social justice is the total expression of our unique human dignity as imago Dei, the image of God. Every aspect of our relationship with God and each other is defined in the Church’s social teaching.
Politically and ideologically, the term “social justice” has been used in an egalitarian sense, that erroneous notion that all things must be equal for all people. This completely ignores the concept of human dignity, the sanctity of work, and free will. All people are given gifts from God but what people do with those gifts is what makes them very unequal.
Human actions define the justice of any situation in a society. Scripture teaches us, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48), and nowhere is this more poignantly illustrated than in the personal responsibility required of freedom.
Each of the five principles of Catholic Social Teaching — common good, universal destination of goods, subsidiarity, solidarity, and participation — details an aspect of true social justice.
Human beings have inherent dignity, as the imago Dei, so that the preservation and nurturing of that dignity is the common good. Human dignity entails universal “access” to the created goods of the earth. Decisions about human dignity should be made at the lowest, most personal level (as opposed to the nanny state), which is the principal of subsidiarity, and we must all be in solidarity with one another as imago Dei by participating in the life of culture.
Novak and Adams make it clear that there is hardly any true justice in the egalitarian notion of equal outcomes, that providing opportunities (education, food and clothing to the needy, clean water, fair wages, etc.) is what the Church is all about.
Novak and Adams then run us through a historical lesson by helping us understand social justice in terms of what the popes have written since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. In this encyclical Leo dismisses socialism for six reasons; they are:
- It works upon the poor man’s envy of the rich.
- It strives to do away with private property.
- It contends that all property should become the property of the state.
- It robs the lawful possessor of what is his natural right.
- It expands without clear limits the functions of the state.
- It causes confusion in the community.
These reasons are important for us in our understanding of true social justice and how it differs markedly from the secular, progressive notion.
The book moves us from the historical background to the practical, thus making this book an outstanding read.