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Social Justice Is Not What You Think It Is

Recorded on June 10, 2009

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

Social justice has become a rally cry to action.  Just what kind of action, however, is not always clear.   Is social justice primarily an agenda for government to pursue, or for individuals and their interactions together in community?

Social justice, rightly understood, is about exercising "the elementary skills of civil society," says Michael Novak.  It involves cooperating with others to accomplish things for the good of society as a whole.  Social justice is best pursued not through the bureaucratic state, which tends to be expensive, impersonal and even counterproductive.  Indeed, this can be an injustice.  F. A. Hayek and others have roundly and rightly condemned such notions of social justice.

There is a better way, says Novak: to practice the virtue of social justice through rebuilding civil society.  Social justice demands the nurture of the individual and community habits and the social, political and economic institutions that sustain a free society.  Only through attention to these concrete means can we hope to achieve the ideals of liberty and justice for all.