• Heritage Action
  • More
Lecture #1138 on Poverty and Inequality

December 29, 2009

Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is


Show references in this report

[1]G. J. Papageorgiou, "Social Values and Social Justice," Economic Geography, Vol. 56, No. 2 (April 1980), pp. 110-119.

[2]Joe R. Feagin, "Social Justice and Sociology: Agendas for the Twenty-First Century: Presidential Address," American Sociological Review, Vol. 66, No. 1 (February 2001), pp. 1-20.

[3]Cf. Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon, trans. William Tjalsma (New York: Harper & Row, 1980).

[4]Quoted in Randy Sly, "A Catholic College and Abortion Advocates: Here We Go Again," Catholic Online, May 22, 2009, at http://www.catholic.org/collegiate/story.php?id=33617.

[5]"Gay Minister Claims Discrimination," Waikato Times (New Zealand), June 27, 2008, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/509074/Gay-minister-claims-discrimination.

[6]Charles Murray, "Here's the Bad News on the Underclass," The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 1990.

[7]See Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio, S.J., Theoretical Treatise on Natural Right Based on Fact (1840-1843). Friedrich Hayek notes expressly that the Roman Catholic Church especially has made the aim of "[s]ocial justice" part of the official doctrine, while "the ministers of most Christian denominations appear to vie with each other with such offers of more mundane aims." Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 2: The Mirage of Social Justice (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1976), p. 66. Pope Pius XI incorporated "social justice" into official Church doctrine in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. Oswald Nell-Breuning, S.J., who wrote a major part of this papal document, published a line-by-line commentary, The Reorganization of Social Economy (Milwaukee, 1939), which treats social justice as both a virtue and a regulative principle. In the subsequent debate, no one generally accepted definition has emerged. The index of the famous post-Vatican II Encyclopedia Sacramentum Mundi lists only one reference, a single paragraph alluding to the concept, but no specific entry (Vol. IV, p. 204). Rodger Charles, S.J., in The Christian Social Conscience, does not even mention the term, but relies on the classical distinctions among commutative, distributive, and legal justice. Rodger Charles, S.J., The Christian Social Conscience (Hales Corners: Clergy Book Services, 1970), p. 25. Johannes Messner, in his magisterial 1,000-page Social Ethics (St. Louis: Herder Books, 1965), treats the concept only on pp. 320-321. His understanding, however, is not an example of clarity: "'social justice' refers especially to the economic and social welfare of 'society,' in the sense of the economically cooperating community of the state." Fathers Yves Calvez, S.J. and Jacques Perrin, S.J., in The Church and Social Justice: Social Teaching of the Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII, conclude that "social justice is general justice applied to the economic as distinct from the political society." Fathers Yves Calvez, S.J., and Jacques Perrin, S.J., The Church and Social Justice: Social Teaching of the Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII, trans. J. R. Kirwan (London: Burns and Oates, 1961), p. 153. Cardinal Höffner, Christian Social Teaching (Ordo Socialis, 1983), p. 71, also adopts the position that social justice is legal justice. He suggests calling it "common good justice, a virtue that is exercised only by the state, territorial authorities, professional classes and the Church." Father Ernest Fortin drily summarized the confusion surrounding the term: "As nearly as I can make out, social justice, in contradistinction to either legal or distributive justice, does not refer to any special dispositions of the soul and hence cannot properly be regarded as a virtue. Its subject is not the individual human being but a mysterious "X" named society, which is said to be unintentionally responsible for the condition of its members and in particular for the lot of the poor among them" Father Ernest Fortin, "Natural Law and Social Justice," American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 30 (1985), pp. 14-15.

[8]Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 2: The Mirage of Social Justice, p. 176.

[9]Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, n. 26.



Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.

The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.

More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.

Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."

Sign up to start your free subscription today!