Once a lofty concept, the term social justice has been hijacked and exploited by the political left to radically transform America and bully Americans into forfeiting many basic rights in deference to the left’s agenda. Intoning social justice has proven to be a sure-proof formula for silencing average Americans, thereby providing the left with endless societal victories. After all, who wants to be accused of standing in the way of social justice?
Liberal social justice purveyors view themselves as the country’s moral authority, best fit to decide the allowable extent of our freedom of speech and religion, and they believe only they care about social justice and equity.
To date, most liberal assumptions and definitions of social justice have been automatically accepted. For example, the term has been used successfully by the left for the last half century to validate and implement the welfare state. But what is being advocated is not social justice but socialism, and in other cases a push for radical cultural Marxism.
Most of what passes today for social justice is actually the Marxist/Marcuse/Gramsci leftist playbook wrapped in appealing religious phraseology and platitudes, a framework for never-ceasing revolution and rebellion. It sees its mission fulfilled through constant class warfare, be it economic, racial, gender or sexual warfare. It confers upon itself a mantle of moral high ground, but in fact, it is not a moral category at all, rather, a political category. Furthermore, it dangerously overturns classic morality by redefining morality downward and leftward.
The truth is that forging a society governed by a need for justice is not the province of the political left, but something conservatives can find embedded within seminal documents authored by our Founding Fathers long before the left began re-defining and laying claim to “justice.” In their quest to “form a more perfect Union and establish Justice” as outlined in the preamble to the Constitution, the Founders, after probing the writings of great English philosophers, realized that equal justice under the law is the quintessential, most profound, and universal application of justice for a nation wishing to “promote the general Welfare.”
Justice on a societal or national level is to be achieved, the Founders believed, by crafting a contract between the people and its government, ensuring that the law be applied equally to all. It is not something random and arbitrary brought about, as in today’s culture, through constant class warfare references, mob riots, or the purposeful sowing of discontent. It should not be used as a rallying call or slogan for toppling others so as to coalesce power to those seeking control over society. The left’s call for social justice every hour-on-the-hour demonstrates that social justice is, for them, not an end but a tactical means through which to implement the dystopia they want now.
The Founders made our task easier by detailing for us what constitutes justice, underscoring the need for habeas corpus, trial by jury of one’s peers, prohibiting unlawful searches and seizures and, in the most sweeping gesture of all, crafting a magnificent and special Bill of Rights that enshrine the essence of justice: free speech, freedom of religion and assembly, the right to self-defense and protection, and so on. Americans don’t need the left to sermonize and scold about social justice when the Founders, through the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, have already bequeathed the real thing to us. It has already been defined; no need for Gramsci and friends. Exit left.
Justice is realized by granting liberty: “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The more government limits its reach, by allowing individuals and their locales primary say-so over their own lives, the greater chance for liberty.
Though the Founders never actually called these rights and dispositions by the name social justice, that is exactly what they had in mind. The actual term social justice comes to us via Luigi Taparelli, a Catholic theologian of the mid-19th Century, who, reminiscent of America’s Founding Fathers, wrote that justice pertains to the individual, while social justice is the requirement of government (the guardian of society) to make constitutional arrangements for the implementation of justice and protection, and that all citizens contribute to the good of society. This is precisely what the Founders did three quarters of a century earlier. Justice on a national scale, social justice, is embodied in the specifics of the Constitution.
Too many liberals neither appreciate nor define justice according to America’s unique understanding of it. Instead, they take their guidance and ideal from the unbridled anger surrounding certain revolutions where pursuing justice was seen as a necessary and ongoing endeavor to overcome the established order, which was characterized as evil and oppressive. For them, social justice is not found in the specific ideals of our Constitution, but in a never-ending, never-fulfilled movement, a fulminating Resistance. It gives them a sense of “romantic” importance and verification. It becomes an aphrodisiac that can’t quench the thirst for daily purpose.
Unfortunately, in most western societies it’s the left’s notion and mantra of social justice that prevails: “No enemies to the left.” In other words, anything that agitates on behalf of overriding the established order and norms is good, just, and constitutes progress. By casting themselves as selfless protectors of the oppressed, progressives start with a tremendous emotional and PR advantage. The antidote to this for conservatives lies in self-confidence, in not being hoodwinked by faux leftist clichés when we have within our founding principles a classic and worthy definition of social justice: equal justice under the law, liberty, and our Bill of Rights.
“Righteousness shall you pursue,” Scripture urges in Deuteronomy. But what we are seeing on the left is an exhibition in self-righteousness, moral superiority, incessant virtue strutting, and revenge. Compassion, tolerance and understanding are reserved for their clients and fellow travelers only, not others. ANTIFA violence is accepted. What kind of one-sided “social justice” is it that shows no remorse or second thoughts even after the open-borders, sanctuary cities policy the left relentlessly pushes results in the importation of lethal MS-13 gang members, property destruction, justified fear, and the murder of the unsuspecting Kate Steinle? What type of righteousness is this?
Simply because one has a political cause, spouts all the usual platitudes, and claims he’s fighting oppression, that does not make his a legitimate social justice cause for which others must meekly roll over and acquiesce. Nor in the name of someone else’s version of social justice should citizens and society endanger itself or commit suicide.
The prophet Micah taught us “to seek justice and walk humbly with your God.” Today’s social justice zealots are not acting humbly. In opposition to Micah’s exhortation, they have tapped social justice as a way to aggrandize power to themselves and have themselves become the powerful trying to crush and bend to their will humble and regular Americans. Much, very much, of today’s leftwing social justice is, in reality, a social injustice. It is time for us to restore social justice to its original purpose and glory.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of Push Back: Reclaiming our American Judeo Christian Spirit (Evergreen) and president of Caucus for America.