The concept of “social justice” is one we hear often by those on the left-side of the political spectrum. The notion of social justice is inextricably linked to the left’s version of “equality” and its inverse—”income inequality.” But just what is social justice? Perhaps we should clearly define what we mean by justice first.
Often times justice involves a judgement or punishment in order to restore equity or fairness for those who have allegedly been wronged. True justice or righteousness can only be achieved when one has all the facts and the moral authority to dispense justice fairly and equitably. One could also argue that only a perfect and omniscient being like God himself is truly just and can judge individuals with perfect fairness and correctness, i.e. righteousness.
The current political battle in the United States is one that pits the inalienable rights of the individual against the collective will of the state. Many leftists believe that only a collectivist society can provide true social justice and equality for the masses.
There is no such thing as a mass of people. People do not congeal into one monolithic block, as if they were one plasmodial blob (cf. slime mold), whereby individuals are indiscernible from one another. A mass of people is, in reality, a group comprised of individuals. Despite the fact that socialists and communists believe that the “cult of individualism must be crushed,” the desire to rid humanity of its individualism is, to me, an act of self-loathing and psychological projection.
But the belief that the individual should not be permitted to be the masters of their own lives, but rather the subjects of a greater power–namely, the state–is nothing new. Free society is very rare occurrence. Tyranny has been the common theme throughout mankind’s history.
Why is it those who subscribe to the notion that individuals, on their own accord, cannot benefit society for the “greater common good”—unless managed by an elite cabal of so-called experts—believe an individual becomes more moral, honest and virtuous as part of the ruling class?
The often repeated refrain heard from those on the left is that free societies that embrace so-called capitalism are inherently greedy and care not a whit about the “haves” and the “have nots.” This is the classical argument set forth from the outset and enshrined in The Manifesto of the Communist Party.
Are not governments just as greedy, if not more so? As Milton Friedman has said, “The world is run on people pursuing their own self-interests.” We would not have the personal computer if it was not for people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack pursuing their own self-interest, utilizing their own talents and abilities to produce wealth via their own industry. We would not have the automobile if it was not for people like Henry Ford pursuing his own self-interest.
Friedman asks, “Is political self-interest really nobler than economic self-interest?” John Locke wrote, “All wealth is the product of labor.” But just what is wealth? Is not wealth created and produced by an individual’s own labor and industry? Wealth is not money or currency, per se. Money or currency is simply the medium of exchange individuals use as a means to obtain things they feel are valuable to them. Granted, more than one individual may be involved in laboring to create something that can be considered valuable to others. But it still is incumbent on the resourcefulness, labor and industriousness of the individual, or individuals, to produce something of value.
So what is it about socialism, communism, collectivism–what have you–that makes it attractive to so many? The proponents of collectivist forms of government often promise “equality and harmony,” that all will be treated fairly and equally. But is that really the case?
I believe most people truly wish to do good. And when one is persuaded that only the state can provide that which is truly good, it would seem logical that one would wholeheartedly embrace notions like “social justice.” But as Milton Friedman points out, “It’s always so attractive to be able to do good at someone else’s expense.”
F.A. Hayek believed socialism assumes that all available knowledge can used by a single central authority. It overlooks that the modern society is based on the utilization of widely dispersed knowledge. A system of fair and just distribution is impossible unless the distributor knows all the facts, which exceeds the perception of any individual mind.
The concept of redistribution, i.e. taking from the haves to give to the have nots, underpins the whole notion of social justice. Ironically, socialist theory is one that eschews the concept of absolutes and embraces the philosophy of moral relativism, yet goes on to demand social justice. The utilitarian goals that all ideas and all values are to be considered essentially on their own merits undercuts traditional values in Western civilization.
F.A. Hayek states, “The classical demand is that the state must treat all people equally, in spite of the fact that they are very unequal.” To paraphrase Hayek, you can’t deduce from this the rule that because people are unequal that you must treat them unequally in order to make them equal. Social justice is a demand that the state should treat different people differently in order to place them in the same position.
Milton Friedman says, “Whenever you try to do good with someone else’s money, you’re committed to using force. How can you do any good with someone else’s money unless you take it away from them? … Heaven preserve us from the sincere reformer who knows what’s good for us … and, by Heaven, will make us do it whether we like it or not.” Echoing the sentiments of Bastiat from more than two centuries ago, Milton Friedman concludes, “Government is a way by which every individual believes he can live at the expense of everybody else.”