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Does Social Justice Come from Above or Below?

An Italian priest, Father Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, coined the term “social justice” in the mid-1800s. He wrote that “legal justice,” as implemented by the State, was different from “social justice” by which people resolve conflicts and injustices without State intrusion.

In the early 1900s, Herbert Croly, considered the father of modern liberalism, and other Progressive Era intellectuals promoted a new paradigm for social well-being in America. Their vision was rooted in what became known as “Christian socialism.” They argued that a strong, central government could be a “great equalizer” by enacting laws and policies that would end the “sinful and cruel” aspects of a free-market economy.

For some, the progressives’ emphasis on government control was a noble and necessary step for America to address various inequities. Others saw it as sanctioning government control and/or coercion over citizens with God-given freedoms.

Modern progressives still seek to achieve “social justice” through state and federal legislation and government agency. As before, they still face serious opposition from constitutionalists, libertarians and religious believers who strongly resist what they see as the overreach of government into matters of faith and family.

We are left with the following questions:

It seems that there are two basic options for addressing social injustice, racial strife, and economic inequality: state authority and private (family, NGO, religious) initiative.

Which is more effective and why?

Which has worked in the past?

What do see working for the future?

What do you see as the basic strategy of advancing the cause of social justice (racial, ethnic, economic, etc.) in our country?

Please share your thoughts below

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Scott Simonds
Scott Simonds(@simonds)
9 months ago

“Social Justice” is a broad term. I prefer to think in terms of specific issues. For example the broad, complex issue of “systemic racism” can be broken down to specific issues. For example, is there a discrepency between the way blacks and whites are treated in the mortgage market? That’s an important issue, because home ownership is the largest investment and acquisition of wealth most families make. At least one of the contributors on this list is acquiring wealth through property ownership. Are there barriers for blacks to move into white neighborhoods? Some politicians are running on a platform that includes a plank to block people from urban areas from moving into suburban neighborhoods. Does the bail system favor whites because they have the means to meet bail where many blacks do nott? That may simply be an unintended consquence of using the serverity of a crime to determine bail… Read more »

Chris Noble
Chris Noble(@chrisnoble)
9 months ago

Does Social Justice Come from Above or Below: those who believe is a divinity will always say “above”, those who don’t, “below”. Since it is quite likely that we will always have some of both camps, isn’t it more important to try to agree on what actions (inspired or not) we can agree to take to improve Social Justice?
State authority vs. private (family, NGO, religious) initiative: they seem quite complementary, and thoughtful use of both together seems like a good approach.

Robert Beebe
Robert Beebe
9 months ago

America is well on the road towards autocracy. Just today President Biden announced his support for a National Transgender Day of Visibility, signaling that anyone opposing transgenderism is simply a cruel-hearted bigot. With the slightest of majorities in Congress, Democrats are in the process of ramming through all of its far-left agenda without a care for anyone who disagrees with them. The reflexive response of today’s America is ad hominem attacks on the opposition. Debate or the right to disagree is out the window. There is no attempt at persuasion based on principles, just advancing a radical agenda by force.

Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson(@anderson)
9 months ago

I feel the best way to achieve social justice is through education. All parents need choice and good schools available for their children. If all children can get a quality education, then the knowledge and wealth gaps will be evened out over time. Also, as more and more people intermarry between racial lines, the distinction of skin color will fade away. Racists of any color should be ignored and treated as the dolts that they are.

John Hessell
John Hessell(@hessell)
9 months ago

We have heard the saying that democracy is a poor system, but better than any other. Our founders recognized the selfish nature we all carry, and organized checks and balances to prevent abuses of one group over another. Though imperfect, it is better than autocratic rule, where those in power can claim they are ‘more equal’ than others’ ( from George Orwell’s Animal Farm). Minorities have been oppressed, but today we have begun to address the abuses against Native Americans and African Americans. In autocratic leadership, like in today’s China, abuse of minorities continues…

Stephen Stacey
Stephen Stacey
9 months ago

Dear David, It is evident that the term ‘social justice’ is a highly dubious term in itself. One can seek to have justice – a level playing field before the law. And one can ask, “What is my social responsibility” – for we all have a role to play in contributing to social well-being. And one can talk about politicians creating culturally-beneficial social spaces – like parks and libraries and low-priced swimming pools – thus allowing even those from poorer backgrounds the opportunity to lift themselves up from their complex circumstances. But when we talk about politicians seeking to actively promote and favor one group within the social fabric – even though there are seen to be good intentions – it can never end well. What starts as a hope becomes a flood, and those who have political agendas to pursue start to control who is favored and who isn’t.… Read more »

Chris Noble
Chris Noble(@chrisnoble)
10 months ago

Neither state authority nor private initiative can be successful without the other.

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