“Circumstances such as where a person is born, where they live or their gender and ethnicity should never determine their income or their opportunities for quality education, basic healthcare, decent work, adequate shelter, access to drinking water, political participation or living free from threatened, or actual, physical violence.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on 2014 World Day of Social Justice
It is increasingly difficult to read news stories or listen to broadcasts without encountering the term “social justice.” But what does it mean? The term’s definition is fluid but it generally refers to the forced distribution of ‘privileges’ across society with an emphasis on providing wealth and opportunity to classes of people who are considered to be disadvantaged. The institutions of society, from government to private business, are tasked with providing equal access to such benefits of life as health care. The individuals of society are judged and granted benefits based on their income, the color of their skin, their gender or other factors by which they are defined into a category of ‘advantaged’ or ‘disadvantaged.’ Examples of public policies that reflect so-called social justice are progressive taxation, affirmative action and other forms of allegedly ‘positive’ discrimination.
The term “social justice” is usually dated back to the mid-19th century when it was coined by the Jesuit priest and scholar Luigi Taparelli. Taparelli believed that law should serve morality because unrestrained freedom harmed the cohesiveness of society even if the expression of freedom was nonviolent. A virtuous society required “positive law” that did not merely protect person and property but which also imposed moral standards.