Justice Knows No Adjective

I have few pet peeves. I’m generally an even-tempered person with great patience. I guess a few things that get on my nerves are people who talk really loud on cellphones in quite places like libraries and restaurants. Or maybe people who eat at fast food places but neglect to bus their own tables when they are finished. I really can’t think of too much else. Except one thing…adjectives prefixed to the concept of justice.

Justice, as old Socrates would let you know, either exists or it does not. There either is such a thing as Justice, or there isn’t. If there isn’t, then the world becomes one giant case study in cultural and moral relativism. Different people in different places from different times would disagree on what is wrong and what is right. But if Justice does exists, if there is such a thing as “right,” then it can’t be relative to time, place, or culture. It simply must be right.

The modern tendency to put an adjective in front of justice might be my greatest pet peeve because it runs contrary to the very concept it tries to qualify. In this sense, it becomes an oxymoron. The adjective list is long, as it seems everybody has a favorite flavor of justice. There’s social justice, environmental justice, workers justice, gender justice, tax-payer justice, and voter justice, to name a few. It’s like a Baskin-Robbins of justice. “I’ll take a scoop of animal justice with a scoop of elder justice on top.”

Justice is what is right, regardless of the parties involved. The adjective approach to justice is really about agendas, more than justice. The Adjective Advocates really want something for themselves and their constituents to which they feel they are entitled. Whether or not its “just” is usually a secondary consideration. Political theorists would call this one of the dangers of democracy – people voting on the basis of self-interest.

It seems modern politics has gone largely the way of adjective justice. Political parties and interest groups on both side of the aisle seem less interested in doing what is just than in doing what is beneficial for themselves and their constituents. All this tells me is that old Socrates was a pretty sharp guy, and maybe he was on to something with that whole Philosopher-King bit.

I would never seriously advocate that. American democracy is one of the great creations of Western Civilization. However, we still need Philosopher-Kings to lead us unenlightened people from the Cave, in search of truth and justice and virtue. Unfortunately, most of our politicians today would do so only in the name of “Bronze Justice.” Especially if there were votes attached.

One response

  1. Hello Chris,

    Thanks so much for addressing this difficult subject head-on. It is indeed true, as you have posited, that without an absolute reference point, all attempts at seeking justice are doomed to wallow forever in the morass of relativism. I thought that to be an excellent point well stated!

    I agree with your statement of the American form of government being one of the greatest experiments undertaken; however, was it really founded as democracy? The Founders’ original intent was a republican system of government with limited scope and power, not the infinitely powerful and intrusive form of “democratic government” (in the words of Thomas Sowell, “tyranny by mob rule”) that has historically been a segway to socialism.

    The Founders’ original intent was for the government to be charged with the national defense and taking of a census, together with other limited, strictly enumerated powers. The Tenth Amendment is still in force: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Founders envisioned a limited government, not the massive federal-state complex that we have today and which obtrudes into nearly every area of one’s life.

    Once again, thanks very much for an engaging and thought-provoking article! Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future.

    –The Southern Voice Writer

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