Social Justice

Trying to Understand Justice

I remember back in high school doing research for an english paper on a current topic. I went to a local historian to try to understand what led to the decline of my hometown, Benton Harbor, Michigan, and the challenges of racism that are so prevalent there. I’ve struggled to understand justice ever since. I’ve been reflecting recently on the journey and have come to a few conclusions:
1) Much of my study on the topic of justice has really been a growing awareness and sensitization towards injustice and oppression;
2) Many of my attempts to address the injustices I’ve seen amount to acts of mercy, instead of actions that create a just playing field;
3) Trying to parse out what it means to affect justice has brought me to a realization that beyond over-simplified definitions I don’t know what justice really means.

I’ve regularly followed the various people associated with Soujorners and have been called a socialist by some because of it. But I find there are some things that make me uncomfortable about some of the statements made by various of the authors of articles in their magazine and their blog posts.  I strongly agree with others, though.

At various times I’ve followed different conservative and libertarian authors and speakers. I’ve found I strongly agree with many of their ideas and strongly disagree with others.

This has left me wondering whether I am incapable of understanding on my own what justice really is. Perhaps I am only left blowing in the breeze of hyperbole and catchy slogans.

But this is not quite right, either. I find I am often able to discern at least in part what I find disquieting about a position being stated by a pundit even if I can’t state completely and lucidly my own position. I know I find troubling the strong rejection by libertarians of a role for government in collecting taxes at a progressive rate to provide a social fabric that assures a basic standard of living and healthcare for all. I know, too, though that I find troubling a socialist utopian nation that is completely socialized, for instance as described by Edward Belamy in his work Looking Backwards.

Recently I’ve come across a book called Justice: Alternative Political Perspectives. In it, editor James Sterba Has brought together many of the seminal writings on the topic of justice from a range of different political perspectives. I’ve completed the sections on the libertarian and socialist perspectives and understand better now those viewpoints and also more specifically, albeit tenuosly, why I both agree in part and disagree in part with those philosophies of justice. The book had to be returned to the library before I could get into the liberal democratic, communitarian, feminist, and environmentalist philosophies. I’ve now ordered the book and look forward to struggling through more of it soon!

I’d be very interested to find a group of people who would be interested in getting together regularly to discuss Sterba’s book and related works, and to join with me to try to tease out the different foundational views of justice as a way to develop personal positive definitions of justice, and to also create civil discourse among those with different philosophies of justice. For ultimately I believe Sterba is correct that there is much in common amongst the many different frameworks that allow for considerable partnerships to affect positive social change.

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