To most, the term immediately conjures the image of an overweight, green-haired, angry feminist. Social justice is often used as a tool to justify the government redistribution of wealth or services
see PragerU’s video on social justice:
This is a symptom of confusion of society and the state and their responsibilities, as Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense: “SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher”. This misunderstanding, accompanied with the odious image of the aforementioned feminist, leads some to look upon the term with distaste. I am happy to say that, in reality, the septum pierced twenty-something is not a “social justice warrior.”
In the mid-nineteenth century, a Catholic Jesuit scholar named Luigi Taperelli coined the phrase. Social justice, originally, was a joining of the two words in their classical senses: that man is a social being, therefore proper justice must be carried out in as a community of those same beings. In other words, a just society depends on different forms of free association, or private institutions, that we naturally and mutually create to pursue wants and fulfill needs. Further, it is the personal responsibility of those institutions to uphold the value and sanctity of human life with special attention given to those less fortunate. It is the idea that God has called men to act upon their obligations as Christians.
The teaching is encapsulated in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, a piece which attempted to tackle the social issues surrounding labor during the Industrial Revolution. In 1931, Pope Pius XI utilized the term thusly: “To each must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods…must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice.” It addresses individual people rather than governments. There is no accountability if the state makes the decision for the individual.
Eventually, social justice took a turn for something more political in the sixties. Populorum Progresso, a book written by Pope Paul VI, focused on international poverty and a need for structural changes. It was often quoted to justify a Marxist influenced movement in Latin America known as liberation theology. It fit right into the political unrest of rising class tensions. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian philosopher, theologian, and Dominican priest regarded as one of the founders of liberation theology, cited it eight times in his 1973 publication, A Theology of Liberation.
They identified capitalism to be at the heart of Latin America’s problem, when in fact there was no pure capitalist system in place, rather, an economic structure resembling 16th century European mercantilism, or state capitalism. Although, liberation theology was not the sole cause of the class wars that ensued in the years shortly after, twisting the idea of social justice to place the responsibility onto the already corrupt government was a large contributing factor to the mentality at the time. Even sixty years later, it is still clear that the result was not a change in the economic system but merely a change in the people in charge.
Today, instead of the web of associations and institutions that humans have the right to independently form, social justice is interpreted to have little to nothing to do with personal accountability or genuine heartfelt charity. It is instead a responsibility outsourced to the state. Marching millennials, therefore, are not “social justice warriors”; they are lazy children looking for a scapegoat to pass off their God-given duties.