Social Justice: Who Gives, Gets, Decides? by Bill Frezza
Do you have friends and colleagues who invoke the principle of "Social Justice" to justify new entitlement programs like the trillion dollar health care bill? Do their explanations of what constitutes Social Justice sometimes sound vague or situational, a bit like Justice Potter Stewart's infamous definition of what constitutes pornography? I can't define it but I know it when I see it.
The phrase Social Justice was coined by a Jesuit priest named Luigi Taparelli in the 1840s. The economic inequalities generated by the industrial revolution deeply troubled him. Reaching back to St. Thomas Aquinas, Taparelli tried to codify the moral obligations of good Catholics to share the bounty generated by new means of production. His work influenced Pope Leo XIII, who penned the Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor). While endorsing the right of workers to form unions, the encyclical is clear in its support of private property. "Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner". Social Justice, then, was born as a call to render unto God, not Caesar.
This state of affairs was not to last. An outspoken advocate of Social Justice during the 1930s and early 1940s was another priest named Father Coughlin. Anticipating Rush Limbaugh by more than half a century, Father Coughlin had a regular radio audience estimated at nearly one third of the American public. An early advocate of FDR's New Deal, Coughlin elevated the principle of social justice from a moral imperative to a political demand. As the Depression dragged on, a disaster he blamed on "an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers," Coughlin turned on FDR and began extolling more aggressive leaders promising hope and change. "We maintain the principle that there can be no lasting prosperity if free competition exists in industry!" Coughlin cried. His exemplars? Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. . .