Whenever I hear the expression “social justice” I am reminded of what T. S Eliot had to say about this phrase in a footnote to the introduction of his excellent Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Eliot wrote:
I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups or classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relationships should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content—which would be replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just. (1)
Today, almost seventy years after the first edition of this book was published, that the rational content of “social justice” might be replaced by a powerful emotional charge is no longer a danger but rather something that has long since come to pass. It does indeed, now, mean a particular assumption as to what the relationships between groups or classes should be, namely that all groups and classes ought to relate to each other as equals, with of course the understanding implicit in all egalitarian dogmas that some, as Orwell wrote, “are more equal than others”. Moreover, almost every course of action that is justified today by the cause of social justice, stands condemned as unjust before the tribunal at which “justice”, as Plato and Aristotle understood this term, an understanding which corresponds quite well with the use of the same term in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, sits as judge.
True justice, in the classical understanding of the term, is both the external requirement that we pay what we owe to God, the law, and to other people and the internal virtue of habitually so doing. This excludes any form of egalitarianism for our obligations towards God and Caesar are different from each other, and our obligations to our fellow men vary greatly in accordance with our relationship to each. What a man’s owes to his wife and children he does not owe to his neighbour’s wife and children, and all men are under greater obligation to their friends and neighbours than they are to strangers, and to their countrymen than to foreigners.
In the Christian faith we are taught that we have obligations to the poor, the sick, the stranger, and in general, those who are in need. Sadly, there is a tendency among many who profess faith to read these obligations into all secular talk of social justice.
Recently, Christian Week, a monthly periodical with at least two titular inaccuracies, ran an article by columnist Josh Valley entitled “Evangelicals Should Applaud Justin Trudeau’s Sense of Social Justice”. In this column Valley asks if we ought not to “forgive” or “overlook” the liberalism of leaders like Trudeau when “it’s clear they’re compassionately sold to welcoming the least of these and bringing forth justice for the vulnerable and mistreated”.
The question was worded so as to elicit the response of “yes” from his readership. Who in their right mind, after all, would oppose and not support “bringing forth justice for the vulnerable and mistreated”? Valley then goes on, however, to give examples of what he considers to be the Prime Minister Trudeau’s compassionate commitment to justice. The very first example he gives is this:
Although overly ambitious and imperfect, the Trudeau government’s efforts to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada should cause Evangelicals to applaud Trudeau’s sense of social justice.
The unemployment rate in Canada has been over 7 percent since August of last year, jumping to 7.2% this past month. With our economy in the state it presently is, as reflected in the low value of the Canadian dollar, things are likely to get worse, probably much worse, before they get better. Yet, at the Prime Minister’s behest, the governments of Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, and it would be fair to assume every other province in the Dominion, have been offering taxpayer-funded incentives for employers to hire the incoming Syrians.
When 7.2% of Canadians are unemployed, and the provincial governments are giving incentives to employers to hire Syrians, the Prime Minister’s efforts to bring large numbers of these Syrians here will only make things worse for Canadians who are out of work.
Why exactly are evangelicals expected to applaud this?
Valley goes on to say: “What we do for the least of these should not only define who we are as Canadians, but who we are as Christians as well.”
If, however, we think of “the least of these” in terms of the poor and unemployed members of our own society, then these are the ones who will be most adversely affected by Trudeau’s Syrian policy. Perhaps Mr. Valley thinks that “the least of these” on a global scale trumps “the least of these” within the context of one’s own national community, but this is not what Christianity has historically and traditionally taught.
Nor is it merely a question of jobs. Last year Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors of her country to “Syrian refugees” on a much larger scale than Trudeau has attempted, with the consequences that on New Year’s Eve all major German cities saw their young women subjected to robbery, sexual harassment, and even rape by gangs of these migrants. What kind of justice demands that a country expose its young women to this sort of thing in order to show compassion to foreigners? Will Mr. Valley still be suggesting that we applaud Trudeau's "social justice" when Canadian women are subjected to the same treatment?
According to Mr. Valley, we should be proud that our Prime Minister “cares about the vulnerable and the abused in our midst”. Yet a few paragraphs later he acknowledges that Mr. Trudeau takes “position on issues like abortion, marijuana and euthanasia” that would be problematic for evangelicals. That is a bit of an understatement. Mr. Trudeau has taken the most extreme pro-abortion position possible – that there should be no restrictions on a woman’s “right” to kill her unborn child up until birth, and that there should be no further discussion of the issue. What does it say about Mr. Trudeau’s “care” for the “vulnerable and the abused” that he not only refuses to protect the vulnerable and abused unborn, but won’t allow others the freedom of conscience to do so either?
“God does not call us”, Mr. Valley writes “to be moral crusaders, but peace-makers and love-proclaimers.” As true as this is, it needs to be pointed out that “social justice” is a banner under which a different sort of moral crusader marches. Furthermore, while the person crusading against abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia, seeks to impose limitations on people’s behavior and actions – or rather, to restore the social limitations on these that were in place several decades ago - the social justice crusader seeks to impose limitations on people’s thoughts and feelings, and is by far the more oppressive of the two.
Finally, just because someone likes to portray his agenda as being one of “love” “compassion” “peace” and the like does not mean that we ought to shut down our brains and blindly follow him. These kind of soft words sound pleasant to men’s ears, much more so than the hard words in which truth must often be spoken, and are for this reason the kind of words that deceivers love to use. Mr. Trudeau’s words may be full of caring and compassion, but his actions sing another tune, at least as far as the unborn, the unemployed Canadians who will be competing for fewer available jobs thanks to his Syrian program, the women who he is potentially exposing to the kind of harassment we have just seen in Germany, and the future generations who may end up defrauded of the Canada their ancestors once enjoyed and which should have been theirs, are concerned. There is nothing in this for the thinking Christian to applaud.
(1) T. S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1948, 1962, 1967), pp.16-17, footnote 2.
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