It is conventional to distinguish ‘formal justice’ (the law) and material justice (morality and politics), although some theorists of justice treat the two concepts as parallel or overlapping, and argue that since legal or criminal justice concerns the distribution of penalties to the guilty, it has much in common with social justice, which deals with the allocation of scarce goods (and ‘bads’) to a population: both are premissed on the ideas of due process, impartiality, and distribution according to appropriate criteria. In older literature, a distinction is usually drawn between social (or as it is frequently termed ‘distributive’) justice, and retributive justice. The latter holds that the guilty should be punished simply because wrongdoing as such ought to be punished, regardless of the consequences of doing so in terms of deterring further misdemeanours, or making any other contribution to social utility. Retributivism is, therefore, only one theory of criminal justice. In the psychological literature, a fivefold distinction is sometimes made (following T. Eckhoff , Justice: Its Determinants in Social Interaction, 1974
) between equity, or fair exchange, where equity is defined as the equivalence of the output to input ratios of all parties involved in an exchange; distributive justice, or fair allocation, involving the one-way distribution of resources, rights, obligations, or whatever across a category of recipients; procedural justice, or fair procedures and mechanisms, recognizing that an agreed and fair procedure might nevertheless result in a distribution of outcomes that some would define as unjust; retributive justice, or just compensation, dealing with fairness in the allocation of punishments or level of compensation for victimization; and, finally, justice as equality—which may be equality of opportunity, equality of objective outcome, subjective equality (equality of outcomes taking into account need or desert), rank-order equality (in which the allocation of rewards follows normative expectations in order to avoid felt injustice), or equity (equality relative to individual contributions). As will be evident by now this is a subject replete with typologies and codification.
A wide variety of principles are available to regulate social and economic inequalities and so the concept of social justice is the subject of great dispute. Different political ideologies yield different principles of justice. Among the variety of concepts and theories advanced in this way, those of desert, merit, entitlement, equality of outcome, equality of opportunity, need, and functional inequality would seem to be most relevant to sociologists.
Most academic debate about the concept of justice starts with John Rawls's famous ‘difference principle’, which asserts that inequalities in the distribution of scarce goods (power, money, access to healthcare, or whatever) are justified only if they serve to increase the advantage of the least favoured groups in society (see his A Theory of Justice, 1972
). What makes this a principle of justice is the idea that justice consists in considering society from an impartial standpoint, in Rawls's case from an imagined ‘original position’ in which agreement is reached by hypothetical rational self-interested people deprived of information about their talents and attributes, choosing behind a ‘veil of ignorance’. According to Rawls, people constrained in this way to choose impartially would be concerned to maximize the well-being of the least advantaged members of society lest they themselves fall into that group, so they will agree to permit inequalities only if these contribute to the welfare of the poor. This proposition then forms part of Rawls's theory of ‘justice as fairness’, which rests on three principles, which because they may sometimes conflict are ordered in lexical priority as follows: the principle of greatest equal liberty (each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all); which takes absolute priority over the principle of equality of fair opportunity (positions are to be open to all under conditions in which persons of similar abilities have equal access to office); which, in turn, takes absolute priority over the difference principle itself, which (as we have seen) requires social and economic institutions to be arranged so as to benefit maximally the worst-off. Note that there is no suggestion anywhere in this theory that people in any sense deserve their advantages.
Theories of justice which demand that people be rewarded according to their differential desert or merit are probably more familiar to sociologists. If justice consists in giving people their due, and those dues are different, then justice seems clearly to require unequal outcomes. However, this approach to justice does then raise the question of what it is that constitutes the bases of desert or merit, and which qualities of individuals it is just to reward. For example, one can make a distinction between those attributes for which an individual can claim responsibility, and those which are his or hers merely by chance. It is by no means clear that justice is served by rewarding the latter. Against the theory of justice as desert, Rawls has argued that even a quality such as ability to work hard is itself a chance attribute, and thus an improper basis for reward.
If notions of desert are allied to the principle of equality of opportunity, then matters become yet more complex, since the latter is open to a variety of interpretations. Does it demand that, however unequal their abilities, people should be equally empowered to achieve their goals? This would imply that the unmusical individual who wants to be a concert pianist should receive more training than the child prodigy. Should people have equal resources to devote to their life-plans, irrespective of ability; or, less drastically, does this principle merely require that people with the same abilities should have equal opportunities to achieve their desired goals (an interpretation which is consistent with the idea that the talented should have more opportunities than the untalented).
The idea that unequal rewards might be just because people are entitled to unequal resources can be distinguished from arguments based on principles of desert or merit because it is possible to argue that people are entitled to certain goods without in any sense deserving them. Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State and Utopia, 1974) maintains that, even if one accepts that each individual's natural assets are arbitrary such that they cannot be said to deserve them, people are still entitled to the fruits of these assets and to whatever else other people choose freely to give them. Desert-based conceptions of justice are, in Nozick's terms, ‘patterned’ and necessarily conflict with those free exchanges and just transfers which justify an individual's entitlement to resources. Nozick's libertarian emphasis on property rights and freedom of choice leads to a conception of justice as entitlement which is quite different from the idea that people should get what they deserve.
Friedrich Hayek (The Mirage of Social Justice, 1976) has argued that one cannot justify market outcomes as reflecting merit or desert since luck plays too large a part in determining who gets what. However, in his view, the fact that market outcomes are unintended and unforeseen aggregate consequences means that they are not the kind of thing which it is appropriate to regard as just or unjust. Indeed, the whole idea of social justice is for Hayek a mirage, since it requires us to make the mistake of seeing society as an agent. Interestingly, Hayek concedes that the defence of market outcomes at the level of the general public rests upon the erroneous belief that such outcomes reward merit, and he suggests that such a belief is necessary if people are to tolerate the inequalities that the market produces. However, his own justification of the market mechanism is quite different, and points instead to its alleged efficiency because it directs scarce resources to where they bring the greatest return, so that even in an unequal distribution the poor are better off than under any other distributive system, since increased productivity works also to the advantage of those who have least. This argument has obvious parallels with functionalist theories of stratification.
It will be clear from this brief résumé of only a few of the philosophical arguments about justice that the concept is itself contested; that discussions of justice tend to spill over into disputes about cognate concepts (such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘equality’); and that this is an area in which it is wise to eschew labels in attaching particular views of justice to particular political ideologies. For example, while it is well known that socialists tend to place emphasis on justice as need and equality of outcome, it is perhaps less well known that Karl Marx considered the desert-oriented distributive principle ‘to each according to his labour’ as appropriate to the first or lower stage of socialism, to be superseded by the maxim ‘to each according to his need’ only in a second or higher stage. Similarly, liberals tend to endorse the value of equality of opportunity, with inequalities of outcome deemed legitimate if they reflect differences in merit, but then cannot agree either about the conditions that are necessary to ensure equality of opportunity or about what constitutes merit. Some liberals hold a more extreme libertarian position (often confused in popular terminology with conservatism), and argue both that people are entitled to do as they choose with whatever resources they have acquired legitimately, and that this is more important than equality of opportunity. Contemporary thinkers on the New Right tend to conflate the principles of entitlement and desert. For example, it is often argued that the market is to be praised because people get out what they put in (with entrepreneurship and hard work being rewarded), and because markets are the most efficient mechanism for creating wealth which can then trickle down to the poor. Here, unequal outcomes are justified simultaneously on the grounds that they are needed to give people incentives, and so contribute to social justice by helping the poor, and because they give individuals what they deserve. Old-style conservatives, by contrast, tend simply to regard hierarchy as a good thing, either because inequality is a necessary prerequisite of culture and civilized values, or because they respect tradition and inequality is traditional. From this point of view all talk of the principles of social justice, and perhaps even the notion of social justice itself, is inappropriately rationalist in tenor.
Much of the philosophical literature and political theory of justice has been predominantly normative in character. Like Rawls, most writers have been concerned mainly to identify particular rules which can be used to assess the rightness of an act or institution, in order thereby to encourage specific social arrangements that will promote procedural fairness, just allocation, or equality. However, among sociologists and social psychologists, the discussion has been empirical and descriptive rather than moral and prescriptive.
Psychologists have devised a panoply of imaginative studies (mainly laboratory experiments) in an attempt to arbitrate between the exchange theories of distributive justice suggested by George Homans and Stacy Adams, the status-value or status-attribution alternative proposed by Joseph Berger and his colleagues, and the various cost-benefit explanations proffered by certain theorists of social conflict. The framework of equity theory, with which the names of Homans and Adams are associated, rests on a contributions rule, which proposes that justice judgements among individuals reflect the relative ratio of one's contributions (or inputs) to one's receipts (or outcomes) from any transaction, so that justice is achieved when this ratio appears equal for all the parties to any exchange. Subsidiary propositions state that people try to maximize their outcomes, and that perceptions of inequity cause psychological distress, resulting in sustained efforts to restore equity. The status-value perspective, by contrast, argues that distributive justice issues arise only with regard to a stable frame of reference, and that justice evaluations are made with reference to generalized others (see SELF) rather than specific individuals. Berger has argued that through social exchange, individuals develop normative expectations about the levels of rewards typically associated with general classes of individuals, and that when people perceive themselves to be part of that general class they come to have expectations of similar rewards. In other words, as a consequence of generalized beliefs about the actual distribution of rewards, normative expectations are formed about what constitutes a just distribution.
Many of these studies have tried to discover a single rule of distributive justice that might even be expressed in the form of an algebraic formula. Their authors have sailed self-consciously for big prizes: the equity programme pursued by Homans and Adams, for example, is nothing less than a bid for a unified theory of human interaction, embracing central propositions from the theories of reinforcement, cognitive consistency, psychoanalysis, and social exchange. The literature here is now voluminous and has been the subject of numerous overviews and reappraisals (see, for example, E. Walster et al. , Equity: Theory and Research, 1978
Sociological studies of social justice are much more diffuse and embrace research in the areas of (among others) welfarism, the family, education, and earnings. (For a concise summary see K. E. Soltan , ‘Empirical Studies of Distributive Justice’, Ethics, 1982
.) For example, Wayne Alves and Peter Rossi have fielded surveys in order to explore the nature of fairness judgements about the distribution of earnings in the United States, and conclude that individuals disagree both about how various principles of justice are to be applied in practice, and about the merits of particular cases, seeming only to concur that the rules themselves involve balancing both merit and performance considerations alongside those of need (see ‘Who Should Get What?’, American Journal of Sociology, 1978
). Similarly, Jennifer Hochschild's intensive-interview research (reported in What's Fair? American Beliefs about Distributive Justice, 1981) suggests (to quote her conclusions) ‘that people generally use norms that derive from a principle of equality in the socialising and political domains, and generally use norms that derive from a principle of differentiation in the economic domain … Thus individuals begin from an assumption they are equal to all others in their home life, school, community, political rights, and policy interests; however, they begin from an assumption that they are either better or worse than—at any rate, not necessarily equal to—all others in their economic and social worth’.
Nevertheless, few people are either consistently egalitarian or differentiating, even within particular domains. In short, ordinary citizens (like academics and politicians) tend to combine principles of social justice that conflict analytically, tend to resolve justice dilemmas by fiat, and to switch from one norm to another without acknowledgement.
Recent years have seen the emergence of a developing consensus that research into social justice issues could most profitably be pursued within an interdisciplinary framework (see, for example, K. S. Scherer ( ed.) , Justice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 1992
). This has been attempted empirically by (among others) Gordon Marshall,, Adam Swift,, and and Stephen Roberts , Against the Odds? (1997)
. See also MEASUREMENT BY FIAT.
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There are two important types of justice. Procedural justice, a primary goal of Western law, focuses upon using and implementing decisions according to fair processes. Substantive justice, on the other hand, reflects the content of the result of procedural justice and often is concerned with deeper issues of equity. Procedural justice can be viewed in terms of whether the process of punishment appears objectively fair to outside observers, while substantive justice can be interpreted in terms of whether a punishment subjectively is perceived as fair by the participants inside the process. Theories on justice and equity, and the implementation of these ideals, are usually found in philosophical literature. Justice as a concept typically is presented as universal and transcendent rather than as grounded in a social reality that has a particular historical and comparative context. Most of the dominant theories focus on the normative goal of what justice should be rather than studying how justice is defined by societies in specific places and at particular times. These concepts increasingly are used and imposed via hegemony (Gramsci 1971); that is, they are often exported through processes of cultural imperialism (Fanon 1967).
The entitlement or libertarian view of the American philosopher Robert Nozick (1938–2002), the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), John Locke’s (1632–1704) concept of consensual constitutional government, and the social contract of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) via the American philosopher John Rawls (1921–2002) represent some of the more popular Western theories of justice. Justice from these perspectives often serves as a source of legitimation for the development and use of law. Justice from an entitlement perspective emphasizes the importance of private property and individual freedom in juxtaposition to the increasingly controlling role of the state. Entitlement stresses the importance of liberty and efficient economic relations—whereby liberty is posited as more crucial than equality. As a transfer of property, however, such a system of social relations has not been realized in practice. Specifically, its assumptions about fairness in acquisition and transfer not only have proved unworkable, they are a central part of the allegiance to entitlement for the privileged and typically reproduce or increase inequity in class and community relations. When put into action, entitlement theory has placed efficiency before equity, and greater inequality has ensued.
Justice from a utilitarian point of view following Mills’s demands that society provide the greatest utility or happiness to the greatest number, the majority. A dominant part of this theory requires that people treat each other equally, yet equity can be sacrificed for the greatest utility or happiness. However, as Rawls argues, natural endowments should not determine material outcomes, although this theory of merit, too, can be revised in light of what most benefits the common good. More problematic is how the majority often has been defined—for example, Aristotle’s (384–322 BCE) exclusion of slaves in ancient Greece, and the exclusion of indigenous peoples in many modern nation-states. In the Western tradition, the “majority” typically is defined as those who support, implicitly or explicitly, the Western liberal project and the narrow meaning of rational “man” and are uncritical of technological development. Following the current standards of most international organizations, however, the majority of the population in the world consists of “minorities.”
Rawls’s social-contract metaphor presents the idea of a veil of ignorance to correct such inequities. Behind this veil, individuals make decisions about fair and equitable resource allocations. The role of conventional policymaking in implementing the contract reveals, however, consistent allegiances to uncritical plans of development promoting, once again, efficiency over equality. Policymakers and planners often do not serve the interests of justice because they or their political authorities serve their own interests at the expense of others. Rawls’s justice principle—that development for some is justified only if it benefits all—becomes circumvented.
The problems mentioned above can be addressed by deriving principles of justice from a particular historical and comparative context. Justice can be examined within social relations and material conditions that are specific and concrete. In this context, justice can become an important tool for analyzing change, “development,” and the use of law. Legal equality, for example, is an abstract ideal that often has been employed as a metaphor for justice. From the Western perspective on liberalism, in the United States in the eighteenth century, for example, the individual was defined as autonomous, the fundamental unit of society. Rather than viewed as subjects, individuals were defined as citizens who were born equal and free. This definition excluded the majority. Under the declaration that all “men” are created equal, women, poor men, and slaves were ignored. Legal equality for women, poor men, and slaves did not become a fact until the twentieth century. Legal equality, therefore, far from being a reality, can be viewed as a metaphor that emerges from specific, historical conditions.
As the twentieth century progressed, the modern nation-state legitimated its control and expanded its jurisdiction by deconstructing indigenous solidarity, experiential education, and family and community welfare as it constructed national citizenship, formal education, and limited forms of government welfare for individuals. Concepts of nation-state and citizen were presented as major sources of solidarity and identity, emphasizing an abstract concept of nationalism. Formal education was proclaimed as superior to experiential learning. The nation-state centralized welfare amid claims of its progressive care, yet modern forms of state welfare usually have created varying levels of stigma for recipients.
Justice, then, is a useful concept when one examines how it is constructed in different social and political settings and explores how it is used as a source of legitimation for the development and use of rules such as law (Lauderdale 1997). The study of justice should include an analysis of the fair distribution of benefits and burdens, including rights, obligations, deserts, and needs. This manner of studying justice also differentiates between short-and long-term impacts of change, and may identify well-intentioned suggestions for change that may result in unfortunate consequences. The comparative and historical analysis of theories and practices of justice is a relevant alternative to most perspectives on what justice should be. A commitment to addressing the injustices committed in the past by making the lives of people who have suffered those injustices more secure, peaceful, and prosperous may benefit those people who have (directly or indirectly) benefited from historical injustices (Thompson 2002).
A comparative and historical analysis of justice also considers the crucial role of noneconomic factors, such as religious beliefs and ideology, which people sometimes privilege over the goals of Western development. Liberation theology, for example, appeared as a religious social movement in reaction to the binding ties between the elites and the Catholic Church, which exacerbated obvious inequities, especially those of land use and ownership (Gutiérrez 1988). The theology began not with theory but with the realities of injustice experienced by the peasants and indigenous people of Latin America. It calls for individuals, communities, and corporate entities to be involved in extricating themselves from serving the interests of the elites of society and instead to work on behalf of the marginal with the goal of establishing solidarity and equity. Working with the oppressed is presented as a pragmatic prescription to fight poverty and oppression and to liberate people here and now. From such a perspective, justice is revealed as a structural phenomenon, and the dynamics of the world market system, promoted in tandem with liberal democratic principles, are shown to be unjust.
Such approaches to justice stress the development of peoples and not economies, emphasizing the conditions under which economic and political dependency works against community determination and autonomy. The perspective, then, is about whether certain kinds of growth can really solve the problems at hand. The dominance of capital or economic interests as the developing principle is seen as contradicting the ethical principle that workers and labor must be given priority in development of an economy based upon justice. Here, there is a principle that there must be an ethics of means as well as ends. The scholasticism found in many ethnocentric theories of justice based on Western philosophy can benefit from analyses of where perceptions of justice emerge.
Theories of justice based solely on abstract and universalistic criteria have been unable to respond to people throughout the world who are experiencing the presence of injustice in the form of poverty, landlessness, dispossession, political and religious oppression, and genocide. Philosophical formulas of justice are inadequate without systematic explications of the sources of injustice, including, at least: (1) an analysis of how participants are excluded from the creation of justice-related agendas, as well as decision making regarding policy agendas; (2) the continued exposure of exploitation in labor relations; (3) an examination of the factors leading to the erosion of communities, collective identity, and the right to sovereignty; and (4) the long-term cost to nature (including humans) when justice is defined as separate and subservient to humans.
Diversity cannot be denounced as deviance. Society cannot fail to acknowledge the dialectical nature of the conflict between totalization and particularism, corporate monoculture and bioregional diversity, and abstract universalism and collective indigenous identity. Time (historical setting) and place (comparative setting) have proven that traditional assumptions about the implementation of fairness and equality are inadequate, especially for those individuals who exist at the margins of globalization. A workable theory of justice not only must acknowledge and extend foundational theories, but also must critically evaluate those theories so as not to neglect the fundamental connection.
SEE ALSO Democracy; Egalitarianism; Equality; Justice, Distributive; Locke, John; Rawls, John; Social Contract; Utilitarianism
Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Trans. and eds. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Gutiérrez, Gustavo. 1988. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, rev. ed. Trans. and eds. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Lauderdale, Pat. 1997. Indigenous North American Jurisprudence. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 38: 131–148.
Thompson, Joanna. 2002. Taking Responsibility for the Past: Reparation and Historical Injustice. Cambridge, U.K: Polity; Malden, MA: Blackwell.
"Justice, Social." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/justice-social
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National Union for Social Justice
NATIONAL UNION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
NATIONAL UNION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, organized by Charles E. Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest and popular radio speaker, was one of the strongest movements to challenge President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies. The union both denounced communism and advocated the nationalization of banks and utilities. Coughlin's rhetoric drew a large constituency, especially from northeastern urban immigrant Catholics, and the union forged ties with the movement for the Townsend pension plan, among others. Though the union officially disbanded in 1938, some units functioned for a few more years. The union's magazine, Social Justice, ceased publication in 1942 after it was barred from the U.S. mails for anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi statements.
Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. New York: Knopf, 1982.
Fried, Albert. FDR and His Enemies. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Alvin F.Harlow/d. b.
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