Justice can thrive only where the bond of human spirit and matter is healthy. Our nation has become for the rest of the world what Rome had become for the world subject to its domination. We have grown fat on the labor and resources of others. We have become an exploitative country that uses far more than its share of the world’s limited resources, while large parts of the rest of the world languish in poverty, hunger, and even famine. That fact is obscured from our society because we have only the “Joneses” next door with whom to compare lifestyles and compete for success as success has come to mean for us. We do not come into direct contact with the people in other places about the world whom we use through the anonymous action of big business to acquire energy, resources and goods at a bargain price. Even television, which occasionally breaks into its entertainment of levity and excess with news of deprivation and suffering in other parts of the world, fails adequately to present the suffering of the world to which we contribute by our greed and excessive consumption.
At the end of his presidency the first George Bush sent troops to Somalia to establish a framework of order so that food supplies could be delivered to the hoards of starving people there. One person interviewed on television decried the imposition upon U.S. personnel and resources by pointing to the need in our own country. Yes, there were needy ones in our own country, but how did it compare to the urgency of the thousands who were dying daily in Somalia? Our discomfort could not begin to rise to the level of their dire deprivation.
Mainstream religion no longer points to the suffering servant in the becoming of the world. Too often it becomes a superstitious means for physical comfort, psychological security and justification for maintaining an excessive life style. Popular American Christianity became for a time epitomized by Jimmy Baker who had air conditioning for his dog’s dwellings, and his retirement communities to which the faithful could retire from the cares of the world, there to receive their rewards, for a fee, of course. We have seen such excesses in business insider trading, in investment fraud, savings and loans skim-offs, in fraudulent accounting at the expense of business investors, and in a subspecies of crime which we locate somewhere between “real” crime and practical living, called “white collar crime.” Before society tires of excessive greed, such conduct is considered to be savvy reaping of the rewards of acquired position and business finesse. After society tires of it, the conduct is decried, news stories and editorials abound, and the reapers are then recast as criminals, a leach upon society.
One hundred twenty six members of the Texas Southern University marching band were invited in the early 1990’s to play at a football game in Tokyo. Their hosts took them on a shopping trip before they returned to the States. Japan had so low a shoplifting rate that products were frequently displayed on racks outside the stores. To the American guests, the displays were an invitation to help themselves, and the hosts’ trust was misconceived as stupidity deserving of exploitation. The group shoplifted more than 100 electronic items valued at $22,000.
On a global scale the world’s resources are rapidly becoming depleted, accelerated by our excessive consumption and acquisition. We allow our forestry industries to clear mountainsides, but we demand that Brazil preserve its jungles as our oxygen generator. On the issue of global warming, the U.S. and industrial nations want controls on the rest of the world while maintaining their own lifestyle. The second George Bush refused to join the Kyoto Protocol. The rest of the world wants to catch up to us, but we want to maintain our position of privilege. President Bush has ignored the impact of our excessive consumption of energy upon global warming, claiming that no link has been proven. Toward the end of his presidency, President Bush acknowledges there might be a connection, and he proposes that we, as a society, should curb our appetite, not for the health of the world, but for our independence from foreign oil. However, those proposals are not backed by penalties, and there appears to be no commitment to the principles.
This pattern of excessive consumption is finally being openly challenged. The third world countries are tired of being exploited and are demanding their fair participation in the resources and wealth of the world. Japan rebuilt its industry and played the competitive political and economic game to the point that the first President Bush traveled to Japan to plead that Japan Aowed it to us@ to buy our products because we buy theirs. Other Eastern countries along the Pacific are developing industrially and economically, and they are demanding equal opportunity to participate in the marketplace.
“Will to Power” thrives today in the United States and in the world. One must wonder at Nietzsche’s prediction for a society which has lost its inherited values, isolating and dispossessing the weaker elements of society. But the message of the Bible includes a message for the dispossessed from the living God of history as expressed in Liberation Theology and Min Jung Theology:
Though the powers of this world oppress you, I have not forgotten you. I am the becoming of the world. I will lead you out of oppression into wholeness of relationship with the world and with me.
Justice in a “Shrinking World”
Justice must, in the Twenty-First Century, mean something different on a world scale than it meant a century ago. The world is becoming crowded, and its resources, we are discovering, are limited. When the pilgrims and other Europeans came to this land it appeared it was an unlimited resource. A century ago we had settled it entirely, and today it is crowded in large areas. The skies were then yet sufficiently spacious compared to our burning of fuels to dissipate the pollution and apparently to rejuvenate. Although the world is divided among political units, we are now discovering that any independence of these units is illusory: what happens in one effects the neighbor, the next neighbor, and the world.
Justice, as a principle, does not necessarily change; but its application to the new set of circumstances must necessarily change from its prior applications. All human beings have the same fundamental needs. In this crowded world there possibly may be enough resources to meet everyone’s needs if used wisely, but there are not enough resources to satisfy everyone’s wants.
Justice regulates liberty and equality, Mortimer Adler says in his book Six Great Ideas. Liberty and equality have a different meaning today in the context of a relational world with limited resources than they meant two hundred years ago to a sparsely populated, regionally isolated country of apparently unlimited resources.
Adler writes that whereas liberty and equality must be restrained with regard to limited supplies, justice is an unlimited quality. There are libertarians who place a heavy priority upon liberty at the expense of interests of equality. For libertarians an individual should be treated as a monad, isolated and free to obtain or do whatever the individual desires and has the capacity to do. There are egalitarians that put a great emphasis upon equality even at the expense of liberty. For them the individual should not stand out from the group, but should be regulated so as to maintain total equality in the distribution of goods among the individuals of the whole. Adler says that liberty and equality can be maximized harmoniously only when each is regulated by justice.
Adler notes three major forms of liberty:
1. The freedom that is inherent in human nature: that freedom of choice to become what one may become.
2. The freedom associated with wisdom and moral virtue: an acquired freedom, or moral freedom, to will as one ought to will.
3. The freedom completely dependent upon one’s circumstances: physical or chemical restraints upon choice, such as being imprisoned, or physically or emotionally disabled; or sitting behind the wheel of a powerful race car, or having wealth.
Only the last freedom needs to be regulated, Adler says. The freedom inherent in nature is an indelible mark of existence and no outside restraints can restrict it. Neither can moral freedom be restricted since it consists in one doing as one ought to do. Even the threat of punishment cannot prevent a person from doing what one ought to do, as we have seen in the examples of civil disobedience.
Doing as one pleases with his or her circumstances, however, when it takes from the needs of others, or is unjust, is not liberty, but license. To do as one pleases without regard to others is a form of autonomy, and autonomy can be exercised legitimately only if one is a solitary being, entirely independent of others and of the world. Total autonomy of the individual is incompatible with social living. Such circumstantial freedom is appropriately regulated.
Circumstantial freedom to do as one pleases is freedom from coercion and freedom to act. As noted, however, its limits may be appropriately be established by law. Adler writes,
The sphere of circumstantial liberty is not, as John Stuart Mill wrongly supposed, the sphere of conduct unregulated by law, with the consequence, in Mill’s view, that the more our conduct is regulated by law, the less freedom we have. Nor is it true, as Thomas Jefferson said, that the less government the better, because the less government, the freer we are.
An earlier English philosopher, John Locke, provides us with a sounder view of the matter. In the first place, much of our conduct is not and cannot be regulated by law, no matter how massive such regulation may be. This is true not only of the civil law, the positive law of the state, but also the moral law; for much of our conduct is morally indifferent, neither prescribed nor proscribed by moral rules. In this area where, in Locke’s words, “the law prescribes not,” we are quite free to do as we please.
Just laws, when enforced, promote liberty; they not only have behind them the power of coercion, but moral authority as well. Unjust laws prevail only by might, not by right.
As the only liberties which can be effectively regulated are circumstantial liberties, so the only liberties to which we have a claim are circumstantial liberties. The liberty inherent in human nature is claimed by the mere fact of existence; moral liberty is claimed by choosing what is right. It is only circumstantial liberties that can be granted or denied, and therefore claimed.
We have no claim of right to license, Adler says, since license is unruly, a wanton autonomy. We do have, however, a legitimate claim upon society for those liberties that are justly limited, that is, which fairly balance the desires and needs of an individual with the desires and needs of the society as a whole.
On the one side of the equation are the interests of individual. In this respect, Adler says, Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of truths in the Declaration of Independence is too limited and elliptical:
The unalienable and natural right to life consists in our entitlement to all the economic goods that we need to sustain life, for without life we cannot live well. Beyond the economic goods indispensable to sustaining life itself are economic goods that we need to live well, above the level of mere subsistence, such as ample time for the pursuits of leisure.
Other things that we need to live well, not mentioned in the Declaration, are health and knowledge. We need them as much as we need a moderate possession of wealth in the form of economic goods, not just to live but to live well. To some extent these goods are within our power to obtain for ourselves; but to the extent that they are not entirely within our power to obtain, we have a right to the help that organized society can provide for obtaining them.
The individual exists within society. As Teilhard noted, the complexification of organization is not limited to the organism; it is also found in social organization which begins to take on the character of an organism, that being more than the sum of its parts. As the complexity of social arrangements increases, the mutual dependence of the various individuals within that society also increases.
The original contribution of the United States to political theory was its recognition that the health of the whole depends upon the integrity and health of the individual members. Under the founders’ view, if society is to be healthy, it must grant to its individual members the circumstantial liberty sufficient for the individual members to have health; and if society is to thrive, it must grant to its individual members the circumstantial liberty sufficient for the individual members to thrive. But Hamilton’s demand for powers commensurate with duties of office also recognized the individual’s obligations to society: freedom carries a measure of responsibility.
Concerning equality, Adler divides human equality and inequality into two areas: that which arises from the fact of human existence, and that which arises from circumstances. What nature bestows cannot be added to or detracted from by legislative act. As in the matter of freedom or liberty, only circumstantial equality can be regulated.
Circumstantial equality can be further subdivided into those of condition and those of opportunity. Those who would regulate the circumstantial equalities or inequalities of condition or of opportunity differ. Adler writes,
There are those who would defend the prescriptive judgment that, with respect to certain conditions, political, economic, or social, all should be equal in kind without any attendant inequality in degree. All ought to be haves with respect to this or that important human good, but among the haves, none should have more and none have less.
Opposed to them are those who would defend the prescriptive judgment that, with respect to the same conditions, all should be equal in kind, adding that such equality in kind should be attended by inequalities in degree. While all ought to be haves with respect to the human goods in question, some ought to have more, and some less.
In considering how justice should determine the distribution of goods either equally or unequally, Adler proposes that the equalities to which we are all entitled are circumstantial: those of status, treatment, and opportunity. The quality of being human entitles one to those circumstantial equalities which recognize the dignity of the individual. Such rights do not depend upon the positive law for their grant or maintenance.
Insofar as positive law is consistent with Natural Law, that positive law acquires moral authority. Justice is the name given that moral authority: it is when “is” conforms with “ought.” Justice requires that positive law recognize the equal status of all human beings, and recognize the natural right of each to exercise free will and to participate effectively in the social life, including the political life of that society.
Justice also requires that the positive law prescribe distribution of economic goods sufficient to meet all individuals’ biological and psychological needs, and sufficient beyond that for the opportunity of all to live well, i.e. the successful pursuit of happiness.
As justice may require equality in some spheres of individual lives, so it also may require inequality in other spheres. The example already given is that the distribution of political power, which, as Alexander Hamilton noted, should be proportional to political responsibility. Likewise, in society, those who have the ability to make productive use of their resources should, to some degree, be allowed more of a circumstantial condition than those with less power. The question is how much inequality will justice tolerate.
In a relational world, there are two basic principles which operate to justly distribute equally or unequally circumstantial equality, Adler writes:
(1) none less than enough for the purpose and
(2) none more than is compatible with everyone having enough.
We have already noted a limited supply of resources in the world. Those limits affect the equality or inequality of distribution that justice can allow: the amount of any resource that one can acquire must not diminish the finite supply sufficient to meet the Natural Rights of others who are dependent upon it.
Adler divides justice as a regulative mechanism of freedom and equality into two main spheres:
One is concerned with the justice of the individual in relation to other human beings and to the organized community itself – the state. The other is concerned with the justice of the state – its form of government and its laws, its political institutions and economic arrangements -in relation to the human beings that constitute its population.
An appropriate adjustment of social relations depends upon the ability of the governing authority to determine what is really good for the individual and for society.
Real goods, based on natural needs, are convertible into Natural Rights, based on those same needs. To wrong another person is to violate his natural right to some real good, thereby depriving him of its possession and consequently impeding or interfering with his pursuit of happiness. To wrong or injure him in this way is the paradigm of one individual’s injustice to another.
In short, one cannot do good and avoid injuring or doing evil to others without knowing what is really good for them. The only goods anyone has a natural right to are real, not apparent, goods. We do not have a natural right to the things we want; only to those we need.
According to Adler, justice regulates in two areas of social interaction: it protects rights (Natural Rights), and it promotes fair exchanges among individuals. Fair exchanges treats equals equally, and unequals unequally. Positive law is just insofar as it satisfies these conditions.
Effective government requires some coercive power to command conformity with rules set down for the society that it governs. As spirit must be joined to body, so right, to be effective in this world, must be joined with might. Naked right is impotent, naked might is despotic. When the positive law orders that which is consistent with moral duty, the citizen ought to do that which the law requires. The duty of civil disobedience requires that when the two conflict, the citizen ought to do what is right in derogation of the law, and accept the consequences for disobeying it.
Raw positive law, to the exclusion of Natural Law, equates “ought” with positive law. That view is criticized by Adler:
Neglecting or rejecting the distinction between real and apparent goods, together with that between natural needs and acquired wants, the positivists can find no basis for the distinction between what ought to be desired or done and what is desired or done. From that flows the further consequence that there is no natural moral law, no natural rights, no natural justice, ending up with the conclusion that man-made law alone determines what is just and unjust, right and wrong.
The pursuit of justice is an on-going process; it is never accomplished for all time. As the world changes, adjustments must be made to new circumstances if justice is to be maintained.
In our own country there is an increasing gulf between those that have and those that do not. Blacks, Hispanics, women, racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled and others are systematically excluded from aspects of the political, social and economic life of the country. Meanwhile, those who have acquired much under the present socio-economic system often have too much invested in that system to permit any changes that might threaten their security. And so the gulf continues to grow. A tenet of Natural Law, however, is that none should have less than enough to achieve well-being in society, and none should have more than is compatible with everyone having enough.
The judicial system, often controlled by people who are vested in maintaining the system as it is, tends to resist any law that would threaten that structure. Legislators pass laws designed to protect the established system. However, if government fails in its duty, the law loses its moral authority. With the erosion of moral authority comes the erosion of inherited values, and in its place arises raw “will to power.” Ultimately, justice is not a matter to be divined, or to be imposed: it is a matter of right relations.
If this country is to continue to thrive, it must grant the opportunity to each individual citizen to share in the resources of the country necessary for each to thrive. And who are we to think that the world owes us the sweat of its brow for our luxury and comfort?! We need the world more now than ever. When on the other side of the planet a child dies of malnutrition, when a mother holds the war-torn body of her child, when a bomb explodes in retribution for wrongs piled upon wrongs, it effects us. It is the wise society that recognizes that truth and responds to it.
The system will not change until enough oppressed people tire of their exclusion from the full life of society, and say “Enough!” to injustice. Eric Fromm wrote in You Shall Be As Gods, “The beginning of liberation lies in man’s capacity to suffer, and he suffers if he is oppressed, physically and spiritually.” When enough people demand political recognition of the dignity that is theirs by nature, and when they actively resist injustice wherever it may be found, then change will occur. We can either choose to be part of that change, or we can choose to resist it and be swept away in the flood.
There are now developing in our world new loci of “Will to Power.” We are now reaping the judgment of our accumulated patterns of living. As Gore Vidall stated in an interview on National Public Radio in 1992, “I just hope that they treat us better than we treated them.”
Judgment is real, and it is sure, whether or not it is swift. We feared it at the height of the nuclear threat of the cold war. That threat continues. Global warming is a fact that, if it continues unabated, will have devastating effects on all life on earth. It could be that it is just a natural cycle of the world; but if it is not, and if we are contributing to it and fail to correct it, the consequences are dire and possibly irreversible. Ultimately, justice will be done. We can either be its agents or we can be its objects.
President Eisenhower elegantly and clearly addressed that challenge in his farewell speech:
To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration:
We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
Justice is delayed. Let it not be denied.
Fiat justitia et ruant coeli. (“Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”)
William Watson (1559?-1603) A Decacordon of Ten Quodlibeticall Questions.