The distinction between traditional justice and social justice has been noted by many authors. Traditional justice assumes the depravity of man and establishes laws to encourage virtue and discourage vice. Traditional justice – most frequently seen in civil and criminal justice – assumes a set of rules that are right for all people at all times. It is based on a set of transcendent absolutes.
Social justice is a utopian concept, calling for a world order that is egalitarian. Thus the current social order is judged on the basis of this vision of the future in which the common good is equally distributed among all men. The vehicle for change is the state. Traditional justice is relativized by the state in its quest of utopia. Social justice becomes revolutionary, insisting that traditional justice accommodate itself to the desired end.
An example of this Is affirmative action, where in the name of social justice individual rights are compromised. Traditional justice Is subservient to social justice. Laws protecting the Individual are compromised to achieve desired ends. This Is the basis of Income redistribution, rent control laws, hiring quotas, etc.
When the state takes upon itself the task of providing for the total needs of people, religion becomes its competitor and eventually Its enemy. This is why Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses and why in most communist states religion is discouraged, if not suppressed.
In Scandinavia, where the welfare state is highly developed, religion has declined. In the name of separating church/state affairs, the state takes on the role of being a religion. The people look to it for the meeting of their needs, much like religious people do their god. Even In Sweden, where it Is the Lutheran State Church, the church has waned while the state waxes. It is estimated that in Stockholm only one out of every two hundred people attend church.
Because social justice replaces traditional justice as the final arbiter, morality in Scandinavia has also declined. It is reported that in Sweden, where the legalizing of abortion was pioneered, they are now moving in the direction of legalizing incest. In Sweden and Denmark one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, and the ratio of legitimate – illegitimate births is equal.
Can the law become the instrument of the state to enforce social justice; and thus relativized, can democracy survive? Many would argue that
this is debatable, but it seems to me that the obvious answer is no.
Democracy assumes that there is no universal vision towards which all are moving. There are only individual visions or dreams. The purpose of the state is to create an environment of equal opportunity which is not the same as egalitarianism but established on just laws giving each person the chance to fulfill his vision.
The moment the state takes upon itself the task of defining for all a common vision, totalitarianism is not far behind. The people are no longer free to decide. As in affirmative action, the rights of the minority take precedence over those of the majority. Law is seen, not as a standard of transcendent absolutes, but the mechanism of the state to implement its utopian vision. The only immorality is that which conflicts with the state’s vision. Law regulates economics, not morality. The individual is free to choose his own moral standards (ostensibly within the parameters of not infringing on the rights of others) but becomes a slave to the vision of the state.
The individual is forced, through taxation and other coercive measures of the state, to participate in the accomplishing of its vision and, at the same time, victimized by the behavior of people who are freed from the restraints of traditional justice. All one has to do is watch the progression of cinema over the past twenty years to see the ratcheting of immorality from one degree of lewdness to the next.
Concerning the 1988 film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” we were told that it was a deeply religious film by a sensitive film writer. Who decides? Can the blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Poles or any other group be blasphemed, villanized and ridiculed under the guise of being sensitive? If it Is the affected group that decides, then “The Last Temptation of Christ” was, from all reports, a deeply offensive film.
In an environment where morality is relativized and the vision of the state is absolutized, democracy cannot survive, for the individual is faced with the twin evil of having no protection against what natural law, tradition and the Scriptures have historically declared to be wrong, while at the same time being forced to participate in a dream not of his own making.
It may be asked, how can a democratic people be forced to participate in a dream not of their own making? Two Influences bring this about. First is the dream of better things to come that is endemic to the human race. It is natural to have hope, unnatural and sad to meet those without hope. Thus, those with hope either dream of attaining better things in this life, or in the one to come. The more secular a people, the more temporal their hope and the more prone they are to allow the state to define utopia.
Second, relativism insists that there is no cause/effect relationship between what the Bible calls sin and what society acknowledges as negative consequences. The confession of Ted Bundy to James Dobson before Bundy’s execution is an example. Bundy noted that it was his addiction to pornography that led to a life of sexually related murder. Immediately the public was cautioned that such linkage is unscientific and that you cannot prove that one caused the other. There are simply too many variables. The Meese Commission claimed such a link based on “assumptions that are plainly justified by our own common sense.” The ACLU countered that those who are guilty of sex crimes have a natural interest in pornography.
Without Biblical absolutes it is difficult to convincingly link the effects of sin with the sin itself. And to the degree that it can be done, it is then argued that there was really nothing wrong with the effects In the first place.
A SENSE OF WELL BEING
Relativism destroys a society’s sense of well being. Charles Murray notes in In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government that the wealth of a society lies, in part, in the quality of Its people. If there is no morality, but only individual preferences, then society feels unsafe because people do that which is right in their own eyes. A poverty develops which is far worse than that produced by an inadequate standard of living.
When people are told that they have a right to what is not theirs, and that it Is the job of the state to take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots,” then any perceived inequality becomes an excuse for hostility. People who look to the state for the meeting of their needs find that their needs are insatiable. Hedonism, void of moral restraint, bankrupts a society. Civility among people and what may be called civic morality is eroded. People, perceiving themselves as deprived, become sullen and angry.
One author notes that the fear of crime in society is not measured solely by statistics on crime but must also include the subjective dimension of how safe its citizens feel. Using this criteria, most people feel unsafe in public. They are accosted, glared at, verbally abused. Civility is absent.
“The deterioration of politeness and public manners is at a sufficiently rapid stage to be measurable within any one individual’s experience,” said Dr. Willard Gaylin, a psychoanalyst who is president of the Hastings Institute of Society, Ethics and Life Sciences, as reported in our local newspaper. Ratings on TV talk shows break viewing records based on the degree to which they are nasty and rude.
This rudeness and lack of civility makes people uncomfortable if not unsafe. The absence of moral standards and the presence of unrealistic expectations, feeds this problem. It Is the fruit of relativism.
With the decline in the belief in the soul’s existence and the conviction that all life holds is here and now, the individual is left to live in a spiritual vacuum. The state tells him that he must sacrifice for the common good and that the needs of the less advantaged take precedence over the needs of those more richly endowed. Believing that the here and now is all he has, his only hope is to be counted as part of the deprived minority, and thus the recipient of the state’s largess, or turn against the state.
In either case the state will end bankrupt or be forced to terminate the democratic experiment, replacing it with a totalitarian form of government. With no hope in an eternal destiny with its day of reckoning when all people everywhere will be judged on the basis of a set of transcendent absolutes, man is left to live out his temporal existence like an animal.
Grateful for His sovereignty,