Saturday, April 09, 2005

Social justice

One of the phrases one hears often in ed schools and one that is constantly on the lips of the letter soup organizations that form the organizational ed complex is "social justice." See NCATE case here.

It's a phrase that sounds good but is rarely examined and debated.

Help is on the way.

There is now a vast database that examines the chief proponents of "social justice" and similar leftist causes.

UPDATE:
I found this article that traces the genealogy of the phrase "social justice" back to Marx.

In this rendering, "social justice" is an attack on classical liberalism.
The signature of modern leftist rhetoric is the deployment of terminology that simply cannot fail to command assent. As Orwell himself recognized, even slavery could be sold if labeled "freedom." In this vein, who could ever conscientiously oppose the pursuit of "social justice," -- i.e., a just society?

To understand "social justice," we must contrast it with the earlier view of justice against which it was conceived -- one that arose as a revolt against political absolutism. With a government (e.g., a monarchy) that is granted absolute power, it is impossible to speak of any injustice on its part. If it can do anything, it can't do anything "wrong." Justice as a political/legal term can begin only when limitations are placed upon the sovereign, i.e., when men define what is unjust for government to do. The historical realization traces from the Roman senate to Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution to the 19th century. It was now a matter of "justice" that government not arrest citizens arbitrarily, sanction their bondage by others, persecute them for their religion or speech, seize their property, or prevent their travel.

This culmination of centuries of ideas and struggles became known as liberalism. And it was precisely in opposition to this liberalism -- not feudalism or theocracy or the ancien regime, much less 20th century fascism -- that Karl Marx formed and detailed the popular concept of "social justice," (which has become a kind of "new and improved" substitute for a storeful of other terms -- Marxism, socialism, collectivism -- that, in the wake of Communism's history and collapse, are now unsellable).
This attack on classical liberalism becomes clearer when one recognizes that there is a tension between freedom and equality. Freedom tends to lead to inequality. Equality cannot be achieved without curtailing freedom.
Give Marx his due: He was absolutely correct in identifying the political freedom of liberalism -- the right of each man to do as he wishes with his own resources -- as the origin of income disparity under capitalism. If Smith is now earning a fortune while Jones is still stuck in that subway, it's not because of the "class" into which each was born, to say nothing of royal patronage. They are where they are because of how the common man spends his money. That's why some writers sell books in the millions, some sell them in the thousands, and still others can't even get published. It is the choices of the masses ("the market") that create the inequalities of fortune and fame -- and the only way to correct those "injustices" is to control those choices.

8 comments:

Jonathan Kallay said...

If you want to debate the use of the phrase 'social justice', then let's debate it. The only way I have ever seen you using it is when you label it is an indoctrination of left-wing ideology by the education complex (etc. etc.), end of story.

I know that you are an open-minded person and that you make a point of reading a large variety of sources, including those that sharply contrast with your perspective. I just wish you would steer clear of the cliche that you seem to often fall into, so we could have real debate.

While fully respecting your need for anonymity, I would also like to see more transparency from you about your credentials. I may be mistaken, but I think you might be missing the nuances of the issues you write about because you don't have direct experience with them. I do not at all want to silence you, but if you're writing about education and are not yourself an educator, I think it's only right that you disclose the fact.

Instructivist said...

"While fully respecting your need for anonymity, I would also like to see more transparency from you about your credentials. I may be mistaken, but I think you might be missing the nuances of the issues you write about because you don't have direct experience with them. I do not at all want to silence you, but if you're writing about education and are not yourself an educator, I think it's only right that you disclose the fact."

If it's any consolation, I've been a lifelong student of education (history, tenets, practices, etc.); I've held my nose and gone through ed school for certification (with emphasis on the middle grades); I've taught the middle grades; I have endorsements in all major areas; I've seen educationist ignorance and stupidity up close, etc.

I realize it makes things more interesting to be transparent. On the other hand, I believe that written words stand and fall on their merits. In other words, merit is not contingent on knowing the identity (or much else) of the writer. Res ipsa loquitur (in its nonlegal sense.)

Jonathan Kallay said...

I apologize for challenging your education credentials. Your description of your background seems to emphasize studying education rather than actually practicing it. This would certainly lead to cynicism about education- I, myself have sworn that I would put a bullet through my brain before taking any additional education coursework. But from my own teaching experiences, and from reading what influential teachers have written, I am deeply aware that there are serious issues in education that cannot be attributed to the dark machinations of 'educationists' and which cannot be solved by just going back to the way we did things in the good ol' days. If written words should stand by their own merits, then let's actually talk about the issues rather than dismissing every aspect of school reform as a concoction of those evil ed schools or left-wing idealogues!

Of course, your inconsistency there illustrates that it's not so simple to just 'let the words stand on their own merits.' Context matters.

This might be a little heavy-handed, but let me give you a couple of quotes and you can tell me if it's just about the words and not about the people speaking them:

Quote one:
"Let's put it this way. I question whether 6 million Jews actually died in Nazi death camps. There are two major sources for Holocaust stories. One is the Nuremburg war-crimes trial, which has been shown by all honest historians to be a farce of justice. Another source is the great body of literature and media work, and at least 90% of that material is from biased Jewish sources."

Quote two:
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."

The first quote is by David Duke, a white supremecist who was born after WWII. The second is by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor. Wouldn't it make a difference if Wiesel wrote the first quote and not the second?

Instructivist said...

"This might be a little heavy-handed, but let me give you a couple of quotes and you can tell me if it's just about the words and not about the people speaking them:"

You are making my case.

I don't need to know anything about the writers to judge the quality of the CONTENT of their writings.

Jonathan Kallay said...

Look at it from the perspective of someone who knows, literally, nothing about the Holocaust (and this is how I approach your posts- what would someone who knew nothing about education think?).

The first quote appears perfectly reasonable and rational. The second quote is empassioned and eloquent. Both viably present a viewpoint. So how does one decide? It is impossible.

Neither logic nor conviction are enough. You also need credibility.

Wiesel is more credible not because he 'says it better' but because he was there. Duke is less credible because he wasn't, and because we know from his background that he is biased.

Not to say that you, yourself, lack credibility. But you definitely seem to take it for granted, writing as if conviction alone can carry the day.

Instructivist said...

"Look at it from the perspective of someone who knows, literally, nothing about the Holocaust (and this is how I approach your posts- what would someone who knew nothing about education think?)."

The names you cited would be meaningless to someone who knows nothing about the Nazi crimes. The names would thus add nothing.

My posts are not intended for blank slates. They are directed at people with an interest in the subject.

Luke said...

I cringe when I see the vocabulary of political discussion shrink to the point that only one side is left standing.

For myself, I cannot abide left-wing thinking, or those who self-identify as being "on the left." But when first "liberalism" and then "social justice" are demonized and dismissed as somehow in the same category with "multi-culturalism" and "political correctness" I wonder what words will be left to consider questions of distributive justice. Are considerations of the general welfare and of the greatest good of the greatest number simply inadmissable under all circumstances? Or are we to assume that a free market economy will naturally tend to maximize the general welfare and produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number? If the latter, then at least you must recognize that social justice is a consideration?

Certainly, I do not demonize conservatives or confuse them with the right-wing of extremism. We should conserve what is good in society and reform what is bad. There is plenty of work for both liberals and conservatives, and always will be. Liberalism's problem is that it is disappearing as an intelligent and coherent philosophy and sensibility, not that it is inherently bad. For more, see Born Again Democrats at BornAgainDemocrats.com

Instructivist said...

"For myself, I cannot abide left-wing thinking, or those who self-identify as being "on the left." But when first "liberalism" and then "social justice" are demonized and dismissed as somehow in the same category with "multi-culturalism" and "political correctness" I wonder what words will be left to consider questions of distributive justice."

The trouble with the term "liberalism" is that it is being used as a euphemism for the entire spectrum of the left, both in common parlance and in the prestige media. I think this practice has its roots in McCarthyism. McCarthy, the erstwhile scourge of the left, eventually was transformed into the patron saint of the left in the sense that it became taboo to acknowledge the existence of the (far)left. All you had to do is invoke McCarthy to enforce the taboo. "Liberal" then became a stand-in for left. The downside of this, of course, is that public discourse is hopelessly confused and muddled.

"Are considerations of the general welfare and of the greatest good of the greatest number simply inadmissable under all circumstances?"

There are different conceptions of what constitutes the "general welfare and [...] the greatest good of the greatest number" and how to get there. From my right-of-center perspective, leftism constitutes a series of misdiagnoses of social ills that is inimical to progress. I am a strong believer in education as a vehicle to achieve equity. This is one reason I am a harsh critic of current educational practices.