Social justice dictates that human participants in society should be equal. But equal in what? Who decides how to measure equality?

The history of social justice began around 1840 as a Catholic term for the call to all people to be morally good toward others. Individuals, acting within families and communities, were to voluntarily organize to address society’s needs. The organizations made up of those morally just individuals would advance social justice. Individuals and their associations, deciding for themselves how they can best serve society will perform better, achieve greater self-satisfaction and behave more compassionately toward others. This is “classical” social justice — a bottom-up, decentralized model for social interaction.

As society moved into the Information Age, Social justice took on a whole new meaning and began to focus on equalizing the outcome of people’s efforts. This new idea holds that organizations, if properly established and regulated, can achieve that equality of outcome. It also holds that social disadvantages exist because groups of people are victims of other groups’ privileges. Desired changes in people’s behavior and circumstances can be achieved by establishing policies targeted at their specific group. Government and institutions determine what are “just” outcomes. As more power is given to the government arbiters, individuals’ diversity of natural ability and skills is increasingly suppressed. The result is forced conformity. This is “progressive” social justice—a top-down, centralized theory of interacting with others.

A real-world example may help:

A 2016 Pew Research Study found that millennials — 35% of men, 29% of women — live with their parents. The study cited various reasons: student debt, underemployment, housing cost and education levels. Both “classical” and “progressive” social justice approaches consider those possible reasons as they seek to help young people achieve self-sufficiency.

“Classic” social justice empowers individuals to voluntarily organize nonprofits or work with existing nonprofits to tackle this issue. The key is to assess each family’s situation to find what works for them, based on their abilities and resources — not to turn to the government for a one-size-fits-all solution.

The “progressive” approach focuses on a piece of the study — perhaps that a record share of black (36%) and Hispanic (36%) millennials live with a parent. These groups would then be defined as victims of unfair treatment—possibly in education and employment opportunities or in discriminatory lending practices. A government program is established to solve their problem.

Both approaches aim to help.

“Progressive” top-down, centralized policies use the force of law and subjective measures of justice. Their viability depends on identifying victims who need a grand planner’s protection and with it, more taxes.

The “classic” view of social justice begins by recognizing that each person’s uniqueness inevitably means inequality of outcomes. Bottom up, decentralized social justice policies start with strong families and communities, the bedrock of society. It mobilizes the strengths of individuals voluntarily combining their resources with others to form organizations that meet the needs of society — whether to alleviate poverty, to provide an essential service or to bring a product to market.

Rita Hillmann Olson is president of the Southwest Conservative Republican Women and an officer in the Rice County’s Republican organization.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy

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