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Messmore on Social Justice

November 30th, 2010 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

My friend Ryan Messmore has a helpful outline of what social justice meant to the fellow who coined the term.  The money quote:

Taparelli believed that people have the right to freely form different levels of association and to interact through them to fulfill needs and accomplish necessary tasks. Each of these social spheres, institutions, or consortia has its own proper identity and purpose. According to Taparelli, “every consortium must conserve its own unity in such a way as to not lose the unity of the larger whole,” but at the same time “every higher society must provide for the unity of the larger whole without destroying the unity of the consortia.”

Indeed, he understood that a just society depends on these different forms of association each being able to do what they do best. He not only insisted on freedom for these various spheres, but especially for those closest to the ground: the associations that because people are most directly involved in them, encourage personal relationships and local responsibility.

His vision of social justice, then, emphasized freedom and respect for human beings and the small institutions through which they pursue basic needs. He held that true justice can’t be achieved without doing justice to our social nature and natural forms of association. Social justice entailed a social order in which government doesn’t overrun or crowd out institutions of civil society such as family, church and local organizations. Rather, they are respected, protected, and allowed to flourish.

Any questions?

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.