If you ask a lot of people to define social justice you’re going to get many different definitions. Definitions will be based on a variety of factors, like political orientation, religious background, and political and social philosophy. If you ask a postmodernist about this concept, he or she is likely to tell you it’s a fairytale that is not in any way achievable in any form of society.
A general definition of social justice is hard to arrive at and even harder to implement. In essence, it is concerned with equal justice, not just in the courts, but in all aspects of society. This concept demands that people have equal rights and opportunities; everyone, from the poorest person on the margins of society to the wealthiest deserves an even playing field.
But what do the words “just” or “fair” mean, and what defines equal? Who should be responsible for making sure society is a just and fair place? How do you implement policies regarding social justice? Alternately, should you legislate for justice in society or merely rely on the moral compass of society’s members?
From a political stance that is leftist, you must legislate to create a just society, and various programs need to exist in order to collect monies needed to even the playing field between rich, middle class, poor and those people who are routinely marginalized by society. Equal rights can be defined as equal access to things that make it possible for people in any societal sector to be successful. Therefore, leftist philosophy would support things like anti-discrimination laws and equal opportunity programs, and would favor taxation, especially of those who make a lot of money, to pay for programs that help provide equality for all.
The far left would argue that there are certain basic needs that must be offered to all. These include things like truly equal education and safety in all schools and programs that would help all children have the financial opportunity to attend college. Far left groups, often termed socialist even if they differ from true definitions of socialism, further argue that a just society cannot be had unless everyone has access to food, safe shelter and medical care. The way to achieve this is through taxation and government implementation of programs that will guarantee these things for all people.
The right political stance equally endorses a just society, but may criticize those who make poor choices and feel that while equal opportunity should exist, a government should not legislate for this. In fact it is argued that social justice is diminished when governments create programs to deal with it, especially when these programs call for greater taxation. Instead, those who have more money should be encouraged to be philanthropic, not by paying higher taxes, which is arguably unjust.
From a religious perspective, you’ll find people all over the political spectrum who argue for social justice. Many Christian groups believe that you bring about justice through Christlike actions of mercy, especially those that help people who have been marginalized by society. Islamic perspective on social justice is similar; one of the Five Pillars of Islam is that all must give to the poor. However, certain sects of Islam promote views of women and men as different; women are not equal to and are subservient to men.
The postmodern critique on the idea of a just society provokes interesting debate. Can there ever be a just society? Can we ever view all people as inherently equal and entitled to the same rights and privileges? It’s hard to know, since most philosophers would argue that no one has ever created a completely just society, where all people have an even chance. Even in the most socialist nations, there is poverty and unequal distribution of wealth.
In societies like the US, which hinge on creating social justice, we have distinct problems, like hungry children, homelessness, and problems with making sure all children receive the same high standard of education. This is no reason to abandon attempting to promote a just society and trying to aim for it. Yet due to the complex nature of society, the US may not ever fully achieve justice for all, and the debate of how to achieve this state is ongoing.