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21 Cap. U. L. Rev. 877 (1992)
What Is Social Justice

handle is hein.journals/capulr21 and id is 891 raw text is: WHAT IS SOCIAL JUSTICE?

Now that you have come back to the university, please take out
your blue books. Define social justice.
Social justice is one of the terms most often used in ethical and
political discourse. It is also a term used with the least care. I have
searched in vain for definitions of it. In its fuzziness and warmth,
everyone wants to cuddle it. But virtually no one will give you a
forthright definition of it.
For this reason, therefore, it might be useful to attempt to define it
in the light of serious objections against the term, launched by a man
who took it seriously, the late Friedrich Hayek, Nobel Prize winner in
economics.   Hayek was a remarkable man, who was a great
practitioner of the true meaning of social justice, even while he
denied that such a concept is meaningful. It might also be useful to
walk through the history of the term, at least telegraphically, and then
try to offer a new definition that may be of considerable importance to
public policy in the United States and to our law. In fact, the full
development of this new meaning will depend upon our legislators
and those who provide the concepts from which they work.
Let me begin with the locus classicus of the term social justice.
The term was made canonical in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno
of Pius XI in 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, a time of crisis
for the capitalist world. Various authors, European and American,
described quite ominously the end of an era and the decline of the
West. Hitler was coming on stage in Germany. Mussolini was
ruling in Italy. Stalin was staging the systematic starvation of nine
million Ukrainians. The occasion of this encyclical was the fortieth
anniversary of the first of the papal documents on the social
condition of labor, issued by Leo XIII in 1891.        The later
commemoration took into account what happened between 1891 and
Copyright © 1992, Michael Novak.
* George Frederick Jewett Chair in religion and public policy; Director
of Social and Political Studies, Am. Enterprise Inst. for Pub. Pol'y; M.., Harvard
L  For a fuller account of this history, see MICHAEL NOVAK, CATHOLIC
SOCIAL THOUGHT AND LIBERAL INSTITUTIONS (2d ed. 1989) first published as
FREEDOM WITH JUSTICE (1984). For a fuller treatment of the concept of social
justice and its application to public policy, see my forthcoming book entitled THE
CATHOLIC ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM (1993), especially chapters 3 and

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