DECEMBER 01, 1965 by SUDHA R. SHENOY
Miss Shenoy, from Ahmedabad, India, is a B.Sc. (Econ.) student at the
The essence of the argument for "social" justice is that the same rules that apply to everyone else need not be applied to one minority—the "rich." The rich, because they are rich, ought to be called upon to pay differential rates of taxation—both on income and on wealth. Where compensation for some state activity is involved, it is generally agreed that full market prices need not be paid, especially if the individuals involved are wealthier than others. In the case of strikers, it is agreed that they should not be held liable for acts against property (and persons) that in other contexts would result in stiff penalties. All this represents a very great change of attitude from, say, about fifty years ago—and it goes under the heading of the achievement of social justice.
I wonder, though, whether these advocates of "one law for the poor and another law for the rich," realize that they are adopting, in essence, the basic principle of all totalitarian regimes everywhere? The essence of the South African argument for apartheid is an attempted justification for applying different rules to blacks and whites. In Hitler’s
But observe the inconsistency here: if Jews are subjected to different rules from those applying to the non-Jews, this is called anti-Semitism; if blacks are subjected to different rules from the whites, this is called racism; but if the groups against whom differential rules are to apply are designated as "the rich," "capitalists," "landlords," and the like—then it is no longer discrimination: it is social justice!
The essence of justice, however, as opposed to "social" pseudo justice, is that the same rules should apply to all: the wrongness of the act should be defined in terms of the act and not in terms of who does it. The application of the rules must be defined independently of the circumstances of those to whom the rules are intended to apply. Yet it is of the essence of the concept of "social justice" that we must know who a person is before we can determine what rules to apply to him. Before assessing tax liability or the payment of compensation, the income and wealth of the individual must be known (is he "rich" or "poor"?). If those committing crimes against person and property are strikers, they cannot be treated as others doing the same acts would be treated. The principle is the same as that of Hitler’s
Again, the notion of "social justice" embodies a principle which, if applied in our daily life, we would have no hesitation in terming immoral. What would a father have to say if his son came home with his friend’s book, and excused his action thus, "Oh, it’s all right, Dad—he can afford it!"? Yet, how many of us lend sanction to a progressive income tax or to confiscatory death duties on the grounds, "They can afford it"?
"Social justice," in short, seems to be simply a way of providing a respectable cloak for the basic principle of injustice.