When radicals want to upend society they often cloak their intentions under kind sounding words. So if the plan is to radically change the thinking of children about gender you call your plan ‘Safe Schools.’
The most venerable of these verbal masks for radicalism is ‘social justice’—which dates back to 1824. The Oxford explains that it began as a notion of distributive justice, or ‘justice at the level of a society or state as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities, and privileges.’
This always sounds to me (as a sceptical old journalist) like a plan to tax everyone like crazy, and give the buckets of money raised to bureaucrats and public servants who would then use it to nanny an infantilised population.
Or am I being unfair? After all the Merriam-Webster simply says that ‘social justice’ is just ‘the doctrine of egalitarianism.’ But that reminds me of American satirist Tom Lehrer’s famous definition of egalitarianism: ‘treating everyone exactly the same, not only on the basis of race, colour or creed but also on the basis of ability.’
And linguistically it raises the interesting question of the difference between ‘social justice’ and just plain ‘justice.’
This latter word comes from a Latin root meaning ‘fairness’ and ‘equity.’
That is, everyone being equal before the law.
It’s about equality of opportunity, while ‘social justice’ looks more like trying to achieve an illusory equality of outcome.
The Oxford has one of its rare explanatory notes under ‘its social justice’ definition saying: ‘Much of the debate surrounding social justice has been concerned with the precise nature of fair distribution, and to what extent this may conflict with individual rights of acquisition and ownership.’
Is the term ‘social justice’ now so compromised and confused that it should be banned from political discourse?
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In the new issue of The Spectator Australia (out today) my "Language" column looks at "namecore," "referendum" and "terf."
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And remember I have two small language columns (on "Ozwords" and "Place-names") in every issue of Australian Geographic. In the latest issue (out now) these look at the word "nark" and the place-name "Diamantina." So look for the new issue with the beautiful picture of a mountain hut in the snow country on the front.
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