Book Monitor

Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is

Michael Novak and Paul Adams

Reclaiming the term "social justice" from progressives may seem as hopeless as saving the word gay or retrieving the rainbow from its appropriation by homosexual activists. But authors Novak and Adams make a valiant effort.

This book begins with an historical overview, portraying the Christian social philosophy of justice as founded on the belief in a good and loving God. This form of social justice values liberty and freedom, and opposes those who believe the only higher power is the state.

Leftist progressives who have laid claim to social justice consistently rely on government as a means to enforce their utopian blueprint on citizens and to attain their goal of government guiding lives, rather than individuals relying on self-determination. These secular humanists don't see social justice as a virtue, but rather as a weapon.

According to the authors, "Social justice advocates seldom attempt to change minds and hearts one by one. Instead, they use political muscle to change laws and to coerce mass compliance."

The authors say, "A sound family life is not achieved in a society by dictate from above, for example, but by each pair of parents independently doing their best." They say businesses "achieve their purposes within their own markets and in their own particular niches in their own various ways." This ameliorates both private interests and the public good.

They write, "The once common ground of the Judeo-Christian ethic . . . has given way to a new kind of inner isolation, the loss of the sacred, a sharp awareness (even by the very young) of the pointlessness of life." This is how we end up with so many people on drugs or committing suicide.

Modern social thought should include the rejection of utopianism; embracing family and friends, instead of impersonal political groups or identities; and being aware of the irony of best intentions resulting in unintended and sometimes perverse consequences.

The authors suggest, "One can expect to see a capacity for social initiative only when citizens have a certain inner strength, a basic trust in others, and the skills and willingness to join together for common purposes."

With marriage, family structures, education of children, and adherence to morality hanging in the balance, it is time for all to step up and face down wrong ideas and immoral activities, and to get involved in making critical, positive changes. Much of this can be done in the voting booth.

(Basic Books, 2015, 324 pp., $27.99)