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Attack on social justice flawed

Jonah Goldberg’s attack on the idea of “social justice” as an incoherent power-grab is so flawed one would quickly run out of fingers counting the reasons (“Goldberg: The problem with ‘social justice,’” Feb. 10). First, to argue that philosophers cannot agree on a definition of social justice is hardly an argument against its meaningfulness. If disagreement were enough to dismiss an idea, then along with social justice we would lose goodness, beauty and truth, among other ideas.

Second, there is a difference between social justice in principle and its application in the world. In a world with much injustice, one can easily imagine a long list of injustices to be remedied.

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Third, in a world dominated by the ideology of rich, white male, heterosexual supremacy, it is not surprising that many current demands to address injustices regard issues of identity. If rich heterosexual white males have been rigging the power in their favor and to the detriment of other groups, then one should expect that the pursuit of social justice would often require attention to issues of identity.

Here are two simple definitions of social justice: we should never unnecessarily isolate individuals or groups and the rich should never get richer at the expense of the poor. If we were to apply these rules to public policy as it stands in the United States, it would require profound changes in the way we do things.

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Mr. Goldberg said he believes that “the rule of law and simple truth should determine who’s right,” but if the laws are unjust, they are not a reliable indication of what is right. If the realities created by unjust laws are complex, then the pursuit of social justice will never be simple. If social justice is incoherent, then the prophet Amos was incoherent when said, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Jesus was incoherent when he defined his mission as bringing “good news to poor” and letting “the oppressed go free” and the Qur'an is incoherent when it enjoins that one should “be persistently standing firm in justice … even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.”

Social justice is not an incoherent liberal idea but rather a core idea of many great religions and more than a few great philosophies.

Joe Pettit, Towson

The writer is associate professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State University.

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