Justice has meaning in the relationships of individuals and meaning as an aim of government. In the relationships of individuals, justice exists when an individual correctly identifies the value of another individual based on his character and actions. This evaluation is clearly dependent upon one's ethical code. Consequently, an individual will not correctly identify the value of another individual when his moral code is not correct or when he holds himself to no moral principles.
Suppose an individual has a correct moral code and is highly capable in applying that code to the complex problem of evaluating the worth of another individual on the objective assessment of observations of his character as witnessed by his actions in life. This highly competent judge of value in other individuals will nonetheless not be able to form a valid opinion of the worth of all the other people he encounters in his life simply because he will not know enough about many of them to form an objective opinion. He will only be able to do justice to those he knows sufficiently well.
This objective moral evaluator will understand that when dealing with people who he does not know well enough, he should be careful not to do an injustice to them. This is at least the case in the context of a society in which the initiated use of force by individuals is prohibited, as it is by legitimate governments. A further requirement is that the government itself uses no more force than that needed to prevent the initiated use of force among individuals. Once the use of force is minimized in a society, then an individual can afford to live by the principle that he should hold a benevolent assumption that others are not a threat to his life and he may assume that others are of significant value until they actually prove otherwise in actions he has had the opportunity to observe. Thus the rational individual in a free society acts on the principle that he should not do others the injustice of assuming them a threat to his life. In voluntary associations with them, he can assume that they will trade values to their mutual benefit or they will be free not to have any association at all.
This benevolent assumption of value in others is conditional on a society in which our interactions with others are of a voluntary nature. It assumes that when we trade values in our interactions, we are not being forced to do so. A government which harms some individuals in order to provide favors to other individuals or groups, as our present government does on a major scale, is actively making some groups a threat to the lives of many individuals. It undermines or even denies the basis under which one may make the benevolent assumption of value in others. It can actually force individuals to do the injustice to others of having to assume that they are a threat to his life until and unless they prove that they are not a threat and actually are a value. This is what has happened in many fascist and communistic societies. Big Government or statist government is a basic threat to justice in this way.
Government can clearly be the means by which massive injustice comes to characterize a society. How can government be prevented from being the cause of injustice? It is by forcing government to observe the rights of the individual. The rights of the individual are determined by the nature of man and by a basic core morality. As Ayn Rand said in her essay Man's Rights:
"Rights" are a moral concept -- the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual's actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others -- the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context -- the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.
A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action -- which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.)
The concept of a "right" pertains only to action -- specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.
Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive -- of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligation except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.The freedom to act on your own judgment implies the need for freedom of conscience and the exercise of voluntary choices within a society requires the freedom of association. Freedom of speech does not exist unless one is allowed to advocate wrong ideas from the perspective of others or even with respect to reality. Similarly, freedom of conscience does not exist if one is not allowed to have ideas, including moral ideas, that are wrong. Freedom of association does not exist unless one is allowed to unjustly err in assessing the value of others.
While rights are a means of securing morality in the actions of government, those moral principles that government must recognize are the most basic and most core moral beliefs. The government must not dictate more than the most basic of moral requirements on the individuals of the society it serves. Government protection of the exercise of individual rights requires it to allow individuals to choose their own values and to manage their own lives in accordance with their own values. The bare minimum of morality that forms the foundation of rights is the recognition that the individual must take actions to secure his life and to maintain it in a healthy state. He has the right to pursue his own happiness. To take such actions effective in their purpose, he must be free to think and to pursue the information and develop the knowledge necessary to that effective action. Both freedom of thought and action for such purposes are critical values and he must have property rights to values he produces by his thought and actions. But, he does not have the right to initiate the use of force against others, as they do not have that right against him. No one has the right to use the force of government to do harm to others either, unless those others have first initiated the use of force.
Rights reside in the individual. The individual is the sovereign rights-holder. Rights are not a grant or a privilege from government. Rights arise from the nature of man, not from the nature of the state. The state either protects the rights of the individual or it does not. It either performs its legitimate function or it does not.
Man, whether singly or in numbers, is not omniscient. The development of knowledge and the understanding of nature are difficult. In attempting to understand our reality we all make mistakes and no one achieves a complete knowledge. This is a critical part of our understanding of man's nature and of the complexity of the reality in which man lives. This being the case, it is not reasonable to expect that all men will agree on most moral issues and most value judgments. So how can we live in a society together even when we are not in complete agreement, or maybe even in considerable agreement, about moral decisions? The practical answer to this is to have a government that only enforces a minimum of moral requirements. The answer is a government that simply prohibits the initiated use of force and protects our individual rights. We are then left the freedom to make our own value choices and to associate with others of our choice voluntarily in the private sector to pursue our common values and to trade with one another to our mutual advantage. In this private sector we can all aim to achieve every one of our values and to gain values we want in every association and cooperative endeavor we have with others. This is not the case in the government sector, once government expands beyond its legitimate purpose as the protector of individual rights.
The Progressive Elitists say no to this concept of individual rights. They claim that rights are really only privileges granted those favored by government. Those privileges may be changed at the whim of government, at least if that government is controlled by a democratic vote, whether fraudulent or not. They say the purpose of government is not to secure and protect the rights of the individual, but to ensure Social Justice.
An individual cannot form a just assessment of the character of everyone he encounters, so he cannot offer everyone justice. But, he can adopt the principle that he will do no one an actual injustice and he will most certainly not initiate the use of force against others. How can a government do more than this? A government does not have a moral assessment of every one of the individuals within the country. The government is still composed of a number of individuals and that number of individuals will never come close to having adequate objective knowledge of the character of most individuals in the country to form a valid assessment of their individual worth. The government can no more provide justice to everyone than can an individual.
How does a government embarked on the endeavor of Social Justice respond to this inadequacy? It must simplify the problem. Its response to insufficient knowledge is a classification scheme that simplifies individual differences by assigning individuals to categories. Individuals are complex, so a given individual will be thrown into many categories, with his particular combination of characteristics largely lost to the process. The individual may be characterized by many pixels of information, but the whole of the individual is eradicated. For instance, one individual may be a count in each of the following categories:
- Skin color or the area of the origin of his ancestors
- Male or female or transgender
- Married or unmarried
- Dependent children or not
- Child care users or not
- Home-owner or not
- Income level
- Wealth level
- Veteran or not
- Heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other flavors of sexuality
- Employer or employee
- Employed, seeking employment, or not seeking employment
- Labor union member or not
- Supporter of bigger government or not a supporter
- Contributor to favored charities and non-profits or not
- Healthy or unhealthy
- Paid health insurance or not
- Citizen, legal resident, or illegal alien
- Supporter of green energy and catastrophic man-made global warming or not
- Borrower or lender
- Farmer or not
- Exporter or not
- Bank accounts abroad or not
Because of government favors rendered in the name of Social Justice and the battle to be designated a special interest, society is broken into numerous, nearly innumerable, groups at war with one another to control the use of government force for their advantage. The separation of interests of each individual into many categories is a great aid to minimizing the opposition of individuals to the government taking control of many aspects of their lives. Each enabling act of legislation or each bureaucratic regulation commonly helps a group under one category at the expense of a group in another category. The group hurt is hurt in one aspect of their lives, but that group still has many reasons to be busy attending to the many other aspects of their lives. They cannot afford to spend a great deal of time opposing the new act that is imposing upon their individual rights and depriving them of their values and freedom. The government pursuing Social Justice counts on this to perpetrate its accumulation of more and more power over the life of every individual.
The closest a society can come to maximizing Social Justice is to be a society that honors individuality and protects the rights of the individual to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The best a society can do is to protect these individual rights equally and to provide an environment in which the use of force is minimized by not allowing either individuals or the government to initiate the use of force. The rational individual will understand his own life and his freedom to manage and secure his own life is his greatest value. He understands that to do that he must be free to think and to act upon his thoughts, with only such limits as set by the requirement that he not deprive others of an equal right to think and to act upon their thoughts in the interest of their lives as well.
It is the private sector, not the force-wielding government sector, that provides us the opportunities of a good and healthy society for beneficial relationships with others to achieve our individual values in a manner consistent with a respect for individual lives and the individual minds that direct those lives. The role of a legitimate government is only to protect our individual rights. When government takes on the additional role of delivering goods and services to some at the expense of others, it is hurting some under the threat of force in a brutal manner that has no analog in the private sector. It forces individuals into an unnecessary conflict of interest, whereas the private sector provides a wealth of individual choices for relationships, cooperation, trade of values, or the freedom to not pursue a relationship, cooperative endeavor, or a trade. In comparison, the Big Government model, proclaiming itself to be pursuing Social Justice, is a shotgun wedding offering no possibility of divorce and a staid existence with ever-reduced choices. Nothing more offends my sense of justice than this evermore totalitarian state.