International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Essay
Meaning of Social Justice
The Origins of Society
"...the lower classes of the people... [are] by far the most
numerous in all countries and in all ages..." James Steuart,
Every society is
founded on a common principle. A group of people is more capable of
producing more together than each person would be individually. Industrialized
production and specialized labor are some examples of how the group
size contributes to a larger per-person output of the social product.
In this organization, the worker's ability to labor is bound to the
other workers. Since their machinery requires many hands to function,
they require each other to produce as much as they require their tools.
How well each laborer is able to perform their task, then, is necessarily
tied to how well all workers as a whole are laboring.
Where Capitalism reigns, there are even greater dependencies; not only
is the laborer bound to themselves as a class, but they are bound to
the class of proprietors. The worker rely on the owners of the bakeries
and the mills for their sustenance; and they must rely on an employer
as a laborer.
The Capitalist class has its own interdependencies, as well. The masters
of production are united in their mutual desire of opposing the laboring
class -- to keep the subjugated class as dependent for as long as possible.
There is also a tremendous amount of economic reliance between private
business firms. They depend on each other for the resources of their
production. It is clear to see, as well, that the larger firms tend
to have a greater degree of influence; they are more capable of securing
more for their self-interest when competing against other businesses
or subduing local governments. But where the Capitalist enters the political
arena, they are always weary not to displease other Capitalists in their
actions; to quote Adam Smith, such an act of a Capitalist would be a
"reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals." [*2]
Between the workers, there is the natural and inherent interdependency
based on their industrialized labor. But between the masters, there
is also a dependency, or a unity. They are bound in their opposition
to the interests of the workers and combined for their the interest
of the propertied class. However, despite the conflicts between these
two groups, the workers generally recognize something: even working
in this system, where they are marginalized and persecuted, offers fewer
miseries than living completely outside the society of humanity. This
is the premise of society: each individual achieving their desires through
their cooperation with others; because their collective efforts reap
more for the individual, compared to laboring alone and outside of society.
The whole is more valuable than the sum of all the parts. Social organization
always drives back to this original concept.
"The contention holds that what we call our civilization is largely
responsible for our misery, and that we should be much happier if we
gave it up and returned to primitive conditions. I call this contention
astonishing because, in whatever way we may define the concept of civilization,
it is a certain fact that all the things with which we seek to protect
ourselves against the threats that emanate from the sources of suffering
are part of that very civilization."
--Sigmund Freud, 1930 [*3]
Any individual who turns away from society loses all of the benefits
of the mutual cooperation. And especially after living in a comfortable
world, few persons would do without what they've been brought up to
admire, love, and enjoy. Losing one or two members from society will
hardly effect its social order. A laborer or two can be replaced quickly,
usually from stockpiling of the unemployed by the Capitalist. And, likewise,
where a Capitalists rescinds their right to property to venture into
un-societed land, their wealth is quickly usurped by their former equals.
One or two taken out of the social order, and the rest can still take
part in the cooperation scheme. This will not destroy the tremendous
advantage that they receive by laboring together for their mutual interests.
At least, if a few people leave society, it will not have this effect.
Individuals are bound to society by their need on each other. Their
resulting combination provides a net of security and labor-saving organization.
They are allowed benefits and advantages that wouldn't be possible outside
of the social unit. Even if the individual receives the smallest share
from the collected efforts of the social order, they still enjoy more
privileges than the hermit. For the few concessions that are given to
the masters of industry, the individual laborer is still infinitely
benefited. Their position will be more secure, stable, and comfortable
than that of the person without a society. The allure of living without
a master is not enough for the members of the social order. It would
be too difficult to struggle alone against the valiant force of nature
to survive; if they chose a landed society with a master, their miseries
might be reduced by at least a hundred fold. This is the justification
of these individuals in their concessions and submissions they allow
to their chieftains and statesmen.
This new class of masters, though, does not labor at all; yet they enjoy
a reward that is significantly more than that of their ordinary wage-worker.
If they should desire to leave the social order altogether, the worker
has one advantage: they are out from the yoke of a resented master.
They can still labor at their own accord and satisfy their own interests.
Deprived of technology, they are slower in production. In the end, they
may labor even less than in society, but they would enjoy very few comforts.
For the proprietor, the owner of industry and productive capital, there
are no advantages outside of the social order. If they emigrated to
the state of nature, they would leave behind all their privileges. First,
instead of being able to live off of the labor of others without contributing
to production, they would be required to work very intensely. Second,
the reward they would receive for such labor would be almost nothing
compared to the extravagance and prestige they were afforded in society.
Effectively, if a Capitalist were to remove themselves from society,
they would be leaving behind a thousand pleasures, and gaining a thousand
Unlike the worker, leaving society does not remove them from the burden
of an authority; the masters of society are the authority. The influence
which they must fear is that of their equals, which keeps the Capitalist
class naturally united and combined. They cannot oppose each other,
because they each have equal means for resistance, and such a battle
of intense powers would needlessly destroy themselves. To this Capitalist
class, the social order of domination and hierarchy is perfection; with
their lavish and expensive pursuits, every desire is met, and no pains
are put upon them. In the absence of their labor, they are constantly
involved in intrigue, snobbery, squabbling, instigation, prejudice,
and arrogance. It is though it were a class of people who are so free
of misery that they must make suffering for themselves in their social
relationships. The state of society, then, isn't weighed equally by
the workers as it is by the possessors of wealth.
of the Social Classes
"Nobody was ever in prison wrongfully who did not believe in the
writ of habeas corpus. Nobody ever suffered wrongfully without instantly
having ideas of justice."
--Robert Green Ingersoll, 1876 [*4]
When the worker looks to their master and finds this new class free
of work and unlimited in wealth, they are naturally repulsed and disgusted.
The attraction of bread, heating, shelter, and clean water, though,
are far too great. The individual would rather sustain themselves by
labor in society to achieve some comforts and pleasures; living without
a master, as glorious as it may strike the heart, is not a strong enough
motivation. Even though it may inherently appear against the laws of
justice, the individual is still bound to do what is in their own self-interests.
This means that some part of the laborer's creation shall be manifested
in their wages. The surplus value is gathered and handed off to the
class of masters, so that they can indulge and satisfy their impulses.
It is a sign of decaying civilization when the majority is forced into
conceding more and more of its labors; when the workers must take wage-cuts
or suffer an increased cost of living, so that the masters can enjoy
a greater privilege. Despite how much it offends our sense of justice
and fairness, no matter how much we sympathize with anyone who suffers
this fate and how much we loathe those who steer this system -- despite
all of this, the individual will still make the trade. Society is better
than the miseries of living in a state of complete nature; they will
still submit to a master. The other option available leaves them considerably
disadvantaged when compared to the common member of society. It is humanity's
innate want of bread, and not its callous and cruel ambitions, that
has built and sustained tyrannies.
The meaning of social justice is to seek a fair distribution of these
advantages; to direct them not to the idle masters, but to those who
are the columns supporting the whole of society -- the workers. Those
seeking to revolutionize the social relationship can have no other goal.
The ideology of these revolutionaries was not to convince the masses
to abandon their association with the civilized order of mankind, to
leave society and live in perfect nature. They did not suggest that
mankind should completely abolish all forms of labor. Their program
never included that landed society should be abandoned in favor of a
simplified existence in nature. The rabble rousers and agitators did
not preach about the injustice of human nature, but of the injustice
of the social organization.
The majority labor and toil; of the vast and immense fortunes they produce,
they must subsist on small, meager quantities. And at the top of the
echelon, there stands a small, elite class; they enjoy wild and lavish
pleasures, providing no labor to the support of the economic structure.
Of history's wiser philosophers, there has always been an argument that
the laborer deserves a greater quantity of what they produce, and the
idle masters deserves less. But the wisest have gone even further, and
said that the laborer has a rightful claim to all of their labor.
is the Meaning of Social Justice?
"... I know I owe my life to the workers of the nation, it is to
the working class of the nation that I am under obligation, not to any
subdivision of that class. That is why I am here now. That is why I
am talking working-class solidarity, because I want to see the working
class do for themselves what they did for me."
--Big Bill Haywood, 1911 [*5]
In my own personal life, there are thousands of advantages I enjoy,
all of which come from my civil organization with my fellow, society
members. I am inspired by the will and the genius of those who changed
the social order. My gratitude lies with those who created the eight-hour
working day -- those who gave the workers more of their time, more of
the product of their labors. It was by strikes, boycotts, protests,
direct action, and civil disobedience that I have these rights. It was
by resistance to the masters of the social order. By the same methods
and tactics, these rebels also gave me safe working conditions at my
place of employment. In America, the Capitalist can no longer save a
few pennies by building factories without protective equipment and safety
mechanisms. Less than one hundred years ago, the common worker in this
nation faced the serious possibility of losing limb and life from their
work conditions. Such cruelty has been put under serious constraint,
not by the force of law, but by the social movements that have been
opposed to the class of masters.-
The minimum wage and the right to unionize, as well, are other rights
that are a social product of these movements. It is the result of pitched
battles between labor and capital, between the privileged and subjugated,
the masters and the subjects. These are not rights that were granted
or admitted by the lords of industry. It was something that was wrested
from their paws. Those who fought for it did not consider themselves
as immemorial heroes fulfilling a legend. Their thoughts were with their
present condition and what was to follow for their future generations.
These are accomplishments from the labor movement. They were motivated
and agitated from the influence of Unionists, Socialists, Communists,
and Anarchists. There are some elements in today's world that would
debate the value of these achievements. They would pass them off as
the result of a classist struggle, where one side was more aptly capable
of corrupting the government than the other. To please these critics,
we just need to look back centuries further. Consider the first millennium
in Europe, where possession of a bible written in a local language carried
with it harsh sentencing. Those who opposed these laws, who organized
against the established clergy -- it is to these individuals that we
owe a great deal of our right to conscience. It was the heretics won
the right to read the primary scripture of the culture's most widely
accepted religion. The concession agreement signed by the masters of
society was written in the blood of these agitators. The idea of absolute
obedience to the ruling of a church fell apart. The people could then
followed the reins of their own will. Our own religious and cultural
freedom owes so much to those people who came before; they sacrificed
their lives and property to create a brighter reality for humanity.
To the serf who rose against their vassal, to the chained slave who
slaughtered their owner, to the activist breaking windows and the women
arrested for voting, to the imprisoned printers of Thomas Paine's' "The
Rights of Man," to the students expelled for thinking and acting
outside the boundaries, to the workers who pooled their collective resources
into a strike or boycott, to all the children smart enough to flee a
beating parent, to anyone who thought about their situation, what could
be, and then acted on it -- it is to this group that we owe our present
condition of living.
My right to thought, to speak and believe what I like about the supernatural
and natural, to worship and praise as I wish -- this right comes from
none other than those who resisted the inquisition, those who fought
for a separation of church and state, those defied the law and were
chained, tortured, and finally dragged to the gallows by the state;
it is to these that we owe the right to think, to write, to speak whatever
we feel. What I can appreciate about our modern life is attributable
to these individuals.
Who Came Before Us
"There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the
weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to
shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection
and who always, like Ulysses on land and sea constantly seeking the
smoke of his chimney, cannot prevent themselves from peering about for
their natural privileges and from remembering their ancestors and their
former ways. These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds
and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to
see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and
before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those
of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These
are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained
them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from
the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions,
no matter how well disguised."
--Étienne de La Boétie, 1548 [*6]
The dead are gone, but what they have done belongs to the living. The
liberties and securities the people hold today are the end product of
social organizing and resistance to authority. Those who published and
distributed illegal opinions, whether it was against an invading power
of imperialism or a corrupt, domestic government, are responsible for
giving us the right to think and speak. These rights that we do possess,
that contribute so greatly to our happiness, our health, and our harmony,
these would not have been possible without resistance to authority --
without deliberate and oftentimes criminal activity.
The dead revolutionary does not work the mills or the farms; their memory
does not turn flour into bread. The history of reformers, past and present,
does not give the people their clothes, their homes, or their food.
The exchanges of labor and capital today are responsible for giving
us the industry and its fruits. But what revolutionaries have done is
give us the liberty to enjoy more of the fruits of our labor, to be
less constricted by authority. What we have in society today comes from
our own labors. But our right to appreciate our lives, by enjoying a
greater share of our labor and more freedom, is something that those
dead and past have given to us.
Sanitary methods of food production did not come about from competing
forces in the economy. Plumbing didn't bring water to anyone's home
but those of the wealthy. Clean, sanitary water did not become commonly
available because of any state or any church. All of the world's priests
and police would not be able to bring a single drop to the people. Sewage
systems require intellect and logic to be developed by brilliant minds.
But our society required a second invention before the people could
reap the benefits of this technology. Society needed an understanding
and application of social justice; it needed to create its own ideas
and use its power to resist privileged power. Without this advancement,
without this new social tool, then the common people would have never
be granted access to sanitation systems. They would be living with a
few meager advantages, treated virtually as property by an oppressive,
It wasn't the printing press that allowed the ordinary person to write,
think, and speak as they pleased. It took armies of dissidents, slaughtered
mercilessly by the forces of the masters, and their refusal to submit.
No charter or constitution or law created Free Speech; it was forced
upon the masters of society, against their will, by the common people,
organized for their common purpose.
Consider a world where the people did not recognize the injustice done
to them. Imagine if the people never resisted and revolted at the government's
various systems of economy and politics, against the institutions of
wealth and law. The laboring class today, if they didn't have these
advantages, would be paid enough wages to satisfy the poorest means
of existence; just inches away from thinking that life outside of the
state of society would be easier. The technological prowess, that we
have accumulated as a civilization, would be used as a tool to keep
the minority tremendously advantaged, slightly benefiting the majority.
This has been the case in Imperial China, where Adam Smith wrote, "Any
carrion, the carcase of a dead dog or cat, for example, though half
putrid and stinking, is as welcome to them as the most wholesome food
to the people of other countries." [*7]
With the advents of technology, today's individual laborer is as productive
as one thousand laborers from a millennia ago. If this individual laborer
today were to receive just enough to subsist, they would receive less
than a thousandth of what they produced. There would be such a striking
pain at the sight of the billions toiling upon countless labors and
existing at such miserable levels of poverty; and through this, an extreme
minority remained idle and indulged in such unimaginable excesses. Without
rebellion, the teeming masses would be sleeping in mud, working in complete
darkness with dangerous equipment. A small wound might be an amputation,
an infection might be lethal. The life expectancy of a commoner would
be an insignificant fraction compared to that of the wealthy industrialist.
At the same time, the small group at the top possesses all means to
keep itself at unbelievable health standards. They enjoy incredible
stimulation in their entertainment, all the while contributing nothing
of value to the whole structure; their privileges, wealth, and power
are co-rights to their right of private ownership of the means of production.
These conditions are foul, and they bring the natural senses to tremendous
feelings of disgust and terror. But we can be certain that they are
the result of an oppressive combination of the gods of state and the
lords of industry. We are so certain, because this is the present condition
of three billion people.
Those who say "it is no so bad, we should love our masters,"
are narrow-minded -- they forget that the reason why it is not so bad
is because our ancestors sacrificed themselves in destroying the power
of the masters. They forgot that their masters are constantly and always
working to invalidate their accomplishments. They will rework the accomplishments
of the people towards devious ends. In America, a universal education
system was advocated as a means of abolishing child labor; but like
the Soviet Union emerging from under the Russian Tzar, the school system
became a new system of brutality and exploitation. The industrialists
have not been able to lobby to lower the minimum wage in the United
States, but they've kept it stagnant for over a decade. The rights which
people sacrificed themselves for, gave themselves to the burning embers
and suffered terrible inquisitions for, -- these rights are stealthily
being swept out from under the people. The state and the capitalist
is either working in reaction to the peoples' demands, or they are working
to whither away the small achievements they've so far achieved.
Fulfilling the Legacy
"We shall enter the career
When our elders are no longer there,
There we shall find their dust
And the mark of their virtues
Much less keen to survive them
As to share their coffins,
We shall have the sublime pride
Of avenging or following them"
--La Marseillaise, 1792 [*8]
We are not living in the ideal vision of those who resisted. We are
living in a world that has just enough liberty and equity to make the
majority submit. The concessions that the masters have granted were
sufficient to subdue the masses; enough to make the average person say,
"At least it is better than what we had." Through the persistence
of their spirit, which are the rights and society that we possess, we
can still create their vision... We can still create our vision.
Everything we have today we owe to those many in the past who have fought
for justice. The rights to freedom of speech, to assemble and gather
freely, to worship unseen deities or to praise only the natural world,
to think and believe anything you'd like, even the right to appeal to
the state for protection from the violence of others in the social order,
all rights we have today, we can appreciate for this reason -- someone
struggled for them, suffered for them, and died for them.
Our social rights, such as the right to live in housing that isn't toxic,
the right to the eight-hour workday, the right to non-discrimination
in the workplace, the right to unionize and picket -- all of these rights
exist because individuals made ideals and acted upon them. The right
to vote for both genders can be owed to none other than various democratic
movements. So, too, is the right to equal access to the public functions
of the government, whether the courts, the schools, or even public office.
These accomplishments were not granted or admitted by any ruler or ruling
body. They were forced from their hands. The shackles were never destroyed
by wishes, but by actions. It is to those in the past and what they
have done in their battles that we must owe our gratitude, our debt,
and our admiration. To the protesters, the picketers, the union organizers,
the activists, and the social dissidents, to those who carried prohibited
pamphlets, to those who distributed birth control against the law, to
everyone who participated in the abolitionist movement and the feminist
This is not to say that each and every person had perfect and untouchable
ideas; rather, by their massive organization and their ideals, they
were able to change the world in a way that would shape every future
generation on the planet. It is to these movements that we owe everything.
Without them, every person would still be a slave in shackles, at the
beck and command of grueling, murderous labor, under a near infinite
hierarchy of rulers and sub-rulers and assistant-rulers, unable to organize
or speak or ask for an address of grievances from the abuses of others.
We would be sleeping in mud, drinking infested water, constantly bruised
and broken from the endless labor, subsisting on rotting and unpalatable
food, not given a single amenity to soothe us from the harsh winters
of this life, and then expected to produce a new generation to fill
in; just before we give way to a passing existence that accomplished
nothing but the maintenance of the order of tyrants. Everything we have
today, we owe to those who came before us and changed society. And there
is nothing more honorable or fulfilling than to follow in their unstoppable,
No individual is mortal. Everyone must become part of the world's dirt.
As it was from the ground that provided the nourishment of our ancestors,
so we must return to that very same mass of nutrients, waiting to be
used for the growth of trees, grass, and flowers. Everyone must die
someday, but social justice is a matter of making something more that
may belong to the living of future generations.
Each one of us will make up the legacy of human history; we each have
a chance to be one of those who changed the social order to create justice;
we each have a chance to be remembered as among those who came before
1. "An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy,"
by Sir James Steuart, 1767, Book 1, Chapter 12.
2. "The Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith, 1776, Book 1, Chapter
3. "Civilization and Its Discontents," by Sigmund Freud, 1930.
Published by W.W. Norton & Company, translated and edited by James
Strachey (copyright 1961), with a biographical introduction by Peter
Gay. Chapter 3, page 38.
4. "Centennial Oration," by Robert Green Ingersoll, 1876.
5. "The General Strike," by William D. Haywood; Speech by
William D. Haywood at Meeting Held for the Benefit of the Buccafori
Defense, at Progress Assembly Rooms, New York, March 16, 1911.
6. "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude," by Étienne de
La Boétie, 1548, translated by Harry Kurz.
7. "The Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith, 1776, Book 1, Chapter
8. Lyrics from the Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Marseillaise.
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