Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Windschuttle points out just some of the problems of this very "correct" idea:

"Several organisations link social justice with human rights, as though the two were much the same thing. However, they are quite different. Human rights are universal, like the concept of justice itself. Both apply equally to all people. Social justice, however, is a relative term. It is only applicable to certain kinds of people. In some cases, like eligibility for social welfare payments, the targets can be identified fairly objectively by income testing and the process is unobjectionable. But in most cases, the demand for social justice amounts to little more than political preference. It hijacks the universalism of justice to serve partisan ideological ends. It is yet another instrument of Seventies radicalism, the politics of gender, race and class.

For instance, the notion that women as a category or ethnics as a group deserve social justice in the form of affirmative action derives from these interest group politics. The latest constituency is illegal immigrants, who are now targets of social justice programs from a wide range of organisations. The idea that these groups deserve special rights that are not available to others, especially the right to jump queue, undermines the principle of egalitarianism that the same organisations purport to uphold. In some cases, social justice policies are in direct conflict with universal human rights, such as the advocacy of customary law for Aboriginal people which, if implemented strictly, would deny Aboriginal women the right to enter marriage freely.

The universalism of human rights was a product of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and since then has been subject to almost constant debate and testing in the field of social reality. Its principles have been written down and refined in declarations and laws, most specifically in the 1948 United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hence it is possible to check what they actually say. This is in contrast to the relativism of social justice, which can mean just about anything its various advocates want it to mean and apply to any social group they choose. There is no widely agreed way of ever telling when social justice has been satisfied. It thus offers an unlimited vista of political appeal. Anything - including terrorism - can be done in its name".

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