WHAT IS SOCIAL JUSTICE? For Friedrich Hayek, it was a mirage—a meaningless, ideological, incoherent, vacuous cliché. He believed the term should be avoided, abandoned, and allowed to die a natural death. For its proponents, social justice is a catchall term that can be used to justify any progressive-sounding government program. It endures because it venerates its champions and brands its opponents as supporters of social injustice, and thus as enemies of humankind. As an ideological marker, social justice always works best when it is not too sharply defined.
In Social Justice Isn’t What You ?Think It Is, Michael Novak and Paul Adams seek to clarify the true meaning of social justice and to rescue it from its ideological captors. In examining figures ranging from Rosmini, Hayek, and Abraham Lincoln, to Popes Leo XIII, John Paul II, and Francis, the authors reveal that social justice is not a synonym for “progressive” government as we have come to believe. Rather, it is a virtue rooted in Catholic social teaching and developed as an alternative to the unchecked power of the state. For big government, they argue, is too out of touch with the millions of individual wills at play in society and too domineering for their own humane intentions.
In this surprising reinterpretation, social justice represents an immensely powerful virtue for nurturing personal responsibility and building the human communities that can counter the widespread surrender to an ever-growing state.
Michael Novak is distinguished visiting professor at Ave Maria University in Florida, after holding for thirty-two years the chair in religion and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute. He was the 1994 recipient of the Templeton Prize, and was on three occasions a U.S. ambassador under Ronald Reagan. Novak has written numerous influential books on economics, philosophy, and theology. For his work, he has received many international awards.