Social Justice of a Different Sort

Anthony Bradley comes to the defense of the concept of “social justice” in his recent column ‘Social Justice’ has Christian history,” Sept. 15, 2010). But he comes at from the right (so to speak), showing the roots of the phrase in Pius XI’s 1931 papal encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (QA).

For Pius XI in QA, social justice referred to the central and necessary set of conditions where each person makes free, non-government-coerced contributions to the common good. It included keeping in check the power of the State and the freedom of Christians to form their own institutions in civil society. It ensured that economics and morality were not alien to one another in concept or in practice. Social justice according to Pius XI referenced the necessity of private property against the tenets of socialistic thinking, because the right of private ownership not only enabled individuals “to provide for themselves and their families but also that the goods which the Creator destined for the entire family of mankind may through this institution truly serve this purpose.” It mentioned the importance of wealth creation to provide a basis for charity and prohibitions against arbitrary wage demands by third-parties “which a business cannot stand without its ruin and consequent calamity to the workers.” Pius XI’s definition of social justice included the importance of subsidiarity and a return to the moral formation so that people would not confuse freedom to do good with passions that have been disordered because of original sin.

Anthony Bradley is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College in New York City, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, and author of Liberating Black Theology. He has recently joined the Evangelical Political Scholars Association.


One response to “Social Justice of a Different Sort

  1. This is very helpful to know, Anthony. But I doubt if the term can be reclaimed. If catholics were to devote themselves to Papal teachings and adopt the vocabulary of the Vatican with consistency, things would change, and then Protestants perhaps would follow with their own re-thinking. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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