What Is the Meaning of Justice?

 

Lady Justice at the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee (Wikimedia Commons)

I realized, as soon I first attended the local precinct meeting of my preferred political party, that practical politics was no place for me. I thought that since I had long been interested in the “big ideas” animating political contests, I would of course like to play a role in that effort. So I dredged up where and when my local party chapter was meeting, and I attended, wrapped in the gauzy notion that I was putting my principles into action.

I was bored utterly out of my skull.

Vote getting and practical policy efforts are exercises in extended tedium. If you are not fascinated by legal and policy minutiae, punctuated by infrequent popularity contests, you are not cut out for politics.

I confirmed this impression when, years after his presidency, Ronald Reagan published excerpts from his personal diary. It is fascinating to read and I highly recommend it. But one of the things that struck me from his diary was that he was not only interested in “big ideas”, but he was also fully engaged with the tedious nuts and bolts of legislative minutia. That level of tedium is not the kind of thing that makes it onto the network news. Nevertheless, his interest in legislative detail was a critical facet of his overall political success.

I mention all of this to make the point that none of what follows is designed to advance a particular policy, party, or agenda. My tolerance for monotony is just far too low for that. What I do want to suggest, however, is that there are fundamental things which precede questions of practical politics, such things as the meaning of justice, and how that manifests itself in governments and in law.

For at least a few hundred years, laws and governments in the West have been predicated on a particular understanding of what constitutes justice. Over the last 40 years or so, while we have continued to use the word “justice”, the meaning has been hollowed out and replaced by something else. So though we may still talk about “justice”, the essential meaning has largely been replaced by something that, for most of history, would have been actually understood to be injustice.

The picture at the top of this post is a picture of Lady Justice standing outside a United States Courthouse. You will notice that she is blindfolded. Throughout most of history, her blindfold has expressed the longstanding notion that “justice is blind”. The blindness of justice is a way of expressing, interestingly enough, the essential facet of how justice is described in both the Jewish and Christian biblical texts. In Judeo-Christian thought, the essential attribute of justice was its evenhandedness. It does not put its thumb on the scales – hence a blinded Lady Justice is always holding scales. When people talk about “the rule of law”, and complain about a “two-tiered system of justice”, they are suggesting that everyone should be equally subject to laws – even judges and politicians, but also that the law is applied without regard to anything other than the standards of the law itself. The identity or status of the one standing before the judge is irrelevant to the application of the law. If judges and politicians are not themselves subject to the law, then justice is not blind. If, say, BLM protestors and Antifa thugs are not prosecuted with the same vigor and severity as J6 demonstrators, then it calls into question whether our justice system is “two-tiered”. “Two-tiered” is shorthand for saying that, rather than being blind, our justice system is showing partiality to one group or another. Is the law itself normative, or do we fudge things based on some characteristic of the alleged perpetrator? These questions, acknowledged or not, swirl around any notion of what justice means.

The question of justice is also inextricably intertwined with the question of morals. Some people will say, “You cannot legislate morality.” But as the late U.S. solicitor general and appeals court judge Robert Bork observed, “We legislate little else.” Every law is a codification and assertion of a moral obligation. Every law implicitly distinguishes between what is considered right and what is wrong. If failing to pay one’s tax is penalized, it is an implicit statement that failing to pay taxes is wrong, and conversely, paying taxes is right.

Where this gets awkward is in regard to how distinctions between right and wrong are ever to be made. The ancient Christian texts say that governments are ordained by God to execute temporal justice – specifically by protecting the righteous and punishing evildoers (e.g. Romans 13). But the obligations of temporal justice placed upon governments presuppose, of course, that such governments are capable of distinguishing between good and evil. Also inescapable, from a Christian worldview perspective, is that governments are subsidiary and derived. They are not self-originating, nor are they self-defining. The essential principle is that just governments operate by using force against those who do evil, in support of those who do good. Also, that governments are acting as God’s agents, which means that God himself is the source of any legitimate distinctions they make between right and wrong.

You can see these very ideas encapsulated in the rationale offered by Thomas Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rights precede governments, and they derive from God rather than from governments, which governments are themselves superintended by God.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Of course, many people are ignorant of these ideas – including some who have a tight grip on the media microphone.

Honestly, if our rights, the definition of justice, and the distinctions between right and wrong are not transcendent, we are well and truly screwed. We have all become subject to the caprice of fashionable opinion. Cancel culture will have been just a mild precursor to the devastation of innocent lives headed our way.

Even a growing number of atheists have started to realize that you cannot avoid tyranny in the absence of a Judeo-Christian vision for justice and morality. Tom Holland wrote an entire book about the importance of Christianity. James Lindsay has lately been giving advice to Christians about how to improve their cultural impact. Others have been doing the same. Even the likes of Richard Dawkins has figured it out:

The ancient Christians even offer us a perspective for how things can go completely off the rails. They said that as soon as you abandon your presupposition that God is real, and that you owe him a debt of gratitude, your ability to think well – your rationality itself – begins to erode. That kind of makes sense. If God is real, denying his existence necessarily puts you out of kilter with reality. The long-term effects of delusional assumptions can’t be good. Interestingly, the ancients go on to say that one of the ways this mental erosion can manifest itself is in…wait for it…same sex attraction. I’m not making this up – read the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans for yourself and see if I’m not telling it straight.

Governments are inevitably going to pursue something. There is something that every government reveres. Every system has a god. Laws will inevitably codify some notion of morality. The question that obtains is, from whence is the agenda and moral framework going to come?

It’s possible to continue having elections, even after the loss of any cultural consensus regarding the meaning of justice, or the distinction between right and wrong. But, I confess I have grown increasingly haunted by the sense that our elections have begun to resemble Miss Havisham’s wedding dress – a threadbare and ragged reminder of something that has long since been lost. I’m not [necessarily] saying our elections aren’t real. Only that in the absence of shared understandings of justice and morality, they cannot be the panacea of yummy goodness that hungry politicians would have us believe

The importance of Judeo-Christian insights is that they can foster a recovery of the true meaning of justice, and the telos of human nature, from which all moral insights are downstream.

It’s hard not to suspect that the emergent energy surrounding “Christian Nationalism” is, in some ways, a kind of immune response within the body politic to the loss of a societal consensus regarding these critical ideas. Some might even say it’s an inflammatory response. Haha! The revulsion with which Christian Nationalism is met by the Left is, I fear, motivated by at least two things.

First, the Left intuits that the vacuum created by hollowing out the idea of justice means that rule inevitably accrues to those who amass the most power. There are no transcendent or principled limits on government power in the minds of the Left. The Left, in classic projection, suspects that Christian Nationalist are just like themselves (i.e. that their motivation is all about the amassing of power). The Left darkly assumes that Christian Nationalists hope to do to the them as the Left will do to the Christians, if they can manage to consolidate their power. The conflict is startling reminiscent of the lust for the Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings. Though Gandalf, in his wisdom, perceived a way out:

“But the only measure he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.”

The irony is that widespread acceptance of a transcendent standard of justice and morality always has the inevitable effect of constraining the power of governments and individuals alike. Implicit in the acceptance of transcendent standards is that there are limits to any power one human can wield over another. In such a context, all authority is delegated by the creator and is necessarily circumscribed for any of his deputies. The Christian Nationalists, whoever they are, would do well to ensure that their motivations are not the accumulation of power but the benevolent administration of true justice.

The second factor that alarms the Left is that the most radical fringes of their movement, having thrown off all moral constraints, are loathe to return to a government of blind justice or the equal application of laws. They’re living large right now – some might even say running amok – and they are unlikely to be willing to relinquish the two-tiered system of justice they are enjoying.

I don’t have a happy program to offer to make everything peachy, or any quick fixes. We didn’t get here over night and life is not a TV show I’m afraid. Anyone who loves what is good and true needs to accept that the horizon is far in the distance.

I suspect that the aftermath of the upcoming national election is going to be traumatic no matter who wins. That’s because even honest elections, if such things still exist in 2024, can never facilitate a shared cultural consensus on the meaning of justice, or agreement on transcendent standards for morality.

What elections can do is buy some time, so by all means people should vote. Time creates space for cultural ferment. And that’s important, because a cultural consensus on justice, and the transcendent basis of morality, can only be planted and grown. It can never be conjured by fiat.

Serious Christians need to make themselves seriously useful by seriously planting seeds. Perhaps we should have far more personal conversations with more people about things that matter. Also, we need to devote ourselves more thoroughly to praying – I do at least – for God’s mercy and intervention. I personally know of no other way.

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  1. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Keith Lowery: The picture at the top of this post is a picture of Lady Justice standing outside a United States Courthouse. You will notice that she is blindfolded. Throughout most of history, her blindfold has expressed the longstanding notion that “justice is blind”. The blindness of justice is a way of expressing … that everyone should be equally subject to laws – even judges and politicians, but also that the law is applied without regard to anything other than the standards of the law itself. The identity or status of the one standing before the judge is irrelevant to the application of the law.

    Liberals have, on occasion, directly attacked the image of a blindfolded Lady Justice, explicitly saying that “true justice” requires that the courts know (and be guided by) which party is black or female or gay or whatever.

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Many truths, all spoken well.

    • #2
  3. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Keith Lowery: Serious Christians need make themselves seriously useful by seriously planting seeds.

    Perhaps that might even start in our own church or parish.   My parish is filled with socialists and there is very little I can do about it.

    • #3
  4. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    For me, one of the necessary principles that must be part and parcel of the “justice framework” is that no entity that is remote from and non-involved with another group of people should be allowed to rule over and determine the future of that remote and unknown group of people.

    For instance just a little over a hundred years ago, such a situation came about: the Balfour Declaration. This declaration supposedly allowed a nation, Great Britain,  which considered itself the overseer of the “protectorate of Palestine” to issue the main representative for that  future Jewish state, one Walter, Second Lord Rothschild, to receive a “legal decision” that would after the passage of some time, then permit Jewish people to create the nation of Israel in what had been known as Palestine.

    This was considered a permissable activity, as in the year of 1917, British imperialism was accepted at the time, as was the idea that a chosen member of the richest family in Great Britain certainly could be a signatory to such a  deal. The idea that maybe a respected leader or several such people from the region of Palestine might want to offer up a comment or two before this declaration was signed was never even pursued.

    Now these same concepts, only slightly different, are again raising their ugly heads. Of course, we no longer have nations intent on imperialism, or at least we are never told that this matter of imperialism still exists. Insead, the USA’s wars are fought, the public is told,  for the installation of democracy in some beleagured developing nation,  or for the removal of sociopaths like Saddam Hussein and Kaddafi,and very few people  ever mention who, what or why the wars really existed.

    Nor is the secondary question asked: how it is possible for one nation to fight so many wars and never bring about an iota of democracy or security to the region where the decade long wars are fought? (Despite these wars causing a great deal of the 34 trillion bucks that we as a nation now face.)

    So what is occurring right now is that apparently national imperialism has died off, and is being replaced by Globalism.

    So currently we have a group of people who hold meetings in  Bern Switzerland at the headquarters for The WHO. There it is hammered into the hearts and minds of those chosen to attend the meetings that the only way the world can survive is for the nations of the world to sign onto “The Pandemic Treaty.”

    A great many citizens from the nations where the necessary signatures have almost been signed have looked into this Pandemic Treaty. Given that with the undue influence of The WHO, its chief salesman, one Bill Gates and our own Department of Defense’s involvement in the funding, and creation of the SARS COVID II virus and then the need to have protocols for COVID decreed and a final solution – the COVID Vaccine program – arose, so that many people world wide were locked down and had ample time on their hands.

    Using their time on their devices, they soon discovered that the implications of this treaty were onerous for anyone desiring to continue to live in a free society. For instance, this essay from the Mises website explains what the top concerns about the treaty happen to be:

    https://mises.org/mises-wire/whos-pandemic-treaty-end-national-sovereignty-and-freedom

    Snipped from the above article:

    If passed, the Pandemic Treaty will allow the WHO to make radical changes to the healthcare systems of its member countries starting in 2024. In particular, this agreement will grant the WHO the necessary power to declare a pandemic, based on its own vaguely defined criteria, in any of its 194 member countries at any point in the future. It will also permit the WHO to unilaterally determine what measures will be imposed in response to these future declared pandemics, including lockdown policies, mandatory masking, social distancing, and coercing the population into undergoing medical treatments and vaccinations.

    Contrary to popular opinion, the WHO is not an independent, unbiased, and ethical organization that aims to achieve the common good. In reality, its goals and agendas are set by its donors, including some of the world’s richest countries and most influential philanthropists. For decades, philanthropists and their foundations have [gained] increasing influence” when it comes to shaping the global health agenda by “placing people in international organisations, and gaining privileged access to scientific, business and political elites.”

    For example, as Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz explain in Philanthropic Power and Development: Who Shapes the Agenda?,“ the Gates Foundation and earlier the Rockefeller Foundation, have been shaping global health policies not only through their direct grant-making but also through the provision of matching funds, the support of selected research programmes, the creation of global health partnerships with Foundation’s staff in their decision-making bodies, and by direct advocacy at the highest political level.” In fact, back in 2006, The Guardian reported that “the Gates foundation is now the second largest donor to the World Health Organisation after the US, as well as one of the world’s largest single investors in biotechnology for farming and pharmaceuticals.” Unfortunately, when philanthropists and their foundations advance their own interests, they do so at the expense of the common interests of society. There is no reason to believe that this dynamic will be any different in the case of the Pandemic Treaty.

    (Full article at link above.)

    ######################################

    My comment: so the negative reaction of the public to having the signatures gathered and the treaty approved in conformance to the desired mid-May 2024 date by some 167 nations’ pre-selected officials  has caused none other than Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first director-general of the WHO and a man  who is not actually a medical doctor,  to issue remarks about how mistaken all of the tens of  thousands of critical articles, essays and discussions that we mere mortals have been undertaking are wrong.

    His solution is of course a simple one: the necessary imposition of censorship to eliminate the nasty mis-information and dis-information that we low lifes have been spewing.

    Most likely this means the tightening up of social media platforms as well as browsers themselves. The public lost the traditional media outlets over the past 20 years, a fact that was totally obvious when anyone critical of the COVID hoax turned on their TV and heard Talking Heads in Atlanta say there had been 33 reported cases, while Boulder CO had the same number, as did Boise ID etc. There were basically hour long news casts about COVID – to repeat how many people had been infected. The early hysterical news casts stated that as many as 6% plus of all those infected with COVID might die – as that was approximately how many did die in NYC where the initial contagion was so tremendously mishandled.

    Since traditional media was simply a bull horn for our established DoD offshoots as well as the  Bill and Melinda Gates’ GAVI and Dr Anthony Fauci’s proclamations, it became the task of a rag tag group of sturdy individuals like Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Alec Berenson formerly of the NY Times, and here on Ricochet, our own Peter Robinson who brought Dr Bhattacharya to this forum’s attention, early on, to fearlessly create a counter narrative to tackle the actual lies of the official narrative.

    So we have until  May to figure out if our country and some 166 other countries will soon be ruled by the iron boot of the WHO. If it turns out that Tedros reaches his goal and the Pandemic Treat is a fait accompli, then  the average person might  start to realize that we have no more weight in terms of the scales of justice than the average Palestinian market stall owner held back  in Nov 1917. (Karma is a rather nasty poodle, to put it politely.)

    If The WHO  measure doesn’t succeed in May, it just means that the Globalists will have to develop a different treaty with a different end date. (Preferably – for them anyway – before the USA’s Nov 2024 election is underway.)

    • #4
  5. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Interesting choice, Carol Joy, of all acts of British imperialism you hit on the Balfour Declaration.  Says more about you–and your historical ignorance–than about Britain.  Or Israel, for that matter.

    Keith, this is an excellent example of why you might want to look at nationalism through either the book or lectures of Yoram Hazony and get some religious Jews involved in the discussion (we tend to be understandably allergic to the idea of Christian Nationalism when it comes to the USA).  Hazony has an excellent understanding of the religious origins of the US and the model of ancient Israel.  If you have the time, I highly recommend this lecture series of his.

    • #5
  6. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Interesting choice, Carol Joy, of all acts of British imperialism you hit on the Balfour Declaration. Says more about you–and your historical ignorance–than about Britain. Or Israel, for that matter.

    Keith, this is an excellent example of why you might want to look at nationalism through either the book or lectures of Yoram Hazony and get some religious Jews involved in the discussion (we tend to be understandably allergic to the idea of Christian Nationalism when it comes to the USA). Hazony has an excellent understanding of the religious origins of the US and the model of ancient Israel. If you have the time, I highly recommend this lecture series of his.

    Thanks for the book recommendation – I ordered it. Looks fascinating. I can easily imagine why the instinctive reaction of Jewish folks to some notions of “Christian Nationalism” is something other than a warm embrace. To be clear, I don’t consider myself to be a “Christian Nationalist”, in part because I think that term is used to refer to such a wide continuum of beliefs that it almost defies precise definition. Obviously, I think Christian insights into the questions of virtue, liberty, and justice matter. But it also seems inescapable to me that the ancient Christians were just expressing variations on the themes that had long been articulated within the Jewish scriptures. I think some kind of shared cultural understanding of the interdependence between virtue and liberty needs to be recovered, and such understanding needs to be reflected in law and politics. Beyond that, I would just say that I wish no one who actually wanted power over others was ever given it.

    • #6
  7. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    As long as we’re discussing virtue:

    “Humility is the distinguishing virtue of the believer in freedom.” – Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

    • #7
  8. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Caryn (View Comment): …about you–and your historical ignorance…

    Friend,

    On Ricochet, I am not allowed to make a disparaging comment “about you”. Only “about what you wrote.“

    The same rule applies to you and everyone else.

    In the future, please just criticize the argument, not the person.

    • #8
  9. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    The meaning of justice, law, government, voting, etc is to give the Democrats what they want and the money they like.

    • #9
  10. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    The meaning of justice, law, government, voting, etc is to give the Democrats what they want and the money they like.

    Do you ever tire of the nihilism?

    • #10
  11. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):about you–and your historical ignorance…

    Friend,

    On Ricochet, I am not allowed to make a disparaging comment “about you”. Only “about what you wrote.“

    The same rule applies to you and everyone else.

    In the future, please just criticize the argument, not the person.

    Thhppt. Y’all may criticize me all you like. 

    • #11
  12. DrewInWisconsin, Œuf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Œuf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):about you–and your historical ignorance…

    Friend,

    On Ricochet, I am not allowed to make a disparaging comment “about you”. Only “about what you wrote.“

    The same rule applies to you and everyone else.

    In the future, please just criticize the argument, not the person.

    Thhppt. Y’all may criticize me all you like.

    You can’t spell “management” without “nag.”

    • #12
  13. Nanocelt TheContrarian Member
    Nanocelt TheContrarian
    @NanoceltTheContrarian

    Caryn (View Comment):

    Interesting choice, Carol Joy, of all acts of British imperialism you hit on the Balfour Declaration. Says more about you–and your historical ignorance–than about Britain. Or Israel, for that matter.

    Keith, this is an excellent example of why you might want to look at nationalism through either the book or lectures of Yoram Hazony and get some religious Jews involved in the discussion (we tend to be understandably allergic to the idea of Christian Nationalism when it comes to the USA). Hazony has an excellent understanding of the religious origins of the US and the model of ancient Israel. If you have the time, I highly recommend this lecture series of his.

    Actually it is hard to talk about Christian Nationalism without actually talking about Judeo-Christian Nationalism. As Jergen Habermas observed on emerging from his talks with Cardinal Ratzinger, the entirety of Western philosophy is derivative of the Judaic ethic of Justice and the Christian ethic of Love. Mercy cannot be applied without Justice. They are inextricably bound. Without the Old Testament there can be no New Testament. The branches are all original or wild,  grafted into the root.  And original branches that are removed are grafted back into the same root. Yoram Hazony gets it all, I think. So does David Gelertner, in his book:  Americanism: The Fourth Abrahamic Religion.

    There is no other basis for Just governance of transcendent beings as humans are. Which is denied by the Left. To them, as noted,  there is no transcendence. Nations that do not understand this do not thrive, or survive. 

    As regards the Balfour Declaration:  From Amos, via James in the New Testament, I get that Israel will be ultimately restored (Amos Chapter 9) and James quotes and amends that to say that this will work to help the Gentiles believe. Although Covenant Theologians would apparently disagree, I can’t read that without seeing the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent formation of the Nation of Israel as fulfillment of ancient Hebrew prophecy. And I believe. 

    Once upon a time, British common law sought to understand and apply through reason a Judeo-Christian form of justice. In America, that tradition was upended by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his Lowell Lectures that became the book, The Common Law.  Holmes defied British  common law and substituted an experiential standard for a reason based approach to law based on a Judeo Christian ethic. That  became a siren call to Progressives and has led to the undermining of the Judeo-Christian basis of law (Holmes was an Ur-Progressive whose father had coined the term Boston Brahim to indicate how near a divine class were the Bostonian elite). So that we are reduced to the triviality of the Law as expressed by John Roberts when he referred to the role of the Justices of the Supreme Court as baseball umpires calling balls and strikes. 

    • #13
  14. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    DrewInWisconsin, Œuf (View Comment):
    You can’t spell “management” without “nag.”

    Made me laugh.

    • #14
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