Evaluating the Idea of Social Justice
Last month I was privileged to take part in a Liberty & Markets Conference in Grand Rapids, MI, “Evaluating the Idea of Social Justice,” co-sponsored by the Acton Institute and by the Liberty Fund. Like most Liberty Fund conferences, this one was limited to fifteen participants, in this case, all of us being pastors of churches or involved in some kind of pastoral ministry. In most all of the previous LF conferences I’ve attended, the rest of the participants have typically been university professors, policy experts from think tanks, or others working full-time in academic or scholarly circles. Since I am an independent scholar with full-time pastoral responsibilities, and my time for scholarly work is limited, I usually went to these conferences feeling like the village idiot. That was not the case this time. Not only did I feel more like I was among peers—because I was—but the pastoral point of view that all of us brought to the table gave us a more familiar ground on which to base our discussions.
The readings which were assigned for this conference were very good. They included chapters from
- Antonio Rosmini, “The Constitution under Social Justice”;
- Friedrich A. Hayek, chapters from several works;
- Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum;
- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice;
- Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Ethics of Redistribution;
- David Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967;
- Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America ; and
- Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus.
Rosmini I had never heard of, and his proposal for an Italian constitution was a fascinating read. I benefit from Hayek every time I read him, the papal encyclicals are always worth revisiting, and Tocqueville is a constant delight. De Jouvenel and Beito I had not read before. I was particularly glad to have John Rawls among the readings, because I had never had the opportunity to read him before and I’ve heard for years about “Rawlsian” analyses of this and that and never knew what people were talking about. And now I do. The veil of ignorance has been lifted (unavoidable cheap Rawlsian humor, that).
In distinction from a straight Liberty Fund conference, in which all of the sessions are Socratic discussions about the readings, this one, being jointly sponsored with the Acton Institute, included three lecture presentations that helped to situate the readings and clarify some of the ideas with which we, the participants, were not familiar. Kudos to Dr Sam Gregg, who spoke on “What is Justice”; Dr Kevin Schmiesing, who spoke on “Modern Social Justice”; Dr Nicholas Capaldi, who spoke on “Saving Social Capital from Social Democracy”; and to Dr James Otteson, who served as leader for the discussion sessions.
Kudos, too, to all the other participants, who are serving Christ in a variety of capacities around the country, and whose knowledge and experience brought so much to the table. It was my pleasure to get to know you all, and I look forward to the day that our paths cross again.