Social Justice: Who’s Talking?

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“Social justice” is suddenly a topic of vigorous debate—and certainly not alien to Catholics. For what it’s worth, I’d like to weigh in.

I’ll begin candidly, with a statement that might sound uncharitable: The modern Religious Left has perverted “social justice,” if not hijacked the term altogether. It has so misappropriated and mangled the term that many Americans—including popular commentators like Glenn Beck—now reflexively think “socialism” when they hear “social justice.”

Indeed, enthusiastic practitioners of social justice tend to advocate Big Government collectivism, pursued through a single, seemingly ever-expanding federal government. And although “social justice,” in its origins, does not mean socialism, many liberal Christians, Catholic and Protestant, have veered to that extreme.

Speaking of extremes, the radical left has taken notice, employing the language of “social justice” to appeal to gullible liberal Christians, especially in education. Think about this: Sixties Marxists like the infamous Bill Ayers—the former Weather Underground terrorist and fugitive—now write books with titles like Handbook of Social Justice in Education, Teaching for Social Justice, and A Simple Justice.

I have seen these books on the syllabi of education courses at Christian colleges. Yes, books by Bill Ayers.

America’s militant secularists know which buttons to push to dupe liberal Christians.

Can you see why folks like Glenn Beck are suspicious?

That said, here’s a word in semi-defense of some “social justice” Christians; that is, those not duped by the likes of Bill Ayers:

I don’t think we can say the Bible explicitly prohibits all public welfare. Nor would I argue that government has no role addressing the needy. The Catholic Church doesn’t take those positions.

For us as Christians, as Catholics, the question is not whether to help the needy, but the best means. Join me next time as I consider that question.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • Cass

    I heartily agree with Dr. Kangor. The current Marxists/socialists are very adept at concealing their tactics and motives. Many Congressional bills have titles which convey just the opposite meaning of the bill’s true intent. Many well-meaning goodhearted people have bought into the socialist agenda without thinking through not only the civic but moral consequences. Marxism/socialism is not only an inefficient form of government – it is an evil form of government.

  • Kathryn

    You know, I am not so sure that the Left really has co-opted and distorted the term “social justice.” I’ve never, not once, heard the term used except in a socialist fashion. And I’ve never heard a conservative use it at all–except by conservative Catholics who are very concerned that the Church’s “social teaching” include such concepts as subsidiary and distributism.

    My father was very fond of reading books by Thomas Sowell, Mises, Hayek, and Russell Kirk and the like. I remember him quoting one of those types as saying that “anytime you put the word ‘social’ in front of a word like ‘teaching’ or ‘justice,’ you’ve just destroyed the real meaning of the second word.” Alas, I do not know whom he was quoting. (I do remember he didn’t just come up with that one on his own.) That was many, many years ago.

    In looking on the website, I found a paper (written in 1995) that quotes Mises as being quite down on the term “social justice”–and his quote came from a book copywritted in 1976! (The title of the book was actually titled “The Mirage of Social Justice.”

    Glenn Beck appears to be somewhat late in the game.

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