The Development of Social Justice

There is coming a time whereby every church must answer the question, “Are you for or against ‘social justice?’” This is a question from which no one can hide. Every pastor must wrestle with it. Every church must face it.

So, it is helpful to ask, “From where did social justice come from?”

Many want to look at Karl Marx. However, there’s a story behind that story. Marx was nothing but a child of the Enlightenment, and that is where we need to begin.

Enlightenment Philosophes
David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, and Adam Smith spread the idea that the differences between men are not so much due to natural endowments, but far more so, due to habit, custom, and one’s personal training and education. In other words, we are profoundly made unequal by society. Contrary to the popular narrative, this did not begin with Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The unequal distribution of “natural talents” Smith wrote, “between a philosopher and a common street porter” is simply a difference in education more than anything else. These men were also the precursors to utilitarianism. For, all of these men believed that the purpose of civilization is to make man happy. Society is the cause of the unhappiness created by inequalities, and society can fix it.

This is summed up by Beccaria when he said that the laws of society are intended to “conduce to the greatest happiness shared among the greater number.”