All these concerns fly increasingly under the flag of social justice. One more to note: There used to be a Tammany Hall saying: “Th’ fella’ w’at said that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, underestimated th’ possibilities of compassion.” In addition to “equality” and the “common good,” the third term that came to be used in association with social justice was “compassion.”
The most extraordinary thing since about 1832 is that everything is done in the name of the poor. Modern revolutions are almost all fought in the name of the poor. (Not in the United States, but in the rest of the world.) What actually happens to the poor under revolutionary systems is a different question entirely.
The Tammany Hall saying wittily calls attention to the fact that more sins have been committed in the name of compassion in the last 150 years–by the Nazis, by the Communists, and by the African and Asian despots who justify their regimes as “socialist”–than by any other force in history. We must not allow that beautiful term “compassion” to blind us. There are true forms and false forms.
In an entirely different order of magnitude, why did the progressive term “compassion” during the “War on Poverty,” which began in 1964, so destroy families? Half of the pregnancies in Washington, D.C., end in abortion–almost. And then, of those who are born, 70 percent are born outside of wedlock. It’s the largest-scale abandonment of women by men in human history, what’s happening all through this country. And not only in urban areas: It’s happening out in Iowa and all across the country. Charles Murray had a famous article on out-of-wedlock births in Ohio. And such births are now multiplying in the developed countries; they are appearing more in Italy and France and Germany and Great Britain.
This chain of events was unleashed in the name of a war against poverty, a war to reduce crime, a war to help the family. But if you look at what actually happened, that war on poverty has not been an unmixed blessing.
It worked very well for the elderly. The condition of the elderly in the United States since 1965, let’s say, is far better. In fact, if anything, the elderly get too much, and now we’re having great problems with the commitments we made for Medicare and even our inability to keep funding the promised Social Security. The premise of Social Security arrangements was that there would be seven workers paying into the system for every benefit receiver. Today, however, we are no longer having the required numbers of children. We’re getting to the point where there are about two workers for every retiree.
It is therefore already clear that we are not going to be able to meet the obligations that we have assumed. That sword of Damocles hangs by an even more frayed thread in Europe. There is going to be a great crisis of social democracy in the next 10 years.
This is a fairly broad search into what people mean by social justice today. Let me add, though, one more anecdote. I recently read the obituary of a Franciscan sister, I think it was, in Delaware who had worked as a missionary in different countries. The author described her as being especially committed to “social justice work.” She helped feed the hungry, tend to the young, care for the ill. She labored for the neediest. In this usage, “social justice” seems rather like a synonym for “followed the Beatitudes.”