Justice is one of those words that everyone tosses around, but few truly understand. As I think about the turmoil in the United States, I have been drawn back to fundamental ideas about justice. Today, I posted an hour long YouTube video about its many meanings. Justice drives much conflict, both legal and non-legal. If we take the time to define carefully what we mean we can help people find a path to resolution.
In the video, I discuss the three classical theories of justice: positive law, social good, and natural rights. I show how these theories are inherently inconsistent with one another. The genius of the US federal constitution lies in large part how the concept of balance of powers reconciles these classical theories into the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
I then define distributive justice, which is how we define and describe the allocation of resources. Distributive justice consists of equity, equality, and need. These elements are likewise in conflict with each other. The great challenge is to manage equity, equality, and need while honoring positive law, social good, and natural rights. Justice becomes very complex very quickly.
I also examine the nature of procedural justice and its psychology.
Finally, I take up retributive and restorative justice. I believe that retribution is fundamentally based on vengeance. In criminal law, justice equals punishment. The problems with retributive justice as a means of social control and order are manifold. Restorative justice is a more effective way of dealing with offense, crime, and misbehavior. However, I point out, politicians, including legislators and prosecutors, are elected on the basis of fear. Therefore, the likelihood of a systemic change is unlikely.
The take away here is that by understanding and clarifying what we mean when we talk about justice, we can assist people in conflict to recognize the fundamental choices they must make and guide them through a process that leads to resolution.