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Social Justice by Saying That Social JusticeEssay

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Social Justice

By saying that social justice is a "mirage," Friedrich Hayek has raised the question whether the concept of social justice has meaningful content. This provocative statement implies that social justice is not real, but stands closer to an illusion. As such, it questions those who would assert that social justice is, or can be, a social reality. It compels an answer from anyone who would assert a concept of social justice grounded in real possibilities. Using a number of scholarly articles, Hayek's assumptions will be evaluated. This essay will argue that social justice has historically seemed like a mirage, but that some contemporary theoretical approaches might profitably be used to correct this impression. Further, it will show that historical studies prove the moral implication of the free market in oppressive structures that cannot be vindicated of blame by reference to the market's impersonality and inequality. There are ways forward toward a real and substantial concept and practice of social justice in the world.

Hayek's view is encapsulated when he says, "In a free society in which the position of the different individuals and groups is not the result of anyone's design -- or could within such a society not be altered in accordance with a principle of general applicability -- the differences in rewards cannot meaningfully be described as just or unjust" (Hayek 1976, p. 83). The whole of Hayek's view rests upon the idea that the market is impersonal and spontaneous. Since it is impersonal, it is amoral. If the market allows unequal distribution, this is a matter of chance and skill but not of ethics. There is no intention or design in an impersonal process, and therefore no blame for injustice. In capitalism there are only procedural rules for undesigned information dispersal. He calls it the "game of catallaxy." This means that "With the acceptance of this procedure the recompense of different groups and individuals becomes exempt from deliberate control" (p. 70). The results are determined by skill and luck in circumstances with unpredictable outcomes. He is deeply suspicious of any government interference with the market, while not applying that same suspicion to the market's free operation. Hayek seems not to recognize the market as a social construct between people. It is taken for granted as a natural process.

As a result, Hayek believes "social justice" is a mirage. It is a product of naive thinking that mistakenly gives meaning to the term "social" and mistakenly sees market outcomes as the result of willful and conscious individual or collective choice. If it were "determined by deliberate acts of will," then it could be "guided by moral rules" (p. 62). However, it is not. To presume the market can be judged from a moral standpoint is to personify it inaccurately. Further, it is to make into a substance something called the "social." In Hayek's conception, the social and its surrounding concepts cannot be given clear meaning. He sees no agent attached to the concept, which means the concept is too empty. Obviously Hayek has tremendous faith in impersonal forces, if this is in fact what the market it, and exonerates them. One cannot demand justice from an impersonal mechanism. To his mind, the appeal to social justice has become a kind of bewitchment based on the false notion that "the near-universal acceptance of a belief" proves its validity (p. 66). Social justice presupposes that "people are guided by specific directions and not by rules of just individual conduct" (p. 69). But these conditions, in his view, do not hold for the impersonal market.

He assumes, in addition, that any notion of a moral market or of social justice implies a directed government in which individual freedom is taken away. It requires that the government tells people what to do and demands obedience. This leads inevitably to totalitarianism and its idea is intolerable to him. It would involve treating people unequally. He says, "It would have to do so because under such a system it would have to undertake to tell people what to do" (p. 82). The government would have to impose a discriminatory practice, since it would restrict the freedom of some (the wealthy) for the benefit of others (the poor). This meddles with human freedom and an impersonal process.

The assumption of impersonality and lack of conscious design leads Hayek… [END OF PREVIEW]

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