"Social" Justice Is Not Justice

The Mirage of John Rawls

In The Mirage of Social Justice, the second volume of his trilogy on Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Friedrich von Hayek confessed that, "as a result of long endeavors to trace the destructive effect which the invocation of 'social justice' has had on our moral sensitivity," he had "come to feel strongly that the greatest service" he could "still render" to his fellows would be to "make . . . speakers and writers . . . thoroughly ashamed . . . to employ the term 'social justice.'"

Certainly, as Hayek proceeded so painstakingly to show, this cant expression was, and indeed still is, usually employed quite thoughtlessly. Few, if any, of those who habitually use it have even attempted to produce a systematic and consistent rationale for its application. Nevertheless, the expression "the achievement of social justice" can be illuminatingly defined as being the achievement by statist means of whatever would, for socialists, constitute an ideal distribution of goods of all kinds. The word "socialism" here, following Hayek's suggestion in his Preface to the second edition of The Road to Serfdom, is understood to mean "not the nationalization of the means of production and the central economic planning which this made possible and necessary" but "the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions...

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