The language of “justice” is increasingly being used in the public discourse. Listening to most radio talk shows, one could ascertain that justice is no longer solely the jargon of either members of the legal fraternity or human rights activists.
In fact, many street protests in the aftermath of police killings, medical negligence and the like are often punctuated with the cry, “We want justice”. If Aristotle’s description of justice as “to each is due” is what we mean by justice and it is becoming part of the language and consciousness of individuals and/or groups, we are indeed on the right track. This social evolution must be encouraged because it is the raw material for building an environment that recognises and confronts unfairness of one kind or another.
Notwithstanding this positive development, we can be unjust to justice. Today the idea of justice runs the risk of not being taken seriously, thus robbing it of its attractiveness as a tool for the organisation of modern society. This is so because we are ignoring the broader vision of justice that has developed beyond Aristotle. Catholic Social Teaching relies on the traditional three-fold distinction of justice that is based on right relationships in the community — Contributive, Distributive and Commutative Justice. This broader idea of justice is helpful in our local context.
Distributive Justice is often demanded in many a street protest. It refers to what the State or the community owes the individual such as public services and free and fair elections. As a nation we are good at demanding that the State meets its responsibility to us as individuals. Commutative Justice governs what the individuals in a community owe to one another, and Contributive Justice reminds us what individuals owe to the State or the community. It is these two other understandings of justice that we sometimes ignore.
Commutative Justice demands that we are just in our one on one relationships. We may be quick to demand that the State be fair to us and rightly so, but we must be also fair to others in our everyday relationships. How many times have building contractors given shoddy work to clients? How many times have max-taxi drivers short-changed their passengers by not going full route? How many times, in interfacing with individuals in the daily exchange of goods and services, have we treated one another badly? These are forms of injustice too.
Contributive Justice also makes its demands on the individual. It says that individuals have a responsibility towards the State and the wider community. We undermine Contributive Justice when we do not pay Value Added Tax or when we break traffic lights.
We ignore Contributive Justice when we do not give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. In today’s Gospel the ten lepers were healed. Only the Samaritan turned back to give thanks. This individual did not shirk responsibility to give thanks. This individual did not shirk personal responsibility to give thanks. We can learn from the Samaritan and “seek” what is due to us but, also, what is due to the State, the community and the other person. The latter is working for justice too.
Extracted From: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday Newspaper
CATHOLIC NEWS Sunday, October 13 2013