Peace, Justice, and Economic Reform. (Philosophy of Justice)

By Tideman, Nicolaus | The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Peace, Justice, and Economic Reform. (Philosophy of Justice)


Tideman, Nicolaus, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology


NICOLAUS TIDEMAN (*)

Introduction: Peace--More Than Tranquillity

THERE IS A bumper sticker that says, "If you want peace, then work for justice." At a superficial level, this simple slogan contains an important half-truth. At a deeper level, it contains a more profound half-truth. To understand these half-truths and why they are only half true, we need to know what peace is, what justice is, and we need to understand the relationship between the two. So in this talk I want to explore the meanings of peace and justice, their relationship, and the role of economic reform in attaining both.

"If you want peace, then work for justice." The more obvious and superficial meaning of this slogan is that people who are treated unjustly will prevent the attainment of peace until the wrongs to which they are subject are righted. Demonstrators shout: "No justice. No peace." The apparent meaning of peace in this case is tranquillity, the absence of strife. And if this meaning of peace is accepted, the slogan is true. You cannot expect to end strife as long as people have unresolved grievances. But the reason that this is only half true is that this meaning is only a shadow of what peace really is.

Peace is more than armistice, more than the cessation of violence. Peace is unity and harmony. In a peaceful world, people are all pleased to cooperate with one another. When we have attained true peace, there will be no person who has any purpose that any other person seeks to thwart. In a peaceful world, everyone will feel the truth of John Donne's meditation:

No man is an Island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent; a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, and well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee (Meditation XV).

Is it imaginable that we might ever attain a world where everyone felt so? And if we do so, what will be the role of justice in that world? What is justice?

The Image of Justice

THERE ARE SO many conflicting, strident claims for different conceptions of justice that a person might reasonably despair of ever finding a meaning of justice that people would agree upon. Any conception of justice may seem to be no more than one person's opinion. And yet there are things that we all know about justice. If I tell you that I stand before you as justice, you know that across my face you will find--a blindfold. In my left hand I hold aloft--a pair of scales. You know that in my right hand I have a sword that I will use if necessary. And my gender is female.

The blindfold, the scales, the sword, and the feminine gender. These features of the traditional symbol tell us much about justice.

The blindfold might seem out of place, since it prevents justice from either seeing what the scales say or wielding the sword effectively. But we know that the blindfold has a distinct and essential meaning. The blindfold ensures that justice will not be swayed by any visible characteristics of those who plead before her. Justice is not concerned with whether you are black or white, short or tall, beautiful or ugly. Every person receives the same treatment from justice.

The scales have at least two possible interpretations. The first interpretation is that the disputants at the bar of justice each place their arguments in one of the pans of the scales, and justice determines who has the weightier arguments. Our language supports this interpretation with references to the scales of justice tipping in one direction or another. But there is different use of the scales that is particularly relevant to questions of social justice, as opposed to personal disputes. The scales can be used to achieve an equal division. Justice is done when the contents of one pan of the scales are exactly balanced by the contents of the other.

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