Social justice: A world scale out of balance

Exactly 12 years ago today, the UN convened the first World Day of Social Justice. Since then, the World Day of Social Justice has been held annually on February 20th, which is why I would like to take advantage of today and draw attention to the complex topic of social justice.

Where do we stand today? I urge all of us who live in a world of seemingly unlimited opportunities and resources to listen up for a moment and hear the grief of those suffering in our world. While we lead a seemingly happy life in our bubble of privilege, the majority of the world is struggling and suffering. We are still far away from the idea of social justice: our economic and social order is severely imbalanced. But who is to blame? It is time to take up the Social Question again.

Especially in times of a global pandemic, it is more necessary than ever to question the world economic and social order and to sensitize ourselves to the social justice we are striving for. COVID-19 represents another major challenge in this regard: the pandemic intensifies the social distribution struggle and throws the scales even more out of balance. Already strained and now collapsing health care systems, work stoppages, economic losses: all this leads to economic and social insecurity, but also social polarization. But the two sides of the coin must be considered here: besides its obvious obstructive characteristics, the pandemic also brings something positive. The momentum of the pandemic provides us with the opportunity to reopen the social question and renegotiate justice. A debate can be sparked about performance and needs, ethics and human dignity, and it can stimulate us to rethink our social, political and consumer behaviour.

Here, the fundamental question suggests itself: what does social justice mean? Aristotle designates justice as the most fundamental and perfect virtue. Interestingly, it is not related to the individual, but to man as a fellow citizen. Justice is something human, that arises from ethics. From Marx and Engels’ approach, social justice is achieved in a classless society. The decisive factor for this is human labor. Rawls shifts the concept into a political dimension and sets the ideal of social justice as the result of a just social order, established by the state. These extensions of the concept have one thing in common: they place man in the environment of his fellow men.

In the dichotomy between “us” and “others”

Perhaps this is the crucial point in the discussion and the answer to the problem of social injustice. Now, why is the question of identity crucial here? With globalization, digitalization and emerging affluence, we have not only become much more connected, but our needs have also changed. Self-actualization is now something we all strive for every day. This is directly based on our self-definition and self-identification: who am I and what makes me different from others? We live in an age of identity, which not only determines our own lives, but has also become a guiding and contentious concept in politics. The ideologies of extremist groups are often based on radical identity politics. Especially in highly emotionally charged debates such as the refugee crisis, this identity formation draws boundaries between “us” and “others”. This has a direct impact on how we formulate our needs and act politically: for the common good or for our own benefit?

To counteract this, we need to reform social coexistence based on the ethical foundation of a sense of community. Mutuality and a sense of responsibility are here the signposts to a society of solidarity that makes social justice possible. We as individuals need to acquire a collective identity in order to shift the focus from our self-interest to that of the community. Rethinking and conceiving our idea of community is the starting point of an approach to social justice and a shift of the global scales.

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