By Jason Michael
Justice and the law are frequently and all too easily confused. While the law might from time to time serve the demands of justice, the primary function of law is to maintain order and thus preserve power. How then can we build a just and fair society?
We have a police force and a judicial system, but still we can’t get away from the miserable fact that the world just isn’t always a very fair place. Judge Rinder can’t do much about the injustice of a degenerative or terminal illness. We have to accept that there are certain things which are unfair that are simply part of the human condition. Yet the sense of justice, the ideal of what’s morally and philosophically right, is an essentially human characteristic. An awareness of fair play is an evolutionary trait. That is to say that it is not a learned behaviour and it is evident in other primates. Our inseparability from ideas of justice then has resulted, over time, in various rationalisations of how to achieve justice in increasing complex human communities.
Typically thinking on justice bifurcates into the social and procedural spheres, where one is often at odds with the other. Social justice seeks the good for all people within society, where procedural justice – the law – is concerned primarily with social order and the protection of power. Not everything that is for the good of all people – such as the rights of people to food and shelter – serves the ends of those in power, and so a conflict of justices arises. An example here, and one to which we keep returning in this blog, is the justice in the right of a landlord to extract rent from a tenant who faces the injustice of homelessness if he or she is unable to pay. This is perfectly legal but altogether unjust. Law and justice then are not always the same thing.
When the law is unjust we are faced with a dilemma. Do we maintain law and order at the cost of justice, or do we dispense with the false division of the social and the procedural in order to create a more just and fair society? Well, insofar as natural justice is common to all people then the purpose of justice must be for the equity of all human beings – even when that contradicts the demands of the law. Such seems to imply that procedural law is redundant, but this is not actually the case. Rather procedural justice – as the law – itself has two distinct facets; that which serves justice and that which serves power. Society must have recourse to the law in cases of murder for example, but the same is not necessarily true in cases pertaining to property ownership.
A truly just society is a society in which the social and the procedural are reunited in common purpose, where the law serves the demands of social justice. Justice in this sense is where people, both as individuals and as communities, take priority over claims to wealth, property, and power. It is the realisation – the making real – of this idea that is the foundation of all just societies, and it is doubtful whether it is possible to lay such a fundament in an environment where the law continues to serve the demands of power over the rights of all people. This would imply that the first step in building a just society is the revolutionary destruction of justice as it is presently constructed.
In Your Anarchist Society, Who Will Make The Laws?
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)