Language is a strange thing as one observes its shifts, its ebbs and flows both reflect and alter the social realities it expresses. Consider, for instance, the German Recht and English “right”. Both words originate (along with the Latin rectus) as “clear in direction, straight”. Throughout the Indo-European languages, though, it (universally) came to mean something far more profound—a directing force, the correct way of doing something. For the Germanic people, this was related to hands and fighting—the right hand was the hand that the stronger sword arm, giving a more direct attack as well as providing the correct manner in accordance with most established martial arts. Thus the “right” came to be distinguished from the “left” (etymologically related to the term “aloof”, but originally meaning “weak, foolish”, this word wasn’t presented as the opposite of “right” until nearly the 13th century AD). Over time, a directness and straightforwardness expressed certain things that these people understood—Recht in German now refers to law and justice; in English, “rights” are things which are owed to a person, also an expression of justice (indeed, Mercian hymnaries rendered the Latin iustitia as rehtwisnisse, literally “rightwiseness” or, as it is now spelled, “righteousness”).
There is, therefore, a long legal and linguistic tradition of associating justice with rights, with providing and protecting what is owed: a sort of balancing of the ethical budget between individuals. It is, therefore, almost unavoidable that an expansion of things to which individuals are made to feel entitled in the Anglophone world should accompany—or cause—an expansion, and alteration, to the meaning of the word “justice”. It has created a situation in which justice can come into conflict with itself, for competing definitions of justice are inevitably competing interests, demands, and rights. A rapidly changing world, with an increased emphasis on the individual as the basic social unit, has made equity and equality among individuals and groups a paramount concern of those interested in justice. The definition and purpose of the word “right” is suddenly becoming a great deal less direct and straightforward.
There are several competing, and several symbiotic, species of justice—but the most significant that are in nearly constant conflict since the mid-20th century—have been a sense (and developing dogma) of “social justice”, and the practice (traditional and therefore fading) of what for our purposes shall be called “communal justice”. We can contrast social justice with communal justice, since they represent different termini for a similar train of thought. Both of them are alike in that they are conditional forms of justice as a type. Both involve a degree of casuistry. Both, to an extent, can concern themselves with vengeance, as any notion of justice might, and can be turned against themselves if corrupted. The primary concern of social justice, though, is the establishment of equality—not just equality of outcomes, although this is increasingly what “social justice” has come to mean, but a general equality of discrete individuals in legal and social matters. Communal justice, on the other hand, is far more concerned with stability and unity of the tribe than it is with equality of the individual: communal justice is clan-law, wherein the sovereign (employing Schmitt’s definition) is the male leadership of the community—not the elected or even princely leadership, but the tribal leadership, the heads of families. It is, in essence, a function of the Männerbund.
Communal justice is traditional—it is manifested in acts of violence whereby men maintain the stability of their community by punishing transgressors of important social taboos. For Americans, this is epitomized in the American South, but it is by no means unique to that region. We also see this sort of practice in the immigrant communities of the industrial Northeast (in some cases, we see the two overlap). Likewise, a strong argument can be made for witch-trials both in Europe and in the heart of New England Yankeedom, being acts of communal justice: the protection of the solidity and stability of the community through the elimination of disruptive elements. The falsity of the Salem trials finds roots in the manipulation of tribal concerns on the part of an emerging moneyed elite, using the immune system of the community against itself, but this confirms, rather than discredits, the idea of such a tribal immune system existing.
The ethnic and tribal cohesion that this form of justice grants has found itself askance of the general tendencies of the post-modern, post-War Western world, especially the Americas, where this sense of communal justice has come into direct conflict with the new orthodoxy radiating outwards from the urbanite and suburbanite cultures formed by the Baby Boomers. Canadian Alt-Right expat Blackpigeonspeaks touched on this in his discussion of the Foundation Myth that arose from the Second World War. His brief video explores the origin of the realignment of good and evil in Western civilization, but as one expects from that sort of intellectual amuse-bouche, he is light on illustrations and heavy on assertions.
Urban writers have never been fond of a mob—primarily because they get to witness the mob close at hand in the city streets where the creature typically makes its home. Shakespeare’s famous skewering of “mob justice” in Julius Caesar portrays it as a mass angry men bent on destruction of anything in their way; seeking Cinna the Senator, they stumble upon Cinna the Poet, and, angry that they have the wrong person, kill him anyway (“Rend him for his bad verse!”). Such portrayals are used to describe acts of communal justice—the “lynch mob” is perhaps the most infamous of these. Hateful to all civilised, educated Middle Class Americans, the lynching gang once occupied a somewhat more ambiguous position in American society; at worst, it represented an understandable excess stemming from the deep-seated need of men to defend their homes and communities—at best, it was as band of heroes doing what John Q. Law could not be trusted to do.
At its heart, though, the sort of tribal justice represented in a Southern lynching gang has far more ancient roots and far more universal application than the modern mythology would have it. Vigilantes and outlaws have a long history of celebration in Western—especially Anglo—society, from the knights errant of the Medieval Lay to the great folk heroes like Robin Hood and his modern counterparts—Rob Roy, Ned Kelly, Jesse James, and Willie Brennan. In all cases, the poor and common folk—the peasants—benefit from the outlaw who feeds them or avenges the wrongs committed against them. In most cases, the outlaw or vigilante does not act alone, but as part of a group: Robin Hood had his “Merry Men”, Jesse never acted without the James Gang, Rob Roy and Clan Gregor were excluded as a whole from the Indemnity Act of 1717. In addition, they are always national, regional, or ethnic heroes. Jesse James, and his fictional counterpart, Josie Wales, are carrying on the battle of their people against an invading ideological enemy—even though their own reasons were mostly personal. Willie Brennan was, admittedly, involved in outlawry for personal gain, but he selected his targets deliberately along ethnic and political lines, becoming, like many other Irish outlaws, a heroic symbol to the Irish people. Rob Roy stands out because he and Clan Gregor were explicitly engaged in a national struggle against the House of Orange.
The folk tradition, which we have discussed before, bears witness to a long history of bands of men who act in defiance of written law for the betterment of the community. In recent years, however, the new political orthodoxy has found new roles for these men—rather than men fulfilling their role to defend their communities, they become peacemakers between peoples at war (cf. Josie Wales) or proto-libertarians/Marxists (depending on your reading of Robin Hood). None of them are upholders of traditional culture in this new mythology—Folk Heroism has given way to “Heroes of the People”. It is through this defence of the underclass that the violence these men inevitably did is justified.
There are men who fulfil the role of folk heroism, however, in a more banal way—men who defend their families or protect social cohesion through violence. This violence did not require outside justification: it did not have any especial status, for it is endemic to any culture that is aware of its boundaries. The lynching gang belonged to this sort of banal social protection: a group of men who came together to protect social cohesion by defining and punishing the outsider who had transgressed a peculiarly sacred taboo (usually sexual in nature). It became prevalent in the United States at the nadir of political cohesion, between 1880 and 1920, where the law was often found unreliable both because of its hostility (in the South) or its absence (in the American West).
As with most customary actions, lynching violence had a ritual, one might even propose a liturgy—it was not random violence, as mob violence is in urban settings. Consider, for instance, the case of Henry Smith, a black alcoholic who had found himself on the business end of a Texas policeman’s baton, and later was the last man seen with the same policeman’s 3-year-old daughter before she was found brutally murdered and sexually abused. The evidence was discovered to be so overwhelming that Smith was apprehended by a lynching gang before the case could go to court. It is important to draw especial attention to the pre-judicial nature of most instances of lynching: in many—perhaps even most—cases, a lynching preceded a jury trial. Only rarely would a trial be held and then a lynching follow (the case of Leo Frank, who was found guilty of the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, but then had his sentence commuted by the Governor of Georgia, presents itself as an example). In an unusual turn of events, the lynching was a public affair, and ended with Smith being burned—after which several spectators ripped bones from the corpse to be keepsakes.
The collecting of bones after such an event is usually emphasised in order to draw attention to the clearly barbaric quality of culture in the American South, but such a reading ignores the clear medieval parallels—odd parallels for so decidedly Protestant a culture as the South. References to such practices appear (again) in Julius Caesar, in which Brutus bids the assassins to dip their hands and arms in the blood shed by Caesar and thereby share in the act of justice, and make the act an undeniably communal undertaking. (A burgeoning postcard industry, also perceived as uniquely grotesque, merely used photography to expand this participation yet further). It also differentiated the acts from mere murder—a legal custom with Norse roots, whereby the charge of murder could not be levelled against a man who declared the killing openly and justified it before the tribe. In addition, just as the bones of saints contained a unique sacredness (the physical body plays a great role in both Medieval and Baroque Catholicism, demonstrated by the bejewelled skeletons of the Catholic Reformation), the bones of criminals and evil-doers bore the transgression, and therefore also the justice that corrected it. In this way, stability of society and cultural order were celebrated in the relics of these shared acts of communal justice.
The notion of “social justice” stands in stark contrast the communal justice preserved by outlaws, vigilantes, and lynch gangs. Social justice seeks equity and balance in society—it follows the venerable tradition established by Thomist appropriation of Aristotle, and has mostly to do with what individuals are owed and what is their right. Arguably this also includes a sense of duty or obligation, but only insofar as this obligation guaranteed the rights of another. This is a theoretical justice rather than an applied justice—meaning that it carries with it certain ideals that manifest differently in different cultural spheres, and missing one or another element of its origin it can change—and, as we shall see, sour.
In healthy communities, social justice tends to be an operation of communal justice—the rights and duties of a free man are interpreted according to the people to whom he belongs—the people who decided if he is truly a free man, a slave, or what the Athenians called a metic, which is a much finer way of speaking than “resident alien”. Equity was sought—and established—within social ranks, and hierarchy denied it among the social ranks. The Prussians expressed this arrangement as Jeder das Seine—“to each, his own”, that a man’s rights were guaranteed according to his rank, and that these rights were both eternal and sacrosanct, inherent not to the individual but to his place in his community. A slave had his own rights, different from those of a citizen, but guaranteed just as a citizen’s were.
“Social justice” in such cases served as a preservation of natural law—that no one could be, cruelly and maliciously, denied their ought, and the duty of the Prince was to guarantee precisely this. However, “Social Justice” spoken in the vernacular has been altered into the means whereby institutions enforce a determined species of social behaviour for the commonweal—in other words, it is the state enforcement of charity and taboo, the kind of enforcement that arises because custom has lost its power. Pope Pius XI pontificated in Divini Redemptoris that “it is of the very essence of social justice to demand from each individual all that is necessary for the common good.” The libertarian alarmist will smell the brimstone of communism lurking behind this expression, but at its heart, there is nothing evil or untrue therein: social justice is justice that is achieved through the preservation of natural law, usually enforced by communal means.
Pius XI, however, was not writing in the days of peasant festivals and serfdom contracts, when palm to palm the holy palmer’s kiss cleansed the tinge of dirt and sin from pilgrim hearts: he was writing at a time when the dark Satanic mills were already becoming an historical memory. The practical application of this very plain statement of natural law, therefore, becomes papal approval for the Leviathan State’s invasion of realms previously under the suzerainty of the commons, largely because the commons has been judged powerless. To be more explicit, here are the Pope’s own words in the same encyclical: “if in the present state of society this is not always feasible, social justice demands that reforms be introduced without delay which will guarantee every adult workingman just such a wage.” Such a wage, in a world in which all men are obliged to be hirelings, becomes what we might today refer to as a “human right”—those things guaranteed to a person by virtue of his human dignity (a favourite phrase of the Roman Church, with renewed meaning since the issuance of Sacra Disciplinae Leges  and Fidei Depositum ).
The Roman Church, of course, does not have a monopoly of social justice doctrine: indeed, the Social Gospel movement probably had far more influence on the contemporary Social Justice movement than the Roman Popes, but the Popes nevertheless belong to a more clearly uninterrupted inheritance of the Western Christian intellectual tradition of natural law from Aquinas forward, meaning their adoption of a Leviathan-based understanding of social justice is of profound significance, and puts the lie to many contemporary claims about the significance of Vatican II in modernizing Rome.
Without fear of contradiction, we may say that the profoundest influence on Social Justice doctrine comes not from Rome, but the Baptist preacher Walter Rauschenbach. Rauschenbach has something of a colourful history that many of his admirers use to life him up as a sage of reason, but his significance to our purposes is the invention of “institutionalized sinfulness” – the notion that institutions and corporate entities share as individuals in the inherited guilt of Original Sin and therefore must be redeemed just as individuals are redeemed through lived purposive action. It was in the wake of the Second World War, with the redefinition of good and evil in the wake of the World Wars, that the sensibilities of the pre-War Social Gospel movement met the lay movements that were deliberately intended to have grown out of Rerum Novarum, Quadragesima Anno, and Divini Redemptoris, and were helped along by the constitutions issued by Vatican II. The result was Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez in the United States and neo-Marxist Liberation Theology in South America.
The Vatican has been very successful in suppressing Liberation Theology in the Hispanic world; what it has not done, however, is eradicated the assumption of institutionalized sinfulness—the idea that institutions need to be purified and redeemed through action (far worse, the idea that institutions can be purified or redeemed by fallen man). This has manifested in the approach taken by Roman Catholics in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals—the result has been for the laity to “walk away from the Church”, that is, to abandon the institution, and the broader movement among the narrative-makers is that the institution must change and must correct itself. Believers insist that “the Church left us”—but clerical abuse is by no means new in the Roman Church. Certainly, pederasty and sodomy have not been historically significant phenomena, but murder, theft, bigamy, and adultery—these were common. They were so common, in fact, that they quite nearly caused a schism between Rome and London during the reign of Henry II and gave England one of her greatest saints, Thomas Becket. There was no mass exodus from the Church, no questioning of the institution of Church or Crown—only questions about the Pope and King Henry themselves.
It is true that part of the reason no schism took place was that there were no real alternatives to the Roman church in England, as there would be when another King Henry entered a conflict with the Papacy, but there was also a distinct difference in the mind of the English. With a healthy and active system of communal justice, whereby offending priests were punished by the community if they were not handled by ecclesiastic authorities, ordinary Englishmen were by and large untouched by the dispute between King and Pope. To them, the Church constituted an eternal body, subject to changing human powers, but, like the monarchy, not to change—and, furthermore, an incorrupt body, which might be helmed by evil and corrupt men, but would never cease to be what it had been instituted to be by God. Institutions of this nature were not just incorrupt, but incorruptible.
Social Justice is utterly dependant on precisely the opposite view—that no institution is incorruptible, and, indeed, institutions are more corrupt than fallen humans. Revolution, then, and not stability, becomes the rule of history—in order that justice might be served, the institution itself must be fundamentally altered. Furthermore, groups and individuals therefore succeed and fail not on the virtue of the cohesion of the group or the competence of the individual, but by virtue of the power of the institutions which are perceived as obstacles. Worse, when individuals are turned against their group because its institutions are perceived as corrupt or destructive, the only means whereby communal justice can direct social justice is lost. Spurious concepts like “racism”, “sexism”, and the plethora of social phobias that have arisen in the last half-century have been institutionalized in the minds of the narrative-makers, manifesting the sinfulness of institutions, and dismantling most of the framework for social justice to function in a communal manner.
This new Social Justice doctrine is defined by the absence of stability—for it must be constantly changing, constantly repenting, constantly altered, with each new manifestation of sinfulness: redemption, for the progressive, is only possible through revolution. With the implosion of systems of communal justice due to the inevitable meddling of the Leviathan State, this new, redefined Social Justice increases social instability, with new fragmenting groups seeking their just due emerging continuously until one arrives at the Current Year. Such phenomena cannot help but accelerate, either: Social Justice will by its very nature continue to spiral into absurdity because it cannot overcome the inherent imperfection of a human institution, and it must end either in absolute tyranny of power or complete social paralysis and collapse.