Too Much Justice?

"Too Much Justice?," interview in The Utopian, 30 March 2010.


Does justice consist in just institutions?

Nowadays, we tend to think of it that way. For us, justice consists,  for example, in the separation of powers or an independent judiciary  because they keep our liberty secure and our policies moderate. And we  think that justice also consists in just policies — for example, in the  redistribution of income to make us more equal.

But, following Aristotle, I would raise a question about justice as a  virtue. Justice as a virtue is different because even if there are just  institutions, there might not be a just result. Just institutions have  to do with process, or due process, and sometimes that process doesn’t  work out justly — such as when a criminal escapes punishment through a  technicality in the law or the legal process. That’s the kind of thing  conservatives complain about.

Or consider just policies. You could have a redistribution of income  to make it perfect from the standpoint of just policy, but you might  still not have justice as a virtue because the poor take out of envy and  the rich give with resentment. Neither of them feel just, or are just.

Aristotle says that justice requires not only a just action but also a  just motive. A just action isn’t just doing something. It is thinking  the right way. If you have a country that has a just distribution of  income but in which nobody is just — where everybody has these contrary  passions which really in themselves are unjust — then you wouldn’t  have justice. So that’s one thing I would say about justice today.

The Utopian