Is Social Justice Unjust? A Review

Social justice is not about notions of individual liberty and justice but about righting historical wrongs committed against various identity groups.

Rothman is not denying that certain groups have experienced injustice. On the contrary, he argues that certain classes of people have in fact experienced historic oppression and that their plight demands justice. His contention, however, is that so-called “social justice” has devolved into recriminations between identitarian movements on both the right and the left. He criticizes both sides of this conflict as extreme and poisonous to our common culture.

 

I want to post a brief note about Noah Rothman’s new book on social justice titled Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America (Regnery, 2019). I just finished it a couple days ago and found much that is helpful in it. Rothman outlines a brief history of social justice movements and argues that its current incarnation has collapsed into identity politics. In short, social justice is not about notions of individual liberty and justice but about righting historical wrongs committed against various identity groups.

Rothman is not denying that certain groups have experienced injustice. On the contrary, he argues that certain classes of people have in fact experienced historic oppression and that their plight demands justice. His contention, however, is that so-called “social justice” has devolved into recriminations between identitarian movements on both the right and the left. He criticizes both sides of this conflict as extreme and poisonous to our common culture.

Nevertheless, Rothman’s focus in this particular book is the identitarian movement of the left called social justice. Here is Rothman in his own words:

The American tradition of political idealism is imperiled by a growing obsession with the demographic categories of race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—the primary categories that are now supposed to constitute “identity.” As groups defined by these various categories have come to command the comprehensive allegiance of their members, identity alone has become a powerful political program. As it turns out, it is not a program that appeals to the better angels of our nature.

Identity has always been a part of our political culture, but lately the practitioners of identity politics have been less interested in continuity and legitimacy than in revenge. This retribution is antithetical to the conciliatory ideals by which injustices perpetrated in the name of identity were once reconciled. The authors of this vengeance reject the kind of blind, objective justice toward which Western civilization has striven since the Enlightenment. They argue, in fact, that blind justice is not justice at all. Objectivity is a utopian goal, a myth clung to by naïve children. We are all products of our experiences and the conditions into which we were born, whether we like it or not. Those traits set us on a course that is in many ways predestined.

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