Ah, the 64 zillion dollar question: What is justice?
Trying to answer the question by looking at what pundits of the past have said, I found that few have dared to take a deep breath and begin a sentence with, “Justice is…” The Roman jurist Ulpian, in the early 3rd century AD, made a decent attempt: “Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to everyone his due.” In the 19th century, Disraeli said that justice is “truth in action” – an admirable sentiment, but not of much practical use.
There are other definitions of justice. But most, I find, fail to capture what I see as the essence of justice – balancing the rights and interests of the individual against the rights and interests of others. Isn’t balance, indeed, the reason why justice is often pictured as a pair of scales?
My definition of justice, as it happens, is not so far from Ulpian’s. For me, justice is that condition in which each individual is treated, overall, as he or she treats others.
To make this idea into a Principle, I prefer to put it as a should. So my Principle of Common Sense Justice, the first and most fundamental principle for any civilization, is:
Each individual, over the long term and in the round, should be treated as he or she treats others.
Let me put forward reasons why this is a good Principle on which to found a social system. First, it encapsulates the balancing of the individual against others, which to me is the essence of justice.
Second, it gives an incentive for almost everyone – the occasional masochist, perhaps, excepted – to behave well towards others. Common sense justice or, otherwise said, objective justice or individual justice, is a benefit to all who treat others with that same justice.
So, if you don’t do nasty things to other people, you shouldn’t have to suffer nasty things done to you. For example, if you don’t violently attack others, you shouldn’t be violently attacked. If you don’t steal others’ possessions, you shouldn’t have to suffer your possessions being stolen. If you don’t defraud others, you shouldn’t have to suffer fraud. On the other hand, if you do such things... You get the message.
And under common sense justice, if you want to be treated better by others, all you need do is find a way of treating others better, of making yourself more valuable to others.
Third, common sense justice aims to be practical. Plainly, individuals cannot be treated as they treat others in every single action and moment; for that would intrude into every aspect of life. So, common sense justice aims to minimize injustice. It strives to avoid gross or persistent treatment of individuals better or worse than they treat others. And thus, any implementer of common sense justice – whether called government, justice provider or something else – will not take decisions lightly.
Some, though, will disagree with my Principle of Common Sense Justice. They may promote, perhaps, “social justice” or “environmental justice” – whatever those may mean. Or they may believe, probably without admitting it, the old adage that “Might makes right.”
But those who disagree must answer some questions. Just who deserves to be treated persistently better than they treat others, and who worse? Who, if anyone, deserves riches, power or respect that they haven’t earned, and that they haven’t been voluntarily given? And who, if anyone, deserves to be unjustly impoverished, exploited or oppressed?
I hope that you, dear reader, find the same answer to these questions as I do: “No-one.” And I add, that those that disagree with common sense justice, and wish to see some individuals oppressed, cannot complain if they find their own selves as victims of oppression.
Many people will feel eager at the prospect of common sense justice. But some will be terrified by the idea. Such as: brutes that killed innocent civilians in aggressive wars; bureaucrats that enforced burdensome taxes or regulations; lobbyists that promoted, and politicians that made, bad legislation. They know what they are – and they know what they’ve done.
To these, I merely put the question: Who’s afraid of common sense justice?