Note: This is just a short primer about the concept of justice. The argument contained in here is a good justification for many liberal policies, especially welfare, affirmative action, and the progressive income tax in a moral sense. I hope you can enjoy the essay and use the arguments when you are attacked for your beliefs.
By definition, the concept of justice is an absolute to human beings. Young children realize that it is justice to give half our sandwich to the student who forgot one. Equally, they realize that the bully on the playground, stealing the weaker kids' lunch money, is unjust. Though younger children may not be familiar with the word justice, they know, a priori, the concept of justice. This playground justice shows just how much of an absolute justice is; human beings can innately tell what is just and what is unjust, even when they have never been taught the concept of justice explicitly. Playground justice also shows exactly what absolute justice is. Justice is the concept that human beings share common life experiences and are thus indebted to help those who cannot help themselves.
Justice Brings Opportunity
Justice as whole is meant to bring opportunity to those who have none, to those who have lived life in a constant, near inescapable cycle of poverty and injustice. To argue that wealth disparity is disconnected from justice is irresponsible; human beings as a whole understand the injustice that occurs when few have much and much have few. To phrase it differently, people understand absolutely that it is unjust for half of the world population to control one percent of the wealth when one percent of the world population controls over forty percent of the wealth. Though the realists and the followers of realpolitik may claim that there is nothing that can be done in these situations and thus there is no use caring, they still understand the lack of justice in said situations. As John Rawls writes in Political Liberalism, "Justice as fairness ... takes as its fundamental idea that of society as a fair system of cooperation over time, from one generation to the next."
Justice Brings Equality
But justice is not just the knowledge that humans must help others. Justice also hinges on the desire to bring equality to the world, not through equal treatment, but through what could be seen as deliberately unequal treatment. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, asserts, "From ancient times to our own period of history, justice has symbolized truth, fairness, equality. Recognition of individual talent is a fundamental element of justice, and unless those who possess the talent are willing to demonstrate its value and fight for its recognition, the justice of a society will remain stagnant." In the undertaking to bring equality into the world, humans must work in deliberately unequal ways. Thus, people who demonstrate a certain talent should be allowed to exercise that talent, even though others may not be able to.
Equality does not hurt
Similarly, those who have been dealt a poor hand in life are given extra assistance in making that hand equal to that of the person who has been dealt a royal flush. And likewise, even if we know that is impossible, we work toward that goal anyway. "No society can, of course," Rawls writes in A Theory of Justice, "be a scheme of cooperation when men enter voluntarily in a literal sense; each person finds himself placed at birth in some particular position in some particular society, and the nature of this position materially affects his life prospects."
That does not mean, however, that we should bring the upper-class down to make them equal to the lower-class; this mistake has been made countless times by such notorious villains as Lenin, Mao, and Stalin. This, however, is not just in anyway. It is a complete corruption of the concept of justice as commonly understood. It is, in a sense, taking the easy way out in the path to justice.
Equality Requires Liberty
As such, this brings one to the next characteristic of justice: justice requires equal freedoms for all peoples in a just society. Going along with Rawls's "justice as fairness," this means that legislators should in no way restrict any person's freedoms. Going back to the example of playground justice, we realize that the bully's actions are unjust not only because they rob the weaker kids of their lunch money, but also because they intrude the fundamental freedoms that we have as people, one of which is the freedom from fear. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt so aptly put it, "[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
When Liberty Stops
Furthermore, this intimidation directly infringes upon the freedom of people to make choices and to have equal opportunity. The weaker child is forced to give his money to the bully and, because of this, does not have an equal opportunity in life to buy his lunch. As a metaphor for life, this illustrates the injustice that occurs when the strong subjugate the weak into doing their bidding; we know this to be unjust, but feel it impossible to speak out against.
Fortunately, this is where the law system comes into play. The law system has constant ties to justice: the Department of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, and the Justice system, to name a few. The system was set up for one reason alone, and that is to pursue justice. But true justice cannot be achieved without equality under the law. Equality under the law is necessary to prevent the upper classes from abusing their powers as rulers in order to make laws to their favor. An example of this can be seen in the early law codes of Hammurabi. These law codes made exceptions and weaker punishments for those higher up on the social ladder. In the heart and soul of a person, we know this is not justice. People throughout history have known this is not justice. Revolutions have taken over a country for less egregious faults by the nobility.
Justice Trumps Liberty
However, there is an unfortunate conundrum between these two points; from time to time, freedom must be given up for equality. Hence, it is not justice to judge someone based on his or her race, even though it is well within freedom to do so. As Andrew Koppelman writes in Anti-Discrimination Law and Social Equality, "The two propositions are, of course, contradictory, and ever since the Civil War antidiscrimination law has attempted to devise some accommodation between them." In relation to Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark court case legalizing segregation, Koppelman writes, "This distinction between social and political equality, and the exclusion of the former from antidiscrimination concerns, was taken for granted by the sole dissenter as well." In fact, Koppelman writes, "The movement for social equality was accelerated by the Civil Right Act of 1964, which involved massive governmental intrusion into private economic choice." Though unfortunate, the move for greater social equality, and therefore higher degrees of social justice, had to be forced on people, restricting some freedoms, but creating more in the long run. Through this, one can see that freedom, though an important part of the concept of justice, occasionally runs contrary to justice, and in those cases must be limited to ensure greater justice, and greater freedoms in the long run.
Working Towards Justice
For justice to truly exist, people must feel that they are not only a part of society, but that they are of use to that society. To do so, apathy must be eliminated by showing all in a society that they are cared for and are not ignored. For this to occur, a society must allow all people to have the same opportunities in life. Every time someone is denied an opportunity in life simply because of their economic situation, their race, or their religion, that is one more person that feels left out of society, that will refuse to play their part in helping others. This moves people apart from one another, creating not a community, but merely a group of people living together, a group that does not interact, that only recognizes their differences, and not the connections and experiences they share as a part of he human race.