Politics and Justice

Well it is election day. As I eagerly await the election returns, I am passing the time by reading Deus Caritas Est, the first Papal encyclical by the new Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI. I ran across this passage on politics that I thought was kinda cool:

"Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is m ore than a mere mechanism for defining the rules for public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.

Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God - an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself."

When I was a Political Science student at LSU I distinctly remember when one of my professors announced that classical (Greek and Christian) poltical theory was "the search for right order" but that modern political theory (following especially Machiavelli) was simply the search for order. Now that I think of it, I think my professor must have been mistaken. Justice or "rightness" was in fact one of the driving forces behind Marxism and its popularity decades ago among liberal theologians. Even the utilitarian is a utilitarian because he thinks it somehow "best" to be so. So I think the pope is right about this basic observation about Justice being fundamental.

The question of "justice" (an intrensically "religious" question, I might add) that Plato and Socrates addressed so long ago in Republic has never gone away. I doubt that it ever could. I wonder if what my professor meant was that the politicians themselves no longer take this question as seriously as their forebears, giving only lip-service, while really seeing the world in terms of power and utility? I don't know. But I am certain the average voter does indeed care about justice and rightness in politics, as campaign adds and smear campaigns ironically remind us.

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