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Volume 15  Number 2  •  Fall 2010
Other Issues:  

Social Justice: Cultural Origins of a Perspective and a Theory
By Carl L. Bankston III
This article appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of The Independent Review

The idea of “social justice” stems from cultural perspectives shaped by two developments of the late twentieth century: the rise of mass consumption and the heritage of the civil rights movement. The former fueled a growing preoccupation with wealth distribution, and the latter provided an energizing myth that animated the redistributive ethic.


The term social justice comes up frequently in circles concerned with political and economic policy. Although it is often ill defined, it generally rests on two overriding principles. First, social justice is viewed primarily as a matter of redistributing goods and resources to improve the situations of the disadvantaged. Second, this redistribution is not presented as a matter of compassion or national interest, but as a matter of the rights of the relatively disadvantaged to make claims on the rest of the society. In common usage, the term is rarely taken as expressing a debatable position, but as a statement of a fundamental axiom of value in political and economic life....

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