Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

In Plato’s Republic , Socrates’ conversation with his friends over the nature of justice takes a startling turn when Thrasymachus drops a bombshell. It is more profitable, he argues, for people to be unjust than just, if they can manage to get away with it without incurring a bad reputation. Of course, no society could function on this principle for very long, as individuals would seek to exempt themselves from the rule of law and to gain at others’ expense. Criminal activity is universally condemned as an obvious violation of justice. Here justice is evidently set against injustice of the worst kind.

However, most political issues do not have such a simple dichotomy between justice and injustice. In the real world, conflict is likely to lie not between just and unjust, but between different visions of justice. Partisans everywhere often have difficulty understanding this.

A good example of this is the debate over the closed union shop, an issue that goes back to the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 which legalized collective bargaining in the workplace. Those of a more conservative mindset argue for so-called right to work laws, which would free prospective employees from the obligation to join a union if they prefer not to do so. After all, the Constitution guarantees freedom of association, which the closed union shop appears to violate unjustly.

On the other hand, those of a more liberal bent argue that the closed union shop is necessary to enhance the power of potentially disadvantaged workers against management, who would otherwise unilaterally dictate the terms of their employment. Justice in the workplace requires worker solidarity, which the union guarantees. Requiring employees to join and pay dues to the union is thus very much in accordance with justice.

So where does justice actually lie in such pursuits?  Read my entire article here  to find out.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles