Social Justice

Posted on September 2, 2022


“Social Justice.” What is it? What does it mean? Modern Woke warriors think they invented it to describe their goals and ideologies.

Alas, like most things in this world, it is not new, nor particularly inventive, clever, or brilliantly conceived by the Woke world. Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Scholars of all stripes have studied that phrase, written by Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, and quite likely the wisest man in the history of man.

You of course will argue. How stupid! There are a million new things in the world. Think computers, nuclear weapons, my cell phone, etc. etc. Indeed, they are new, but what Solomon wrote about were thoughts, the experience of the human being, and ultimately wisdom. If you want to suggest someone else, I would love to hear from you, but I’ll stick with Solomon for the moment who also authored the Book of Proverbs.

However, I would not particularly like to address scholarly or religious issues today, although will do so indirectly,

Social Justice. What is social and what is justice? Social has to do with society in general, all of us, organized in some recognizable fashion, like a nation or a people. Society is a recognizable term.

And when we think of justice, we perhaps think of a judge and jury making a decision on guilt or rendering justice. Justice is making a judgement on the law. Did the person violate the law?

Of course, we can take that throwaway line and run with it. Who made or established that law? Was it just? Was it right? Etc.

So, now let’s put them together, “social justice.”

Did you know that in Western history, let’s limit it to the last five hundred years or so, or from about the discovery of America in 1492 to now, 2022, the term was basically invented and applied, not by some Woke or Radical scholar of the late twentieth century, but by a man in the sixteenth century.

Bartolomé de las Casas (1485-1566) was the man. By social justice he meant justice for the indigenous, the Indians of the Americas. He applied it in a fashion that angered the majority of his generation, mostly Spaniards who led in the Conquest of the Americas. Read on.

Bartolomé de las Casas (1485-1566)

Now for you younger readers, today we don’t call the Conquest the Conquest anymore. We like the “Encounter” so as not to offend the American Indians, now labeled the “indigenous.” “Conquest” implies one culture was stronger, better, more successful than the other. We don’t want to disparage one culture—the American—in favor of another—the European. People may get offended, another attribute of the Woke generation.

Let’s leave the new sensibilities of the “Woke” culture aside for another time and return to “social justice.” We can return to some of your favorites, like endemic white racism, gender, sex, victimization, reparations, and transgenders another time.

In the sixteenth century, the divisions in society, from monarchs to serfs and slaves, in Europe were sharply defined. There were kings and queens at the top, and serfs and a few areas of slaves scattered across Iberian Europe (keep your Wikipedia handy; I’m not offering definitions everywhere) at the bottom, with a the mass of peasants in the middle, mostly engaged in simple agriculture since about ninety percent of late Middle Age society was devoted to working the land.

In between we could discern priests, warriors, and a smattering of what we might loosely define as professionals, such as blacksmiths, carpenters, metal workers and others in the towns and small cities.

In Iberia, a significant percentage of the population were Muslim descendants of African Muslims who had crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 A.D. and overrun Spain, only being stopped from entering France and the rest of Europe at the Battle of Tours in southern France in 732 A.D. By 1000 A.D., these Muslims, called Moors in Spain, had conquered much of Iberia.

Then the Christians began a long war of reconquest that lasted until 1492 when the last Kingdom of the Moors, Granada, fell to the armies of Queen Isabel of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, married in 1469, thus creating a more or less united Spain.

“Social justice” was certainly not part of the local lexicon among this hodgepodge of Christians, Moors, and Jews, also present in Spain for hundreds of years. All three were divided by religion and the stratification of late Middle Age society, from Queen Isabela to the latest Moor submitting to the Christian Reconquest.

Moving between classes was difficult if largely non-existent. Warriors and priests gave men a bit of leverage, but that was about it.

Then came the discovery and conquest of the Americas, called the Indies by Christopher Columbus because he thought he had found his way to India. He was off by ten or twenty thousand miles or so, but this was the age of celestial navigation, sextants, and good guessing. He came upon islands in the Bahamas instead, calling the first San Salvador, or Holy Savior.

And, as he navigated around that part of the Caribbean islands, he came upon another large island which he named Española. It was inhabited by Tainos. He grabbed a few and took them back to Spain and a new era in Western Civilization was launched: the discovery, conquest and settlement of the American islands and mainlands by Spaniards in voyages of exploration and conquest that followed Columbus.

That’s a synopsis of a part of our history that leads us to “social justice.” Columbus and other Spaniards ruthlessly seized Tainos to work for them on the island mining for gold and serving the Spaniards as newly conquered peoples. In doing so they ravished the people and the islands, and one of the eyewitnesses to this brutality and greed was a young Spaniard from Seville, Bartolomé de las Casas, mentioned above.

He first went to Española, which was anglicized years later by English adventures and explorers to “Hispaniola,” in 1502 at the age of seventeen. He was among the settlers, but already moving through stages of becoming a priest. Equally important, or in fact, immensely important for the history of man, he saw what was happening to the Tainos of Española, measured it against Scripture, and revolted against the ongoing conquest/encounter/invasion. It was a monstrous evil against Christian teaching and Christian principles.

He became among the first to tell it like it was, a sin to be rebuked. And he did, and he also called it a horrible “social injustice” to treat the Tainos this way.

The story is long and has been told by many in the Hispanic world, and those reading and writing about the Hispanic world over the centuries. It involves the nature of liberty, freedom, and the right to govern oneself according to one’s own principles among many areas of what we would call today political science, philosophy, law, religion, and the very nature of government and civilization itself. Who is right and who is wrong?

We haven’t invented “social justice.” We have rediscovered that it is one of the most powerful descriptors of what is right and wrong in our world, and it comes from Scripture, not modern students of politics, society, gender, race, or any other category that divides rather than unifies us.

Published in Substack, Friday Sept. 2, 2002.

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