What Makes A Just Society? Throughout history, people have been trying to create an improved, fair, and equal system of justice, not only to better society in which one lives, but to also find a sense of meaning in what responsibilities people should hold within their civilizations in order to create this just way of living. As early as the Old Testament within the Bible, we see examples of how the Hebrews formed their own justice. This can be seen in the in text of the Ten Commandments which were written in a form of law.
Laws were significant even in this basic form of context, such as the Ten Commandments, which offered the ideas of right and wrongdoings and the sin for violating others for one’s own benefit. This not only harmed the person but harmed the civilization as a whole where respect was considered essential during this time among each other (honor thy neighbor). Overall, the law of the Ten Commandments was considered essential to forming a better and fair society within the Hebrew system of justice.
The systems of justice do not stop here.
The Greeks and Romans were known for developing a justice system which laid out rules, laws, and rights for the people to follow, and even created a justice of a trial with jury in order to make sure trials were fair for the accused criminals who did not follow the justice system. Today, we take pieces of what we have learned from centuries ago to create our own form of justice in order to maintain a better society. We use this previous basic knowledge in order to shape and help uphold our own foundation towards protecting the good of our society.
But what would I consider to be my own vision of how to make a better and more just society in today’s world using the knowledge that I already have? What would I do if given the opportunity to change society for the better? I know that citizens are not powerless, that we all the opportunity to try and make changes for the common good. We cannot create a future if we choose to remain silent and let others govern decisions for us. It is important that we choose to educate ourselves on social justice issues and act on these issues even if it is one small piece at a time.
What I believe ends up making an unjust society, is our lack of knowledge. But, what happens if we do not know where to even begin in helping to change society? We first must understand the basic definition of the term “society” and “justice” in order to begin to make these simple changes ourselves. A society, defined from Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a humanly created organization that connects individuals in a common culture and social structure and those people are expected to abide by the same laws.
Here, culture therefore is defined as “the knowledge, language, values, customs, and material objects that are passed from person to person and from one generation to the next in a human group or society” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). Culture can also include sanctions, values, beliefs, and material objects. Social structure, which also makes up a society, is a set of social practices such as one’s status and the roles a person plays within a social group. Moving on from society, we enter into the term “justice” in which society and justice tend to go hand in hand.
Justice can be described as, “The quality of being just and fair, the principle of moral rightness and equity, and finally, the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). Therefore, combining both social structure and justice we come up with the term social justice which finally can be described as the fair and proper administration of laws which conform to the natural law that all people, no matter one’s origin, gender, race, or religion, are to be treated equally and without prejudice.
From what I have learned from the defined term of justice and society, I question whether a just and utopian society is even possible? For so long, justice has been a dream for many people going back centuries ago as mentioned on page one. The idea then of a just society I contend, comes down to people living under a fair and common law, order, political system, social organization, as well as everyone having personal and political freedom. Many people, besides myself, have also contemplated this question, whether a utopian society could exist, and have put forth their own theories.
Karl Marx and John Rawls are two thinkers that questioned what the theory of justice. Marx believed that history was always moving forward towards a utopian ending. Marx disliked injustice and declared this in his Communist Manifesto in 1846. His theory is centered on the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they develop and then became an obstacle for the development of human productive power and reality is governed by economic needs. This belief means that the present organization of society must be destroyed.
To establish this new society, people must be organized and take up the struggle against the capitalists who take advantage of them. This struggle, according to Marx, will end in victory for the workers. However, Marx was unable to discover what laws and principles that would produce the just society in which he strived for. John Rawls was the second most important political thinker of his time. His main contribution to the idea of a civil society is his theory of justice.
Rawls believed in “social primary goods” which included rights, powers, income, wealth, and the bases for self respect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favored (Richardson). According to John Rawls theory, the two principles of justice which would be agreed to include first each individual should have an equal right to as much liberty and second any social or economic inequalities which occur between individuals should be designed to benefit every individual.
In order to ensure the values of a constitutional democracy, a constitutional consensus must be achieved through equal rights and a willingness to compromise. Using the guidance of Marx and Rawls, I believe that social organization is an essential piece to creating a better and more just society. The essential arrangement that makes up a society includes the social positions and distribution of people within the given positions. Appropriate rules and laws need to be set in place and defined within a particular society.
These laws are set in order to protect individuals and to protect society as well as helping to improve the society and the lives of citizens are something that is a foundation of any just society. Law also allows people the ability to predict what will happen. However, law is not necessarily just. The key to law and order is that it provides just enough predictability for people to survive. Dictatorships usually provide order and law. After coming to believe they will survive, people then seek justice.
Since much of a sense of justice comes from what people learned as children, traditional societies can often offer justice, even if they are not in any way democratic. Similarly, modern dictatorships sometimes offer justice in a few areas. The disadvantage of traditional dictatorship is that it can be inflexible. An advantage of democracy is that people in it can eject a government without civil war. A new government can change the laws and provide more justice. I believe the root to any just society is the concept of a democracy.
Common order can be maintained, officials are elected, and what is expected of citizens is clearly defined. The role of government or the general goal of a government is that it should act in such as way to maximize the well-being of society. What does follow in a democracy is status of position since authoritative power is distributed over a majority of people. The problem that often can be encountered with status of position is the need of power. Although power in an organization is useful and can produce positive results, power combined with abuse is when problems begin to arise.
Many people in power have used this opportunity to abuse their positions with manipulative strategies. Economic exploitation is a primary injustice that can be caused by abuse of power. When a few people enhance their own lives by taking the share of the wealth produced by the work of the majority, society is divided into opposing interests and the result is conflict. Extreme poverty exists in an economy which is capable of producing great wealth. Upper classes and the governments they control in countries throughout the world have used fraud and force to suppress the goals of the working populations.
Rulers of different countries fight each other for valuable resources such as oil, and for control of markets and trade, but it is the poor countries that do the actual fighting. It is the working people who are caught in the middle of wars and suffer the most and gain the least. We see this abuse of power especially in “I, RIgoberta Menchu”. Rigoberta tells her story about her cultures discrimination and the suffering families went through living on the Ladinos. She is fighting for, “the recognition of her culture, for acceptance of the fact that it is different and for her people’s rightful share of power” (Burgos-Debray xiii).
However, Rigoberta decided to become a leader for the good of her community, her people, and for Guatemala. She realized at the beginning that she wanted to make a change inside of people not just from the outside by changing the hierarchy. She believed that the people were the only one’s that could be capable of being able to transform society. Although people contribute in different ways, it is the ending result that is the same. If power is abused in a society that we want to find just for all, then what values do we as citizens hold for our society?
Our culture has been enriched by the values and belief systems of virtually every part of the world. Individual freedom is the first value that comes to mind when thinking about what is significant in a just society. Individual freedom permeates every aspect of our society. The concept of individual’s having control over his or her own destiny influenced the type of government that was established and individual rights are guaranteed in the United States Constitution. While our economic system may be dominated by large corporations, the majority of American businesses are small, and many are owned by an individual or a family.
Values that I also view as important include privacy and equality of opportunity for all. Not only does culture and values make up components of human interaction in our society, but so do norms. Norms are the behaviors or rules for social interaction and they often originate from values. Norms help a society know what behaviors are and are not appropriate. Often these rules are in the form of laws or customs. In the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Achebe, values, norms, traditions, and rituals are especially important within Okonkow’s tribe and were followed very closely. This was soon changed when Colonialism began to take place.
Essential features of the Ibo tribe began to diminish no matter how hard Okonkow fought to keep his culture alive. In this novel, I am able to see the power and influence people have over others and the belief that one’s other values, culture, and traditions suddenly become less important. We tend to weaken others in order to better our own life or way of living. Okwonko did not want his society or culture to be destroyed and so he defended it to the very end. This novel was considered tragic because in the end he finally relented to the new way of living by going against his customs and committing suicide.
In the end, rules and social interactions were changed in order to fit the new society that was being built as the British moved closer to their goal of colonialism. The old way of living soon fell apart. It is difficult to think of ways that could help change a society for the better. We all have dreams of changing a person’s attitude and behavior (towards different races and beliefs) but this is so much easier said than done. If a change needs to be done it is clear that behavior change needs to be one of the first steps, however, there needs to be more than just this.
We need to take a closer look at how our government is run (how different levels of power and control are distributed), how the role of educating others about society we want to live in takes place, what types of laws and common rules should be defined as that make a society successful, and the strength personal and political freedom can give a growing and just society. I personally believe that everyone needs to have the right to freedom, liberty, and happiness. It is how we finally get there that makes a difference in people’s lives and helps create that utopian society that we have been striving for today and within the past centuries.
Works Cited The Just Society: www. thejustsociety. org Copyright © 2004 – 2008 Knowledge Based Solutions Merriam Websters Online Dictionary: http://www. merriam-webster. com/ Copyright 2009Merriam websteer incorp. The History Guide: Karl Marx 1818-1883 http://www. historyguide. org/intellect/marx. html copyright © 2000 Steven Kreis Last Revised –2008 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: John Rawls by Henry S. Richardson http://www. iep. utm. edu/r/rawls. htm Copyright 2005
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