Groucho Marx said that military justice bore the same relationship to justice that military music bore to music. One might also say that social justice bears the same relationship to justice as social housing bears to housing (or social security to financial security).
Individual justice has always been about equality "before the law". The history of English Law has had much to do with ensuring that - as far as practicable - the law applied equally to all. It may be that the affection in which "equality" is held in Britain has much to do with this history. But there is a big difference between treating individuals equally and trying to equalise relationships between social groups.
Women earn less than men. Tall people earn more than short people. Both statements are true, on average, but unless you understand why, you are in danger of doing profound injustice if you try to rectify the inequality group by group. It is certainly a mistake to assume - as social justice merchants always do - that the group at a disadvantage was put there by the other.
I am tall and I conform to the group stereotype of being a high earner but I don't oppress short people. I don't even laugh at them (much). Equally, I am a man and I have never knowingly oppressed a women (though I have been oppressed by one or two). Attacking the "social" injustice by punishing me as part of an "oppressor" group is to do profound injustice.
So often, that is precisely what governments focussed on "social justice" attempt. Having identified an "oppressed" or "vulnerable" group in need of help, they look for a relatively better-off group to characterise as "the oppressor." Then they penalise that group in order to "equalise" it with the other.
The results of this simple-minded thinking have been catastrophic. Consider the following examples. Would you describe them as just?
- A heterosexual man is murdered on his way home from the pub. A homosexual man is murdered on the same route the next day. Both killers are caught and prosecuted. The second murder is deemed a "hate crime" and so the punishment is more severe. The first is presumably, as Gene Hunt put it, "an I really, really like you crime."
- A nurse offers to pray for a patient and does not press the matter when the patient declines. She is subject to disciplinary action for "failing to show a commitment to equality and diversity." The logic appears to be that she is part of an "oppressor" religious majority from whom "oppressed" religious minorities must be protected.
In the first example, in effect, society values the heterosexual's life less than the homosexual's. Presumably the justification is that the homosexual belonged to an "oppressed group" but no regard is had to whether the dead heterosexual or his grieving family belonged to the "oppressors." Both men are equally dead. As individuals, it seems to me that both were equally important and that both killers were equally bad. It is nothing less than evil to treat the murder of one as "worse" than the murder of another.
In the second example, I am at a loss to understand why what the Christian nurse did was any worse (or to put it sensibly) any less kind, than if a
Muslim nurse offered to pray to Allah for me. If that happened, I would not be offended, I would be touched. In my recent family crisis, friends from all over the world offered to pray to their various Gods for me. Atheist though I am, I was moved. Who in their right minds would not be? They were expressing concern for me and my family and their intent must, in any sane world, count for something.
It seems to me that social justice is a very long way from justice and that "social" is a prefix generally to be regarded with suspicion.