Social justice requires a morally formed society

Social justices doesn’t require socialism, but a rather a society formed morally and with a proper balance between political and moral ties.

“What social justice requires is a society that is formed morally, with a sense of their own dignity and the dignity of other people,” said Rev. Robert Sirico, founder and president of the Acton Institute at a recent Civitas Institute reception. “What we need is a bond that has a communal sense of responsibility that is not a collectivists mandate.”

Rev. Robert Sirico

History shows that the more you increase political involvement in society the more you weaken its moral ties.

“The system that produces the maximum amount of economic prosperity is the system of free trade, a system rooted in law and that is prefaced on a certain ethical or religious understanding of the human person,” Sirico said.

Sirico said the great myth of wealth is to view it is a pie, where a few people have big pieces but most have only little slivers. The popular solution for a more just distribution of the wealth is to take from the rich and give to the poor.

“But what if the pie is not static,” Sirico asks. “What if it is dynamic?”

“The solution is to grow the pie,” he said. “If you grow the pie, people who have little slivers end up having bigger pieces.” In proportion to those who started with big pieces they may have less, but the point is that they have enough.

All the major economic studies done in the last 40 years show that in almost every place in the world the economic standard of living has risen, he said.

“I don’t care that Warren Buffet doesn’t have quite as much as Bill Gates,” Sirico said. “I don’t care about the ceiling either. I don’t care if people earn a whole lot of money … as long as all that money is produced justly, without the use of force.” Depending on how they relate to money, it may be dangerous to their soul, but that’s a different question, he said.

“What I care about is the floor. I care how the poorest can live.” Social justice or morality is not so much about the gap between the rich and poor, or the ceiling, as it is about the floor, he said.

The recipe for growing the pie is first to understand that American prosperity is built on the Judeo-Christian ideas of the inalienable dignity of every human person, the importance of the rule of law and the concept of rights coupled with responsibilities.

“The only secure concept of rights versus privileges is to have the belief that rights come by the nature of who we are as human beings,” Sirico said. “A government can recognize our rights. A government can obfuscate our rights, but a government cannot give us our rights. If a government can give, a government can take away.”

The right to own property, rather than being a form of theft, is actually the means by which all rights can be protected.

“Private property is not the right to own a material object in itself, as much as it is the right to possess what you produce by the action of your mind and the action of your life,” Sirico said, “mixing your labor with the physical world so as to create that which had not been created before.”

The notion that a social obligation is something government needs to enforce is an example of the increase of political ties weakening society’s morale ties.

“The most important things we know of, that we are obligated to as human beings are things that cannot be mandated by any legislature, by any set of politicians or enforced by any bureaucracy,” he said.

Sirico said that civilization is based on the common agreement on shared morés, norms and values which constrain behavior in ways government cannot. These conventions and traditions are enforced by what sociologist call authority, a form of constraint interior to the person. The woman who loves her child, or the man who used to take his hat off when he entered a room was abiding by authority, not by some piece of legislation.

With the weakening of conventions, tradition and a legitimate sense of authority, we increasingly turn to government to enforce such things, Sirico observed. Government uses power, an exterior force, to enforce standards that “political prophets” think are the most important and thus strip people of their moral sense.

The basis of a morally formed society is a sense of natural dignity recognized by all, regardless of race, nationality, social status or income. “Each and every one of us shares a certain solidarity because we recognize each person in ourselves,” Sirico said.

“What ends up happening when we presume the government to be the main enforcer is that we erode all these virtues and all these assumptions and we create not fraternity but cacophony,” he said. “We see the breakdown of the moral pattern of society.


Father Siricio also spoke at  St. Thomas Moore Academy, a private Catholic high school in Raleigh. Here is the video.

Father Sirico at STMA from Randy Luddy on Vimeo.


  1. Great article, too many typos and grammatical errors. For example, “the man you used to take off his hat” should be “the man WHO used to take off his hat” and “the point is that have enough” should probably be “the point is THEY have enough.” I’d love to share this with friends, but this will be the first thing they slam on and will, sadly, lose sight of the actual message here.

    1. I have corrected the grammatical errors you pointed out, and others. I am glad you like the article and hope you can now share it with others. They can slam me for my sloppy editing.

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