Why “No Justice, No Peace” Is an Unjust Slogan
T. David Gordon
T. David Gordon is a professor of Greek, Biblical, and Religious Studies at Grove City College at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Amid much of the cacophony that we call 2020, we often heard our fellow citizens chanting “No Justice, No Peace,” a statement that is either naïve or wicked. Those who chant it either naïvely imagine that there is a universal consensus about what constitutes justice, or that justice permits them to impose their concept of justice via violence, neither of which is true. Permit me to explain this.
Notre Dame’s Alasdair MacIntyre is possibly the most widely read ethicist alive today. His After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981) and Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry (1990) bracket his second major study, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). The common thread in each of his major works is that conceptions of justice are embedded within social and intellectual traditions, traditions of discourse that both reflect and shape the conversations about justice itself. If we are to discuss justice, we must acknowledge that our conceptions of rationality, and therefore our conceptions of justice, proceed from very different conceptions of rationality, discourse, and justice itself. MacIntyre does not believe the task of moral discourse is impossible, but he does believe that the task must acknowledge differing conceptions of rationality (what is reasonable) and discourse (how to reason with others) themselves. According to MacIntyre, “justice” means a different thing for Aristotle than it does for Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, or Hume (not to mention Marx). Each believes in pursuing “justice,” but they have differing conceptions of what they are pursuing. All hunters pursue game, but not all hunters pursue the same game; one hunter pursues deer, another pursues grouse or squirrels. Further, they not only pursue different game, they employ different means in their pursuit: a rifle, an arrow, a shotgun.
Many or most “social justice” advocates today pursue “justice” in its Marxist and redistributive sense, and they have every right to articulate their views in a free society. They are profoundly naïve, however, if they suppose that Marx’s redistributive understanding of “justice” is the only one that exists, and they are self-congratulatory if they merely assume without argument that it is the best conception. As bad as Marx’s idea of justice is, and as harmful as it has been wherever it has been consistently pursued, even worse than its goal is its means. It openly advocates for violence. Marx not only believed that violence (i.e. killing fellow humans and or destroying their property) is permissible in the pursuit of justice, he argued that it was necessary. It is not surprising, therefore, that his followers chant “No Justice, No Peace,” because they are merely following their source, who promoted the violent overthrow of existing social structures. Note, then, that for Marx and his followers, it is “just” to kill people who disagree with their conception of justice. Their concept of justice includes and embraces killing those whose conception of justice differs from theirs: “No Justice, No Peace.” While they benefit from a free society that permits them to promote their view, they are enemies of a free society because they openly state their intention to employ violence against others in that same free society: “No Justice, No Peace.” If we cannot articulate our views without threats to our own person or property, we are not free people.
Within Alasdair MacIntyre’s conception, it would be possible for an Aristotelian, an Augustinian, a Thomist, or a Humean to have peaceful conversations about their respective conceptions of human justice, but Marxism can have no peaceful discourse with anyone who is not Marxist. There can be no peaceful conversation about human justice if one of its parties advocates for violence toward the other participants in the conversations. This is what distinguished Dr. King from Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and others; Dr. King believed justice could not be achieved by means of violence, whereas others believed justice could not be achieved without violence. The issue we face today is not, therefore, that some people pursue justice and others do not; the issue is the role of violence in pursing justice. I agree with Dr. King. Because I believe in human fallibility — especially my own — I do not believe I may justly pursue my conception of justice by killing other humans or by destroying their property. What “justice” could possibly warrant killing other humans or destroying their property in its pursuit?
Social “justice” warriors — including Black Lives Matter — embrace a conception of justice that necessarily includes (and therefore promotes) violence. Their riots are the natural outcome of their “peaceful protests,” because each is informed by a Marxist conception of justice. The MAGA riot, by contrast, was not at all a natural outcome of Mr. Trump’s policies; the vast majority of those who concurred with his policies and voted for him in both elections have condemned the riot categorically, though few have done so as eloquently as Sen. McConnell. Many who advocated for Mr. Trump’s impeachment were shocked by the Capitol riot, but expressed no shock about the many Black Lives Matter riots of the previous months, many of which also damaged government buildings. They evidently expected Marxists to be violent, and were surprised when capitalists were violent. And they were right; violence is the necessary tool to achieve Marxist goals, but violence is contrary to the genuinely “free” market of capitalism.
Decent people have given the slogan “No Justice, No Peace” a free pass for entirely too long. It is destructive of true freedom and human flourishing to threaten with violence (“No Peace”) those with whom one disagrees. I do not advocate any harm to the persons or property of those who say “No Justice, No Peace.” I do call upon decent and peaceful people to abhor the slogan, and to be wary of those who employ it. *