A great deal of Western decay is due to the watering down of virtue. And no small part of that debacle is attributable to the debasement of the idea of justice, mainly through the enshrinement of "social" at the cost of the real thing. The core of the problem is that there is no such thing as social justice proper. It is a spook; a conveniently pasteurized, packaged, and marketed product devoid of any nutritional value. And, as any other junk food, it is responsible for spiritual anemia for the individual and decadence for society.
In order to properly dissect this we will begin by stating an incontrovertible fact: every human being has an ethical dimension. Whether it is consciously or circumstantially developed, or whether it is outright copy pasted or a scrapbook of innate plus organic additions, the individual is always embedded in a framework of continuous moral judgments, i.e. what is good, evil, right, wrong, virtuous, vicious, etc. permeates the existence of every human being, whether alone, at work, in the street, or in family. Ethics as a field of study is precisely a response to that: it attempts to resolve questions of morality by conceptualizing and ordering the morass existing within and between minds. And, although plenty of effort has been put to to characterize this human feature as a social creation, it has undeniable biological roots --as shown by studies with 3-months old human babies, among others experiments.
Ethics proper deals with two things: (x) goodness, and (y) right action.
Goodness is dealt either as what the components of a good life are (x1), or what things are good in themselves (x2). While x1 assumes that we all seek a good life, and therefore the components of a good life equal the ends we ought to pursue, the second one, x2, makes no assumption about human nature because whatever is good in itself is, by definition, worth choosing and pursuing. Within x1 there are two theories, both originating from the word eudaimonia, or flourishing. One theory is Epicurean hedonism (Hx1), which defines feeling good or pleasure as the essence of human well-being, while the other theory is Stoic perfectionism (P x1), which defines excelling at things worth doing as the essence of well-being. They are not mutually exclusive, though, as Hx1 recognizes the pleasure arising from excelling at things worth doing while Px1 acknowledges pleasure as an expression of its tenets. Hedonism, which is a type of monism, can also be split between agent-relative (E/Hx1), or egoistic hedonism, which views one’s own experiences of pleasure as intrinsically good, and, agent-neutral (U/Hx1), or universal hedonism, which views anyone’s experiences of pleasure as intrinsically good. As for x2, intrinsic value, the theory makes no commitments with the reality or unreality of goodness or about its transcendence, and simply lists what could be good in itself, e.g. life, happiness, pleasure, knowledge, virtue, friendship, beauty, harmony, etc. The dichotomy within this theory, though, consists of monism (Mx2), which affirms that the list of intrinsically good things has something which unites them (Plato dixit), and pluralism (Px2), which basically denies the unity.
As for right action (y), it is concerned with the principles of right and wrong defining the duties of individuals living in society, and is divided into the systematic exposition of the moral code that defines our duties (y1) and its justification (y2). However, the success of y2 depends on the soundness of the principles of y1 so its strength is dependent on y2. There are two systems for y1, basically, and they are the axiomatic system (Ay1), which is a mathematical expression, though for the past two centuries the alternative of a (Ty1) technical system has taken over. Within the axiomatic system’s validity, therefore, we have intuitionism (Ay1/I), which relies on the validity of the principles based the conviction that they are self-evident, and sovereignty (Ay1/S), which relies on the power or sovereignty of the will expressed through the principles. Within Ay1/S there are three variants, i.e. divine command theory (Ay1/Sα), for which the authority derives from God’s supremacy, formalism (Ay1/Sβ) or Kantian ethics, where the authority derives from reason since the moral principle behind the action satisfies the formal criteria of a universal law and such formal criteria defines pure reason, and contractarianism (Ay1/Sγ), where the authority derives from the fairness of the procedures by which a hypothetical assembly of free individuals agree on the ideal terms of social cooperation. Opposite to axiomatic validation is the technical system (Ty1), in which the two theories are teleological (Ty1/T) and deontological (Ty1/D). The teleological position determines the validity based on the assumption that individuals are goal oriented, so, what justifies the principles of right action is that the ends pursued are the right ones and that the actions are the best ones, so we can say that right action depends on goodness. The most common end is happiness, and is divided between egoistic hedonism, which mirrors the notion used in goodness as (E/Hx1) and basically affirms that the right action to attain happiness is to promote one’s own, a.k.a. rational self-love. Then there's universal hedonism, which mirrors (U/Hx1) and affirms that the right action is to promote the happiness of humanity, a.k.a. rational benevolence. On the other side of the spectrum is the deontological position, for which, unlike the teleological one, right action is independent from goodness, so the morality depends on an action sticking to rules.
Confused? Don't be. Here's a chart for your viewing pleasure.
This means, practically, that humans, in their search for harmony between what they think, feel, say and do, are always striving to attain meaning, consciously and unconsciously, in a more or less consistent ethical "chain". That is the reason why a person, unless we're speaking about a sociopath, experiences discomfort when thoughts do not align with actions, or when the "little voice inside"contradicts what the mouth is saying. But, what does this have anything to do with social justice? --you may ask. The answer is: Everything. Whether you like it or not, the West is cemented on values, laws, social conventions, and religious beliefs that reflect an ethical view about what is intrinsically good and that, deontologically, reflect a conviction that the right action is praiseworthy independently from the result. When analyzed in this way, the morality of the West can be seen as drawing a natural line from Christian attitudes of hard work, decorousness, and thrift leading to illumination (or salvation) into Enlightenment attitudes of progress and reason embodied by the methodical study of the world for the achievement of knowledge and human betterment.
From Plato's Republic to Cicero, and from Augustine of Hippo to Aquinas, countless individuals dedicated their entire lives to observe, think, ask, and theorize about what were the basic virtues required for a virtuous life, as part of the search for what is good in itself or what constitutes right action. The holy grail has been since time immemorial to define virtues that would stand by themselves as intrinsically good, desirable to be acquired in order for a person to lead a worthy life. These are values that, whether implicit or explicit, cascaded down Western culture throughout thousands of years and it is a defensible position to assert that they have made the West what it is today. So, what are the cardinal virtues underlying this great Western edifice that we refer to?
My skill set is lacking in Greek so here we go, in Latin and in a nutshell: prudentia (prudence) is the ability to discern appropriate actions and it is also described as wisdom; fortitudo (courage) is the ability to confront (and endure despite) fear and uncertainty; temperantia (temperance) is self-control vis-à-vis the worldly appetites; and iustitia (justice) is said to be the most important virtue but also the hardest to pin down. Some call it fairness, others righteousness. It is not reckless to say, though, that it was articulated properly until sixth century before Christ, in codified Roman law, as the constant and perpetual will to render to each his due.
The first take from the definition of justice is that it is about rules. There are no two ways about it. When something is constant and perpetual then it is not chaos, and for chaos to be absent then there are observable, identifiable, and repeatable rules that constitute the skeleton of such order, the opposite of uncertainty, caprice, whim or arbitrariness. Then there is the element of will, which means that an intentionality exists and that such intentionality emanates from an agent with the power to change a state of affairs into an unjust one, hence giving rise to the need for justice. The definition then continues by cementing the idea that this particular virtue is focused on and pertaining to the individual (each), hence it deals with a particular individual's goals --which, by definition, may conflict with another's. The movement and directionality of the concept come from to each, meaning that justice is about giving something. This, in turn, means that there is an agent with the power to change someone's state, and that such movement creates a reaction in the form of a claim for justice to be restored. The next element of justice is, perhaps, the strongest, i.e. where it has its teeth: due. Speaking of debt is speaking about obligation or, seen in the contrary sense, about claims. Only when something is really and palpably due is when the notion from to each comes alive as a two sided matter, i.e. one side who is burdened with an obligation to do or give, and another who is the potential receiver of that action, a claimant. It is no coincidence that justice is equated with law, for there are rules aiming at restoring, by force if needed, a just state of affairs for someone who has been wronged. When there is someone who is perceived as wronged but there is no agent causing such state, then we're speaking about tragedy, without an agent on whom to assign fault, and peddling justice may be rhetorically dazzling but it is simply not there. Trying to find a fault elsewhere when there is not is a perversion of justice, beating around the bushes either stupidly or maliciously, and a denaturalization of the wrongness itself, even depriving those who feel wronged of the opportunity of being virtuous as they are given the false illusion that their state is a result of an injustice that can be corrected.
When seen systematically and in some depth, justice proper is naturally and logically in conflict with the mere idea of social justice --or any qualifier for that matter. Modifying a virtue corrodes its nature and destroys it. The characteristic of being desirable to be acquired in order for a person to lead a worthy life makes a virtue, by definition, dependent on the quality of being able to stand by itself as intrinsically good. Who speaks about "private temperance" as something admirable? What is virtuous about "interested courage"? Is "selective prudence" a characteristic of a reliable person? In the same vein, social justice is a misnomer at best and, at worst, a dilution of virtue into shameful nothingness. By claiming that a group is automatically due something just for the sake of existing according to some random or willful element (e.g. race, sex, preferences), and that such obligation is consistent throughout time, negates the individuality of every member of the group claiming to be due something and of all groups and individuals elsewhere, including the individual or group who is said to be obligated to pay that due. And such a razor cuts both ways, as whomever benefits from such prostitution of the idea of justice can, because of that same defiling, suffer from it when it turn against it. And this is the crown argument against violating and then weaponizing a standalone virtue like justice for nefarious purposes: it is a contradiction of a constant and perpetual will to render to each its due. Justice either is, as such, or it is not.
Take, for example, this horrendous mental hiccup from some "social justice" journal trying to peddle as theoretically sound something that is blatantly ideological.
No. This is simply not true. Injustice is not felt. Injustice can and must be pinned down with rational, logical and systematic digging into the facts of the matter. The competing interests that define societal coexistence demand that the virtues that make the quality of the individuals conforming it are assessed seriously. Moreover, the constant and perpetual characteristic of justice as a virtue cannot exist in a universe of feelings, as feelings are ever changing and intimate, i.e. not a just guidance for imposing the obligation on anyone to restore others who have suffered wrongdoing. There is a reason why all who advocate for their ideological lobotomy of social justice push for relativism, for abandonment of rational and responsible thought. Here is another gem:
Again: no. It does not compute. The absence of reason is the doom of civilization. A virtuous life cannot be lived by anyone within a dictatorship of feelings, as the randomness of emotions create a chaos where only brute force can impose some sort of order. Giving up facts is not only lazy but a negation of virtue itself. If all humans within a group would have the same aims then justice would not be the crown jewel of virtues. As that is not the case, the tenets of justice demand certainty, continuity, and the fairness of not being assigned based on whims or on factors over which nobody has control. The individual is, thus, the beginning and end of justice.
Justice is not social, it simply is.