According to thinkers in the social contract tradition, justice is derived from the mutual agreement of everyone concerned. Therefore it will be necessary to first look into what a “social contract” is.
Thomas Hobbes defined the social contract theory as follows: “I give up my natural right to steal your food because you give up your natural right to steal my food”.
Thus, social contract can be understood as the condition in which people give up some individual liberty in exchange for some common security.
What would life for us be without such mutual transference of natural rights?
Pat comes the reply again in Hobbes’ colourful words: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
In the absence of law and order we would live in a perpetual state of nature where each person had unlimited natural freedom including the “right to all things”. This means that each person would be free to do whatever he or she wished no matter how atrocious.
Jack the Ripper a monster? Nonsense! He was just engaging in his little hobby of ripping apart prostitutes. And why should the father of Anders Behring Breivik view his son’s killing spree with “absolute horror”. After all he has perfect right to support cultural conservatism, ultra-nationalism, right-wing populism, Islamophobia, Zionism, anti-feminism, and white nationalism. As for gang rapists, boys will be boys!
Life would thus be an endless “war of all against all”- bellum omnium contra omnes, as Hobbes who coined the phrase stated it in his book De Cive.
In a “state of nature”, there are no social goods. There would be no farming, industry, education, housing, technology etc because the social co-operation needed to produce these things doesn’t exist.
In order to avoid this fate,
(1) There must be guarantees that people will not harm one another, and
(2) People must be able to rely on one another to keep their agreements.
Only a government can provide for (1) and (2). Therefore, we need a government. In establishing a government, people give up some of their personal freedom (the freedom of anarchy, such as it is) and give the government the authority to enforce laws and agreements.
Those living under a government are parties to a social contract. Each person agrees to follow the laws of the state on the condition that everyone else does the same. That way, we are all relatively safe from each other and we all benefit from the other social goods that will result.
In the international arena, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice in 2007, inviting Member States to devote the day to promoting national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly. Observance of World Day of Social Justice should support efforts of the international community in poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.
So what can we in Sri Lanka do for the furtherance of social justice? What with the phrase being clouded over with 17th century philosophers, the UN et al it is easy for us to overlook what each one of us may be able to accomplish individually, no matter how small our action is or how insignificant we may think our effort will be in the great unlimited universe of things.
How about closing the water tap the next time you brush your teeth instead of letting the water flow uselessly? Or maybe have pity on people’s eardrums and not go into a frenzy of tooting the horn as soon as the traffic lights turn yellow (not even green, yellow!). When you eat a chocolate please keep the wrapper with you and throw it at home instead of out of your car window. One such wrapper may not be noticed, but if a hundred people throw a hundred wrappers our beautiful country will be beautiful no more- as is the case even now.
On a lighter note, Clayton Cramer the historian and software engineer emphatically states “My definition of social justice: those who refuse to work deserve to go hungry.” And I can give you a funny anecdote relating to this. Once as I was going along Kolpetty station road, I saw a beggar on crutches limping with great difficulty from Galle Road and arduously made his way into station road. As soon as he went behind some buses and thought himself relatively free of observing eyes, he straightened up, took both crutches in one hand and jauntily sauntered off looking as pleased as could be! I’ll bet he was no hungry beggar although he well deserved to be!