Carmen Bouley de Santiago
Is a just society one which treats people equally or one which improves the situation of the least well-off?
“Nice justice that is limited by a river. Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, mistake beyond them.” B. Pascal, we shall start by this sentence that reminds us the fragile concept of justice, always linked with the society in which it’s thought. Also,in our occidental democracies the idea of a “just society” has been debated for centuries without give to us a definitive answer because its conception as the society itself is in a perpetual change. Thus, during the French Revolution what people thought being a just society was one which people’s treatment, in political, juridical and civic areas, was equal whatever their birth whereas in thesecond part of the 20th century this conception seemed insufficient due to the strong inequality of resources remaining between people. So nowadays, two major ideas coexist concerning a just society, one resulting from the liberal theories of the 17 and 18 centuries more or less conservative according to which people should be treated in a same way no matter their background and another one, which isborn in the socialist period of the 19 century, that rejects a just society if it doesn’t help within itself the have-nots. But, how could we decide which one of this concepts it’s better to reach justice: isn’t it unfair to give more to the least well-off? Isn’t it unfair too that people born among a poor family will have less chances to climb the social ladder? In other terms, what is a justsociety?
First will be defended the idea that a just society is one which treats people equally. But then, that this concept is not sufficient and would be included the help to the have-nots into the scheme, what would lead to the necessity of fairness in order to build a just society.
First of all, we need to define what is a society. A society is a group of people with a commonculture, history and most of the time language, organized in a collective way inside a territory with common institutions under the banner of a State, which has the political power. As for the adjective “just” it refers to a society govern by justice or at least which tries to reach it. Why people would prefer to live inside a just society? Because it’s better for each individual than the state ofnature as it’s describe by Hobbes or even Rousseau where the strength is the law. So, the society with its rules is a pact between individuals and the state in order to get a certain stability, to be protected, in sum a result of particular interests.
In our system of thought, a just society is based on the law which guarantees an equal treatment of individuals and the same, equal, libertiesfor all of them in their more extensive form -Rawls-. Otherwise a just society is one within the rule of law. All individuals whatever the capacities, the wealth, the power they’ve got will be treated equally. Also to maintain the equality of subjects inside a state, institutions controlling positive law are needed such as jurisdictions. Thus a person who commits a crime will be judge as anyother person, with impartiality, no matter if he’s rich, poor, famous or powerful; he will be treated equally towards the law. The same concept is applied for the vote; all citizens have the same right.
But the equal treatment of individuals poses three problems. The first one is that a just society could be summarized to a society which respects the law as said Aristotle “ all actionsresulting from the law are in a sense just (…) because legal”, but the law can be unjust such as the segregation. The second one is that justice is only applied in terms of protection of liberties and right such as the property one, without being applied to the market; in consequence inequalities of fact -resources- are increased; a wealthy person dealing with a trial could pay a better lawyer and would...
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