What is Justice?
This may seem on the surface to be a simple question and to some it may seem trite to pose it here, but the fact is that no consideration of criminal justice would be complete without a careful consideration of exactly what “justice” is or entails.
Indeed, the modern-day criminal justice system is based on the English commonlaw system inasmuch as the entire U.S. legal system is founded on that structure. In addition, both the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence include verbiage alluding either directly or indirectly to the position the nation should take on the subject of justice. Thus, it is imperative to fully explore this concept here.
Another reason to fully explore the topic of justice is that today, with so many conflicts in society and the world, there seems to be an increase both in the need for justice and the claims that actions from one party are just whereas the opposing side claims the actions are unjust. Thus we are faced with the idea that justice is not as black-and-white as many would like–indeed, justice seems to depend more on perceptions and cultures than on facts. Is this the case?
To understand precisely therefore what constitutes “justice” is vital if the world is ever to come to terms with another element affecting criminal justice–globalization.
Globalization and Justice
Globalization is a fact. Some would prefer that the world did not become more globalized, but preferences matter little–globalization is growing, like it or not. The world is becoming both closer and more divided. The world is shrinking while at the same time economic opportunities are growing. Cultures are becoming more homogenous while at the same time movements are developing to maintain heterogenity. Clashes of values result in wars both to prevent and to increase globalization. At no other time in history has mankind been so close to global peace, yet also so close to global destruction. Such contradictions can provide both the basis for the strife resulting in both justice and injustice being performed–such contradictions can lead the world either to be brink of disaster or the essense of global peace…it all depends on a few simple concepts.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “justice” for our purposes can be defined as…
(1): the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2): conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness…conformity to truth, fact, or reason: correctness.
Consider that definition for a moment in light of some events from around the world.
- Edward Snowden fled to Russia after exposing the illegal activities of his home country the United States. In the U.S., many view him as a traitor, but to some he is a patriot. Who is righteous or just in the matter?
- Syria is a nation at war with itself. The ruling party certainly holds the legal basis for yeilding power and fighting those seeking overthrow, but there are indications this ruler has used chemical weapons on thousands of innocent civilians. Which side is justified in their actions?
- Israel and Palestine have been fighting over territory for more than 60 years–the conflict at times resembles the Hatfields and McCoys–does it really matter at this point who is in the right?
- The U.S. led Drug War has been operating globally for nearly as long as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with far greater destruction according to most statistics. Is this war just?
Now think about your answers. Would you not agree that how you decide what is just and what is not just in each of these examples is largely shaped by your values? Is your view not colored by your culture? Your socio-economic status? Your nationality?
In the case of at least three of the above examples, that is indeed the case. So really, justice would appear to be at the mercy of culture and social mores would it not? But if this is the case, what hope does the world have for ever achieving justice? What hope does anyone have of living in a just and righteous world?
Justice and Values
The reality is that justice hinges, not on culture or nationality per se, but rather on values. Of course, values are shaped by cultures, by nations, by racial backgrounds, politics, religion, and a host of other factors, but this does not mean that true justice, as an extension of shared values, is an elusive dream.
The goal of this set of pages is to explore a novel concept…the idea that the world can (and should) discover a set of common values. Through this set of common values, the world can then structure a global legal system in which justice could prevail. This is not to say that everyone, everywhere would necessarily accept the values and resulting definition of justice that the global community would subsequently adopt. No, there will always be those who buck the system. Even after Columbus proved the earth was round, there where those who insisted it was flat. It was not until these passed away that the issue was finally accepted as fact.
The same can be expected of finding justice. The goal here will be to develop an empirical means by which we can determine the values which all mankind can abide–thus laying a foundation for true justice. The goal is not to develop yet another arbitrary system determined by politicians, but rather a system based on scientific fact. Yet, even once such a system of values is proven there will be some who will insist it is wrong. That is just a fact of life. But that does not mean we should not try.
If you would like to participate in this experiment (which is really what this is to be) or stay informed as this Justice Project proceeds, sign up for the newsletter to the right, leave a comment below, or send an email.