From independence, freedom and truth


Social justice

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

May 28, 2024

The artificial controversy generated by the government’s fake overreaction to some words of the president of Argentina has overshadowed his firm defense of freedom and his unabashed criticism of socialism, a breath of fresh air and a real shock for the economic illiteracy of our political class.

One of the debates raised by the Argentinian has revolved around his criticisms of social justice. Some have been outraged, but before criticizing or applauding him, it would be convenient to define what social justice is, and here we run into a serious obstacle. Indeed, although the classical concept of justice was defined by Ulpian (and later by St. Thomas Aquinas) as “giving to each his due,” “social” justice has never been clearly defined, as Hayek criticized. For this reason, we can only analyze it by approximation.

Social justice as egalitarianism

Social justice is closely related to egalitarianism, a very recent ideology. Indeed, today’s society, dominated by propaganda and the adulation of the masses intrinsic to universal suffrage, has forgotten that man’s equality is circumscribed to his inalienable dignity as a human being and to the desirable equality of all before the law. Any equality that transcends these two concepts tends to go against the natural order of things and to be unfair: proof of this is that it must be imposed by force.

Indeed, God did not distribute his talents equally, neither physical attributes, nor health, nor intelligence, nor virtue, and different results proceeding from different talents can only be described as fair. It is fair that the student who devotes many hours to study gets a better grade than one who does not, or that the intelligent student with a greater capacity for concentration needs fewer hours than the one who is less gifted or suffers from scattered attention. It is also fair that the hardworking and frugal adult should obtain better results than the spendthrift drone, or that the one who risks his wealth to set up a business should obtain more economic rewards than the employee, the manager or the civil servant who values job security and a shorter working hours.

It is also fair that Real Madrid has won 14 (or 15) European Cups and Novak Djokovic 24 Grand Slams, but in sport, mysteriously, no one questions the fairness of the list of winners or proposes redistributing trophies to less gifted teams or players, although the distribution of trophies is as asymmetrical as that of wealth (Pareto’s law).

Being a sign of the times to have to explain the obvious, I reiterate that differences in physical, intellectual, or moral capacities, and the different circumstances of each one, belong to the natural order of things. But, in addition, such differences are enriching, for they encourage people “to magnanimity, benevolence and communication”[1], that is, to service to others.

Naturally, on certain occasions the difference in results stems from a priori conditions that run counter to justice, as we shall see below, which we must try to correct.

Social justice as redistribution of wealth

The most tangible expression of egalitarianism is the correction of economic inequality through the redistribution of wealth, an idea that is equated with social justice and even with distributive justice. Here we run into several difficulties. First, labeling economic inequality as unfair is far from self-evident[2]. Second, redistributing wealth means the coercive redistribution of wealth by the State, which implies an infringement of freedom and private property using violence, i.e., what was once called plain robbery.

In today’s democracies the redistribution of wealth has little to do with a beneficent or virtuous attitude of the State and much to do with the vote buying by politicians, who push the masses to greed for the goods of others and envy, “which is so skillfully abused by the agitators of the social struggle”[3]. In this sense, it should be noted that the Welfare State is not primarily concerned with the very poor, a minority whose votes count for little, but with the population as a whole, whose votes do count.

Finally, coercive redistribution by the State – under an altruistic disguise that conceals its spurious lust for power – also violates the essential principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, basic pillars of a just and good social order.

The principle of solidarity

The principle of solidarity refers to the bond that unites us to others. Man cannot isolate himself, for he was born for unity and mutual help. No one is an island in the middle of the ocean: we all walk together through the uncertain journey of life, needing each other.

Such mutual dependence enables us to develop the virtues of charity and generosity and has the wonderful characteristic of being bidirectional, since it benefits both the one who is helped and the one who helps (in the words of Christ, “there is more joy in giving than in receiving”[4]). However, by its very nature, solidarity is linked to the gift of freedom. Thus, when, through taxes that are not exactly voluntary, the State replaces the individual with an anonymous bureaucratic mass that does not act under the impulse of virtue but as part of a blind and impersonal mechanism, solidarity is destroyed.

The redistributive action of the State also produces an effect of expulsion or crowding out of the charitable action of the individual, since he who has paid 65% of his income in all kinds of direct and indirect taxes (the average percentage paid by the Spanish worker each year[5]) will feel that he has done enough to help others.

The principle of subsidiarity

The coercive redistribution of wealth by the State also violates the “very serious, immovable and immutable” principle of subsidiarity[6], which establishes that “a social structure of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a social group of a lower order, depriving it of its competences”. It follows that it is not legitimate for the State to absorb and supplant the individual or the community in those activities that they can carry out with their own effort and industriousness.

Undoubtedly, every civilized society has the duty to protect its weakest members (starting with the unborn child), but the State should not do so on a universal basis (to all citizens, whether they need it or not), but only to the neediest, and only on a subsidiary basis. This nuance is crucial. Thus, the action of the State as a protective entity should be reduced to a limited role focused on those whom the individual, the family, the community, or civil society cannot protect with their acts of voluntary solidarity.

Even when the State provides a pension to an individual who could have saved for himself, it empties the virtue of frugality, but also of generosity and justice, by preventing children from taking care of their elderly parents with reciprocity: “Bread for bread, protection for protection, care for care, sacrifice for sacrifice”[7].

Unfortunately, the alibi of public services has allowed an exorbitant and unprecedented growth in the size of the State. We must not forget that what we take for normal is far from being normal. Indeed, “historical evidence indicates that, from classical antiquity to the 20th century, regular direct taxation in the Western world (as opposed to an emergency) was considered illegal except for subjugated peoples, to the extent that in ancient Athens taxation was considered a typical feature of tyranny”[8].

Solidarity and subsidiarity are interrelated. Subsidiarity without solidarity runs the risk of feeding forms of selfish individualism that impoverish everyone, starting with the subject himself. Solidarity without subsidiarity can easily degenerate into the harmful welfarism of the Welfare State[9], which generates dependency and serfdom (which are its true objective). Thus, “by intervening directly and removing responsibility from society, the welfare State causes the loss of human energies and the exaggerated increase of public apparatuses, dominated by bureaucratic logic rather than by the concern to serve the users, with enormous growth in expenses”[10]. Undoubtedly, the concentration of functions and tasks in the State “is the great curse of our time”[11].

Finally, taking for granted that the spontaneous distribution of income is, by default, an error, an evil and an injustice that the State must correct, contains an enormously destructive implicit message, that is, that everything that does not satisfy us, every unsatisfied desire, is a violated right, an injustice for which others are to blame. To automatically blame others for our ills is a comfortable temptation that leads us away from the truth, and to pretend that we have rights based on violating those of others leads us to barbarism.

Social justice as a common good

Neither egalitarianism nor coercive redistribution of wealth by the state seems to meet the classical definition of justice. However, there is an equivalence which, with all its limitations – for it also falls into the vagueness of the concept – proposes to relate social justice to the common good, and this deserves a much more positive opinion.

The common good does not mean community of goods or collectivism, as is mistakenly believed, but the “set of social conditions that allow citizens the rapid and full development of their own perfection”[12]. Each human being is “a work to be accomplished”[13], “a lamp created by God to shine and give light to the world”[14], and the ideal environmental conditions for this to happen. and the ideal environmental conditions that facilitate this task of self-building are called the common good. In other words, the common good is the set of principles, values, institutions, rules, and structures that make it possible for each individual to realize his full potential and make his talents flourish, which will benefit not only himself but also others. Naturally, this can only happen if the individual so chooses freely, that is, if he decides to accept his role in history, whether tiny or enormous, but always – and herein lies the beauty of individuality – unique and unrepeatable.

The common good includes, first and foremost, respect for the rights and dignity of the human being, starting with respect for the right to life from conception to natural death. Let us not forget that the rights of the human being are prior to and above the existence of any State.

The common good is also the preservation of peace, understood not only as the absence of war, but also as harmony among citizens based on respect of their differences.

The common good also includes freedom in its broadest sense: freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of the market, since the free market is the most effective instrument for allocating resources and responding effectively to the material needs of society[15]. In this sense, as the priest and philosopher Martin Rhonheimer, a reference in economic ethics, states, “the historical evidence is clear: over the last two centuries, free market economics and free trade have continuously improved the living conditions of all levels of society, always and everywhere. On the contrary, all types of state interventionism, all types of economic planning and all types of socialism have deteriorated the living conditions and welfare of all social levels, always and everywhere”[16].

Likewise, part of the common good is the existence and preservation of a stable and just legal framework, of a rule of law sustained by the rule of law that binds rulers and ruled alike and that defends the natural right to private property, “which has a permanent value”[17] and without which there can be neither freedom nor economic progress, not for nothing are the phenomena of poverty most often linked to obstacles to private property[18].

The first institution that shapes the common good is the family, formed by a father and a mother, in which children can grow up in an atmosphere of love, security and stability. A society that seeks the common good will do everything possible to protect the family. A State that wants to dominate its subjects will do its utmost to destroy it, because it stands between it and the individual.

Access to education regardless of the economic conditions of the individual is also an integral part of the common good. This does not imply that the State should be the one to provide this service, carried out with higher quality and less indoctrination by the private sector, but that it should finance it in a subsidiary way, that is, only in those cases in which the family, the community or civil society are not able to do so. Nor should education be a right independent of academic results, but dependent on effort and merit. Obviously, the common good also includes access to basic health services, again with respect for the principle of subsidiarity.

Finally, it should be stressed that the common good is also shaped by a society that fosters virtue, truth, responsibility, keeping one’s word, commitment, effort, and sacrifice.

When society does not seek the common good, it generates material poverty, but also human poverty, for it obstructs and hinders the growth and fruitfulness of the person. Not only will the person find it difficult to fulfill himself completely, but he will not be able to communicate his talents to others to the degree that he could have done had he had a more propitious environment. The common good, therefore, is the good soil and the generous rain that allows individuals to flourish and bear the fruit that each is called to bear, with their different individual characteristics, talents, and circumstances.

Voluntary and involuntary poverty

If the common good is not fostered, there is a poverty that is avoidable and therefore unjust. But there is also an unavoidable poverty, which has to do with the uncertainty of life, the fallibility of human beings and, above all, with man’s fallen nature, since the lack of individual virtues often makes poverty a voluntary poverty.

“Lazy hands generate poverty; diligent arms generate wealth”, wrote the Sage in the 4th century BC[19]. This statement, almost revolutionary today, would have surprised few before the advent of egalitarianism in the 20th century. Indeed, the necessary (though not sufficient) condition for the economic prosperity of peoples is the personal qualities of their members, that constellation of virtues without which “no system or social structure can solve, as if by magic, the problem of poverty: industriousness, competence, order, honesty, initiative, frugality, thrift, spirit of service, keeping one’s word, audacity, in short, love of work well done”[20]. These virtues make up the culture of a society and determine to a large extent its level of economic progress, which varies from region to region and from country to country, with easily observable results.

Consequently, relative poverty cannot, as a rule, be described as unfair in a society that respects the common good. Perhaps for this reason, the philosopher Julián Marías – one of the most lucid observers of 20th century Spanish reality – dissociated poverty from injustice: “Poverty can coexist with a satisfactory state of justice, while its elimination can leave many injustices intact or even produce them. Marías called social justice a “fallacy” and humorously described an egalitarian society as “a well-managed poultry farm”[21].

What is social injustice?

Since the nebulous concept of social justice is too often identified with egalitarianism or coercive redistribution of wealth by the state, both of which are contrary to the common good, we can redefine social injustice in the light of the latter.

It is social injustice to attack the family through express divorce or the perverse gender ideology, abortion, and euthanasia.

It is social injustice to persecute freedom of opinion, expression, and religion, particularly Christianity.

It is social injustice to hinder the free market and free trade.

It is social injustice to provide incentives to living without working, encouraging laziness by means of small allowances and subsidies with amounts similar to those of a salary.

It is social injustice to have to pay an abusive level of taxes that undermines the right to private property and only serves to maintain a gigantic State that takes over the role of the individual, the family and civil society, supported by an “onerous and oppressive system of bureaucratic control that sterilizes all initiative and creativity”[22].

It is social injustice the grotesque number of regulations and liberticidal rules created by such bureaucracy, a true legislative dictatorship that suffocates the daily activity of citizens and exposes them to all kinds of unjust sanctions.

It is a social injustice that the average unemployment rate in Spain from 1978 until the present day has been 17% (a period that our political class laughingly calls the period of greatest prosperity in our history), and that today two salaries can barely support a family with two children when one or two generations ago one salary was enough to support a family of four children. The final cause lies in the deterioration of the common good, the moral decay, the hegemony of cultural socialism and the Welfare State.

It is an aberrant social injustice, in short, that a government is constantly engaged in provoking discord and civil confrontation, stirring up hatred of those who think differently and dividing the population to perpetuate itself in power.

We can aspire to a better society.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1937
[2] Is economic inequality unfair? (I) – Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo (
[3] Quadragesimo anno n. 137, Pius XI.
[4] Act. 20, 35
[5] The true cost of the Welfare State – Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo (
[6] Quadragesimo anno n. 79 (Pius XI) and Mater et Magistra n. 53 (John XXIII).
[7] Pastoral Letter for Lent, 1976, John Paul II.
[8] Property and Freedom, Richard Pipes.
[9] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church n. 351.
[10] Centesimus annus n. 48 John Paul II.
[11] Solución Social, Gustave Thibon, Aldaba, 1977
[12] Mater et Magistra n. 65; Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1906
[13] Centesimus Annus n. 39
[14] Love is a Radiant Light: The Life & Words of Saint Charbel, Hanna Skandar.
[15] Centesimus Annus n. 34
[16] The Common Good of Constitutional Democracy, M. Rhonheimer 2013, p. 480.
[17] Mater et Magistra, n. 109, John XXIII
[18] Centesimus Annus n. 6
[19] Prov. 10,4
[20] Speech on the Occasion of the 350th Anniversary of the Publication of Galileo, John Paul II, 1983
[21] La justicia social y otras justicias, Julián Marías, Austral 1979.
[22] Centesimus annus n. 25


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