The Catholic take: Thomas Becket, Saint
Some commentary from Thermidor with an eye towards the current political stuggle:
The Roman Church, of course, does not have a monopoly of social justice doctrine: indeed, the Social Gospel movement probably had far more influence on the contemporary Social Justice movement than the Roman Popes, but the Popes nevertheless belong to a more clearly uninterrupted inheritance of the Western Christian intellectual tradition of natural law from Aquinas forward, meaning their adoption of a Leviathan-based understanding of social justice is of profound significance, and puts the lie to many contemporary claims about the significance of Vatican II in modernizing Rome.
Without fear of contradiction, we may say that the profoundest influence on Social Justice doctrine comes not from Rome, but the Baptist preacher Walter Rauschenbach. Rauschenbach has something of a colourful history that many of his admirers use to life him up as a sage of reason, but his significance to our purposes is the invention of “institutionalized sinfulness” – the notion that institutions and corporate entities share as individuals in the inherited guilt of Original Sin and therefore must be redeemed just as individuals are redeemed through lived purposive action. It was in the wake of the Second World War, with the redefinition of good and evil in the wake of the World Wars, that the sensibilities of the pre-War Social Gospel movement met the lay movements that were deliberately intended to have grown out of Rerum Novarum, Quadragesima Anno, and Divini Redemptoris, and were helped along by the constitutions issued by Vatican II. The result was Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez in the United States and neo-Marxist Liberation Theology in South America.
The Vatican has been very successful in suppressing Liberation Theology in the Hispanic world; what it has not done, however, is eradicated the assumption of institutionalized sinfulness—the idea that institutions need to be purified and redeemed through action (far worse, the idea that institutions can be purified or redeemed by fallen man). This has manifested in the approach taken by Roman Catholics in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals—the result has been for the laity to “walk away from the Church”, that is, to abandon the institution, and the broader movement among the narrative-makers is that the institution must change and must correct itself. Believers insist that “the Church left us”—but clerical abuse is by no means new in the Roman Church. Certainly, pederasty and sodomy have not been historically significant phenomena, but murder, theft, bigamy, and adultery—these were common. They were so common, in fact, that they quite nearly caused a schism between Rome and London during the reign of Henry II and gave England one of her greatest saints, Thomas Becket. There was no mass exodus from the Church, no questioning of the institution of Church or Crown—only questions about the Pope and King Henry themselves.
It is true that part of the reason no schism took place was that there were no real alternatives to the Roman church in England, as there would be when another King Henry entered a conflict with the Papacy, but there was also a distinct difference in the mind of the English. With a healthy and active system of communal justice, whereby offending priests were punished by the community if they were not handled by ecclesiastic authorities, ordinary Englishmen were by and large untouched by the dispute between King and Pope. To them, the Church constituted an eternal body, subject to changing human powers, but, like the monarchy, not to change—and, furthermore, an incorrupt body, which might be helmed by evil and corrupt men, but would never cease to be what it had been instituted to be by God. Institutions of this nature were not just incorrupt, but incorruptible.
Social Justice is utterly dependant on precisely the opposite view—that no institution is incorruptible, and, indeed, institutions are more corrupt than fallen humans. Revolution, then, and not stability, becomes the rule of history—in order that justice might be served, the institution itself must be fundamentally altered. Furthermore, groups and individuals therefore succeed and fail not on the virtue of the cohesion of the group or the competence of the individual, but by virtue of the power of the institutions which are perceived as obstacles. Worse, when individuals are turned against their group because its institutions are perceived as corrupt or destructive, the only means whereby communal justice can direct social justice is lost. Spurious concepts like “racism”, “sexism”, and the plethora of social phobias that have arisen in the last half-century have been institutionalized in the minds of the narrative-makers, manifesting the sinfulness of institutions, and dismantling most of the framework for social justice to function in a communal manner.
This new Social Justice doctrine is defined by the absence of stability—for it must be constantly changing, constantly repenting, constantly altered, with each new manifestation of sinfulness: redemption, for the progressive, is only possible through revolution. With the implosion of systems of communal justice due to the inevitable meddling of the Leviathan State, this new, redefined Social Justice increases social instability, with new fragmenting groups seeking their just due emerging continuously until one arrives at the Current Year. Such phenomena cannot help but accelerate, either: Social Justice will by its very nature continue to spiral into absurdity because it cannot overcome the inherent imperfection of a human institution, and it must end either in absolute tyranny of power or complete social paralysis and collapse.