Harvard Law School, in abject surrender to student activists, is about to change its escutcheon because its design was derived from that of Isaac Royall, Jr., who endowed the first chair at the school. Royall’s father made the family fortune from slave plantations in the West Indies and Massachusetts, a fortune that was therefore tainted (as Balzac said that all great fortunes are).
Many, if not most, law schools proclaim that they will advance “social justice.” My own law school recently pledged to use part of the generous 100 million dollar gift from the Pritzkers to do just that. Generally the pursuit of such justice is done through clinics, which represent clients, but have larger objectives in their choice of representation, such as ending the death penalty, protecting rent control, or increasing environmental regulation.
A commitment to social justice creates some tensions with the ideal of a university as a place of open inquiry. First, clinics are enterprises of political action. But the essence of a university is the production of ideas, and political aims are not easily made compatible with purely intellectual ones. Politics, including the politics of litigation, requires one to take positions with a view to success. The university, in contrast, prizes ideas that are novel, coherent and logically consistent, regardless of the immediate real world impact.
Beyond this abstract tension, the pursuit of a particular vision of justice can make it harder for research faculty to pursue opposing viewpoints.
In his January 21 column for Forbes (“Obama’s SOTU Surprise: A Break for Charity”) Manhattan Institute Vice President Howard Husock speculates that the Obama Administration may at last be coming round to better appreciate the role of philanthropy in American flourishing. The Obama Administration is now proposing to shrink the “trust fund loophole” in favor of nonprofits, meaning that heirs would be subject to capital gains taxes on the original basis of the assets while charities would not.
If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today, it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.
Pope Francis said last year in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that “we … have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
In a 2008 speech at George Mason University, the Dalai Lama asserted: “Economic inequality, especially that between developed and developing nations, remains the greatest source of suffering on this planet.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote in his 2012 Christmas encyclical that “the gloomy consequences of the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the financial desolation of the vast human masses are ignored. This disproportion, which is described worldwide as a financial crisis, is essentially the product of a moral crisis.”
Una Noche captures a defining moment in the lives of three adolescents in today’s Cuba. It narrates the existential predicament of Raul and his best friend, Elio, seen from the point of view of the third adolescent, Lila, who is Elio‘s twin sister.
But as the director has pointed out in an interview, there is another main character in the movie: the city of Havana. Una Noche is filmed entirely in Cuba’s capital, and the city functions not only as a space for the story, but as part of it, contributing to the film’s powerful impact on an audience.
In this month’s Forum Samuel Gregg revives “the meaning of social justice in the classical tradition of natural law reasoning, with particular reference to Roman Catholic pronouncements about this subject.” Social justice strives for the common good. Two learned commentators provide vigorous, reasoned dissents, economist David C. Rose maintaining that this defense of social justice is “both misguided and dangerous.” Philosophy professor Eric Mack thinks the notion of social justice “necessarily champions extensive state authority.” Though he allows Gregg’s understanding is not egalitarian, he nonetheless seeks to “weigh [social justice] down and sink it.”