Indeed, Aristotle finds that all virtuous behaviour leads to one being ????????? and justice will follow on from such behaviour. One maintains society as one maintains oneself; for society to flourish, individuals must also flourish. This is clear when Aristotle expresses it in a proverb: in justice is summed up the whole of virtue,1 It is difficult to offer a qualitative assessment of the extent of how coherent an understanding North American black theology has of justice. Instead, it may be better to qualify the extent of justice comparatively.
Alternatively, as both justice and black theology are ambiguous and can be defined differently, I will look at different black theologies and different theories of justice, and attempt to compare them, concluding with which system of justice makes for an ordered flourishing community. Communitarian theories assume that society is rather more than merely the sum of its parts. Its starting point is the view that being an individual is only possible if the society initially recognises the concept of individuality.
This arguably began with Platos Republic and Laws where the good of the whole of the city-state is placed above the good of any single individual and is continued by Aristotle in Ethics and Politics to a certain extent. As mentioned earlier, both are concerned with the necessity of an individual contributing towards society as a whole. Essentially, communitarian theories seem to follow on from individualism. Furthermore, the theories of Marx (1818-83), Hutcheson (1694-1746) and Rousseau (1712-78) could be counted as communitarian in principle. However, I am going to examine John Rawls A Theory of Justice in detail.
Rawls begins by assuming certain truths about humans with the intention of establishing a social contract. Firstly, people are assumed to be self-interested, as egoism and self-preservation are natural conditions, clearly demonstrated in the realms of the animal kingdom. Likewise, humans are equal to one another in their ability and freedom to make suggestions on how society ought to be constructed: no individual will have prior claim to power over anyone else. Humans have to be necessarily rational, in order that social contracts do not lead to an abominable society.
Indeed, all people must have access to general facts about human nature and affairs. However, the most important assumption is that all are ignorant about their own particular futures in the society that they are about to agree upon and build. This condition is known as the veil of ignorance, and if no one is able to have prior knowledge about his or her future position or statues, then compassion is ensured. This is because no egoistic individual would wish to help build a society that leaves them disadvantaged. Rawls himself says:
The combination of mutual disinterest and the veil of ignorance achieves the same purpose as benevolence. For this combination of conditions forces each person in the original position to take the good of others into account. 2 A social contract can now be established, bearing in mind these a priori assumptions, which is built upon two principles. Firstly the principle of liberty that people must be allowed the freedom to pursue the kind of life they would wish to lead provided it does not directly or indirectly harm another.
Secondly, the principle of difference, where it is assumed that people are different and will have different aims or goals in life. The social contract must therefore be sufficiently flexible to allow differences to manifest themselves. Thus, some form of inequality will ensue. Certainly James Cone feels that there ought to be an equal but different approach to his theology. He felt that it was necessary to express the notion of ones blackness, as a characteristic to promote different treatment.
His existential approach to black theology led him to the conclusion that one cannot become black and free until one wills ones blackness (which in itself is freedom). Like King, Cone finds in the writings of Paul Tillich an articulation of the human existential condition, placing human existence before essence, or alternatively his blackness (oppression) before freedom. One has to understand the ground of ones being, and abolish ignorance -the personal conquering of sin. One has to acknowledge and accept difference as a positive quality via a reversal of consciousness.
This prevents black people alienating themselves from their true inner person, as if they try and act like white people, they ignore their experience and heritage, thus are effectively living a lie. This is expressed by the following quote: Living in a world of white oppressors, blacks have no time for a neutral God. 3 Thus, striving for equal treatment of black and white people is succumbing to a set of white values. This is a key area where he differed from King, as Cone felt that difference had to be outlined assertively.
In this way, Cones black theology links in well with Rawls idea of justice, that black people would be free, but at the same time allowed to express their difference in the form of blackness. It would therefore seem as though Cones black theology certainly had a Rawlsian understanding of justice. Rawls also goes further to talk about a maximin rule of game theory where one must choose the distribution pattern that favours the least well off. This theory asserts that one must select the strategy in which the worst outcome is nonetheless better than the worst outcomes of all other possible strategies.
The corollary of this is not that the best outcome is better than the best outcome of all other possible strategies, however. Instead this is a somewhat defence and protective strategy: in the case of justice, Rawls thinks this is in the form of distribution favouring the poor. There is an in-built concern for those worse off than oneself. Moreover, there is an in-built moral obligation to consider carefully the plight of these who will inevitably come off worse in the serious game of life. Indeed, under the veil of ignorance, it may be us who become worse off at some time in the future.
Rawls argues therefore that we are under a moral obligation not only not to harm one another, but also to assist those who are worse off than ourselves. If we do not assist those who are worse off than ourselves, then the onus is upon us to come up with a good argument or justification as to why we should not do so. 4 Again, this theme of justice concurs with Martin Luther Kings theology and James Cones, as they both seek to achieve a sense of black people not being oppressed unfairly. They both seek a redistribution of rights and positions in a white-dominated society. Individualist Theories of Justice
Thomas Hobbes, an individualist, thought that there are two basic conditions which characterise man in his natural state5: continual fear (thus the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty and short) and contention, enmity and war. Given this gloomy picture of humanity, a social contract can lead to a tolerable existence. This would be a set of laws to ensure maximum freedom combined with personal security. Therefore justice is a fulfilment of the contract that he has established. John Locke also thought that the justice is based on the individual rather than with the community6.
Lockes work is based on two principles: the right to the individuals self-preservation and the rights to property bought, held or acquired by the individual. The underlying moral obligation is a simple one: we each have a moral right not to harm another. However, as determined by Nature, that is the extent of our moral obligations to others. A modern version is found in Robert Nozicks famous work7. Nozick thought that there are two sorts of theories to do with social justice: firstly, patterned theories such as Marxism and utilitarianism. They impose a particular pattern or order upon social reality.
Nozick has no formal pattern as such, and thought that they close off the normal pragmatic way that people engage with others and shape their futures. Nozick argued that these just dont work in reality. He felt that experience counts for more than formal learning. Countries that run along strict Marxist guidelines will inevitably collapse sooner or later because a semi-utopian order placed upon communities does not take proper account of human nature. Human nature isnt ordered and neatly patterned, so why should we expect societies to be so?
From an objective view of any society, it is clear that one cannot pigeon-hole society into specific categories or theories. Therefore, why theorise about absolute theories, when societies end up and relative and contextual? Thus there are unpatterned theories, on the other hand, such as Nozicks. He takes full account of reality as we find it, and tries to explain the concept of justice in those terms. Having looked at society, he tries to unpack it in a theoretical way. This means that it is descriptive not prescriptive. Nozick defines justice in terms of entitlement.
Everyone is entitled to what they have, earn or acquire as long as it does in the way in which my society or community defines as legal. Indeed, there are three main principles at work in a just society, and these principles apply to the just distribution of all holdings: firstly just acquisition; secondly just transfer; thirdly rectification (the resort to law if the acquisition or transfer of goods or holdings has been illegal). If all of the principles are adhered to then everyone is legally entitled to what they have got.
In this way, rich weapons dealers or cigarette manufacturers are allowed, as long as the goods or holdings in which they deal are transferred and acquired legally, then the society is a just one. This is what constitutes justice. We have no moral obligations to anyone except ourselves, and provided we live by the rules of society then we are morally safe. There are many different attitudes towards black theology, but essentially it was developed not for an intellectual ruling elite but instead for tens of millions of working class blacks in the United States.
It emerges from their experiences of hundreds of years of white racism and economic exploitation, two forms of discrimination that are inseparable and which still exist in our time. In the mid 20th Century blacks rebelled against racism and their imposed poverty during the Civil Rights movements, with radicals rallying around the slogan: Black Power! Black theology allied itself with this black power movement that was clearly calling for a new economic order.
James Foremans Black Manifesto saw clearly that liberation would not work within a capitalist system: any black man or Negro who is advocating a perpetuation of capitalism inside the United States is in fact seeking not only his ultimate destruction and death but is contributing to the continuous exploitation of black people all around the world. He realized that there was a strong link between racism and capitalism, two forms of oppression that were both part of the same package that the black power and black theology movements were opposing.
Unlike others who were more concerned with opposing the current system then creating a new vision, he explicitly called for a new socialist economic system as a crucial goal for the liberation of blacks: Our fight is against racism, capitalism, and imperialism, and we are dedicated to building a socialist society inside the United Sates where the total means of production and distribution are in the hands of the State, and that must be led by black people, by revolutionary blacks who are concerned about the total humanity of this world. 8
This reflects individualist theories, such as Nozicks, as it is based on experience. Black theology is a product of its time, created because people so vehemently opposed their situation. This means that it concurs with Nozicks idea of taking full account of reality as we find it. In other words, black people see their situation and try to make sense of it in a theoretical way, but importantly in an unpatterned way. This is because the intrinsic nature of black theology being contextual falls in line with Nozicks dislike of absolutes.
Their objection is to the laws of entitlement. Black people, feel that the acquisition and transfer or holdings of goods is essentially flawed. In their situation, it is difficult to justify why white people should be permitted to impose a racial hierarchy. This means that black theology is concerned with changing capitalism (as Foreman says), as in Nozicks terms, societys based on this principle do not lead to holdings being acquired and transferred legally, and society is therefore not a just one. This leads to the necessity of third principle of justice: rectification.
However, Nozick has no objection to exploitation, therefore one may question what grounding there is to the black person seeking the rectification of their situation. This is why Foreman feels that an abolition of imperialism and capitalism will lead to new laws being established which promote equity. The individualistic nature is not really fulfilled in the justification of why societys laws ought to be altered. It is the intrinsically self-preservatory nature of individuals that causes a desire of why societys laws ought to be changed, and black people want this.
In the quest for justice, there is more emphasis on being liberated than a redistribution of income. The distribution of justice or goods is usually associated with philosophers, whereas the retribution of justice is a more legalistic approach, outlining how to keep everyone in line. How could a movement favour liberation and agree that economic inequalities should be allowed to continue, though? Those two beliefs seem incompatible. Especially when given the fact that black people were themselves the primary victims of the inequality.
Does not liberation carry with it a clear message of economic liberation in addition to the stated goal of racial liberation? How could black theologians talk about revolution and agree to maintain the primary system of control, that of capitalism? Marxism Revolution would clearly be associated with new left ideology and of past revolutions in countries like Cuba, China, and Russia. The call for revolution was synonymous with advocating socialism. Certainly, for Marx, justice changes in line with the economic status of society.
Marx thought that society should change from agrarian to capitalist, then socialist, before becoming communist. However, the notion of justice also changes alongside this, suggesting a link between justice and the economic circumstances of society. This is apparent when Marx says that right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. 9 Starting in the late Seventies, writers like Cornel West and James Cone began to integrate the Marxist critique of capitalism into black theology.
In his essay, Black theology and Marxist Thought, Cornel West calls out for the need for the two to come together and to focus on critiquing their common enemy. First he questions the use of the term liberation. Do blacks only seek to imitate middle class whites and permit vast economic inequalities to continue to exist? Or does black theology have something to say about the dual economic exploiting doctrines of capitalism and imperialism? He argues that black theology has in the past concentrated more on opposing the current dominant paradigm than on proposing an alternative, and for that reason it has neglected economic justice.
West argues that class is actually the dominant cause of alienation and this can be seen by the fact that working class whites are also affected. Finally he sees that the same forces are aligned behind capitalism and racism against the liberation of blacks. It is all one fight. Cornel West in a second essay, Black theology of Liberation: a Critique of Capitalist Civilization, calls for a shift in black theology to one that recognizes the validity of the Marxist critique of capitalism and the need for a new socialist order.
He recognizes Christianitys prophetic tradition of speaking out against oppression10 and notes Christianitys focus on self fulfilment, a concept that is incompatible with any form of discrimination. West is not a utopian and recognizes that sin and imperfection will exist, but believes that a revolution, likely an armed struggle, will lead to the establishment of a socialist society that he hopes will combine the best of the Marxist and Christian traditions.
The Marxist principle of justice seems to diverge away from an individualistic theory such as Nozicks, and becomes a communitarian theory of justice. Cones hermeneutics are affected by Marx. Although he does not refer to Marx very often, he uses Marxs critique of society and its economic power structure as a basis for his theology. Importantly, Marxs influence on Cone is to make Cone apply the hermeneutic of suspicion. As a result, black hermeneutics is deeply distrustful of all biblical interpretations; instead it is more holistic, less fragmentary and less sceptical than white theology.
According to Cone, Marxism had been neglected because it has been associated with racist whites, viewed as a fringe ideology, associated with Russia in a time of anticommunism, viewed as atheist and a direct threat to Christianity, and seen as overly sectarian. In face of these negatives, Cones interest in Marxism was renewed through contact with Latin American theology. From there he began to recognize the validity of the Marxist critique, agreeing that Christianity had been used as an opium of the masses: [Marx] was correct in identifying the intention of oppressors.
They promote religion because it can be an effective tool for enslavement. 11 Furthermore he affirms that black liberation theology is in clear support of the poor: All proponents of liberation theology contend that the masses are not poor by accident. They are made and kept poor by the rich and powerful few. 11 Finally Cone directly affirms black theology and being compatible with Marxist political values: No one can be a follower of Jesus Christ without a political commitment that expresses ones solidarity with victims. 11
However, Cone had also been influenced by the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth who believed in the exclusivism of Christianity. Therefore he could never entirely adopt a Marxist view of justice, as he could never adopt Marxism in its entirety. Marx himself criticised anyone for cherry-picking parts of his revolutionary communist society, as otherwise it would not work. This nullifies, the effect of using Marx, and so suddenly, one could argue that Cone does not have an understanding of justice in Marxian terms. For in Cones black view, justice is human willed, but God demonstrates justice through human agency, i.
e. God siding with the poor, where there clearly is a justice of inequality. In the beginnings of black theology, while it was just emerging, the first and most evident source of oppression of blacks was white racism. So racism became its primary target, while black theologys support for socialism remained under the surface. However as black theology developed, writers like Cone and West recognized the value of a Marxist critique of the capitalist system, and integrated that into black theology and now call for a total liberation of black people from both racism, capitalism, and imperialism.
This is a huge step towards justice. Conclusion There are many different black theologies with different outlooks. Indeed, many self-titled black theologians criticise other self-titled theologians for not actually having a black theology. James Cone thought that Martin Luther King did not have a theology. The fact that many black theologians have thought that King did not actually have an academic theology meant that I felt it acceptable not to include him in this essay. Instead, I have tried to show how different black theologies have understandings of different theories of justice.
Therefore I think that there is a significant understanding of justice and the ramifications of it in black theologies. Obviously by defining justice in different ways, the significance of justice in black theology can be augmented or reduced. However, I have tried to compare some of the most widely acclaimed theories of justice with well-known black theologies and my conclusion thus far has been that there is definitely a coherent sense of justice apparent in most black theologies. Katie Cannon sums up this point succinctly:12