THE BLOG
06/20/2013 08:20 am ET | Updated Aug 20, 2013

Eyebrow-Raising Omission in Republican Principles: Absence of 'Justice'

The Preamble to the Constitution states, as one of the missions of the government it created, to "Establish Justice." Our pledge of allegiance ends with "Liberty and Justice for all."

But, justice is notably missing from Republican principles. It animates none of their policies.

How many times have we heard Republican party leaders, such as RNC Chair Reince Priebus, proclaim that there is nothing wrong with Republican principles, they just need to connect, or repeat, or reach out to new groups or some combination of those in order to lure wayward voters? Implicit in these sentiments is that Republicans are the natural rulers and any other result is an aberration.

What are these Republican 'principles'? Most succinctly, they proclaim "freedom, prosperity and opportunity."

Of course, what is not clear is how those "principles" are in any way owned by the right-wing. Who, for example, opposes freedom, prosperity or opportunity? There is nothing Republicans say or do that puts their brand upon those principles.

Except that they seize them, claim them, repeat them, while others remain silent.

More expansively, Republican 'principles' are often stated as "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

Again, no mention of "justice," an even more glaring omission when one stops to realize that Republicans fancy themselves the party of god, and justice is one of the Bible's central themes.

For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter that conservatives do not practice what they preach. How "limited," or example, is a government that forces women against their will to have probes inserted in their vaginas? [It is, actually, by law, an assault, but who cares about such little niceties?] How much individual freedom is there when a state dissolves elected bodies and appoints "managers" to run municipalities who have never been elected to anything?

Astonishingly, Republicans actually think the principles themselves are the answers to the country's problems: "repeal ObamaCare and make the case that liberty solves the problem."

They are serious. When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was asked in a town-hall what people should do if they have cancer and no insurance, he told them to go find a charity hospital. That is what they mean by a treating metastatic colon cancer with the liberty to find a charity hospital.

But, as FDR said, "Necessitous men are not free men."

Most importantly, however, note the deliberate absence of justice. Scour right-wing websites. It is not there.

The concluding phrase of our pledge of allegiance -- "with liberty and justice for all" -- is deliberately ignored by the right-wing. It is also one of the key missions of the Framers as stated in the Preamble to the Constitution, "establish Justice," that the right-wing also never quotes.

Sometimes, in fact, the right-wing quotes the "inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" phrase from the Declaration of Independence claiming it is the Preamble, a self-deception that reveals their visceral aversion to "Justice" and the "General Welfare" as part of the Founders' mission for the government they were establishing.

Could it be -- and I know this is difficult to believe -- that the right-wing really does not believe in all our founding principles?

Justice and liberty are opposite sides of the coin of civil society. Justice is a constraint on liberty, as in "the liberty of my fist stops at the tip of your nose."

But, it is more than that. It is the creative tension that makes our democracy work. It is not only black-robed judges, juries and courtrooms. Justice involves laws that limit your activities if they are going to harm others. In the 19th century, as European Americans settled the West, there was a controversy about whether you had the obligation to "fence-out" my cattle or I had the obligation to "fence them in." Two groups of strong libertarians arguing over whose liberty should be limited to achieve justice.

As society has become more complex, "justice" has also become more granular. Justice is the ethic behind preventing corporations from producing tainted foods, adulterated drugs or untested cosmetics -- the aegis of the Food & Drug Administration -- determining rules for safety in the mines, limiting air and water polluting emissions, regulating tobacco advertising, and so forth, each of which limits the "liberty" of the property owners to act in whatever way they wish regardless of their impact on others. Justice animates the initiatives to provide everyone affordable health care and children excellent educations.

I give the right-wing great credit for not proclaiming "justice" as one of its principles and then ignoring it. Its omission states their perspective very clearly.

I wish I could give the right-wing credit for insisting upon our liberties. If only they really did so.

One might think that those who valued unbridled liberty would make voting as broadly accessible and convenient as possible, but they don't; or promote workers' rights so they could have as much liberty over their property, their labor, as possible, but they don't; or, insist upon prosecutions for torture and for bankster fraud, but they don't; or, as in the recent case of the Marathon bombers, insist upon strict adherence to constitutional protections against self-incrimination and the right to trial by jury, but, again, they do not.

Instead, the right-wing has permitted its version of the American principle of "liberty" to become tarnished as a code word for bias, privilege, pollution, death and/or the exercise of arbitrary power. They raise the banner of "liberty" to promote property over people, to hold onto power by making voting difficult or unavailable, to attack workers and public employees as burdens, to transfer wealth to the top 1 percent, to eliminate, weaken or not enforce regulations resulting in peoples' deaths and to pollute our air, water and soil.

The right-wing might object that they have not omitted 'justice' because liberty is justice, that whatever happens to someone in a system of unconstrained freedom is just. That is, I can smash my fist into your nose if your face gets in my way. But to make that assertion, they would have to explain why the Preamble and the Pledge were redundant even to mention the word, "Justice".

Another likely right-wing response is that it is "unjust" to tax people to pay for others' needs, and so that the issue is not "justice," but justice for whom. Are the wealthy no more entitled to "justice" than the poor? It is a perspective that is at least arguable in the state of nature, that Thomas Hobbes reminded us is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short".

But that argument does not wash because we have all signed up for civil society that takes us beyond the state of nature, so that our lives may be enhanced, secure and enriched. Indeed, when the loose federation under our first attempt at government, The Articles of Confederation, did not work, the Founders constructed the stronger union, with a stronger central government, under the Constitution.

We agreed to limit our liberty, and the autonomy of the states, for the greater good. The challenge for society is to leave as much liberty intact as possible consistent with the

Liberty is relatively simple and highly individual -- do whatever the hell one wishes. Justice, on the other hand, is complicated; it makes sense only as associations between individuals. No wonder, then, that appeals to liberty so easily connect emotionally, whereas justice requires rational thought, weighing alternatives.

What is justice? That itself is a complex discussion, beyond the scope of this article. John Rawls's Theory of Justice is an entire book on the subject. It is worth noting a thought experiment that Rawls proposed to help determine what justice might look like: assume you know nothing about who you are, what you own, what your relationship is to others. All you know is that you are associated with everyone else. Under those circumstances, what policies would you choose to govern?

When the right-wing responds to policy or principles that effect justice, they describe the uncertainty and complexity:

The original Bill of Rights supposed that self-government required certain civic traits and freedoms, so it declared these activities, such as the freedom of speech, to be protected from federal government interference. By contrast, Roosevelt's rights require ever-expanding federal government programs for them to exist. The right to "adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment" is a right to be free of an anxiety. Yet, if one is free of fear of unemployment, will one ever want work? How much does one need to earn to enjoy "adequate... recreation"? What is a right to "a good education," a "decent home," or "good health"? The questions never end, because the standards of what is "good," "adequate," or "decent" constantly rise.

But, just because it is difficult does not mean 'justice' can be ignored or denied.

The Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution both demand its inclusion.

Omitting 'justice' from its principles and policies places the right-wing clearly outside American values and tradition.

The golden rule -- do unto others what you would have them do unto you -- was a way to understand justice.

For the right-wing, golden rule has become: he who has the gold, rules.