Excellent article about it from Crisis Magazine.
American universities used to be a place where difficult ideas were encountered and built in biases challenged. The universities, an inspiration from the Catholic Church, were the home of diverse ideas that were meant to inspire wisdom in students in addition to the learning of practical skills that would help build the economic strength that enabled America to dominate the globe. A fine example of this thinking is ensconced in the motto of DePaul University, Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi, or I will show you the way to wisdom. Wisdom enlightens the mind and strengthens the individual, which has direct consequences for the broader culture and society. But our universities have turned their backs on promoting wisdom and instead have adopted a mission of promoting a distorted sense of social justice.
Social justice is a concept that originates in Catholic Social Teaching. Indeed, it could be said to be foundational to Catholic Social Teaching. The concept emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in the writings of the Italian Jesuit Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio. Taparelli coined the term to defend the rights of landed nobles during the turbulent mid-nineteenth century nationalization process that led to the founding of the Italian state. Later the term would be invoked and defined broadly in papal writings, most notably in Pope Pius X’s 1904 encyclical Iucunda Sane, which sang the praises of Pope St. Gregory the Great, whom Pope Pius X called a great defender of social justice and the essential foundation of society, the family.
The Catechism defines the just society as one that “provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority” (CCC 1928). Social justice requires the recognition of the transcendental dignity of man as a creature made in the image and likeness of God and that as a result rights are prior to society. Social justice is concerned principally with promoting human dignity and strives for promoting the common good, which according to Gaudium et Spes “embraces the sum of those conditions of social life by which individuals, families, and groups can achieve their own fulfillment in a relatively thorough and ready way” (GES 74). Little mention of power arrangements are made in the Catechism and the body of Catholic Social Teaching, and for good reason, as the Church is principally concerned with the spiritual health of the person and the earthly health of society beginning first with the traditional family. Power and politics is only of concern when it conflicts with our duties to our neighbor and to God.
This is a far cry from those definitions promoted at secular and nominally Catholic universities. These institutions define the just society as one that promotes the equal distribution of political and social rights and an equal distribution of wealth while being one that opposes structural injustices of power and unearned privilege. This is a definition that comes from Marxism, which is concerned primarily with the two facets of materialism—productivity and power—which are the false idols of the secular world.