In these times of despair when the judiciary and executive are both criticised for violating the idea of justice, one can’t help but wonder what justice is all about. MOIN QAZI attempts to tell us what justice should be.
“Justice is a conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity”
Justice is the bedrock of all great civilisations. Without it, the bulwark of human society would perish.
History shows that civilisations that were not able to protect and preserve justice ended in doom.
The idea of justice permeates every moral philosophy and creed irrespective of its hue. It is a necessary virtue of individuals in their interactions with others and the principal virtue of social institutions.
All great rulers have accorded the highest place in their kingdoms to justice. They harnessed their efforts to promote righteousness and the rule of rectitude. Justice has a very peculiar characteristic that makes it necessary: Justice should be pure and unvarnished. It should not only be done; it must also be seen to be done.
All scriptures acknowledge that justice is the fundamental principle in God’s system of divinity, never allowing the conscious evil-doer to escape the consequence of his or her deeds and never letting righteousness go unrewarded – either in this world or hereafter. Martin Luther King Jr emphasised,: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
To the Romans, justice was a goddess whose symbols were a throne that the tempests couldn’t shake, eyes that were blind to any feeling of favour or ill will, a pulse that passion couldn’t stir, and the sword that fell on all offenders with impartial strength and equal certainty.
Justice begins within oneself.
The virtue of justice requires that we not only judge others but ourselves fairly, too. If we are a poor judge of ourselves, it is hard to imagine how we can judge others fairly. The idea is that if a person is a poor judge of him or herself, it is hard to imagine that person being a good judge of others. Bias towards the self often leads to bias against others.
Justice has a very peculiar characteristic that makes it necessary: Justice should be pure and unvarnished. It should not only be done; it must also be seen to be done.
Not only must there be no thumb on the scale, but the evidence must also be balanced while wearing a blindfold. The time-honoured symbol of justice has been epitomised in the inspiring depiction of a crusading blindfolded woman with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other. It has been adapted from Greek and Roman mythologies.
But why is justice painted blind? Joseph Addison explains: Justice discards party, friendship, kindred and is, therefore, represented as blind. It signifies that it is impartial and is devoid of prejudice. She bears no ill-will to one or the other and favours neither.
We need leaders motivated by a love of justice—people who are never unduly swayed, whose conclusions are objective and not prejudged, and whose verdicts most reliably correspond to the facts.
The apotheosis of justice is the courtroom judge.
But justice is not an essential virtue left just to the kings, rulers, or to the judges and leaders. It is a social value that is inherent in every human interaction. When the Roman emperors went in a procession, they had a person walking in front of them proclaiming, “memento mori” (meaning, remember you will die one day). When the judges go to court, the flunkeys in front of them could proclaim, “Remember one day you will have to retire.” The ministers and high public officials can equally be reminded about it in their offices. This can also apply to every individual in almost every context.
Thinkers of all hues agree that justice means equality of some kind. The more advanced among them prefer to humanise economic, social, and political thought and marry it to moral principles, linking justice with human aspiration and deprivation.
Fair and just people are apt to question themselves. This makes them honest and more understanding of others. They maintain a clear conscience and vigilantly preserve it. They are cognizant of their own mistakes and faults, and so they are forgiving of others. They respect who they are and not whom they merely wish they were. Their sincere self-respect makes them respectful of others. They do as they say and say as they do: their word is sacred for them.
Justice is far from being something that dresses up in theatrical costumes and deludes us with empty rhetoric. Or one that allows itself to be blindfolded and its scales tilted. Or even the kind of justice whose sword cuts sharper on one side than the other. True and pure justice is one that is humble and always by the side of humanity. It isn’t restricted to the form of justice administered by the courts. It is, more importantly, one that flows spontaneously from society’s actions. Justice respects every human being’s right to exist as a fundamental moral imperative.
True and pure justice is one that is humble and always by the side of humanity. It isn’t restricted to the form of justice administered by the courts. It is, more importantly, one that flows spontaneously from society’s actions.
We need leaders motivated by a love of justice—people who are never unduly swayed, whose conclusions are objective and not prejudged, and whose verdicts most reliably correspond to the facts. Truth and honesty are the only authentic lodestars for them. They’ll always speak truth to power and authority- even when they’ve to do it at a great personal cost.
The simple understanding of justice, that has always animated mankind, is that the practice of fairness in everyday life. It is as noble as the practice of charity.
Charles Dickens put it so well: “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”
(Moin Qazi is a development professional. He was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester and has received UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal. Views are personal.)