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The term “social justice” originates with 19th-century Italian Catholic thinkers who were trying to apply the Church’s teaching on the nature of justice and the common good to the post-Enlightenment, post-mercantilist world. In many ways, it is a synonym for “the common good,” which are the conditions that must exist in a given society if people are to be able to freely pursue human flourishing. In that sense, it is not value-neutral—as Rawls more-or-less tries to be—nor can it be reduced to efforts to equalize everything by eliminating differences or vast exercises in wealth-redistribution. Indeed, if you read some of the Italian writers on this subject—Blessed Antonio Rosmini being a good example—you discover that one of the things which they were trying to do was to remind individuals and communities that they also have responsibilities to their neighbor, and that they cannot and should not expect the state to do everything in this regard. Robert Sirico

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