What Is Justice?


U.S. Supreme Court

In the New York Times bestseller, Justice; What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Michael J. Sandel explores the question What is justice?

Professor Sandel clearly explains the three main theories of justice that have informed American politics and our nation’s reasoned efforts to balance both individual freedom and the common good.  Dr. Sandel suggests that the question What is justice?  has yet to be answered fully, because we in America are still trying to grasp what constitutes the common good.

“What is justice?” strikes some of us as a foolish question precisely because justice seems to mean such different things to different people.  Most of us need a book such as Professor Sandel’s simply to help us understand the question What is justice?

So, what if one young man is foolish enough to ask “What is justice?” — and serious enough to hit the streets and ask his fellow Americans for the answer?  What if he learns that there is something that binds us together as a people and shapes how we feel about justice in America?  A common good!  That’s the premise of A Just Man Is Hard to Find, a coming-of age novel by Jeanne Hammond.


Are Americans really so sure what our nation’s dream is anymore?  There certainly seems to be a lot of political wrangling –- and several opposing visions — about what is best for nation going forward.  What if we don’t all have the same dream?

Two years before he was elected president, Barack Obama published his book, The Audacity of Hope; Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Senator Obama was concerned back then, before the market catastrophe and economic recession of 2008, that Americans had lost a sense of solidarity with each other — and that politics was mostly to blame.  Obama suggested that there was little public discussion of “just how much we share.”  He hoped, no doubt to encourage us to believe that, between us, there is a “bond a that will not break.”  Yet, six years later, the stridency of political discourse suggests the bond we have may be very near breaking.

In the novel A Just Man Is Hard to Find, Will Gray asks What is the American Dream?  He surveys as many people as he can in Washington, D.C., especially homeless people. What he finds surprises him:  A person’s happiness –- sense of freedom — depends more upon having a friend  than anything else.  It’s true for the  well-off residents as well. More than wealth or ease, people value human connection.

What is the American dream?   Maybe our hope in the American dream has less to do with the economy and more to do with feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.  For us to feel that, we might have to change the way we talk to each other.  For those looking for another angle on social justice and American politics, Will Gray’s sincere exploration of the question What is the American Dream? is inspiring.

FATHERS’ RIGHTS?newborn_baby_on_an_arm_201848

What are fathers’ rights? Fifty years ago, no one would have asked. Fathers’ rights were clear enough: provide for your family and earn their respect. A mother’s rights would have been similarly cast –- as duties. Hers were to care for her children, husband, and home. This social arrangement meant most children growing up in the sixties could count on a stable home life, whether or not their parents were always respectful of each other.

Well, a lot has changed since the 1960s, when one in ten American children grew up in a fatherless household. Today one out of every three children in America does. Yes, a whole lot of American kids grow up without a dad helping them with homework and showing them how to do stuff. When they become teens, these kids are also two to three times more likely to commit suicide, abuse drugs, become pregnant, or get arrested — even when poverty isn’t a factor. Growing up without a father costs these kids –- and the nation.

Fathers’ rights advocates suggest a variety of solutions, from minimizing the bias against fathers in child custody cases to revisiting states’ no-fault divorce laws. Could the law better protect the rights of fathers to have meaningful, daily contact with their children? Perhaps. A start would be to understand that fathers’ rights are actually duties –- or even privileges!

A Just Man Is Hard to Find is the story of a young man’s quest for an ideal to live by. He tries on every code of just manhood he knows of, from rugged individualist to civil rights advocate. He comes to the conclusion that a just man is simply a responsible father. Whether a man has kids of his own or not, if he’s just, he allows others to depend on him.


I have thought a lot about what justice is and what just men do and don’t do.  It was one crazy year, my sophomore year at Georgetown and the winter after my Dad  . . . . did what he did.

Anyway, one thing I feel sure about: Good guys don’t have sex with women and then leave them to sort everything out when they become pregnant.

Sure, the law of our land ensures that any woman can get an abortion, but I’ve learned that some women –- especially the nurturing ones —  don’t want to.  Why should a loving woman feel that abortion’s her only choice?  I don’t believe it’s right for a man to let a woman he’s had sex with face that choice alone.

Not knowing any better, I did just that.  I let Maria, a woman I cared about a lot, think she was on her own, while she was carrying our child.  I didn’t plan to abandon her, I just didn’t think ahead, and I didn’t follow through.

Men need to step up and take responsibility for their actions involving women.  I’m pretty sure that if men don’t turn what’s going down around soon, we won’t have to worry about being husbands and fathers.  Those roles will be a thing of the past.  We’ll be lucky to be sperm donors.


Although fiction about justice abounds –- especially if you include graphic novels of superheroes made into movie blockbusters –-  justice literature per se is not so popular.

Justice literature is, after all, not entertainment but serious fiction.  The matter of justice explored in a literary novel isn’t usually black or white, or a simple moral dilemma anyone might resolve quickly.  Justice literature, if well written, is more nuanced — the characters’ actions are bound up with their lives and longings.

That’s not to suggest the author isn’t clear that one choice is bad and another good, just that the author must respect the characters’ freedom to choose.  If justice literature is to instruct, it must first imitate real life and the complicated choices people actually face.

Think of such classics of justice literature as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Scarlet Letter, required reading for high school students.  Educators still believe high school and college students benefit from reading literary works that prompt them to think about moral matters and, by extension, their own choices.

A Just Man Is Hard to Find is a story of one young man who’s determined to find an ideal of justice he can live by.  A prelaw student with a love of history, Will Gray knows a fair amount about the men who’ve furthered justice’s cause in America.  He also knows the challenges he faces today may require a new understanding –- one he won’t find reading books!

Read Will’s story…


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