How Can We Balance Justice and Order?

Order and justice are both important in any society, but their role and relationship is not so clear, mainly because people fear chaos and disorder but also fear the injustice of an overly strict tyranny. This informal paper proposes a simple model for how to look at the relationship and balance between the two: We all wish to build and live in a house called justice, but that house must have a firm foundation of order.

Order and justice are both discussed in great detail in companion papers on the Elements of Society and Elements of Government.

Justice

Everyone wants to live in a just and equitable society where justice reigns supreme, where everyone is an equal, and everything is fair and equitable, and where any emergent injustice is cured as rapidly as possible by a system of justice.

Human nature

We may have all sorts of grand ideals for how ideal citizens should behave in an ideal society, but it is impossible for us to fully escape human nature. Greed, jealously, envy, the whole seven deadly sins thing, and the wide range of virtues and lack thereof all conspire to prevent us from living in anything resembling an ideal society.

Ideal citizens will defer to the ideal justice system, but what’s to be done with less than ideal citizens who refused to defer to justice? Clearly justice alone is insufficient to hold any real society together.

In short, we can’t build our pure and ideal house of justice without some mechanism for compensating for the vagaries of human nature.

Order

Order is a rather double-edged sword, simultaneously protecting us from disorder, chaos, and evil, but constraining our freedom. Order is the primary and best tool we have for keeping the worst aspects of human nature from overwhelming the best aspects of human nature. Sure, we should start by asking or even demanding that everyone act in the best interests of all members of society, but that only goes so far before the negative aspects of human nature begin to kick in, not to mention differences of opinion as to what constitute the best interests of anyone in society.

Force should not be necessary in an ideal society, but given human nature, it does appear to be needed, now and for the foreseeable future.

House of justice

Justice is not simply an abstract concept with abstract principles. There need to a wide variety of fairly detailed rules and guidelines for how people should behave in a complex society. This is the house in which we wish to live.

But clearly rules and guidelines won’t just happen magically by themselves.

Foundation of order

The rules and guidelines for the house of justice need to be implemented and enforced somehow. Order provides the foundation for implementing the rules and guidelines for the justice system. Law enforcement and courts require order to function at all.

Justice and order must fit like hand and glove

Neither justice nor order can be designed and implemented alone without concern for the other. Justice needs a foundation sufficient to support its goals, aspirations, rules, and guidelines. Similarly, there will be no true sense of justice if the foundation order is excessive and repressive.

Can justice be implemented without order?

One might hypothesize an ideal society in which citizens each provide their own sense of order, with no enforcing authority, but the vagaries of human nature intervene and render such a prospect virtually unlikely.

Can we have order without justice?

Some sense of justice is absolutely mandatory for any plausible human society, otherwise it would be a virtual prison. People accept order only as the cost of achieving the house of justice in which they wish to live.

How much justice is needed?

Is there ever the possibility of too much justice? Maybe not, or at least it is unlikely that we would ever see such a prospect, but there are plenty of petty injustices that occur in daily life, so being too thin-skinned is not a prospect that any sensible society will bend over backwards to cater to.

Not every injustice is a criminal offense. We also have the civil justice system whereby harm to one’s person or property can be litigated and possibly cured. Even there, the courts are not designed to cure the most petty of offenses.

So, a society must decide how must justice is needed for the vast majority of individuals to feel that they are living in a fair, just, and equitable society.

How much order is needed?

The general guidance is that no more order is needed than to support the justice sought for society. Any more order is likely to be considered excessive, oppressive, and repressive.

In other words, the foundation should be sized to fit the house that is desired.

How to balance justice and order

One might ask for a degree of justice that reasonable order cannot support, or a degree of order that impinges excessively on desired justice, so some degree of balancing and trading off is necessary.

Too much freedom can result in disorder and even chaos.

Too much order can result in an oppressive and unpalatable society.

Clearly a balance is needed.

The balancing is complicated by the fact that different groups or ideologies and different individuals may have radically divergent goals and aspirations for freedom, justice, security, and order.

The result is that the balancing will be dynamic rather than cast in concrete, changing over time as individuals, groups, ideologies, and circumstances change.

Which comes first, justice or order?

The point of this paper is that justice and order cannot be pursued in a vacuum — they need each other.

From a practical perspective, the foundation — order — must be put into place before the house — justice — can be built, but the foundation cannot be designed properly without a clear conception of what the house of justice will look like.

Sensible people will accept modest to moderate restrictions of their freedom while the foundation and house are being built, but only to the extent that the house of justice really is put into place in reasonably short order.

Plan justice first

When building a house, even though the foundation must be put in place before building of the house itself starts, it is also true that the design of the house must be completed before the foundation can be designed or built. So it is with justice — one must think through the design of justice first, but the building of order must occur before justice can actually be achieved.

Summary

In short, the most beneficial sequence is:

  1. Design the system of justice.
  2. Plan the system of order needed to support that system of justice.
  3. Put the system of order in place, lay the foundation.
  4. Build the system of justice, the house.

So that the end result is that we can all enjoy this house called justice which is supported by the foundation called order.

To be clear, our goal is the house called justice, but we need the foundation called order to support our goal.