How to Live in the Tension between Inclusion and Justice
Or, more traditionally, between love and judgement
Inclusion and justice are two buzzwords that probably deserve to be so. They reflect two virtuous impulses: the desire for all to share in ‘the good life’, and the desire to see good triumph over evil.
Or, in more traditional language: an unconditional love for people, and a longing for evil to be named and judged, respectively.
However, upon reflection, they seem quite at odds with each other: how can you include the person that perpetrated some evil without letting go of justice? How can you judge the oppressor while loving them at the same time?
Should either one cede to the other?
I will suggest that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but that they do require a tightrope-walk without any guarantees that we will reach the end of the rope before falling off on either side.
Traditionally, in the West, justice has been considered universal. Either grounded in God, or in reason, there exists one true Justice, which we should apply “on earth as it is in heaven” (or as it is in a purely rational mind).
However, postmodern thinkers have pointed out that the Justice that has historically been upheld in the West was often far from just. In the name of Justice, many injustices have been perpetrated, and many people have been violently excluded.
Furthermore, that universal Western Justice was often just that: Western. When colonizers arrived on other continents, they encountered very different conceptions of justice.
As an example of the above two points, consider colonial India. In the early 19th century, it was still considered profoundly just for a widow to join her recently deceased husband on the funeral pyre. When a Brahman defended this age-old custom to a British general, the latter responded:
“My nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them. Let us all act according to national custom.
A clear case of clashing justices.
Which of these two men is right? Which one wields universal Justice? When responding, take into consideration the manifest injustices that the British perpetrated to enforce their justice in India.
While I do believe there is a universal Justice, grounded in God, it is obvious that we human beings have only a limited grasp of it, at best. Categorically claiming one’s justice to be universal is therefore problematic, and generally produces a mixture of justice and injustice when applied.
Is each of us then condemned to their own contingent conception of justice with no means to bridge the gaps with others? If we take the postmodern logic to its conclusion, it seems so.
Out of a legitimate fear of creating new injustices and oppressive systems, our postmodern selves simply refuse to adjudicate between different conceptions of justice, of good and evil.
Ironically, in doing so, we implicitly defer to the powerful, who can simply impose their justice by force. Thus we enshrine might-makes-right as the true Justice and present the weak gift-wrapped on a platter to the strong. Nietzsche and some of his followers went this way.
Of course, many postmodern thinkers refuse to go there, rightly so in my eyes. However, to avoid that road, they tend to sneak in through the back door the kind of universal conception of justice they so eloquently kicked out of the front door only moments earlier. The postmodern version of universal Justice is freedom from domination, freedom from having others impose their views on us.
Thus, we seem stuck on our tightrope, unable to decide whether we should let ourselves fall to the left into the arms of an oppressive caricature of universal Justice, or to the right onto the violent playground of non-justice where powerful bullies reign.
Is there not a way to stay on the tightrope? And how does all this relate to inclusion, that other important concept that I forgot about in all the excitement around justice?
Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf reflected on this issue at a time when his native land was being torn apart by violent civil war and ethnic cleansing. He throws us a balancing pole with the advice to keep walking on the rope.
Volf writes that, if there is to be any justice between us at all, it needs to be predicated on a will to include, a will to love the other (or to embrace, in his vocabulary). It is this will to include that will help us walk the tightrope of justice.
This will to include should lead us to consider the other’s perspective, to adopt what he calls a ‘double vision’. Although we are unable to achieve modernity’s detached, universal viewpoint (‘the view from nowhere’) from which we could objectively judge every conception of justice by the standards of Justice, we are actually able to attempt to see the world from the other’s perspective (‘the view from there’), however briefly and fallibly we may do so.
In that act, comparing ‘the view from here’ with ‘the view from there’, preferably repeated frequently, we may discover that the other’s perspective on justice in fact has some validity. We may actually even discover, to our horror, that our own perspective contains some hitherto concealed injustices.
If we and the other thus choose to look through each other’s eyes, and if we furthermore choose to repent from the injustices we thus discover in ourselves (even if it is ‘only’ the almost natural hate victims have towards perpetrators), we may see our justices converge, even reach (piecemeal) agreement.
While this agreed-upon justice would not necessarily be the universal one (though it may bring us closer to it), it would crucially be justice between us, the only kind of justice that would actually allow us to move on to inclusion, to progress from the ‘mere’ will to include, over justice, to an actual embrace of inclusion.
Thus, justice and inclusion are the two inextricable strands that make up the tightrope we are walking on. Neither can exist without the other. Justice without a will to include, a will to love, generates oppressive injustice. However, attempting inclusion without justice is empty, toothless in the face of evil, and gives the powerful free rein to exclude. Double vision is the pole that can keep us balanced on this double-stranded rope.
But, I repeat, there is no guarantee that we will reach the end of our rope to consummate our will to include in a just embrace.
We may find the other unwilling to adopt this double vision, to take steps towards us from their side, even after we have taken several steps towards them. And we may find that we can’t see any justice in the other’s perspective, try as we might. Hitler may be a case in point. In these instances, justice and inclusion become mutually exclusive.
We must then pursue our own justice, though humbly informed by a unilateral practice of double vision based on a sustained will to include, despite the other’s indications that they have no such will, if indeed we want to limit the scope of the injustices we might perpetrate in pursuit of our justice.
I believe the British were right to abolish widow burning in India, though their lack of double vision and will to include led to significant collateral injustices.
And when our clashing justices reach the point of violence, we must choose between joining the fray in support of those we believe are suffering injustices, and voluntarily suffering the other’s violent pursuit of their justice with arms thrown wide open for an improbable embrace of inclusion, not unlike the crucified Christ.
This dying Christ, suffering the injustice of others’ pursuit of justice, holds the promise of a different world, one in which justice and injustice are transcended. It is a world in which we have all been transformed to the extent that our natural inclinations are all just, or better: loving.
As Volf describes it:
If you want justice without injustice, you must want love. A world of perfect justice is a world of love. It is a world with no “rules,” in which everyone does what he or she pleases and all are pleased by what everyone does; a world of no “rights” because there are no wrongs from which to be protected; a world of no “legitimate entitlements,” because everything is given and nothing withheld; a world with no “equality” because all differences are loved in their own appropriate way; a world in which “desert” plays no role because all actions stem from superabundant grace. In short, a world of perfect justice would be a world of transcended justice, because it would be a world of perfect freedom and love. The blindfold would be taken from the eyes of Justitia and she would delight in whatever she saw; she would lay aside the scales because she would not need to weigh and compare anything; she would drop her sword because there would be nothing to police. Justitia would then be like the God of justice in a world of justice — the God who is nothing but perfect love (1 John 4:8).
Justice must and will be transcended to achieve a higher world of love. However, as I noted, current attempts to transcend justice must lead to violent and oppressive non-justice. We cannot fully transcend justice before we are all transformed by the Christ that rose again.
Much remains to be said about this subject, and the above raises perhaps more questions than it reveals answers. A far better and fuller treatment of the subject can be found in Volf, Miroslav, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Abingdon Press, 1996.