No Justice, No Peace... Ever
In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict and the ensuing protests, one shout can be heard above the others: "No Justice, No Peace." The Huffington Post's Charles Howard went so far as to title his column after this rather commonplace phrase of protest. Howard wrote, "To me the phrase 'No Justice, No Peace' is not so much a threat as much as it is a cry of the heart. It is not simply a call to protest, but also a naming of the powers and what those powers have done." In essence, No Justice, No Peace is a call to action, not a protest, but a power play. Because justice cannot be achieved until "those powers" have been undone and replaced.
The Zimmerman/Martin protests have produced the latest invocation of this mantra but you can find it in nearly any protest; the idea of "justice" pervades modern social conscience. Wall Street fat-cats get rich selling bad mortgages while families are forced out of their homes? No Justice, No Peace. Unarmed youth shot during a violent confrontation and the shooter is acquitted? No Justice, No Peace. A Constitution crafted by rich white slave owners that declares all men are created equal?" No Justice, No Peace. The idea of justice pervades the very fabric of our country and it has been bubbling forth recently in protests the world over for any variety of social causes. The phrase takes various guises such as "social justice" but the implication is the same: we won't stop fighting until justice is achieved.
No Justice, No Peace.
But there is an inherent contradiction in this phrase; namely, true justice is not humanly possible. Justice is an ideal to which we aspire but true justice is as impossible a notion as utopia and, interestingly enough, is religiously pursued by the very same utopian activists.
Albert Camus, in his brilliant work The Rebel, divided the pre-modern world from the modern by calling the former the Age of Grace and the latter the Age of Justice. The modern world is, in effect, a rebellion of man against God and, in mankind's assertion of godlike status, we have determined that the ideal of Justice administered by man was greater than the Grace administered by God. In a nutshell, Camus indicates that there is no such thing as "justice." Where is the justice in a child dying of cancer? Is there ever really justice in the prosecution of a murder? The victim is still dead, the family still devastated, and the perpetrator goes on living. In the case of an instance of multiple or mass murders, even in the case of the death penalty, the killer only has his one life to give -- No Justice, No Peace.
The Old Testament incantation of justice as an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth," also runs into contradictions of justice as well. If a man rapes my daughter, is the proper administration of justice for me to rape his daughter? If so, isn't that an injustice against the perpetrator's daughter? What if he doesn't have a daughter? What are we left with then?
The point Camus makes is that this modern world of protest and revolution is one in which man tries to be the ultimate arbitrator of justice, a job once left to God. While man makes an attempt at justice, true justice only exists in the realm of the transcendent. Camus points out that grace, conversely, offers no justification; a young child lives or dies from cancer by God's decision, God's grace. A murderer is either convicted or set free by God's grace. Grace is not for man's understanding, nor can it be rationalized by man's conscience, rather, like so much that is uncontrollable in this world, it must just be accepted.
Some would argue, "Why should we just accept a verdict that we fully believe is not justified?" Because the means by which the verdict was rendered were those approved by the best appropriation of justice that our collective country can muster. In fact, some would argue that the trial itself was an injustice, but that is neither here nor there. The bigger question is that in the face of this perceived injustice, what would be the recourse? Unilaterally overturning the verdict that was reached by established laws and principles of our justice system? Would that be justice or would that be injustice? Killing George Zimmerman? Would that be justice or injustice? In essence, those who shout "No Justice, No Peace" in the streets feel only themselves to be the ultimate arbiter of justice. Given the opportunity they would be more than happy to play God while not submitting themselves to any form of justice whatsoever.
However, in a world where man has replaced God we torture ourselves in an attempt to attain justice by our own rationality. It is an impossible venture that will never result in true justice for all members involved. Justice is an ideal that cannot be attained by human rationality, but in our assertion of godlike dominance over the world, we continually shout "No Justice, No Peace"... ever... for anyone.