The problem with Labour is that its rhetoric of social justice is never matched by deeds. Noel Pearson understands these issues. The whole article (Failed party in search of a purpose) demonstrates that:
- this is not a recent problem, that John Button analysed it in 2001 but was ignored
- that Pearson understands the dialectical method, the clear identification and inter penetration of opposites, and applies it in this speech to concepts such as leadership and social justice
Today Labor is more sparing in its deployment of these two words: social justice. While social justice is still part of Labor's intra-mural pieties - a useful rallying cry for the true believers in front of the nation at large - the concept is muted and liturgical.update: full text of Noel Pearson's 2010 John Button Oration - "Nights when I dream of a better world: Moving from the centre-left to the radical centre of Australian politics" (link)
If Labor were to say what it was about, why could it not simply say that it was about economic prosperity and social justice? The truth is that it cannot. And the problem is not with the notion of economic prosperity: plainly, Labor stands for it and everyone is clear on its meaning.
It is the social justice part of this formula that Labor could not sustain. It could not because the notion of social justice is completely elusive and has for too long remained undefined by those who say they were and are all for it. Both the end state of justice and the means by which that end state is supposed to be achieved is utterly undefined.
And all attempts to cobble together a definition of what contemporary Labor politicians mean when they deploy the words social justice would just confirm to their liberal conservative opponents that Labor has in mind yet another great socialist project that will end in waste and tears.
How is it that a concept that has travelled with the social democratic project through such a long and storied history has ended up so equivocal? Why does every attempt at articulation sound like someone either sincerely wanting or insincerely promising utopia?
- Failed party in search of a purpose