Pieper asks the questions, "if being just means, in all our dealings, being prepared to give everyone his due, what is it that is everyone's due? And: what is the basis for saying that anything at all is someone's due?"
According to the Founders, we are owed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That's not much. Rather, it's only everything, because it means existence-freedom-actualization. In other words, a human being has the natural and unalienable right to become in existence who he is in essence. This right cannot be surpassed, only eroded, diminished, or denied.
From whom are we owed these goods? From no man, and certainly no state! Rather, from God only. Perhaps this is ill-sounding, but the Creator makes us human, and humanness entails certain properties. We are owed these things in the sense that a sphere is "owed" roundness. It's just the way we're made.
As mentioned in yesterday's post, everything aside from humans simply Is. The human being is the only creature in all of creation that ceaselessly becomes. It's a cliche, but man is a verb, not a noun. (Man is really a complementarity of the two, which is to say, essence and existence in a dynamic and dialectical movement toward Celestial Central.)
So, it's not so much that God "owes" us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as that man is created with these in mind. Analogously, if you're going to create a plant, this implies the provision of soil, water, and nutrients. It makes no sense to build a tree without the means to sustain it.
As alluded to by Pieper, justice means giving each person his due. I don't know about you, but I was taught two bits of hard wisdom: 1) life isn't fair, and 2) the world doesn't owe me a living. This means that while God is just, man often isn't. And while God gives us a right to life, he leaves the living to us.
Is this just a repulsive euphemism for infanticide -- the ultimate reproductive injustice -- or is there such a thing? I suppose so. For example, if two people decide to reproduce, they have the right to a child. Likewise, the child has a right to be born. Moreover, every child has the intrinsic right to a mother and father.
But again, rights and duties co-arise, so prior to the right to a child is the obligation to raise it. And prior to the right to be born and raised by a mother and father is... what?
Good question. Some things can't be paid back, only forward. I suppose it's unjust that my son won't pay me back for all I've done for him, but something about this doesn't sound right. According to Pieper,
there are debts which, by their very nature, cannot be paid, and for this reason justice has to be substituted (so to speak) by another attitude: of pietas (honoring one's mother, for example). I cannot pay back to my mother all I owe her and the moment cannot come where I can say to her: we are [even].
So, as some debts can't be repaid, others can't be recovered, at least considered from a selfish perspective. In a wider framework, I can repay my father by being a good father to my son. And my son can repay me by being a good father to his children. Would that repay me? No, it would actually more than repay me, in which case I am indebted to him again. D'oh!
It reminds me of a friend named Victor who has three children between one and four, and said he likes to be mindful of parenting in terms of its impact seven generations down the line. In other words, he wants to be a good patriarch, like Abraham.
Let's see. I don't think he and the wife are done reproducing, but let's say they stop at four. Let's say each of these four has three each, and each of those three has three more, etc. Math is hard, but by my calculation that works out to 8,748 children by the seventh generation. That's a lot of reproductive justice. How is Victor supposed to ever repay all his great-great-great-great-great grandchildren? It's not fair!