A Distorted Portrayal of Social Justice on OTConnections Volume One [REVISED Nov 18, 2014]
Published Nov 14, 2012  printer-friendly



Part 1 of 9: Introduction 


          In September of 2011, I came across AOTA’s OTConnections forum on social justice. There I encountered a very bizarre debate. The debate had actually occurred a few months earlier in February and March. The debate was over the motion to remove social justice as a requirement from the AOTA Code of Ethics.  In arguing in support for the motion to remove the social justice requirement, one of the debaters was making accurate statements, but because he had admitted to not doing any reading on social justice, he had no credibility. On the other side of the debate was a scholar who had published articles on social justice and had once served as an editor for The American Journal of Occupational Therapy’s special social justice edition, so he was credible, but much of what he had to say was (1) questionable, (2) gave a false impression, and (3) often contradicted the literature on the subject, even the literature that he had produced and cited in his own work. The debaters in the forum were Professor Ron Carson and Dr. Brent Braveman, Dr. Braveman being the scholar with the publications and editorship on social justice.

          Another part of what made the debate so unusual was the belittling attitude taken by Dr. Braveman toward Professor Carson. A case in point was when he highlighted the fact that Professor Carson had not done any reading on the subject. Dr. Braveman repeatedly asked for citations, though it was obvious from the first time he had asked the question that Professor Carson had not read anything (or else he would have simply answered the question – instead, he ignored it). A better man would have recognized his victory and not have pressed the issue, knowing the answer could only serve to shame Professor Carson. After cornering Professor Carson into admitting the obvious, Dr. Braveman later used the admission in what came across as a highly charged state because Professor Carson could not “immediately” cite sources and could not “immediately” discuss the history and application of the term. Dr. Braveman explained that:  

          “My intent is to convince any AOTA member who might read this thread that I understand more about contemporary interpretations and implementation of social justice efforts, particularly within the occupational therapy profession than you [Professor Carson] do” (Feb. 24, 2011 9:32 AM).

          Dr. Braveman did not have to say these things because, by this point in the debate, no one would have thought that Professor Carson was more knowledgeable than he. There was no need to belabor the point. But Dr. Braveman would not leave the issue alone. Several days later, in another belittling exchange with Professor Carson, Dr. Braveman seemed to be taunting him by referring to:

          “social justice concepts that are so eloquently explained in the full and vibrant body of literature” (March 1, 2011 9:54 PM) (emphasis added).

          Because of such posturing by Dr. Braveman, it is necessary to contextualize his experience on the subject of social justice. Dr. Braveman would be the first to admit that he is not an expert on social justice. He has written only two articles with two co-authors totaling about 14 pages on the subject. That averages to roughly five pages per author, if one rounds up. Although he referred to “the 2 articles where I am lead author,” one of those "articles" is the introduction to the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) 2009 special social justice edition where he served as co-guest editor (see Dr. Braveman’s post on Feb. 21, 2011 7:09 PM).

          These roughly five pages per co-author sum up his publication experience on social justice. That is not much experience. Furthermore, the main article he co-authored focused on the concrete issue of his and/or his co-author's experience with two patients at a non-profit organization, so it was more autobiographical than anything else. 

          Ultimately, titles, connections and credentials do not mean anything. You can be a Ph.D., a professor, a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association (FAOTA), an editor of an academic journal, or what have you, but you have to earn your credibility each time you take a stand on something. The main issue comes down to substance. Is your evidence valid? Are your arguments sound? These questions are the main issue.

              The picture painted in these debates through the use of Dr. Braveman’s superlative verbal skills was that Professor Carson was stating things that were completely ignorant and out of touch with the mainstream contemporary literature on social justice. This was a complete distortion. Professor’s Carson statements that social justice is essentially a political term about the redistribution of wealth is exactly what the contemporary literature on the subject says it is. To argue against such a position is to give a distorted picture of the subject.

          As stated by Dr. Braveman:

          “In a mature profession we must be willing to form strong opinions based on evidence and science and be willing to stand by them” (Feb. 24, 2011 9:32 PM).

          These three volumes will demonstrate how to arrive at informed conclusions about social justice using the highest standards of evidence-based inquiry. 

          In one of the instances when he criticized Professor Carson for not being able to support his position with citations, Dr. Braveman wrote:

          “I will freely and bluntly say that I am fully comfortable with the idea that not all opinions are equally informed nor valid. Sometimes, often, one person is more correct, more informed than another” (Feb. 24, 2011 9:32 PM).

          This is a statement no one could disagree with. Yes, not all opinions are either informed or valid. And yes, sometimes one person is more correct and informed than another. Sometimes one person presents a distorted picture of a subject during a debate and another person corrects that distortion.

          As you read the response below, please keep in mind Dr. Braveman’s words when he wrote the following to Professor Carson:

          “I am not devaluing you, I am devaluing your opinion” (Feb. 24, 2011 5:45 AM).

           [Note One: Unless otherwise indicated, all references to quotes from Dr. Braveman occurred in the OTConnections Forum titled “Motion 2 Ethics Revision- Social Justice” (see, which should not be confused with the other social justice forum titled “Motion #2-Social Justice,” available at 

           Note Two: Since the publication of this three-volume article, AOTA’s OT Connections site has undergone some changes that have changed the times and sometimes the dates of the quotations referenced here. From what I have been able to determine, the hours of the times have been moved forward three to five hours while the minutes remained the same. When the move in time went beyond midnight, the date was changed to the next day.]


Part 2 of 9: The Political Nature of Social Justice 

          The first question is whether social justice is a political issue. Dr. Braveman in the OT Connections debate says: no, not really. These are his statements.


                     Feb. 23, 2011 11:36 PM: “Social justice really is not a political is unfortunate collateral damage” (emphasis by Dr. Braveman).

                      Feb. 23, 2011 11:36 PM: “… the only thing that is ‘political’ about the concept of social justice is an attempt to co-opt a century's old tradition of caring and charity in an attempt to discredit political opponents in any way they can.

                      Feb. 24, 2011 5:45 AM: “Has the term social justice been politicized? Yes (unfortunately), but that should not dissuade us from saying that we reject the narrow minded vitriol of those who twist the meaning of social justice primarily to harm their opponents in the political arena.” (emphasis added).

         These are some very bold statements. Dr. Braveman moderates these bold statements with the statement below: 

                         • Feb. 26, 2011 8:23 AM: “I reject the notion that social justice is a political agenda. It is a philosophical and theoretical approach to remedy ongoing and significant social problems and injustices championed by members of all political affiliations. It only becomes ‘political’ when used in the context of political arguments about economic policies related to social issues and I suggest that needs to be of marginal concern to our membership” (emphasis in original). 

          Dr. Braveman is here using the technique of advancing his political agenda by (1) denying that his position represents a political agenda and by (2) charging his opponents with being political, and so malignantly political that they “twist” the true meaning of the term and spread “narrow-minded vitriol” to “primarily harm opponents in the political arena.

          Notice that the statement on the last bullet point above is from Feb. 26, days after the harsher comments from Feb. 23 and 24. Dr. Braveman’s last quote above from February 26 concedes that social justice may be political but only in a very limited context, rather than it being chiefly a political term. The concession is a technique called the Braveman Equivocation. The Braveman Equivocation is a pattern of arguing where Dr. Braveman makes an outlandish statement that must later be modified.  But the modification is never as forthright as the outlandish statement and involves minimizing the truth he is forced to acknowledge.  

          The concession of Feb. 26, in this case, however, is circular as it says that social justice is “‘political’ in the context of political arguments.” Its circularity is only one of the problems this concession poses. Such a concession is also odd in light of the fact that referring to social justice as political in the previous days brought accusations of spreading “narrow minded vitriol” to harm others and “twist[ing] the meaning” of the term.

          But how would someone engaged in evidence-based research determine whether social justice is a political term? Taking the word of any one person would not be very scientific. Instead, one must consult relevant sources. Perhaps we could first ask: how could Professor Carson have come to think of social justice as fundamentally political? Ironically enough, such a belief could have come directly from Dr. Braveman’s own published work. In summarizing an article that described the elements of the social justice literature, Dr. Braveman wrote that social justice research should:

          “recognize[] the political structures that have authority and power to change the causes of disparities, and …  use[] moral language and passion that includes stories of injustice and oppression to develop political will and move people to action to redress disparities.” (Braveman & Bass-Haugen, AJOT 2009, p. 9) (emphasis added).

         Dr. Braveman then calls on the profession to:

          “establish social justice issues and health disparities as a paramount concern in all our work and demonstrate political will to make a difference through education, research, and practice” (Braveman & Bass-Haugen, AJOT 2009, p. 10).

          Many of us would think that when a scholar tells you that the social justice literature is about developing the “political will” to deal with “political structures,” and then calls on the profession to “demonstrate political will” through education, research, and practice, that this scholar means that social justice entails a political agenda. For Dr. Braveman to then claim that he rejects that social justice is a political agenda and that people make it political in order to harm political opponents is something many of us would find to be a distortion of his published work. This is especially so when Dr. Braveman, at a 2006 conference, stated that one of the three ways to take action for social justice was through:

          “social and political activism and advocacy” (see “Empowering Clients to Participate” found here:

          A legitimate question for Dr. Braveman would be whether he was twisting the meaning of the term and trying to harm political opppenents when he reported that the social justice literature was about "developing political will" to change "political structures" and that "political activism and advocacy" were one of the ways to engage in social justice.

          Even the sources found in Dr. Braveman’s bibliographies for his AJOT articles state that social justice is a political agenda. One of these sources is Ann Wilcock’s An Occupational Perspective of Health, the first edition from 1998. On page 230 of this book, in Table 9-1, Wilcock states that social justice is (1) based on “Political Science,” (2) requires the promotion of “political awareness,” as well as (3) the action of “political lobbying.

          Another good source to understand the nature of the term social justice would be a dictionary that gives the kind of category a word falls under. One dictionary that does this also happens to be the most respected dictionary in the English language: the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). In other words, for an evidence-based researcher with this question, the OED is the perfect source.

           The OED tells the reader what kind of term social justice is. To quote the OED, social justice is “chiefly Polit. and Philos.” These abbreviations stand for Politics and Philosophy, respectively. 

          The OED, therefore, tells the evidenced-based researcher that social justice falls in the category of “chiefly politics.” This means that social justice is chiefly a political term. To emphasize: the most prestigious dictionary in the English-speaking world states that social justice  is not political due to “collateral damage” or “twisted meaning,” but that it is “chiefly political” in common usage.

          The reader is now in a position to make an informed decision: The reader can choose to believe Dr. Braveman’s words in a debate where he claimed, in order to advance his position, that social justice is really “not a political issue” and that those making it one are “twist[ing] the meaning of social justice primarily to harm their opponents,” or the reader can choose to believe

          1.       the Oxford English Dictionary, which says that social justice is “chiefly” a political term;

          2.       Ann Wilcock, a founding scholar on social justice in the field of occupational therapy, who says it is based on “political science,” and requires the promotion of “political awareness” and “political lobbying;” and

          3.       Dr. Braveman’s own published work reporting on an article that said the social justice literature is about “developing political will” to change “political structures.” We should note that his published work was written in 2009 before the social justice requirement in the 2010 Code of Ethics was an issue. And therefore, his comments there were outside the context of an intense debate where the social justice requirement he desired to keep in the Code was not threatened by the claim that it was political.

          The best available evidence warrants the conclusion that social justice is chiefly a political term. Anyone who makes statements to the contrary will have to recant. And a scholar who had written on social justice should have never made such statements in the first place. In fact, for a scholar to say, as Dr. Braveman did in his post of Feb. 23, that "the only thing that is 'political' about the concept of social justice is an attempt to co-opt a century's old tradition of caring and charity in an attempt to discredit political opponents" sounds not just recklessly overly dramatic, but an egregiously uninformed and distorted presentation of the subject.

          All of us want to win a debate, especially about issues we feel passionately about. Passion often overrides reason in such debates, however, and mistakes are quite common as people tend to overstate the strength of their position. These kinds of mistakes are generally forgivable, though they do damage the credibility of those who speak from passion rather than from reason. Some instances of this are not forgivable. These are instances where someone is not just carried away by emotion, but where someone tries to manipulate the discussion by giving a distorted impression of the subject. In this context the reader is asked to contemplate the aggressive and distorted nature of Dr. Braveman's Feb. 23 post that states that "the only thing" that is political about social justice is the desire to discredit political opponents. The distance from this statement to the statement that social justice is "chiefly political" is the distance between falsehood and truth. Each reader has to decide whether such a distance falls within the range of a forgivable mistake or not.


Part 3 of 9: The Redistribution of Wealth

          The second issue is whether social justice is mainly defined by the redistribution of wealth. Dr. Braveman says no. These are his statements on the issue:

                         Feb. 21, 2011 10:33 PM : “Ron [Carson], if I hear you correctly you object to the inclusion of social justice in our code of ethics because (perhaps among other reasons) you believe that it mandates a redistribution of wealth and unfairly requires that we take resources from one group and give it to another. Is that accurate? If so, I think you are wrong; I believe if you read the full body of literature on social justice you'll find that that is not a requirement of most proponents of social justice” (emphasis added).  

                         • Feb. 22, 2011 9:09 AM: “Social justice is not a political statement about the redistribution of wealth. Certainly not as it is defined in our Code of Ethics. Can you please provide a citation or reference that includes a solid explanation of a social justice philosophy or framework AND suggests that redistribution of wealth is necessary? I am fully willing to admit they might exist, but not in the mainstream contemporary literature on the topic and not in our Code of Ethics” (emphasis added).

                       Feb. 22, 2011 9:09 AM: “Social justice does not require the involvement of any level of government and I think it is just sad that the concept is being twisted to suggest it does” (emphasis added).

              What we have here is Dr. Braveman saying that (1) the mandated redistribution of wealth is not an idea required by most proponents in “the full body of the literature on social justice,” (2) that social justice is not a political statement about the redistribution of wealth in the mainstream contemporary literature, and that (3) one twists the meaning of the term social justice to say that it requires the involvement of government at any level. On this last point we should note that, according to Dr. Braveman, claiming that the government must be involved in social justice twists the meaning of the term so much that it causes Dr. Braveman to become “sad.”  

              These statements distort the subject of social justice. While it is true that you can find all kinds of people using the term social justice to mean all kinds of things, the term in the mainstream contemporary literature means the exact thing that Dr. Braveman denies. A review of the literature will easily prove the distortion.

              We can start with the social justice literature in occupational therapy by returning to Ann Wilcock’s An Occupational Perspective of Health. Recall from the previous section that Wilcock stated that "Political Science" was one of the bases of social justice, and that it required the promotion of "political awareness" and "political lobbying." The type of political lobbying Wilcock had in mind was actually lobbying for the redistribution of wealth. We know this because she wrote that:

          “The rhetorical commitment to social justice and egalitarianism in most [Western] economies cannot be achieved without structural change and ‘there is no sign that any Western democracy has the political will to make the massive redistribution involved . . .” (An Occupational Perspective of Health, 1998, p. 236) (emphasis added).

          This statement was made in the context of a document on inequalities in health titled The Black Report (1980). This is how that document has been described:

          “Redistribution, increased public expenditure and taxation and unashamed socialism are flaunted on almost every page”(see, accessed Oct. 12, 2012).

          "Unashamed socialism" is flaunted on almost every page. That is what Wilcock is pointing to as social justice.          

          Wilcock is saying then that the goals of social justice require massive changes in the legal, political and bureaucratic structures of a country, but that these changes require so much redistribution of money collected through taxation – “massive redistribution” – and who knows what other massive rearrangements of society by the government, that no single country in the Western world could muster up the political will to commit to social justice in health care. Keep in mind that as a Brit living in Australia, Wilcock is writing from the perspective of someone already accustomed to expansive welfare states. Since, according to Wilcock, social justice is not even met by these more expansive welfare states, the “massive” redistribution of wealth she is contemplating would be something extraordinary in the United States.

         Another particularly informative book on social justice that points to the distortion presented by Dr. Braveman was written by Professor Samuel Fleischacker. Fleischacker has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University. Perhaps Dr. Braveman knows him since they were colleagues for about a decade or so at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Fleischacker holds a tenured position. But, perhaps Dr. Braveman doesn’t know him, because Fleischacker’s book is not listed in Dr. Braveman’s bibliography. Fleischacker’s book is titled A Short History of Distributive Justice (2004). And this is not an obscure book, either, as in 2005 it won the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title.

          The first sentence of this book actually starts the same way as does Principle 4, the social justice requirement in the AOTA Code of Ethics. The first six words in the Code of Ethics for Principle 4 are:

          “Social justice, also called distributive justice.

          The first six words of Fleischacker’s book are:

          “‘Distributive justice,’ also called ‘social justice.’

          They both say that social justice and distributive justice are the same thing.

          According to Fleischacker, social justice:

          “calls on the state to guarantee that property is distributed throughout society so that everyone is supplied with a certain level of material means” (A Short History of Distributive Justice, 2004, p. 4).

          To make certain there is no confusion, the “state” and the “government” here are the same thing. And “property” is a general term that includes money. Fleischacker is saying that social justice is about the redistribution of money by the government. And to clarify this point, he explained that the debates about social justice: 

          “tend to center on the amount of means to be guaranteed and on the degree to which state intervention is necessary for those means to be distributed” (A Short History of Distributive Justice, 2004, p. 4) (emphasis added).

          In other words, Fleischacker, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University, who has written a book on the subject, an award-winning book at that, is telling the evidenced-based researcher that Dr. Braveman’s claim that social justice is not about the redistribution of wealth is wrong. And Fleischacker is not saying that this is a view of the minority of proponents of social justice, but the opposite. He is saying that this is the mainstream, commonly accepted, predominant view of social justice, thus contradicting Dr. Braveman's claim that such a view is only for a minority of proponents.

          A third book again reveals the distorted view of the subject involved in Dr. Braveman’s statements. It is from Kenneth Minogue, an emeritus professor of politics at the London School of Economics. He wrote that:

          “Social justice is the belief that it is the duty of the government to redistribute the wealth of a society so that each person enjoys at least the right to a basic minimum and so that, poverty having been abolished, certain equalities prevail” (“Social Justice in Theory and Practice” in Social Justice: From Hume to Walzer, 1998, p. 254)(emphasis added).

          Again, a giant in the field of political philosophy is contradicting Dr. Braveman's claim that the mainstream academic contemporary literature holds that there is no government involvement in social justice and that it is not mainly about the redistribution of wealth. Minogue also contradicts Dr. Braveman's claim that this is a minority view. Minogue is writing about what is the mainstream, common, and predominant view of social justice: that it involves the government’s redistribution of wealth. 

          Minogue explains what could be the source of Dr. Braveman’s seeming confusion on the matter of the government’s redistribution of wealth. Minogue points out that many social justice advocates play a word game when it comes to specifying just what entity will be engaged in “distributing” the “resources” that are always spoken of in discussions of social justice:

          “Those who write of social justice seldom specify who would be the agent of this redistribution, but it can only ever be the state, which alone has the immense power needed to compel people with wealth to hand some of it, or perhaps all of it, over to those without” (“Social Justice in Theory and Practice” in Social Justice: From Hume to Walzer, 1998, p. 254) (emphasis added).

          What social justice writers generally do is invent other terms or ways of talking about it to avoid stating the obvious fact that it is the government that must rearrange things, either by directly confiscating wealth through tax collection to redistribute money, or indirectly, through laws that burden one group for the privileges received by another. According to Minogue:

          “concealment of this agency – what is hard at times not to regard as a certain furtiveness about realities – is so instinctive to social justice theorizing that it invents another concept to be the surrogate bearer of agency: namely the thing called ‘society’” (“Social Justice in Theory and Practice” in Social Justice: From Hume to Walzer, 1998, p. 254).

          The phrase to keep in mind when reading about social justice is that the authors often have “a certain furtiveness about realities.” Minogue makes the point that it is not “society” that taxes people to fund welfare programs. It is the government. That is the reality that social justice advocates are furtive about.

         The Palgrave MacMillan Dictionary of Political Thought (2007) entry for social justice is explicit regarding the state as the agent of distribution:

          “with the rise of socialism, the concept [of social justice] became attached to that of distributive justice, so as to denote an obligation not of the individual but of the state. As currently applied the idea seems to be this. Consider a state or a system of laws; this identifies a society and ultimately determines, through those laws, the distribution of distributable benefits within it” (p. 643, entry for social justice)(emphasis added).

          Note that the dictionary is not giving a definition of what is a minority view. It is presenting what is the mainstream, predominant view of the term as found in educated usage.

          The evidence-based researcher now has this dictionary to serve as a fourth book connecting social justice with the redistribution of wealth by the state. In this case, the dictionary also refers to “a system of laws” that generates the distribution. Laws are rules the state uses to determine the relationship between itself and its people. It is sometimes vague according to some who write about the issue because of the term “society.” But “society” can only pass laws through government. This is true by necessity unless you were talking about primitive tribal peoples who have no state. This is why the philosopher Martha Nussbaum (Ph.D. Harvard), in Frontiers of Justice (2006) wrote that:

          “all the major Western theories of social justice begin from the nation-state as their basic unit” (p. 2).

              Note that Nussbaum’s book, which delineates a set of entitlements the government is supposed to provide, through the redistribution of wealth, is a fifth book substantiating the view that social justice in the mainstream contemporary literature is about the government’s involvement in redistributing wealth.

          The practical significance of combining (1) Minogue’s warning on how those who write about social justice evade stating the government‘s role in the distribution of wealth, and (2) Nussbaum’s statement that the nation-state is the fundamental unit of all social justice theorizing means that, as an evidence-based researcher does her reading on social justice, she must always be on the lookout for terms that evade or minimize the fact that the government is the agent of distribution: “society,” “we,” “public policy,” “public sector,” “agency,” “our, ” “power,” “community responsibility,” “laws,” “system;” all these terms should put the reader on the alert because any one of them could be used to hide the role of the government in social justice.

          Using the word “society” to substitute for the word “state” or the word “government” originated with Karl Marx. This was reported by the Nobel Prize-winning economist, F. A. Hayek in The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (1988). There he wrote:

          “To Marx especially we also owe the substitution of the term ‘society’ for the state or compulsory organization about which he is really talking, a circumlocution that suggests that we can deliberately regulate the actions of individuals by some gentler and kindler method of direction than coercion” (The Fatal Conceit, 1988, p. 108).

          Hayek says that Marx avoided the more common “and more honest” words such as “state” or “government” because these words:

          “evidently connoted for Marx too openly and too clearly the idea of authority while the vague term ‘society’ allowed him to insinuate that its rule would secure some sort of freedom” (The Fatal Conceit, 1988, p. 109).

          Hayek’s insight should remind readers of the penchant for avoidant phrase-making by those promoting a political agenda that demands a large and intrusive role for government in everybody’s life. This, by necessity, is the position social justice advocates find themselves in. 

          The evasion of specific language applies to words other than just those that hide the role of the government in social justice agendas. In criticizing the opaque work of a philosopher’s book about power, George Orwell once wrote that “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” This statement applies today to how social justice drags down our intellectual life and muddles our habits of thinking. In fulfilling the first duty of intelligent men, then, the evidence-based researcher must point out another piece of obviousness that is evaded by refusing to use specific language. Just as social justice writers evade the word “government,” they also avoid the specific word “money.” 

          Social justice advocates consider the word “money” too crude to appear in their written work. You would sooner see a gorilla sipping tea in a tutu than hear such an advocate state that “social justice requires the government to confiscate and redistribute money.” In the passage above, for example, Fleischacker uses the term “means” in the statement “the amount of means to be guaranteed and on the degree to which state intervention is necessary for those means to be distributed.” Apologies to those who would find clarity crude, but “means” means money. “Wealth” means money. “Resources” means money, or will cost money, which means it means money. “Property” means money. “Income” means money. Social justice can sometimes be referring to other things (e.g., abortion, gay marriage), but in the main, it means money. And considering how often money is at the root of the discussion, you would expect the word to appear more regularly in the social justice literature.

           If social justice advocates used simple and direct language, we would avoid a lot of confusion. But if they did that, they would sound like people who want other people’s money, and want to use government power to take that money and give it to others they deem worthy. And this is what many social justice advocates do not want to sound like – like people who want the government to confiscate and redistribute other people’s money. To avoid the obvious, these advocates employ phrasings such as “being for fairness in the distribution of society’s resources.

          But not all of the pro-social justice advocates are so coy about the government’s role in redistributing money. The left-wing philosopher Brian Barry put it bluntly in his book, Why Social Justice Matters (2005):

          “it goes without saying that it would be a complete waste of time to talk about the just redistribution of resources unless the redistribution of property by the state was on the agenda” (p. 22).

           Barry, an accomplished philosopher from Columbia University who has written two books on social justice, is saying that Dr. Braveman, who wrote about five pages per co-author in his two articles, is wasting everybody's time when he states that social justice does not involve the redistribution of money by the government. This is the sixth book in this section from a major thinker contradicting Dr. Braveman’s claims.

          If the redistribution of money by the government was not part of the agenda, then you would be merely talking about private charity. And this is not what social justice advocates are talking about. But notice that even the left-wing philosopher, Barry, has to point out that government redistribution of money is part of the social justice agenda because social justice advocates avoid stating the obvious. This kind of evasive talk will tend to confuse the newcomer to the literature. 

          Another classic in the field is Social Justice in the Liberal State (1980) by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman. The title itself makes it evident that it is about the government. The word liberal in the title is used in its American sense to denote those with left of center politics. The purpose of the book is to establish rules for creating a society based on left-wing social justice so that money, along with many other things, is distributed under the control of the government as equally as possible. (This is the seventh book in this section contradicting Dr. Braveman).

          Another book for the evidence-based researcher is David Miller’s straightforwardly titled Social Justice (1976). This is what he wrote on page one:

          “The modern political theorist has to deal with ideas like liberty, equality, welfare, and social justice in terms of which government policies can be evaluated"(Social Justice, 1976, p. 1) (emphasis added). 

          Miller followed this book with a second one titled Principles of Social Justice (1999) and said the following:

          “There is no question that the state is the primary institution whose policies and practices contribute to social justice or injustice” (Principles of Social Justice, 1999, p. 11) (emphasis added).

          Miller iterates this point:

          “The main agency here is obviously the state: theories of social justice propose legislative and policy changes that a well-intentioned state is supposed to introduce“(Principles of Social Justice, 1999, p. 6) (emphasis added).

          Miller says, echoing Minogue, that “the main agency here is obviously the state.” And Miller is not referring to what he considers to be a minority view, but the common and predominant view. These two books by Miller are numbers eight and nine in this section.

          All the sources above were published prior to the 2009 AJOT special edition on social justice. So Dr. Braveman had, as liberals say, “access” to these “resources.” But he chose not to mention these more recent works by some of the most important philosophers in the field even though he suggests familiarity with the “full body of the vibrant literature.

          The reader may be thinking that there has been some terrible trick played here of purposely selecting nine books that say something outside the norm to give the impression that Dr. Braveman’s claims were a distortion of the mainstream contemporary literature on social justice. The reader may be thinking that if one looked at the books Dr. Braveman himself cited in his articles for the AJOT special social justice edition that then a totally different picture would emerge. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

          Once one examines the books Dr. Braveman himself cited in his own published work, the picture will only get worse. One of the books in one of his bibliographies for the AJOT social justice edition has already been reviewed: Wilcock’s An Occupational Perspective of Health, the 1998 edition. We saw that Wilcock defined social justice as having as its base Political Science, and requiring the promotion of political awareness and political lobbying for the massive redistribution of wealth. We should also note that in the 2006 edition of the Wilcock’s book, she endorsed the left-wing redistributionist Green Party for its “political value” of social justice (Wilcock, 2006, p. 231).

          Another book found in one of Dr. Braveman’s bibliographies is titled Social Justice: Strategies for National Renewal (1994). It is a British book, written by a commission created by the left-wing political party of Great Britain, the Labour Party. The name should make it clear that this is about a political agenda for the country's government. The book's goal was “Building an Intelligent Welfare State” (p. 7). This entails “Redistributing resources from richer to poorer members of society” (p. 8). It must be pointed out that the main and ultimate resource being distributed is money.

              A third book cited by Dr. Braveman is Social Welfare and Social Justice (1987) by Beverly & McSweeney. According to this book:

          “Since social justice in social welfare policies can be achieved only through the political process, the following chapter focuses on political participation and representation” (Social Welfare and Social Justice, 1987, pp. 14-15)(emphasis added).

          Beverly & McSweeney say that it is “only through the political process” that social justice can be achieved. The term “political process” is another way to talk about the government. The authors follow with this statement:

          “It seems obvious that this political structure [referring to America’s constitutional democracy] falls much farther from the ideal of social justice than one would expect after 200 years of democratic government” (Social Welfare and Social Justice, 1987, p. 15).

          This statement leads Beverly & McSweeney to ask: 

          “Does this imply that we must change the structure of government if we are to achieve social justice?” (Social Welfare and Social Justice, 1987, p. 15).

          The authors say yes, “we must change the structure of government” in order to achieve social justice. These authors are saying that it is only through the government that social justice can be achieved, which is why the structure of the government needs to be changed. The structure of the government must be changed so that it has more power to control and redistribute money.

          The purpose of the entire book is to show how the government is necessary to bring about social welfare. That is why it is titled Social Welfare and Social Justice. And that is why the authors even disparage charity on pages 12 and 13.

          A fourth book cited in Dr. Braveman’s AJOT articles is Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990) by Iris Marion Young. In it, Young wrote that: 

          “Nearly all of the writers I cited earlier who define justice in distributive terms identify questions of the equality or inequality of wealth and income as the primary questions of social justice.” (Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990, pp. 18-19)(emphasis added).

          The “primary questions of social justice,” states Young, have to do with the distribution of money. Then Young wrote:

          “Public discussions of social injustice tend to revolve around inequalities of wealth and income, and the extent to which the state can or should mitigate the suffering of the poor.” (Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990, p. 19)(emphasis added).

          The state, again, is explicitly named in the redistribution of wealth.

          And again:

          “Contemporary debates among theorists of justice, as Charles Taylor points out, are inspired largely by two practical issues. First, is the distribution of wealth and income in advanced capitalist countries just, and if not, does justice permit or even require the provision of welfare services and other redistributive measures?”(Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990, p. 19).

          Young is saying that “nearly all of the writers” she has discussed deal with social justice as a question about the distribution of wealth and income and the extent to which the government should be involved. Again, this is more evidence that such a view is the common and predominant view of those who write about the issue, not a minority view as stated by Dr. Braveman.

          To the key point, recall that Dr. Braveman is saying that anyone who suggests that social justice requires the redistribution of wealth by the government is somehow twisting the meaning of the term, spreading “narrow minded vitriol,” or focusing on something that is “really silly.” But Young, in a book cited by Dr. Braveman, is telling the reader that that is how “nearly all” of the writers she referred to do exactly that. And that is exactly what all the writers we have discussed here do as well.

           A fifth book cited in Dr. Braveman’s bibliography is John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). On page 7 of this book, Rawls tells the reader what his book is about:

          “Our topic . . .  is that of social justice. For us the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation” (A Theory of Justice, 1971, p. 7). 

          Rawls then explains what he means by major institutions. Here he gives us yet another synonym for government: political constitution. Rawls writes that:

          “By major institutions I understand the political constitution and the principal economic and social arrangements” (A Theory of Justice, 1971, p. 7).

          After stating the standards by which to determine a just distribution of the goods of society, he explains how to go about doing it. That is the end-goal of social justice: a system that creates a just distribution. To do that he says a country needs to set up the proper form of government:

          “To achieve this end it is necessary to set the social and economic processes within the surroundings of suitable political and legal institutions” (A Theory of Justice, 1971, p. 275).

          The question is, can a country have social justice without the involvement of government? Rawls says absolutely not, that would be impossible:

          “Without an appropriate scheme of these background institutions the outcome of the distributive process will not be just” (A Theory of Justice, 1971, p. 275).

          Without the government, then, “the process will not be just.” The evidence-based researcher must next ask, how does Rawls want to structure a government designed to bring about social justice? Rawls wrote that:

          “The government may be thought of as divided into four branches [with each branch consisting] of various agencies, or activities thereof, charged with preserving certain social and economic conditions” (A Theory of Justice, 1971, p. 275).

          The four branches of government in Rawls’s design are (1) the allocation branch, (2) the stabilization branch, (3) the transfer branch, and (4) the distribution branch (A Theory of Justice, pp. 275-277). The purpose of the distribution branch of the government is to redistribute wealth. We should note that Rawls’s book is a foundational text, the most important one in the modern contemporary literature on social justice.

          In the following statement, Dr. Braveman tells Professor Carson that one of his goals in the forum was to point AOTA members to the books and articles that have helped form his knowledge base on the subject of social justice:

                         • Feb. 24, 2011 9:32 PM: “My intent is to point occupational therapy practitioners directly to the literature that has informed my knowledge base and opinions so that they can decide if they agree with me more than you AND that social justice belongs in our Code of Ethics.

          After examining the books above, several cited by Dr. Braveman himself, stating that the government redistributing wealth is the root of social justice, and then comparing these books to Dr. Braveman’s statements in the forum that such a view twists the meaning of the term, a warranted inference is that Dr. Braveman is pointing occupational therapy practitioners to books he has either not read in their entirety, or did not understand, or whose contents he could not remember during the debates, as all of these books are consistent with Professor Carson’s main statements about social justice in the forum and contradict Dr. Braveman's claims of twisting the meaning of the term.

[Edited by Miss Kimberly Mason and M. Lovey]


add comment


Leave a comment