What Is Justice?

Justice, at bottom, can only be revenge. Murder and mayhem cannot be undone or somehow ameliorated. The loss of a life, a limb, or an organ is permanent. Other injuries take time to heal, and may heal imperfectly; the healing time and its attendant costs are lost, in any event. Theft is rarely made whole.

Aside from the inculcation of morality, our surest protection from predation is the promise of swift and sure vengeance. When the state fails in its duty to exact that vengeance, it becomes illegitimate.

2 thoughts on “What Is Justice?

  1. Justice is the absence of injustice. So rather than, “Justice, at bottom, can only be revenge” I would offer that it is the existence of injustice that compels revenge. The state can only try to minimize injustice through punishment.


  2. I agree with the observation that the state can only try to minimize injustice through punishment. The state cannot eliminate all injustice, by any means. Attempts to control the behavior of individuals through oppressive means become acts of injustice, in themselves.

    “Justice,” in this post, stands for the state’s response to a criminal act, not for the quality of fairness, moral rightness, or equity. My perhaps too-subtle point is that the usual response to a criminal act is called “justice” — as if to imply fair treatment of the victim — even though the act itself precludes fair treatment and can only be addressed by an act of vengeance (fine, imprisonment, execution).


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