In the midst of a perceptive Commentary column about the progressive “attack on luck,” Noah Rothman reminds readers about a withering attack on the dubious concept of “social justice.”

… [T]he economist Friedrich A. Hayek savaged its immorality in The Mirage of Social Justice, the second volume of his three-volume philosophical work, Law, Legislation, and Liberty. A passionate critic of redistributionism, Hayek had no use for “social” anything. Calling it “a weasel word” that “wholly destroys” the meaning of whatever it happens to modify, Hayek deemed social justice among the worst of the lot of 160-odd “social” somethings.

“Everybody talks about social justice, but if you press people to explain to you what they mean by social justice…nobody knows,” Hayek told William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line in 1977. He dismissed the expression as “empty and meaningless,” “a quasi-religious belief with no content whatsoever,” having the potential to lead to “the destruction of the indispensable environment in which the traditional moral values alone can flourish, namely personal freedom.” It is an “intellectually disreputable” idea, which carries with it “the mark of demagoguery and cheap journalism, which responsible thinkers ought to be ashamed to use because, once its vacuity is recognized, its use is dishonest.” He was not a fan. …

… The minute that an institution starts redistributing society’s goods, it becomes unjust. The more a set of institutions commits itself to addressing inequalities, the more inequalities it causes. … To give in to the temptations of distributive justice is to empower the state, invite collectivism, socialism, and ultimately tyranny.

Social justice is “a demand that the state should treat different people differently in order to place them in the same position,” Hayek told Buckley. “Making people equal—a goal of governmental policy—would force government to treat people very unequally, indeed.”