Justice is giving to each person what is due to him: Whatever reward, punishment, or share in common benefits or burdens he deserves. The only way to be just is to practice justice. Proclaim all you like the justice of doing injustice in certain cases, but the most careful rules for justifying injustice can never make injustice just.
Today we deny this. For example, we punish persons who have done no wrong, just because of wrongs done long ago by people who may not even have been their ancestors but happen to have had the same color of skin. James did wrong, but James is dead, so let’s punish John, who looks like him.
“But John enjoys good fortune that he doesn’t deserve.” Did John get his good fortune by doing wrong to someone else? If he did, take it away! But John doesn’t earn punishment merely by enjoying a blessing that Peter doesn’t. Would it be just to punish me to compensate for the fact that I didn’t deserve so good a mother as I had? If you insist on leveling, you will have to. But that isn’t justice. It’s malice.
Besides, once you begin rationalizing injustice, you can never stop. If you talk yourself into committing injustice for one social goal – say, equality – then you can talk yourself into committing it for any social goal. So long as you like the result more than you dislike the accusations of your conscience, you can do anything, to anyone, for any reason.