Liberal and conservative, right and left, red state and blue state—there are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to divide political and economic lines. But one of the most helpful ways of understanding such differences is recognizing the divide between advocates of proximate justice and absolute justice.
Several years ago Steven Garber wrote an essay in which he explained the concept of “proximate justice”:
Proximate justice realizes that something is better than nothing. It allows us to make peace with some justice, some mercy, all the while realizing that it will only be in the new heaven and new earth that we find all our longings finally fulfilled, that we will see all of God’s demands finally met. It is only then and there we will see all of the conditions for human flourishing finally in place, socially, economically, and politically.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from proximate justice is absolute justice, the idea that we should never settle for “some” justice but must always seek, as a matter of duty, the maximal amount of justice.
The primary appeal of absolute justice is its purity. Why align with compromisers and those who are satisfied with “good enough” when you can fight for full justice? Being satisfied with proximate justice sounds more like an excuse to do less rather than a principled position.
The primary appeal of proximate justice is its realism. Since absolute justice is not attainable this side of the new heaven and new earth, settling for less is the best we can ever expect. When absolute justice is our standard we can even end up allowing injustice to continue and flourish.
Those in the absolute justice camp accuse the other side of being cynical, insensitive, and willing to compromise with evil, while advocates of proximate justice claim their ideological rivals are utopian, self-centered, and likely to do as much harm as good.
A more thorough examination of each side will have to wait for another day and another article. (As you can probably tell, though, I’m firmly on the side of proximate justice.) I only mention the two views because I want to show how the idea of proximate and absolute justice relates to employment and can help us understand the recent kerfuffle over the working conditions at Amazon.