Note: This question has been edited as a result of feedback in the comments. The original title was "Do people who self-identify highly with 'social justice' tend to be left or right wing?" and some answers were provided when the question read as such.

Main Question:

Does anyone know if there is any evidence available as to whether people who self-identify with 'social justice', in the sense of a question like this:

  • My self-identity is strongly tied to social justice.

  • How much do you agree or disagree with the above statement?

tend towards claiming respect for individuals or the collective? I mean this concerning attitudes on respect for the self vs altruism and pro-authority vs pro-individualism. (I know there are other aspects to left/right-wing, but these are the two that particularly interest me in this instance.)

The reason I ask is that many people who self-identify strongly with the term social justice seem to me to demonstrate a counter-intuitive and sometimes baffling combination of the two tendencies. That is: an increased belief in the rights and privileges of the self combined with a very high regard for and propensity towards making claims of altruism. Similarly, I have also noticed an increased propensity to champion the destruction of, or reform of, existing social and political institutions outside their spheres of direct or near-direct influence, in combination with a demonstrably increased reverence for enforced social hierarchies -- with established power structures, rules and authority figures -- within any social environments they create or choose to inhabit.

I wondered if anyone could point me toward any references or readings on the subject. Preferably either freely available online or very very cheap, as I don't have money to spend at the moment.

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    Everybody is for "social justice", of course, nobody wants "social injustice". Mainly because "social justice" sounds way better (and more just) than "social injustice". The trick is what does "social justice" mean? Free schooling (in well founded schools) for the poor? High taxation of inheritance to prevent excessive accumulation of wealth? Medicare or subsidized health insurance. Or just protection for private property and right to vote each few years?
    – SJuan76
    May 28, 2016 at 19:30
  • @SJuan76 I'm not talking about people who believe in social justice, but people who strongly associate their personal identity with the term. May 28, 2016 at 19:32
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    @PeterDavidCarter-Poulsen - votes indicate interest or liking - not always quality or suitability to SE format. See the numerous "best programming joke" or "programming on a boat" crap on StackOverflow for the clearest example. ... and now that I looked into your link, I did actually downvote that question precisely for lack of precision :)
    – user4012
    May 29, 2016 at 1:56
  • 1
    " that's why I added an additional, narrower definition" but your definition doesn't say which parts of the definition are describing the left and which are describing the right. I think you could improve your question by removing the confusing terms "left" and "right" entirely and focus on the questions of self vs altruism and individualism vs authoritarianism. In America, for example, both the "left" and the "right" claim to represent altruism and individualism and dispute that the other's sides claim to represent those same values.
    – Readin
    May 29, 2016 at 4:14
  • 1
    As the question is written now, it should be answerable, but I'm uncertain if there is any poll data which shows it, which is available. Jun 4, 2016 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


Typically proponents of "social justice" (in the sense of the political term) tend to be on more on the left.

"Social justice" as a philosophical concept sounds great, but the ways that the left or the right (or anyone in between) wants to implement (or specifically not implement) policies is what changes the game a little bit. In the United States, this term is associated with liberal politics (I can't speak for other countries).

Not sure if you've heard of the term social justice warrior (oops, I just referenced Urban Dictionary), but usually those who lean right use it as a pejorative term for enthusiastic proponents of "social justice" (I just use this as an example to point out that the term "social justice" is specifically used as the root of this pejorative term because it targets those on the left). Stephen Crowder is a popular conservative comedian and speaker who uses this term frequently when discussing liberal politics, if you want to see how "SJW" is used in common discourse.

I think in this case, it's less about the actual philosophical meaning of the phrase, and more about how it's used on a day-to-day basis. You might hear a conservative use the term "social justice", and if they do, they'll either be:

  • talking about a completely different implementation of it than liberals
  • or they'll be using it when discussing liberal politics.

Edit (based on edited question)

tend towards respect for the individual or for the collective?

That's an interesting question, and I think the answer is that they tend to respect a specific collective to which they belong or would like to belong (in other words, they respect the individual rights of only members of a certain group). That is, they don't want poor people to be poor, and they don't want rich people to be rich. I'll link to one of Crowder's videos (take it all with a grain of salt, and keep in mind he's a huge conservative proponent, and his videos are meant to be comedic), but he says something interesting which echoes this point. He says this when mimicking a certain liberal presidential candidate who is a social justice proponent:

The 1% will try to convince you that I don't like freedom. I like freedom, as long as it's not for people who are too rich or are too poor. I want freedom for everyone of the people in the middle, and it needs to be government mandated.

This hits on a couple of interesting points (specifically the difference in how conservatives and liberals might define the implementation of "social justice": whether it should or shouldn't be government mandated). According to this philosophy, it is unjust for rich people to be rich because they are withholding things from other people, and it is unjust for poor people to be poor because they don't have things they deserve. The solution to this, then, is to take from the ones who aren't giving, and give it to the ones who need it.

Following this, you would end up with a group of people in the middle, and this is the "specific collective" I mentioned that proponents for social justice seem to strive for: equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity.

You mentioned:

an increased belief in the rights and privileges of the self combined with a very high regard for and propensity towards making claims of altruism

"The rights and privileges of self" are rights and privileges that they believe should be given to them from somebody else, and the "claims of altruism" often involve taking from those who aren't worthy to have the same rights and privileges ("the 1%" in this case are the ones who aren't worthy) and giving to those who they believe are worthy of certain rights and privileges. In other words, "the rights and privileges of self" only take into account the rights and privileges of those who belong to a specific group. This isn't social justice for everybody; this is social justice for a specific collective.

  • 1
    I had heard of the term Social Justice Warrior, but was trying to avoid using it, because of the pejorative connotations you mention. Personally I lean quite strongly to the left on most issues, but I commonly find myself in opposition to SJWs, which is where my question stemmed from. @Readin has suggested some changes to the OP which I'm inclined to consider for redrafting, so it's likely there will be further honing of the question then, but thanks to bytebuster and yourself for your answers so far and I look forward to seeing if, once the changes are made, you have any additional ideas. :) May 29, 2016 at 9:11
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    @PeterDavidCarter-Poulsen thanks for the update, and I'm glad you found my answer useful. I'll take a look at the updated post and see if I can give any additional input :)
    – Josh Beam
    May 30, 2016 at 22:29
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    @PeterDavidCarter-Poulsen I added a bit at the end based on your updated question.
    – Josh Beam
    May 30, 2016 at 22:48
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    @JohnBeam Thanks lots! I must admit when I think of social justice I don't personally think of monetary wealth, but obviously that's one aspect -- in any case I think you can universalise the principals and specific collective seems like a very useful term in this context, and more or less exactly what I was asking about. May 30, 2016 at 22:52
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    @PeterDavidCarter-Poulsen "I must admit when I think of social justice I don't personally think of monetary wealth". Great point. I was using money as an example, but maybe the same could go for other topics. In any case, I'm glad you found the point about "specific collective" useful!
    – Josh Beam
    May 30, 2016 at 22:56

Do people who self-identify highly with 'social justice' tend to have left or right-wing opinions?

The answer is, both.

The term of "justice" is highly abused nowadays.

  • Left-wing ideologists call social equality a justice, while
  • Right-wing ones understand "justice" as an ultimate freedom, in terms of "what you earn is what you get".

Note, in both cases, they use the term of "justice", because they sincerely understand "justice" in their own way. There is no ultimate answer; both strategies may work or fail, depending on other factors.

Remember that political views are a spectrum, and you can place yourself anywhere between left and right based on your unique views. One of the biggest tragedies in American politics is the insistence that you must be either "left" or "right," and you can't disagree with your own side. Real humans, however, are not so perfectly ordered. We agree with some policies and disagree with others regardless of what side they fall on. Remember to stay true to yourself, not the prescribed beliefs of each side, to truly understand your political leanings. (source)

Summary. Nobody would say they are against social justice. However, they understand "justice" in different ways. And there is no "correct" answer here.

  • 6
    In mentioning the concept of the spectrum, consider the extension that there are multiple dimensions in which a person could be defined. May 29, 2016 at 1:33
  • I think the two bullet points are referring to the use of the term 'justice' rather than the concept of 'social justice'. While not incorrect, I don't think this is actually addressing the topic at hand.
    – user1530
    May 31, 2016 at 14:33

The contradiction you've noted is one of the reasons we need multi-dimensional political analyses rather than a single spectrum. (I'm not talking about the so-called "Political compass" which has no apparent explanatory power). Although such a system couldn't be constructed without an objective study, for the purpose of responding to your question, I'm thinking of a four-dimensional model: imagine the axes individualism-collectivism, redistribution-propertarianism (the classic left-right in an economic sense), globalism-nationalism, and for a fourth axis, something like priests-warriors.

My justification for the fourth axis is the contradiction you've pointed out in the Left's respect for certain forms of authority. You've identified respect for authority as a Rightist value, perhaps picturing police, courts and the army, but what about bureaucrats? Does the Right respect them? Similarly, the Left loves to criticise the police, army and courts, but places great stock in the social service bureaucracy and academic hierarchies ("priests" in my formulation, although a secular variety).

The less interesting contradiction for me is individualism-collectivism. Someone of libertarian sympathies would probably say that support for the welfare state is an attempt to "fob off" concern for the poor on an ambiguously defined other, in order that the speaker can demonstrate concern for the poor while actually leading an individually hedonistic lifestyle. I don't know how true that is, but certainly the "special-snowflake" syndrome exhibited by social justice advocates is an individualistic phenomenon. I think it's more the case that Anglosphere countries which birthed this ideology are highly individualistic, both on the left and the right. Even leftist-redistributionist concerns can easily be framed in terms of individual rights. This could explain why welfare in Anglosphere countries is more likely to take the forms of cash transfers by an independent bureaucracy, whereas continental European countries take a more communalistic, corporatist approach involving unions and the firm as well as the individual.

Edit: One more thing: a reading suggestion would be "On Power" by Bertrand de Jouvenal.

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