It is all too easy to forget how divisive the great struggles of history once were. Issues we no longer think to be controversial all caused bitter argument in their time; issues like slavery, civil rights, female emancipation, and gay rights. In each instance an established view that it was natural to oppress a certain minority was pitted against an upsurge of sentiment to the contrary. Following the eventual trouncing of the established status quo, opposition movements' leaders became heroes and their ideas - once considered dangerously revolutionary - became, for the most part, mere common sense.
In some way this is telling of how relative and flexible morality can be. In another it shows that progress is a long march, often of struggle, which needs to be fought out to gain new ground. Though today we find slavery universally reprehensible and venerate a figure like Abraham Lincoln, during the 19th century it was a hugely controversial subject and Lincoln was hated and criticized by many. So imagine if, in future, economic justice - including fairness and relative equality - was seen as a self-evident common good.
Today the issue of economic justice is among the most polarizing and provocative we have. Watching the arguments for and against is often like bloodsport. Is the level of inequality an accurate measure of a country's success? Is a small or a big government better equipped to provide economic growth? Are bankers or socialists the enemy? Should taxes be lower or higher for prosperity? Such debates define much of modern-day political ideology, and can be found below the surface of many quotidian news stories.
It's not my intention to draw a moral equivalence between an issue like slavery and the debate about economic justice. What I am proposing though, is that economic justice is not only a defining issue of our time, but that it will win out over the established arguments for selfishness and greed so prevalent in society at the moment. To be on the wrong side of humanity is to be on the wrong side of history. This is because the great historical conflicts of ideology have almost always resulted in a triumph for humanity; leading to wider levels of equality, fairness, altruism, and solidarity. Interestingly, in Matthew 5:5, Jesus famously says, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." Whether or not you're religious, it seems like he was on to something.
Though the aim of small government advocates tends to be non-controversial and even attractive - greater prosperity for all - the grounds on which it is built contain what former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was forced to admit is a "flaw". Through the further corruption of this ideology by self-interest and greed, a number of harsh judgments about those who fall behind in capitalism have become widespread. These include the belief that such people are lazy, untalented, or somehow deserving of their fate.
Some know this is untrue. Others continue to believe the myth-making of the rich and powerful. Even those whose interests it is against. Marx's theory of communism turned out to be worthless, but the focus on class struggle in his analysis of capitalism looks to be more and more relevant the more we see rich and powerful elites across the world championing the dismantling of social security and public spending.
Discrimination based on race, religion, disability, and sexuality is wrong and prohibited by law, but attacking the poor and disadvantaged is becoming entrenched in the very establishment. Arguing about who caused the financial crisis, or who is responsible for a country's debt is secondary to the fact that millions of people in the developed world still live hand to mouth, sometimes at the behest of their government.
This situation is untenable. Though the Occupy protests were eventually closed down in a number of high profile locations in the UK and the US, they succeeded in drawing attention to the gross injustices of our economic system. Imperfect though the movement may have been, it was a start towards grassroots change. It may take many more years, but like slavery, civil rights, female emancipation, and gay rights before it, the argument about economic justice will eventually be won in favour of the downtrodden, of the oppressed, of the exploited - of the meek.