The idea of social justice is roiling American politics. New movements like Black Lives Matter have emerged, while democratic socialism and the progressive Left have been reenergized. But what is social justice, and what accounts for its rising prominence in our politics?

In this seminar, led by Manhattan Institute scholar Daniel DiSalvo, fellows will examine some of the most pressing and contentious debates around social justice – policing and criminal justice, the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, the clash of diversity and inclusion with free speech, and the policy response to racial inequality and discrimination.

Image Credit: Black Lives Matter Protest, June 7, 2020, Victoria Pickering via Flickr



Daniel DiSalvo

Daniel DiSalvo is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The City College of New York-CUNY.  His scholarship focuses on American political parties, elections, labor unions, state government, and public policy.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is Rawls concerned with using utility as the guiding principle of “justice” in society?  
  2. What are the two principles of justice, according to Rawls? Is it possible to arrange constitutional matters such that they can be realized in society?   
  3. What is the lesson learned from the Wilt Chamberlain example? 
  4. Is Nozick correct in claiming that taxed labor is akin to forced labor? 
  5. What are Hayek’s arguments that there can be no such thing as social justice in a market economy? 
  6. What is socialism? Does it mean something? Anything? What are its prospects?  



Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are the different identities and how are they ordered? 
  2. Does a focus on our differences rather than on the things that bind us led to the rise of populist and authoritarian leaders?  
  3. Is there an argument that all politics is identity politics? 
  4. Does dignity trump material interest as the driving force in human affairs?  
  5. Does identity politics strengthen or weaken liberal democracy?  



Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are the areas of progress (if any) made by blacks in American life? What are the difficult challenges that remain for blacks to take full advantage of opportunities for upward mobility?  
  2. How, if at all, might the story the “Space Traders” inform today’s anti-racism?  
  3. How does Kendi redefine racism? What political and perhaps constitutional changes are required, according to him, to make the United States an anti-racist country?  
  4. To what extent, does the Black Lives Matter movement carry on the legacies of the civil rights movement? What are its relations with other important institutions in the black community? With other minority groups? 



Discussion Questions: 

  1. Should the United States provide reparations to black Americans? If so, what form should the reparations take? If not, why not?  
  2. What is affirmative action? What policies does the term encompass? How has the definition of the term changed over time? 
  3. Has affirmative action been a success or a failure? In what ways might it be said to have succeeded? In what ways might it be said to have failed?  
  4. Do you think the deal proposed by Krauthammer has merit? Would you support or oppose it? 



Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are the challenges to America’s national identity? 
  2. What resources exist on the left to affirm American national pride? 
  3. What is the difference, if there is one, between a “narrative” and “history”? How might one or the other shape public life? 

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