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Justice and Hope

  • 07 June 2024
  Raimond Gaita, Justice and Hope: Essays, Lectures and Other writings, ed. Scott Stephens, Melbourne  University Press   The title of Raimond Gaita’s book is monumental. Justice and Hope are words to be capitalised and carved in stone over Courts and Parliaments. The solemnity invites us to believe that the place of Justice and Hope in the world is assured and undisputed. 

The reality, however, is very different. Anyone committed to make the world more just must sometimes wonder whether the struggle is worth the effort. When reading Justice and Hope, I was preoccupied with the treatment of refugees. Jesuit Refugee Service, for example, was founded over forty years ago in the hope that it would help resolve the two current world refugee crises, one in the Horn of Africa and the other in South East Asia. Yet today there are about 110,000,000 refugees and internally displaced people. Wealthy nations no longer welcome but try to exclude them. In Australia, each small and hard-earned humane reform of our refugee policy has been swamped by panic at rising numbers of people seeking protection and by the imposition of a yet more brutal policy.  In the face of such constant disappointment, people committed to refugees cannot but ask themselves how they ground their hope and sustain their commitment to justice.

These were the questions that I brought to this handsomely presented collection of Raimond Gaita’s articles and addresses. I shall use them as the lens through which to reflect on his writing. That narrow focus, of course, fails to do justice to his thought, which is both broader and deeper than it allows. It also risks making the reviewer the centre of the review.

Gaita certainly does not see justice and hope as monuments to be taken for granted. A fine philosopher who constantly attends to the complexity of human beings and their relationships to the world, in his writings he reflects on issues of public debate in which justice and hope are tested. They include the treatment of refugees, of Indigenous Australians, war and peace, the relationship between Israel and its neighbours, the understanding of genocide, the conduct of politics, and multiculturalism. On all these topics Gaita cuts beneath the over-simplified and confrontational arguments put in public debate. He invites the reader to reflect on the deeper questions and more complex human reality that they conceal.  He calls for and models a public conversation that is respectful,