Dictionnaire de la Science Politique

Authors: Hermet, Badie, Birnbaum & Braud
Summary: In the current language the term refers to a system of juridical institutions, but - with an entry of 300 words - the authors define it specifically as "a moral category qualifying a kind of social or political relationship, in which a person or a collectivity is punished or treated with equity in accordance with both its own system of values and the dominant one, that, in some cases, can contrast with the former".
What is just or unjust is the object of a longstanding debate about the defining criteria of justice: according to Plato, justice was the first virtue of political institutions; according to Aristotle, justice imposed to treat anyone according to its own merits; medieval thought substituted merit with need. It was only in the XIX century that J.S. Mill introduced the notion that punishment had to be proportionate to the level of responsibility of the person under judgement.
As the process of state building began and the political power gained autonomy, the management of justice became both a source of legitimacy and a means to control the population. Hence the struggle against any other form of either private or communitarian justice.