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Social justice in the land of Cockaigne
  1. Johan P Mackenbach
  1. Johan P Mackenbach, Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre Rotterdam, PO Box 2040, 3000 CA Rotterdam, The Netherlands; j.mackenbach{at}

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The development of the public health profession is closely intertwined with movements striving for social justice. At no time in history can this be seen more clearly than during the 19th century when modern public health was born. Many of the great forefathers of public health, like Rudolf Virchow, Salomon Neumann, Louis Villermé and William Farr, were politically active, mostly on the left of the political spectrum, and some of them even participated personally in the revolutionary movements of the middle of the 19th century. They believed that the ultimate causes of ill-health could be found in the environment, particularly in the social environment, and that improvement of the population’s health could not be achieved without social justice.1

They were right, and stood in a long tradition which actually started long before the 19th century. This is illustrated by Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516. In this imaginary kingdom, located …

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