THE FULLNESS OF SOCIAL LIFE
Social life’s link to humanity: A perfection and a necessity of humanity alone.
Social life, actually, is a brusque, uncompromising statement of the distinct difference between man and the animal world. Irrational animals have no need of judicial machinery, trade unions or columns on etiquette; man does need these things. Human life cannot go on where the social structure has broken down: a flood will not only do away with the traffic officers, it will release gangs of looters; civil war, a police strike, rampant gangsterism all suspend normal life because all attack law and order. Until they are crushed, everything else must be put aside.
It is not merely a matter of animals not needing this social structure, as a man does not need a bib at table. This is not a mark of superiority but of inferiority; the animals cannot have social life, while man can. We could put this in one word by saying the difference lies in this: the animals are distinctly predictable, while men are quite unpredictable. There is only one path which leads to the goal of the animals; they must trudge along that path necessarily, naturally. The different paths by which man can reach this goal seem to be limited only by his ingenuity; we find, for instance, vastly different social structures built up by men of different ages, or even by men of the same age in different nations. Indeed within the same social structure, we have a wide variety of paths by which men find their way home.
It is because man can live such a full and varied life that he is so dependent on the help of others. that he can never be completely self-sufficient; because men are not tied down to one necessary path to the goal, it is possible for men to crash into each other like stars gone wild. Men must have some order, other than the merely physical, to govern their mutual relations precisely because of the great potentialities inherent in their nature.
Perhaps we can put this necessity and ability for social life in the one statement, that man is a driver, not one who is driven. Each man can stand off from the world, or step down into the world and use any part of it; yet no man is absolute master. In other words, the roots of social necessity and the perfection of social organization lie in the mastery of man, which is, at the same time, his perfection and his need as distinct from the narrow self-sufficiency of the irrational world.
The fundamental social question: the question of right
Sole social answers: affirmation and denial
The fundamental social question, then, will always turn about this mastery, this dominion, this right of man. And it is a question that cannot be dodged, that admits of no compromising answer: the only answer possible is a flat yes, or a flat no. That is we must either affirm and defend the rights of man on the sole grounds of his humanity; or we must deny and attack the notion of man possessing rights by reason of his humanity. This denial may take the form of anarchy — a denial of all rights whatsoever — and thus solve the social question by denying it. It may restrict all rights to members of a party, and give us Communism’s answer to the social question; it may give some rights to man, but solely as the generous gift of a benevolent state, and then we have the totalitarian answer; it may deny rights to all but those who enjoy power, which is the answer of the slave state to the fundamental social question. All four of these answers are denials of the rights of man on the grounds of his humanity. All of them deny the fact that man is a person, that he has liberties, that he can choose the path to his personal goal, that he has dominion over his acts and over things. In a word, they deny that man is a master.
Obviously an understanding of dominion or right, then, is essential to any treatment of social life. Fortunately an understanding of the word “right” is made easy by our common usage of the word. When a man is paid back the ten dollars he lent a friend, he may be surprised but he has no reason for gratitude. He is not expected to pin a medal on his extraordinary borrower; he has received no more than his right. We speak of a man having a right to a living wage or to an inheritance, even though, as a matter of fact, he is not getting a living wage or is being cheated of his inheritance. Again, and this is particularly true of the Latin form of the word (jus), the word “right” is used in the sense of law as, for example, in the Codex Juris Canonici — The Code of Canon Law. We confirm this usage whenever our rights are questioned, by an immediate appeal to some law.
The rights of man: Triple sense of “right”: interrelations of these senses
These examples are concrete statements of the triple sense of “right.” First the objective right, which is a thing as tangible as a basket of groceries, the solid walls of a house or the gay sunshine of a spring day. The second is the subjective or moral right, the moral faculty of doing, having or omitting something; it is by this that we lay claim to the objective right. Finally, the third is law as we understand it today.
Origin of all rights
These three senses of right are not disparate somewhat like different species of flowers or types of birds. They are as intimately dependent as members of the same family tree. Passing from the objective right through the subjective right to law we are on the same trail that leads from a speck of dust to the Creator of the world; we are ascending from effect to cause, to the origin of right. In reverse order, from law through subjective right to objective right, we proceed from cause to effect. Objective right depends on subjective right, and subjective right depends on law. These three, in other words, are always correlative: ten dollars is not due to a man unless he has some moral right to it; and if he has a moral claim to it, that claim must be traced back to some law, natural or positive.
In spite of our familiarity with rights, it may come as a surprise to us to learn that they are children of law. We have the notion that such invaluable friends as rights could be no relation to law, with its constant imposition of obligations upon us. Our modern emphasis has been to insist upon right, to the disregard of law and of obligation; these latter are medieval, irritating, out-of-date and prudish. But the emphasis does not change the facts: right and obligation are twin children of law.
Certainly there can be no right without a corresponding obligation. To say that I have a right to walk down Madison Avenue is meaningless if other men have not the obligation to permit me to make that amusing promenade. It is absurd to say I have a right to the privacy of my own home, and in the same breath to deny that other men have the obligation to respect the privacy I cherish so. The very existence of a moral right in one man is a statement of a mortal obligation in others to respect that right. This is an obvious relationship of right and obligation. There is a more fundamental tie between them that is too often overlooked. Perhaps it could be stated by saying that obligation is the elder twin; at least the very reason for a right is to furnish a man with an opportunity to fulfill an obligation. If there are no obligations, there is no reason for rights. We cannot separate right and obligation any more than we can slice Siamese twins apart; both are fed from the same blood stream of law, for law, after all, is no more than the dictate of right reason guiding a man to the necessary means to be used for successful living. Because those means are necessary, they carry with them an obligation; consequently man has a right to the use of those means.
Perhaps this will be clearer if we notice that, when we speak of objective right, we speak of a thing belonging to or being due to a man. That means that this thing has been selected, set apart from the universe, and stamped with the stamp of dominion, of ownership, of right. There are only two dies that can produce that distinctive mark: nature and some will. So reverence is the right of parents by the very nature of their office; reverence may be thrown out the window, stolen, lost but the mark on it is not to be done away with by tearing out the fly-leaf. It is the ineradicable stamp of nature. On the other hand, a lesser, but no less authentic, stamp can be made by the determination of a public or a private will; it may, in other words, be produced by way of positive law — human or divine — or by way of private law, i.e., by contract. Understand now, that when we speak of determination by will we are speaking of deliberate will in the sense in which it is law; that is, in the sense of a dictate of right reason.
It would be accurate to picture the lesser die, which is positive law and contract, as a smaller, sharper, finer tool used only to bring out in detail the rough outlines of nature’s stamp. From our treatment of positive law in the preceding volume, it is clear that positive law is merely a determination of the indeterminate principles of natural law. Consequently no right can be conferred by positive laws that are contrary to natural law; just as a human mind cannot create the note of necessity that is at the root of obligation, neither can it destroy that necessity. Mercy-killing is not less horrible for being permitted by civil authorities or juries; nor is prayer less lovely for being prohibited by a dictator’s decrees.
Division of natural rights
Rights may, then, be either hardy plants with roots sunk deep in the inexhaustible earth of nature, or they may be frail, delicate flowers depending for life on the handful of soil in a window-box. For the two great divisions of rights follow upon the two great divisions of law; rights may be the immutable, utterly inviolable fruit of the unchangeable natural law, or they may be positive rights conferred by positive law and suffering the same variety, from age to age and people to people, as their generator. In between these two there are a few rights conferred by the “law of nations” (jus gentium). We went into this thoroughly enough in the preceding volume to allow us to pass over it now rather hurriedly, merely noting that it is a bridge between the natural and the positive law: distinct from the natural law as depending, not only on nature itself, but also upon some universal contingent fact; distinct from positive law as being framed directly and immediately by reason itself, without any intervening institution. These rights, as determinations of natural law rather than natural law itself, are not strictly natural rights, though they have the force of nature about them.
There is an interesting point, in this discussion of natural rights, that is too often misunderstood or totally overlooked. Thomas insists that in the domestic group there can be no such thing as strict rights. He is not, by any means, championing wife-beating, poor cooking or malnutrition of children. His point is that compared to the solicitude essential in this domestic group, justice is a shabby thing. It is true that in this group, human beings have intimate relations one to another: husband to wife, parents to children, master to servant. But, strictly speaking, the relationship is not to another, but to oneself: there is no clear cleavage between these different members of the domestic group we cannot speak here of something being due to “another”, for they are all, in a sense, one.
As individuals, of course, all of these people have their strict rights; but as members of the domestic group, they are part one of another, with common rather than individual rights. Herein lies the striking difference between the subordination of unity of order in the domestic group from the Catholic point of view, and the individualism and chaos of the modern position. The subordination insisted on in the family is not one of injustice, tyranny or inferiority; in fact mistreatment of a member of this domestic group is as unnatural and disgusting as self-mutilation. The superior or head of the family, in his care for the family, is not a judge doing out justice. In other words, we cannot speak of a man being just to his family any more shall we can talk of his being just to his hands or his feet. In fact this unity of the family is the natural approach to that identification on common ground of the supernatural virtue of charity.
The social virtue — justice
The domestic relations of a man pertain much more to his personal life than to his social life. The latter is a matter of things, of actions outside the man himself, of communication with those distinct from himself. And to live this social life man needs special perfection. We have seen more thoroughly in the preceding volume that the tremendous powerhouse of the intellect is put to work by feeder-lines of intellectual habit. The powerful resources of sense appetite are put to work by the moral habits which regulate the passions. So also the one faculty by which man can reach out into the lives of others — his will — is perfected for social life by a habit; and that habit is the habit of justice.
The sole virtue dealing with right
The mind of man is regulated by the intellectual habits; the passions of man by the moral habits. But both of these are matters of the internal life of a man; with no more than this, he would be isolated, turned in upon himself. The habit of justice regulates the external acts and things by which a man comes into contact with others. It is, then, the only social virtue. Justice not only wears a blindfold, her face is entirely covered with a grim mask when we picture her as a ruthless avenger. The picture is distorted, for justice is not only the social virtue, it is a sociable virtue; to be seen rightly, it must be seen as smiling, habitually good tempered, considerate of others, not mingling with the world in a sour, dutiful fashion, but positively enjoying contact with men and women. That is why we define justice as a habit by which a man, with constant and perpetual will , gives everyone what is his due.
Justice as a habit
The definition contains three characteristics of justice that allow us to see justice as she is, exposing the grotesque propaganda that insisted she was a harridan nagging at the joys of men. As a habit justice has about it the smoothness, ease, perfect action and stability of nature itself; and it is this stability of habit which is the immediate basis of the stability of social life. As a constant and perpetual will, justice escapes the charge of unpredictable moodiness. Here, in constancy, we have the peculiar difficulty of virtue. It is not difficult to be just once in a while, to pay back a loan now and then, return one or two of the books we have borrowed, give an employee a just wage at Christmas time. The difficulty comes in perpetually aiming at that goal of justice; but society is not preserved by an occasional just action, for men do not live together only at Christmas. Looking to another, justice releases a man from the isolation of the concentration camp of self.
Justice as a virtue: Its nature and subject
This last point is extremely important. Justice is a neighborly virtue, inseparable from our neighbor. It is unemployed on a desert island, rushed to death in the market place. When we speak of a person doing justice to his head, his heart, or his hands, we are speaking in metaphors; for the moment we are considering a man’s head, heart and hands as existing apart from himself, forming a neighborly group, buying and selling, entertaining and marrying. Actually to postulate justice without reference to another would be like speaking words that had been carefully stripped of meaning. If justice gives another his due, it implies equality; it means giving a man exactly what is his, in strict equality. Equality is a statement of a comparison between two subjects, not of one subject to itself; this latter is identity, not equality.
Justice is inseparable from our neighbor; and it is the only one of the virtues in the natural order that is so linked to others. Just as right is the fundamental social question, so justice is the fundamental natural cement binding men together in society. It is the sole natural means by which right can be guaranteed, the sole means by which men can live together in one unit of society. This truth has been much misunderstood by modern thinkers. The modern mind may be inclined to be irritated at the precepts and prohibitions of the moral order; yet those precepts and prohibitions are, for the most part, the commands of justice. They are not arbitrary infringements of human liberty and dignity, comparable to the harsh orders of a peevish parent. They are the fundamental requirements for human social life. To attack justice is to attack thc very foundation of society; it is to build a barrier between man and man, isolating individuals within the impenetrable walls of their own souls.
Justice is no more than a practical recognition of other men as persons, as possessors of rights. As a good habit, and so a virtue, we say rightly that justice makes both men and the actions of men good; that is, it makes both men and actions conform to the rule of reason. But the practice of justice, in its baldest statement, means that we refrain from doing damage to another. There is something a little ridiculous in a man’s puffing out his chest, elated at himself for having let others alone; and there is something very horrible about the infrequency with which that boast can be made. The outbreak of racketeering is not something totally inexplicable today; it is essentially a denial of the fact that we do not deserve payment for merely letting others alone, for merely refraining from damaging them. The racketeer insists On payment for leaving men in possession of their rights. Our age’s scepticism of the absolute foundations of justice is itself a distinct veering toward the viewpoint of the racketeer, a questioning of the sacred personality of our neighbor.
A dishonest lawyer usually knows very well what is the just thing, at least the successfully dishonest lawyer does. That knowledge enables him to thwart justice; it does not make him an honest man. That easily verified fact brings out the profound importance of accurately locating justice. It is not in the intellect of man, as our tricky lawyer proves by his action. It is not a matter of speculation but of action; it must be located, then, in the root-source of all action, namely in the appetite. Moreover it is to be found only in the rational appetite or the will of man, because it looks to another, a thing impossible to sense appetite with its complete concentration on the immediate, particular, personal good. This is important. To make emotion, a rigidly personal utility, or the blind development of a universal organism the basis of human action is to destroy the basis of justice and so of social life. The anti-intellectualistic and anti-metaphysical philosophies can escape anti-social conclusions only by scuttling logic; in themselves, they are philosophies of selfishness, for they render a man incapable of reaching out to a consideration of another.
To be just, a man must look beyond himself; yet looking beyond himself he may be amazed, for every man he sees will be a twin: an individual and a part of a community. Some men have been so irritated at what they considered the bleared vision of justice, with its effect of double-exposure, that they decided to deny the evidence and maintain either that men were no more than individuals, or that they were no more than part of a community. However, the facts are not destroyed by shaking one’s head; our contact with men as individuals must be ruled by one kind of justice — particular justice; with men as parts of a community, we are ruled by another, general justice.
General or legal justice
It is to be understood, of course, that this general justice is not general in the sense of a general statement or a general panic, as something running all through and found in all the virtues. Its generality comes from the generality of its object, which is the common good. Its work, a decidedly extensive work, is to give the community what is due to it. So, just as charity can and does order all acts of all virtues to the supernatural end of man, so legal or general justice orders all the acts of all the virtues of man to his social end, the common good.
From this point of view it is evident that general justice has more to do than patrol a beat. It reaches up to the intellectual virtues in such laws as those fixing the minimum intellectual requirements for citizenship. Indeed it may extend even to the exterior effects and acts of the theological virtues when, as in some of the Swiss Cantons, a religious procession is also a civic function regulated by general justice.
Normally it will not be necessary for a citizen to set aside one day of the week for concentrated fretting about legal justice. The state puts its demands clearly and forcefully; and the fair-minded citizen normally agrees to these fair demands of the state. The not-so-fair-minded citizen’s disagreement is promptly taken care of by the state itself. However, not all times measure up to the rule of normalcy and when the state demands more than is just, there is no question of legal justice involved. Rather the question is one of tyranny and tyranny’s resistance; for the mere fact that it is the state which makes the demand is not necessarily a guarantee of the justice of that demand.
Particular justice: Its material.
Over and above legal justice, there is a justice that enters intimately into the numberless contacts of our everyday life. If the sceptic doubts the possibility of justice squeezing its way into a crowded subway train, he has only to try jerking someone from a seat onto the floor in order to obtain a seat for himself. Just as fortitude and temperance order a man to his own proper good, and legal justice orders man to the common good, so particular justice orders a man to the individual good of his neighbor. As a social, or neighborly, virtue, its material is precisely the means we have of communicating with others, external things and actions as they coordinate the life of one man with that of another. It deals, in other words, in those things by which men’s lives are pulled together or driven apart.
The significance of this determination of the material of particular justice can hardly be over-estimated. On the social side, it makes evident the profound truth that, however dutiful we may be to the state, we cannot ignore man, the individual, if social life is to continue. A community in which all citizens paid their taxes promptly and spent their spare time at each other’s throat could hardly lay claim to the unity, peace and harmony that are essential to social life. Individual injustice has furnished the ideal condition for the spread of communism; it is the force behind looting and gangsterism; it was the permanent condition of our early frontier days Obviously if this injustice becomes universal, men cannot live together, though their houses touch one another. In other words, particular justice is absolutely necessary for social life, however much we disregard it theoretically today. A strong police force or a well-trained army is no adequate substitute for it; a society lacking this essential ingredient has within itself the elements of disintegration.
On the personal side the absence of particular justice cuts a man off from the lives of his fellows, puts barriers around his own life that are much more effective than the walls of any prison. A pick-pocket may enjoy dense crowds, but not for the fellowship they give him; and an habitual liar leads as lonely a life as an habitual thief. Indeed, this particular injustice is corrosive of the character of its owner. It means that something is rotten in the will of this man; and, since the will is the source of all he does that corruption necessarily creeps into all his acts, making them crippled, ugly, deformed.
When an employer is anguished each week at the sight of the pay-roll scattering into the pockets of his employees, he may be doing no injustice to his employees, but he is not a just man; he does not enjoy his justice. It is true that justice deals with externals, operations or things, and is not primarily concerned with joy and sorrow. Nevertheless, particular justice is not a cold, poker-faced, inhuman virtue. No human virtue can possibly be that. St. Thomas rightly insists that, “The man who does not joy in his justice is not really a just man;” for every virtue, like every habit, carries with it its own joy, at least the joy of smooth, easy, natural action.
However, it is well to insist upon justice’s exclusive concern with externals, for then we see clearly the impossibility of effective reform from the outside. Justice may prevent or punish the murder caused by hate; but it cannot touch the hate. It may prevent or punish the theft that springs from greed; but it cannot take a step after the greed itself. When there is a constant stream of such unjust actions, proceeding from inner corruption, it becomes less and less possible for justice to be enforced. In other words, the abandonment of a stable, absolute morality, is in itself a guarantee of injustice and, eventually, of social disintegration. This is one of the discouraging differences between the modern pagan and the pagan of antiquity; it is only in our time that it became the fashion to deny a goal, and so an absolute rule, to life and consequently to destroy the foundations of that inner morality without which justice is a practical impossibility.
The medium it seeks
A man might drink a pint of wine before breakfast and be thumpingly intemperate; whereas he could drink the same pint of wine with his dinner and be a temperate man. But if his thirst is for other people’s jewelry, it makes no difference whether he quenches it before breakfast or after dinner. For while justice, in common with all the moral virtues, seeks a medium between excess and defect of the rule of reason, unlike all the other moral virtues, the coincides with the medium of objective reality. In justice, that is, the question is always one of equality, or measuring up to something outside.
No man can frown the smile from the face of a summer day. These outside things are not changed by any subjective dispositions of ours. No matter how much of a nervous release it may be for a man to commit murder, no matter how innocently he deprives a laborer of his wages, no matter what pleasure it may give him or how much good it may do the state to choke a crooner — these things remain unjust. It is always a question, in this matter, of what is due to another; only on that consideration may we judge the justice of a thing.
Its act and eminence
An act of justice seems a simple, unsophisticated thing when we describe it as simply letting others alone. Even when we dismember it, the table is not cluttered up with its parts: it is merely an act placed in the proper material of justice — external things and operations — and in the proper mode of justice, i.e. rightly or equally. Yet the just man receives a solemn tribute of respect, as though in his justice we had recognized an outstanding merit, much as a soldier might respect a Legion of Honor ribbon or a Congressional Medal. This respect is more than a sigh of relief because the justice of another is a bulwark to our own rights: justice deserves that respect for it is the outstanding moral virtue. Considered subjectively, this superiority is clear, for justice does not perfect the sense appetite of man which is tied down to the world of sense; this is the work of fortitude and temperance. Justice concentrates on the rational appetite of man which can go out to others, even to God. From the side of its object, justice does not do the limitedly personal work of controlling man’s passion, but rather it escapes the personal in its concern for the good of another or for the good of the community.
Perhaps the more profound reason behind our respect for the just man is to be found in the stamp of humanity justice puts on the activity of man. A man’s life is successful only in so far as his life and actions measure up to the rule of reason. Fortitude and temperance do no more than conserve the good of reason, preventing the passions from exceeding it; justice injects rationality into the external acts and things of a man’s life. In paying tribute to the just man, we recognize an individual whose humanity stands out in all of his actions, all his dealings with his fellow men. For much the same reason the hypocrisy of the back-biter fills us with disgust; here is a man who has taken reason out of his life with his fellows, here is an unjust man.
The anti-social vice — injustice
In a word, the unjust man, in his external actions, ceases to be a man; and so ceases to be a social being. He has embraced the anti-social vice of injustice; he has no valid complaint against the ostracism with which society punishes him. In his heart he carries a contempt for the common good and a contempt for the good of his fellow men; perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is the victim of his ostracism of society. Another way of saying the same thing would be to say that the unjust man thinks only of himself; even though he be a contemptible sneak-thief, he fancies himself a conqueror who recognizes no rights in other men, for he scorns all obligations to respect those rights.
In reality he is no conqueror but a stupid suicide. In denying his obligations to respect the rights of others, he cancels out, as far as is possible for him, his own claim to rights; for it is a man’s obligations which are the basic claims to rights. This unjust man is an enemy of himself, an enemy of others, and an enemy of society; an enemy more deadly than a plague or a hostile army, for he is boring secretly from within, gnawing at the pillars of the social structure and breeding others of his kind by his every act of injustice.
Injustice is stupid, it is dangerous from a social point of view, in grave matter it is deadly to the unjust man, for it is a mortal sin. Of course a blow struck in quick, unreasoning anger or short-change given by a flustered clerk will hardly topple the towers of society and will certainly not put a man in the state of mortal sin. An unjust act that, as a result of passion or accident, pops Up its head to startle everyone concerned is not the offspring of injustice; the coolly deliberate depriving of another of his due which is both the fruit of injustice and its seed, is not surprising to the man who has produced it. Indeed, as a rule, he has worked hard at it and may even take a perverse pride in it.
A man cannot enter this vicious anti-social state by falling through a trap-door or listening to the glib story of a stranger. He must be willing; while, if he wants to make a good job of it, his victim must be decidedly unwilling. A wealthy man who owns so many automobiles that he does not mind losing one or two, has made it impossible for the automobile thief to do him an injustice.
Perhaps one of the deadliest things that can happen to society is to have confusion arise about the distinction between just and unjust things. The good intentions of champions of suicide, euthanasia, industrial laissez-faire and birth control may be an inspiring thing; but the damage they do to society is not lessened by their sweet simplicity. It is essential for the individual and society that man’s acts be just; consequently it is most important that a man recognize a just from an unjust thing when he sees the two side by side.
In this human field, as in the other moral fields, virtue gives a man a taste of the swift security of angelic knowledge. The chaste man intuitively recognizes the slightest taint of impurity; the coward cannot hide his cowardice from the piercing mind of the brave man. In the same way, the just man, quickly, surely, instinctively unveils all trace of injustice. In other words, the moral virtues make a man so familiar with the end of these virtues, that he can make no mistake about the friendship or enmity a particular means bears to that end. This is the constant help given to knowledge by virtue; the negative help which, removes impediments to intellectual operation, and the positive help which comes from familiarity with the material of the particular virtue in question.
The act of justice — judgment
But moral virtue is not the whole story. Rather it is the obscure, profound, indirect part of the story that seldom finds its way into print. In this matter of justice, the virtue of justice disposes a man to judge justly; but it does not don the judicial robes, sit on the bench and pronounce the judgment. Judgment is an act of intellect, while justice is a matter of the will; the actual judging must be done by an intellectual virtue, namely the virtue of prudence.
No one has the right to wander through the hours of the day scattering judgments with the same abandon with which he makes comments on the weather. Licit judgment must be both just and prudent. That is, judgment is not the angry weapon of pique, the sly weapon of envy, the merciless bludgeon of malice nor the panicky blow of self-defense; it must proceed from the inclination of justice, of giving every man his due. Moreover it is not to be made of the airy stuff of guess-work, nor the eerie stuff of telepathic reading of motives that can be known only to God; solid evidence must go into its make-up, for it must proceed prudently. When it is a matter of public judgment, over and above justice and prudence, authority is necessary, for public judgment has coercive power.
This does not mean that the warning, “judge not”, is to be taken with absolute universality. Judgment is not only licit at times, it may even be necessary and strictly obligatory. The prohibition is against imprudence and injustice in judgment; that is, the warning is levelled against the perverse judgment of the unjust man, the temerarious judgment of the fool and the insolent judgment of the usurper of public power.
As a matter of fact, we make judgments of the actions of others, and of our own, every day of our lives. When the judgments are unjust or perverse, we have no difficulty recognizing the fact. We hate ourselves for thinking our friend, the undertaker, is looking for business when he visits us in a hospital. A judgment of this sort is a blow at our own self-respect; we have done something unworthy of our humanity, stripping an action of ours of its reasonable character. Oddly enough, because we have done something unworthy of our humanity, we become more and more angry at the person we have judged, more and more stubborn in the judgment itself.
A much more subtly dangerous type of judgment is that from mere suspicion. It starts off as a vague, even silly idea; but it haunts our mind, repeating its unsavory melody over and over, like a tune that hums itself in spite of our irritated rejection of it. The temptation is to look at this judgment a little longer each time it recurs; each time it becomes stronger, until finally it seems to rest on solid evidence. Perhaps it is helped on by the very human desire to be first with a bit of information; the ambition of the keyholer, the eavesdropper and the pseudo-prophet.
Because there is so much adolescent vanity in it, a consideration of the sources of judgment from suspicion is no mean help to avoiding it. There are three unflattering sources of this judgment; by making it, a man has given good grounds for his own conviction on one of these three counts. A gangster is much more suspicious than a saint, for the evil man finds it easy to believe evil of others. We can run off suspicious judgments effortlessly and by the score when the object of those judgments is a person for whom we have contempt or hatred, or of whom we are envious. Finally, we find it much easier to make these judgments as we grow old. In fact such judgments are themselves signs of old age; they are the distinctive badge of one made cynical by experience, of one who has been disappointed so often in his hopes and expectations of men that now he is rather prepared for disappointment than eager to recognize truth. That he is evil, petty, or sourly growing old — not even the sprightly newspaper columnist whose suspicious judgments are a part of the breakfast menu can buckle up his vanity with such sagging stays as this.
Whatever the soil that nourishes it, judgment from mere suspicion is always a sin, for it is always an injustice. It may be slight in its beginnings when we begin to doubt the goodness of another; usually this is not fully deliberate. It becomes a mortal sin in its very nature if, without sufficient evidence, we take the evil of another for certain, or flatly against justice when, from mere suspicion and by a solemn judgment, we proceed to the actual condemnation of that person. Of course, to be serious, the matter of judgment must be serious: suspecting the high school girl of using her mother’s lip-stick need not disturb our sleep; but judging that it was the mayor who committed the murder in the City Hall is quite another matter. For, concretely, that alone is grave matter which, considering the person judged and the evil of which we convict him, does serious injury to his honor, good name or the opinion others have of him.
We have a real obligation in justice to give others the benefit of the doubt. When you hear your neighbor coming in at five o’clock in the morning it would be much more prudent and just on your part to decide that he was working a night shift, than to accuse him of sowing wild oats. In other words, when the thing in question is doubtful, to proceed to judgment without manifest indication of evil is imprudent; moreover it is unjust for it is contemptuous of the man we are judging.
It may be objected that we will make many more mistakes in our judgment of men by following this line than we would if, cynically, we refused to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that is true, although it can be seriously questioned. But even if it were true, it is much better to make many mistakes giving others the benefit of the doubt, than to make a few mistakes suspecting everyone. In the first case, in spite of mistakes, no harm is done either to the one we have judged kindly or to ourselves. We must get over the idea that we can judge men as we judge horses. A horse-trader is rightly suspicious of the qualities of every horse he sees; for his prime consideration is one of intellectual accuracy. Not even the feelings of the horse will be hurt by the cynical dealer. In judging men, it is not so highly important that every detail of our factual knowledge he accurate; gossip is entertaining, but it does not contribute to the intellectual perfection of a human being. It is highly important that we do no man a serious injury; yet if we judge a man to be evil when he is not, we have done him a serious injury, we have violated his right to our good opinion, we have, in a real sense, robbed him. On the other hand, if, mistakenly, we judge him to be good, no injury is done either to the one judged or to ourselves.
Species of particular justice: Distributive justice; Commutative justice.
It should be clear, in our day of tardy social legislation, that the individual’s rights can be respected or violated, not only by his fellow citizens, but also by the state; that the state as well as the fellow citizen can owe debts to the individual. This obvious fact is a concrete statement of the classic division of particular justice into distributive and commutative justice. We can put all three types of justice — legal, distributive and commutative — in order by simply remembering that justice is a social virtue and society is a whole of which the parts are the individual citizens. The relation of the parts to the whole is regulated by legal justice; the relation of the whole to its parts is the care of distributive justice; while commutative justice controls the relations of part to part, of man to man.
Both commutative and distributive justice are varieties of particular justice; but they are varieties, not alternates, and their differences are decidedly important. No one seriously expects a poor man to carry the same burden of taxes as the rich man; yet we know well that the borrowed fifty dollars cannot be shaved down to twenty-five just because our creditor happens to be rich. Perhaps the average man has never put the thing in such frigid words, but he knows that the equality demanded by commutative justice is absolute or arithmetical, while the equality demanded by distributive justice is proportional or geometrical. The basis of this proportion is the share the individual has in the whole of which he is a part; so, for instance, in an aristocracy it will be a matter of power or perfection, in an oligarchy the basis will be wealth, in a democracy it will be freedom.
Distributive and commutative justice play in the same park and on the same-team; their remote material is the common material of all justice, i.e. things, persons, actions. But they cannot trade positions with any but disastrous results. For proximately, distributive justice is directive of the distribution of honors, burdens and so on of society; it is the habit behind the distribution of medals and income tax blanks. While commutative justice directs all the exchanges possible between individual men.
The last sentence can be read quickly; but do not be deceived by its brevity. The actual field of commutative justice makes the fencing of it a long, hard task. In later chapters we shall attempt an organized expedition into that vast territory; now, as a slight indication of what will be found there, we may note that commutative justice covers all the involuntary exchanges brought about either secretly by fraud or openly by violence, such as theft, murder and so on; within its territory also are all the voluntary exchanges such as gifts, sales, purchases, rentals, and so on. But perhaps the most important thing to notice at the moment is the strict equality demanded by commutative justice. At least such a consideration focuses attention on the futility of injustice by pointing to that outstanding act of commutative justice which is called restitution.
The act of commutative justice — restitution
The fact that a car has wandered into our garage overnight does not make that car ours. A gas attendant who has innocently given gas and change for a twenty dollar bill the kidnappers offer from the ransom money has no right to pass it on to some one else or to deduct his own losses from it. We may have no more than the satisfaction of our spite to show for having burned down a neighbor’s house, but we are obliged to compensate him for his loss. To put the matter more plainly, criminal appropriation and unjust damage oblige to restitution in the strict sense of the word; that is even though here and now we have nothing of our neighbor’s goods, even though a fellow craftsman has turned the trick on us and picked our loot from an inside pocket, we must still make good the loss. But even where no crime is involved, the mere possession of goods of another immediately involves the necessity of returning those goods to their owner; in this last case, of course, the obligation holds only so long as the things are in our possession.
In other words, we must give every man what is his, strictly, equally. A thing cries out for its owner as a dog cries out for its master. Title to ownership is not lost, like small change, by doing somersaults; it must be renounced or it continues to endure. As long as it endures, no rival title can be established.
Conclusion: The purpose of social life
As we saw in the preceding volume, the norm of the plenitude or fullness of social life is the fullness of individual life within a society. For the purpose of society is to fulfill the natural needs of man; it exists that man’s individual life might be fuller, that it might offer greater opportunities for living the life of virtue, for the attain ment of individual perfection. Indeed, the ultimate end of the state — peace and the life of virtue — is itself a means to the further end of the individual, the perfection of his immortal soul. Society, then, is to be measured and evaluated by the opportunities it gives a man for living his individual life more fully, by the help it offers him to perfect himself.
Obviously the fullness of social life has a double aspect. One is negative, insofar as society at least takes nothing away from the individual; this means no more than that society observes the natural justice demanded by natural law itself. It respects the natural rights of man. The other, positive, aspect is summed up in the rights society confers upon a man by its positive law, i.e., the further guarantee of help it offers a man for the fulfillment of his natural potentialities.
It is no more possible to deny the preponderance of the individual for the sake of society than it is to shoot off a man’s face to make more room for his nose. A denial of the supremacy of the individual is, basically, a denial of social life. A humanitarianism which insists upon the race rather than the individual, a communistic insistence on a party, a nazi insistence on the nation, the abolition of the rights of the individual by organistic and mechanistic philosophies — all of these are logically unjust and inevitably anti-social. They attack the individual in the name of society, and in so doing they attack society itself, and destroy it.
Only norm of fullness of social life
Fullness of social life is possible only when the rights of man are granted on the grounds of his humanity. However generously they are granted on other grounds — as a gift of the state, as a concession to power, as a temporary expedient — the fullness of social life is not only limited, it is destroyed. There is only one answer to the social question; a positive answer — the defense of the rights of man on the grounds of his humanity. All other answers are negative; they are answers that dissolve society but leave the social question unsolved.
Fundamentals of all fullness in social life — truth;
of man, of society, of fullness, of justice
We might sum this up in one word by saying that the fundamentals of all fullness of social life are comprehended in one word: truth. For a full social life, the truth of man’s humanity must be admitted; i.e. the inalienable, natural rights flowing from the mastery of man, his liberty and eternal destiny, must be the foundation upon which society exists and for which it exists. The truth of society itself must be recognised: it must be seen, not as a goal, not as a god, not as an end of all things, but rather as an instrument designed for the fullness of man’s life. The truth of fullness itself must be seen: that is, we must know that man’s fullness is not an economic fullness, not a sensual fullness, not an intellectual fullness alone, but a human fullness, a full development of man as man.
All of this is no more than a recognition of the truth of justice. For full social life we must give every man what is his due, we must tell the truth in our actions. We must give man what is his, we must give society what is its own, we must give fullness the recognition of its true nature. Or, in just one sentence, fullness of social life is accomplished by truthfulness: emptiness of social life or even the destruction of society is accomplished by living a lie, by denying the nature of man and the nature of society. These two, man and society, are inseparable. The one springs from the other; but unless we recognize man as the source of society, rather than society as the source of man, we are working for the destruction of both man and the society he establishes.