THE ESSENCE OF ANARCHY I
PICTURES, like persons, remain strangers if we see them in the sad, false light of solitude. Compared with the full, human richness it displays when flanked, say, by the mystery of a da Vinci and the delicate beauty of a Fra Angelico, a Titian in solitary grandeur is reserved, even sullen and pouting. We cannot always gather such a company on the same wall; but we have a mental gallery that can be arranged and rearranged at our pleasure. It would be impossible, for instance, to hang side by side, in the same exhibit, the astounding picture of an angry Christ violently driving the money-changers from the temple and the pitiful picture of a modern racketeer mercilessly heating a small storekeeper for not paying “for pro tection.” But arranged in such significant contrast in our mental gallery, they tell a story that could be told as graphically by no other means.
Violence in society: The violence of defense — a gesture for peace.
The story they tell is the story of the distinction between sanity and madness in the relations of man to man. The one is a violence of defense in an attempt to safeguard the right. The other is a violence of attack whose theme is one of disregard of man’s needs and man’s rights. The one does the work of society, respecting and guarding man’s rights, attempting to fulfill his needs; it is an insistence on man’s mastery, on man’s dominion, on the end of society. The other is the attack of a mad animal. The violence it portrays is the violence of a lunatic, without reason, destroying both the wielder of violence and his victim. Indeed its very attack on the rights of others is an attack on the basis of the attacker’s own rights, for it is a denial of his obligations. He is petitioning for isolation, snarling a scornful denial of the human character of his own nature.
The violence of attack — the brutality of madness
These may sound like angry, exaggerated words in which to describe justice. They are not angry words. Anger’s mightiest bellows die away to an inaudible whisper before the mutinous protests of wrists and back evoked by a typewriter’s tyrannous commandeering of the hours of the clay. Nor are they exaggerated words. Let us look at the facts a moment, at the roots of injustice. There is a common note in the gangster’s brutality, the bully’s gloating superiority, the hard ruthlessness of a man in power. That note is a note of contempt for the victims of injustice. And the basis of that contempt? Certainly it cannot be on the grounds of humanity; even these men recognize that their victims are just as human as they are themselves. That contempt is always based on some extrinsic, accidental consideration as silly as the superiority a man feels looking down at the world from the back of a horse. The gangster is flooded with synthetic courage when he has a gun in his hand or dope in his arm; the bully’s stout heart is fed on the fear of his victim; the powerful man can look with scorn on the rest of men because he has wealth to abuse, claims membership in a special nation, a particular party, or because he has a representative position in a state — all of which give him an opportunity to oppress others.
A denial of the fundamental character of society
Could anything be madder than this? To deny one’s own mastery, to cast off one’s own sole claim to self-respect, and with this denial to destroy the basis upon which society tests, then, lest there be any doubt of the matter, to confirm these denials by the destruction of others — reason can find no ground for this sort of thing. Its correlative is no less mad, i.e., the construction of our house of pride on the frail foundations of power or the means to oppress others; the foundations of man’s life are not to be destroyed by a half-hour of seasickness or an attack of indigestion. What this really amounts to is a self-condemnation to a life of narrow, withered, inhuman horizons. It is a man’s denial of humanity to man.
It is not exaggeration, but charitable understatement, to describe injustice as social insanity. In fact it is a little too kind, for we feel pity for madmen. Sometimes this social insanity takes a homicidal form; there pity must surely stop, for then it has the ruthless violence and sly cunning peculiar to the insane with all the cool deliberation of a man in full command of his faculties. But pity has not stopped. Rather it has gone the lengths of discarding with contempt the sacredness of human life and of seeing in murder the innocence of a guileless child, the courage of a martyr, the sweet smile of a compassionate friend. In such terms do we think of abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and so on. But we shall come back to these things later. For the moment, let us set the record straight by examining the nature of killing in itself.
Killing in general
It must be understood that it is not life, but human life that is sacred. This is important if we are to escape the menace of the double mistake induced by current philosophies of materialism. It may not be so strange that materialism should mistake the bottom rung of the ladder for the top; but it is pitiful that the illusion should be so complete as to enable it to break its neck by falling off the bottom rung. This double mistake comes from a denial of any specific difference between man and the animals. Obviously, if no animal life is sacred, then there is nothing sacred about the life of a man; or, proceeding in the other direction, if man’s life is sacred, then all life is sacred. These are the two extremes of brutal contempt for, and sentimental mooning over, all living things.
The latter mistake is now very, very old. It was not young when it furnished the material for some of the earliest of heresies; and that was long ago. It was refuted back in the very beginnings of the Church by the simple truth of the profession of the Apostles; they were fishermen and it was as true then as it is now, that a man cannot fish for years without killing a fish, or at least hoping to kill a fish. If we are to insist that a fish has a right to its life, then we must insist that a fish has the same mastery of his life as has a man; it is only on the grounds of mastery, of dominion, that we can possibly conceive of right. It is his liberty, responsibility, his ability to use things that lies at the root of man’s possession of rights.
Just as indubitably as man has rights, irrational creation has no rights. It is no sin to use a creature for the end intended by nature. Throughout all of nature the inferior creature exists For the superior; the grass is not violated by the cow, rather it fulfills the end for which it was made.
This is not by any means a license for brutality; a man cannot use animals in any way that pleases him. Accidentally the killing, or even the abuse, of an animal can be sinful. Accidentally! That is, by such actions a man violates the rule of reason; he is doing a senseless, disgusting thing. He is not using animals for the ends of nature, i.e., for the good of man, he is wantonly, viciously abusing a creature of God. The thing is, in itself, a convincing sign of viciousness. As a violation of reason it is a positive contribution to an increase in disorderly appetite. There is no reasonable basis for cruelty to animals; not because the animals have rights, but because there can never be a justifiable basis for a violation of reason, for a senseless action.
The question of the justice or injustice of killing enters in only where there is a question of a right to life; that is, in the human field where alone it is possible for right to exist. Within that field, the obvious place where human right to life can be questioned is in the case of the criminal, the sinner; for, as Thomas says, “The sinner is much worse than a wild animal. and does much more damage.” By his sin, he discards his human dignity as an unpleasant garment, makes himself a slave to sin, and puts himself in the class of irrational creation.
Public and private execution of criminals
But it is not on these grounds that St. Thomas will allow the execution of criminals. Rather it is on social grounds. The criminal is a corrupt member of the social body, to be cut off for the health of the whole as a gangrenous foot of a diabetic is amputated to save his whole body. Nor does this make the criminal a kind of martyr for the common good; he is an enemy of society whose attack is repulsed even at the cost of his life.
It would be a strange society, indeed, in which a man, sure of his own justice, could stroll out after dinner and shoot down a few sinners. The nicest thing about such a society would be that it would soon simmer down to just one man — the best shot. As a matter of fact, there is no open season on criminals. A Ku Klux Klan or a Vigilantes committee, executing justice independent of authority, has no justification; no individual, or group of individuals, has a right to execute a criminal, even though he is beyond all doubt guilty. Execution is a social remedy for a social disease; it is an act in defense of society and so proper to him who acts for the whole of society. Moreover this very defense of society works an injury to the integrity of society in causing the death of one of society’s members. On both counts, of authority and injury to society, it exceeds the powers of any private person.
By this right of self-defense, public power is not at all put in the position of fanatical reformers who maintain that right is tight, and must be done regardless of consequences. As a matter of fact, consequences may make right very wrong indeed. Public power is not a blood-hound, existing to track down all sinners; its execution of the criminal is for the common good, for the safeguarding of the health of the whole. The ideal to which public authority looks is the patient wisdom of the divine regime, which often lets the cockle grow, lest tearing it up the wheat also be uprooted.
Unfortunately patience seldom wrings cheers from the crowd. It is not too easy for men to see the stout heart that beats in the man who endures; in fact paganism went so far in the other direction as to see the supreme example of a stout heart in the man who quits, the suicide. The alleged heroism of the suicide has become a kind of dogma that only the irreverent challenge. Of course the spy kills himself to protect the secrets of his country; the military traitor is presented with a pistol, locked in a room, to do “the honorable thing”; the drunken husband is expected to take himself off in favor of the worthy, patient lover of his wife. Apparently it has not occurred to us that the spy might simply keep his mouth shut, the traitor repent the betrayal of his country and take his punishment, and the drunkard give up drinking.
The sane clarity of the Christian view refuses to become confused in such a fog of sentiment. We cannot mistake softness and cowardice for the strong virtue of fortitude. Suicide is the act of a man who admits utter defeat, of a man in despair, of a coward, of one who is afraid to face life. In a way, it is a species of sneak-thievery. No man is lord of his life; he merely has the administration of that life. The destruction of that life on his own responsibility is an injustice to the Lord of life, to God; it is an injustice to the community, of which the suicide is a part; and it is gravely against his serious obligation of charity towards himself.
The champions of suicide allege reasons that drip altruism: remorse, failure disgracing his family, fear of sin, or violation of body. This poor man’s family needed the help of his insurance; this other recognized himself as a general nuisance and simply rid the community of that nuisance. Of course none of these is valid; it is never permissible to do murder that good might come; that the particular murder is cowardly neither justifies nor ennobles it.
Direct suicide must always stand condemned as evil, for human life is a sacred thing; but even human life is not so precious that it may not be lost in the fight for more precious things. Even where the immediate goals sought are not so exceedingly precious, compared to life, if they are sufficiently grave and honest, life may be risked for them. A man may sacrifice his life in warding off failure, a woman may resist to the death or attempt to walk along a ledge fifty stories above the street to escape criminal attack. The chances may be a thousand to one in favor of her crashing to death, for not every woman has had circus training; but she is entirely justified. The difference from suicide, in these cases, lies in the fact that here death is a by-product, it is not the goal of the act. Where the end is honest and the reason sufficiently grave, such by-products can be justified.
Throughout all this discussion, the central and fundamental truth, has been the sacredness of human life. It is an important truth in an age where the brutality of materialism is throwing off more and more of its disguise every day. So sacred is human life that no public authority, no private person, can for any reason directly kill an innocent man.
Killing of the innocent
There is a profound significance in the fact that this fundamental truth is so seriously challenged today; challenged, you understand, not in a class-room or a letter to the editor, but in the concrete actions of governments and men. Such a challenge is the execution of hostages as a means of holding off an enemy, or the killing of an innocent but influential person whose death has been demanded by the military authority of the enemy: all this in the name of the common good. On the personal side there is the mercy killing calculated to relieve a man of his suffering; the painless killing of the hopelessly wounded, of the old, the misfit, the insane, social nuisances. The argument even includes an unborn child that the mother’s life be saved. All this is murder. The smooth, somniferous length of the words we use to describe it — liquidation, euthanasia, mercy-killing, solicitude for suffering mothers — does not destroy the ugliness of murder.
Murder is its hideous, loathsome self no matter what name we give it. Society can kill in self-defense. But surely the man who violates no rights is not attacking society, nor is he an unjust aggressor threatening the life or property of any individual citizen. He is innocent and his life is sacred.
Killing of aggressors
We have seen earlier in this chapter that it would be a strange society where every self-justified man could execute anyone who did not measure up to his idea of goodness; a strange society that could not endure. It would also be a strange society in which all men followed the gentle Christ’s example and invitation to turn the other cheek to an aggressor; a strange society, but one that could endure and with such peace, harmony and happiness as to crowd the outer fences of the universe with astonished angels, anxious to see for themselves. However, Christ’s invitation was to the very strong; few men are as strong as that, strong enough to be perfect. Nor does Christ demand the heroic from non-heroic men; all citizens do not have to turn the other cheek. They may defend their rights, even to the extent of killing the attacker of those rights.
This is another case of death being a by-product of a legitimate act — the defense of one’s rights. If the intention is good, i.e., not the death of the aggressor but the defense of right, and if there is a sufficiently grave reason the killing of an aggressor is justifiable. Among reasons sufficiently grave for such an action, we might mention defense of one’s life, of physical integrity against mutilation, of property, and so on.
But the act must be one of actual defense of protection of rights that are being violated. We have no right to ambush a burglar and shoot him down because we have heard he is going to rob us the day after tomorrow. Nor can we put a bullet in his back a week after he has successfully looted our home. It would be unjust caution that would move a woman to poison a man she suspects of having dishonorable intentions. As a matter of fact, when a blow on the head of the attacker will protect our rights, we have no right to fire a cannon ball at him; for this act must be not only actual defense, but defense only, i.e., no more force must be used than is necessary for our protection.
It is to be insisted on that the question of self-defense hinges upon violated rights, not on the guilt or innocence of the one violating those rights. The term “unjust ag gressor” is not a description of the state of a man’s soul but a statement of the objective character of what he is doing. He may be a lunatic incapable of sin; but he is still an unjust aggressor for the thing he does is unjust, even though by reason of his incapacity, it is not done unjustly. In other words, as we pointed out in the preceding chapter, the medium of justice is an utterly objective thing.
Of course this does not justify the strange reasoning that finds the unborn child an unjust aggressor against its mother because it too, like the lunatic, is innocent of all crime. At least that is the only common bond between the two, their innocence; certainly the child is violating no rights. It is fairly obvious that while every one has a right to life, there are superior duties before which this right must give way; the right to life is indeed a sacred thing, but not so supreme a thing as to justify the scuttling of every other consideration, for physical life is by no means the ultimate value in the human or moral order.
With that limitation of force well in mind, we can insist that it is not only man’s life that is sacred; his whole being is sacred. The power that can, in self-defense, proceed against so sacred a thing as his life, can also take action on a lesser scale against its attackers. If society can kill a man for a crime — and it can — then obviously it can mutilate him for the same cause; it can pluck out his eye, cut off his ear, or even sterilize him. But all these must be punishments; that is, they must he inflicted by public authority, for the common good and only for a crime. To sterilize the feeble-minded or the poor is an example of that social insanity which is injustice. These men are innocent of all crime. Yet there is a terrifying indication of how close we are to insanity in the fact that a law for the sterilization of thc feeble-minded actually exists on thc books of the majority of our States.
The thing is a violation of the fundamental rights of man, of the fundamental sacredness of his being, of rights which the man himself cannot relinquish. Even if the victim be willing, such mutilation cannot be committed; a doctor performing an operation to sterilize an innocent man, whether at the behest of the man himself, other individuals, or a nation, is violating justice; he inflicts an injury on the individual and on society. This right, of a specific nature, cannot be denied, for a man cannot deny his own nature. The amputation of an arm or a leg to save a man’s life is, of course, an altogether different thing; it does no hurt to society and actually saves the individual. But it is worth noting that, however poor a thing the leg or arm may be, if the owner of it wants to keep it no one has any right to take it away from him. There is an implicit recognition of this truth in the hospital practice of insisting upon an explicit permission to proceed with an operation; and an implicit denial in the much publicized cases of a state or city government stepping in to order an operation on a child over the protests of its parents.
The bodily injury involved in execution and mutilation, implying as it does an injury to society, can be inflicted only by the state, and then by way of punishment. It is not a power that a governor can give away like passes to the theatre; it cannot, for example, be extended to fathers in relation to their children, or to masters in relation to their servants. However, the limitations of execution and mutilation do not reach to the corporal punishment involved in such a thing as a spanking; for this latter does not affect the integrity of the body, but only the sense of pain.
There have been many brutal cases recently of moronic, parents beating children to the point of positive mutilation. This is madness; and it rightly arouses intense and immediate indignation. But within proper limits, the pain of such a thing as a spanking can be inflicted on subjects by way of punishment, not only by the state, but also by parents and masters; for children are subject to their parents, servants are subject to their masters. Understand, however, the question here is not one of the advisability of spanking in general, advanced as a challenge to modern psychology; but rather it is a question of the justice of corporal punishment. St. Paul himself admitted there were spankings and spankings, when he warned parents against punishments that would break the spirit of their children. St. Thomas puts the question of the value of spanking to one side; he had had a strong-minded mother. He limits himself to the question of justice; and it is im portant to notice that he solves the question on the basis of authority, and on that basis alone. It is only by reason of their authority over their children that parents have a right to punish them.
Almost everyone (with the possible exception of the, parents) will agree that the sticky-fingered child who climbs into strangers’ laps on a train could well stand a little punishment. According to St. Thomas, the proper procedure in such a case would be to approach the respective parent and present the case in some such words as these: “Madam, will you please give me permission to give Agnes the spanking of her life?” or “Mr. Jones, would you mind if I gave your pretty child a few clouts on the ear?” In other words, the stranger has no jurisdiction over these children, so he cannot punish them.
As a matter of fact, we cannot even lock a child up to give the neighborhood a few hours of peace; for incarceration affects the corporal goods of man as do mutilating and beating. True, it does not, necessarily, injure the integrity of the body, nor inflict pain; but it does limit man’s movement and the use of his body. There is, however, an interesting difference between incarceration and the other forms of bodily punishment, a difference that was brought out clearly by the police of Paris a few years ago.
At that time Communistic agitation was running high in Paris and May first was rapidly approaching. At the last moment, some high police official hit upon a simple solution: he would prevent trouble on May first by the effective expedient of putting all known Communists in jail on April thirtieth. The plan was carried out with complete success; Paris, on May first was as sleepily peaceful as a summer day in Avignon, for not a single Communist was out of jail in all of Paris. In this case incarceration was used, not as a punishment for a crime already committed, but as a precaution against possible, even probable future disturbance of the peace to the detriment of the common good. Evidently the state cannot cut out a man’s tongue for fear of what he may say against the government; nor can it kill a man who may some day lead a rebellion. But it has, with no violation of justice, imprisoned men for forty-eight hours for fear of their starting a riot. The difference is that this imprisonment was not inflicted by the power of the state to punish a crime, but by the exercise of the state’s rights to command the external acts of a citizen, and consequently to prohibit them, at least for a time, in order to the common good.
Social insanity’s attack on property
Over and above the personal natural rights a man has to his life and the integrity of his body, he has other rights essential to his individual and social life. One of these is under particularly heavy fire today: the right to private property. The attack is theoretical and complete on one side in its demand for complete state ownership; on the other it is concrete and terribly effective, rendering more and more men propertyless, indeed even going so far as to wipe out the very desire for property, as happens when the direction of taxation is such as to render private property a burden rather than a help.
Now if it is true that man has a natural right to property, such attacks threaten the foundations of society, as do the other attacks on man’s natural rights. What is this particular right and where did it come from?
Liceity and necessity of private property
We have it on the authority of faith that man’s right to possess things as his own comes from nature itself. Let us look into that more closely from the philosophical side. Perhaps we can understand it better if we keep in mind that there are two branches of the family of natural rights: one in the direct line from natural law, the other in the collateral line. The first is made up of positive demands of nature; the second follows from nature immediately with no other intermediary than reason itself recognizing a universal fact and concluding from the fact and a direct command of natural law. This may sound decidedly complex; but then the process of boiling water, simple as it is, looks frightening in the form of an analysis. What all this complexity means in this particular case is not difficult to grasp. Natural law does not positively command that all things be possessed in common, just as it does not command nudism; nor does it command that all things be privately owned, just as it does not command that all men wear clothes. But reason immediately concludes from the contingent facts of the world and a direct principle of the natural law, that private property is necessary for man, somewhat as it concludes that clothes are necessary for man. In other words, the right to private property is a natural right of this second, or collateral class, a right conferred by the jus gentium, the “law of nations.”
Considering man strictly as an individual, it is clear that natural law demands directly and positively that he conserve his own life. This command is not only for today but also for tomorrow; it not only touches the present, it reaches out to the future. A man will grow old, get sick, be hurt in accidents, and if he is to conserve his life these things must be provided for; because he has the obligation to conserve his life, he has the right to the means necessary for that conservation. The fact, however, is that for men in general — not for this or that individual, this or that small community, but for men in general — private property, even capital or productive property, is an absolute necessity for the fulfillment of this obligation of self-preservation.
It is rare indeed that a man’s concern for the present and the future is lessened by marriage. It still remains to be proved that two can live as cheaply as one; when it becomes a question of six, or eight, or ten eking out an existence, the proof becomes correspondingly difficult. As head of a family, a man must provide for his wife and his children in the future as well as in the present. If he can be sure of their food, clothes, shelter, and so on only as long as he is able to swing a pick-axe ten hours a day, obviously he cannot fulfill his obligations as head of the family.
Under the same conditions, he will have little time for Aristotle, the opera, or meditation. He may not want to attack culture as lustily as all this; but he has a direct obligation from natural law to perfect his mind, his will, his body, to perfect himself as a man. For progress in knowledge, virtue, health, the fact is that some private property is necessary, because some independence is necessary. As head of a family, he has the same obligations towards the perfection of his children. With the full force of natural law, then. man has the right to private property.
From the social point of view, this right is no less clear. Man has a direct obligation from natural law to live in society. Along with this direct command of natural law, there is the evident impossibility of life in society without private property; and, as a consequence, the conclusion of reason to the absolute necessity of private property, a command of the jus gentium.
Today the impossibility of social life without private property is not readily admitted; though it is difficult to understand why this should be so. The immediate end of the state is such internal and external peace as will give men the opportunity of working out their individual perfection, a peace that is obtained by the official and orderly guarantee of the necessities of life, by harmonious regulation of the civil life of the citizens and by protection from external enemies. All this is by direct command of the natural law. One who thinks all this can be done by holding all property in common must have spent his life in solitary confinement; certainly he is possessed of an incredibly naive ignorance of men.
Men, taken not as they should be but as they are, are distinctly disinclined to labor for what does not pertain to them; they show no ability to move as a mob to widely different, constructive ends; and they do quarrel constantly over their de facto possessions here and now. Universalize those conditions and you have made social life impossible.
There can be little question, in the face of the facts, of the difference between the efficiency and solicitude a man gives to the care of his own things and the indifference he betrays in his care of what belongs to the community, or to no one at all. The pet cat and his cousin, the alley cat, lead vastly different lives; public parks, at least in America, are untidy hoydens while private gardens haven’t a seam crooked or a hair out of place. Private bank accounts received a much greater share of worry from the citizens than the Federal budget. These are facts.
It is asking too much to hope for quiet order in a community if, for instance, everyone has the right to a dentist’s office and his dental tools; if a man has no more right to his bank today than to his neighbor’s farm tomorrow; or if every man is to supply his needs in any way and in any place that pleases him. Again, peace is impossible where everything belongs to everybody and nothing to an individual. For men, as they are, will not agree with sweet serenity on the use of these common goods at this particular time. If the family clothes are held in common, an interesting situation arises when two sisters begin their long preparations for the same party; fortunately the affair is private. In the face of facts like these, universal facts, along with the necessity man has of living in society, there is a positive obligation to divide property into personal possessions.
To put all this briefly: the possession of private property is licit (i.e., not forbidden) directly by the natural law itself; but the necessity for private property is directly commanded by the jus gentium, that is, a direct principle of natural law, side by side with universal contingent facts, forces human reason to this intermediate conclusion. Men, as they are, simply cannot live, as individuals or as social beings, without private property.
Secret attack on property — theft
An attack on this right to private property is an attack on society. The large theoretical attack of philosophers, propagandists and social theorists is, as a matter of fact, much more deadly than the concrete attack made by a pickpocket in extracting a man’s wallet from his pocket. The first is a general attack aimed at society as such; the second is a particular attack aimed at one citizen, and only through him at the peace of society. Of course if all men turn to picking pockets for a livelihood, not even shortening of the working day will save society from destruction.
Now that we have been introduced to a pickpocket it might be well to get better acquainted. He has his points; at least, in some sense, he is a thoughtful, flattering fellow. He leaves his victim in blissful ignorance of his loss, at least for the moment. And he pays his victim the flattering compliment of fear. To appreciate these good points, we must look at a burglar. The pickpocket is a sneak-thief; but the burglar uses force to gather in his loot. In; other words, the burglar cares nothing for even the momentary happiness of his victim and has a thorough contempt for the victim’s power of resistance; he has arrogated to himself something that belongs only to the state, that is, coercive power. All in all, the burglar is a very unpleasant fellow.
In treating of this matter of theft, we must deal with the puzzling case of the theft which is really not a theft. All Catholic theologians admit that a man, to maintain his life, can legitimately take the goods that are held by another. Of course this right is strictly limited. It must be a question of extreme necessity, and a man must take only enough to relieve his extreme necessity, not enough to keep him in luxury the rest of his life. Moreover, he must not reduce the individual from whom he takes these things, to the same extreme necessity from which he extracts himself. This is really not theft at all; this man has not taken what belongs to another, he has merely taken what belongs to him.
The confusion of the case is cleared up if we remember that the root of man’s right to things of the world lies in his ability to use things; and that is, at the same time, the limitation of his right. Things have not been delivered over to him absolutely; nature has given them as a means to be used in attaining his goal. God alone has absolute dominion. Man, then, has a natural right to the use of creatures beneath him as a means to his goal; that this or that particular thing belongs to this man for his particular use is dependent on the determination of positive civil law. The extreme necessity of one man brings about a clash, or rather an apparent clash, between a positive right and a natural right; of course the natural right wins in such a battle, for the positive right simply disappears. No positive law can oppose, destroy or uproot the natural law.
Social insanity’s attack on the instruments of justice: Favoritism
When social insanity invades the government itself, the citizen is in a desperate way. He is in the position of a man who set out to buy a police dog to protect his home, and returns leading a wolf on a leash. The government exists to protect the rights of the citizen and to minister to his needs; when, instead, it violates those rights, it leaves its helpless victim naked and wounded by the roadside, the victim of organized injustice.
It may seem touchingly human for a president to name an attorney general because he likes the man’s smile or to exempt his political friends from the boredom of paying taxes. Actually such a thing is decidedly inhuman for it is a violation of distributive justice; it is an obvious attack on the rights of citizens, an attack that goes by the name of favoritism. The state, through its officials, is obliged to distribute honors, burdens, rewards and helps on grounds of strict justice.
In such cases, corruption has crept into government; and corruption is rarely a static, localized thing. It spreads quickly, silently, with devastating effect, from executive positions into the legislature. Here it will take such forms as legislation favoring or penalizing one class or one section of a country; in other words, it will be legislation working for particular, selfish ends against the common good. No society can stand up long under such mad attacks. But the most devastating damage is done by the corruption of social insanity when it eats its way into the judiciary and the judicial processes. After all executives are changed from time to time; many laws are written on the books and do no more than gather dust; but the judicial processes are continuous, immediately effective, concrete. These processes are the digestive apparatus of society; that process of elimination and assimilation must be completely dependable or society is in a bad way very quickly.
Injustice in the courts: Injustice of a judge
A corrupt judiciary leaves a slimy trail of bitterness, anger and despair; and must eventually result in private execution of justice. A judge does the tremendously important work of putting the law to work. He is a public, not a private person; he exercises coercive power on citizens and, by his decisions, gives what St. Thomas calls “private law”, i.e., a concrete judgment with the full force of law. Our interest in a law may easily be detached, unbiased, academic; but a judgment will bring us roaring to our feet, as philosophizing drops like a forgotten book from our lap.
The fact that he is a public person does not mean that the judge has no private life; but it does mean that in his judgments he must not act as a private person. His private knowledge of the sanctity of Miss Jones cannot be used to save her from the electric chair when the evidence shows she poisoned the barber for ruining her hair. His decisions must be based on his public knowledge; that is, on the knowledge he has from the law, from the witnesses, from the instruments of the trial. He may insist on a stricter examination of the evidence, because of his private knowledge of the guilt or innocence of this particular person; but it must be on the evidence that he decides his case. He can, and indeed he should, feel very sorry for the culprit; and this latter may be positively extravagant in his promises to be good in the future. But here an injury has been done to another citizen, and to society; the law that demands punishment is the voice of society, it is not the private product of this particular judge. He is no more than the instrument of justice.
The judge occupies a precarious position, delicately balanced. He is not an accuser, nor is he a defender; he is the impartial figure of strict justice; a position extraordinarily difficult for any man to maintain. It is true that in criminal cases he should favor the one who is accused; but this is by reason of his very impartiality, for a man remains innocent of crime until he is proved guilty, he has a strict right to his good name, to his liberty, and so on. These rights must not be taken from him until he is proved, with a moral certitude, to have forfeited them by definite crime. In a civil case thc matter is a little different; here he judges according to the greatest probability, but again this is no more than maintaining his attitude of strict justice.
It takes little imagination to see what damage can be done to society by the ignorance, prejudice, cowardice, greed or ambition of a judge. His work is difficult and dangerous. For the victim of unjust judgment there is one instrument of defense in the knowledge that a certainly unjust judgment does not bind him in conscience. But that weapon is so small, so frail, so pitiably individual, the more so since it is coupled with the knowledge that even such a judgment must be abided by if there is any danger of scandal or disturbance of the public peace. In other words, this man is forced back upon the meagre resources of individual action, whereas he should be enjoying the rich benefits of social action; he is obliged by his conscience to think always in reference to the common good, whereas this fanatic who has judged him is limited by no other thought than his own selfish interests.
Of course the judge does not have to bear the whole brunt of injustice in the judicial process. Our own times have made it fairly clear that others can corrupt justice in spite of an honest judge; in fact anyone connected with the judicial process — accuser, witnesses, lawyers — can be the means of introducing the note of social insanity into this social act that should be so eminently sane. Let us glance at these other members of the troupe which performs in the courtroom.
It is not necessary to call out the national guard every time you see a boy stealing an apple. Most modern laws make provision for formal accusation by public officials whose office was created for this particular purpose. But a private person may have a serious obligation of denouncing a crime: of counterfeiting, for example, which threatens the common good; or when it is a matter of averting grave damage to an individual, as when the uproar next door indicates that murder is about to be done. In other words by doing nothing more than putting an extra bolt on the door a private person may be guilty of injustice; he makes a more thorough job of it by accusing another of crime falsely, by covering up crime in collusion with the defendant, by losing evidence, admitting invalid arguments, false testimony of witnesses and so on, or even by getting chicken-hearted at the last moment and withdrawing from a case that should be prosecuted.
Injustice in the accused
The citizen is carrying his civic virtue pretty far when he goes to thc length of setting blood-hounds on his own trail; no man is obliged to accuse himself. Indeed, among the peoples of our western civilization it is universally agreed that the accused man does not have to confess his guilt, if he is under no obligation in this regard, of course no force can be used to obtain such a confession. The, reason is fairly evident. Secrets are not the proper matter for public judgment, which deals properly with external acts; and if this man’s confession is necessary for conviction, certainly his crime is a secret thing. Then too a man must be considered innocent until he is proved guilty, for he has a right to his good name.
Both of these grounds were defended by St. Thomas, but in his time there were circumstances which obliged a man to confess his guilt. If, for instance, he had already lost his good name by some crime, there was no danger of injury to his name. If express indications made his guilt apparent, or if that guilt were already half proved, Thomas held that in all these cases a refusal to confess guilt was a sin. The thing is important for it lies behind thc medieval use of torture as an instrument of trial. It was only in these cases, where refusal to confess was sinful, that torture could be used; it was argued, that in these cases there was no violation of man’s rights in demanding that he admit his crime.
An accused man has a right to every legitimate means of defense. Courtrooms frown on name-calling as undignified and, as a matter of fact, it is a decidedly ineffective defense. But name-calling in the modern way of destroying the character of witnesses by false accusation, goes far beyond a violation of etiquette; the thing is vicious, unjust, an absolutely illegitimate means of defense. Once a just judgment has been passed there is no longer any question of legal defense for the condemned man. He cannot argue that he has slugged the guard or shot the judge in self-defense; such resistance constitutes an attack upon the community. He must undergo his sentence. But that does not mean that he has to inflict the penalty on himself; he does not have to pay his own car-fare to prison, he does not have to keep himself in jail. That is the work of society; if the opportunity to escape from jail offers itself, the prisoner is not violating justice in taking his leave without consulting the warden.
The unjustly condemned man is in a different situation. If his unjust sentence is the result of defective form in the trial or through lack of evidence, he can defend himself, even with violence, against the officers of the state. He is the victim of unjust attack; he is not obliged to submit to that attack unless, in a particular case, there are extrinsic reasons that make it necessary for him to sacrifice his own private goods, such, for instance, as the danger of serious damage to the common good.
Injustice in witnesses
The comely witness who lies with the grace and facility of long practice, may not have influenced the jury so much by her testimony. Nevertheless her glib falsehoods have all been charged with a triple spiritual death for her own soul. The witness chair has no value as an alibi for a lie; and since testimony is now seldom given without an oath, it forms an excellent perch for the vulture of perjury. The lying witness then commits a triple sin: of perjury, of lying and of injustice.
Obviously this business of acting as witness is serious. In fact it is a business that most of us would gladly escape. Just when are we obliged, in spite of our distaste, to occupy that uncomfortable chair? Well, the obligation is one of charity when our testimony, as private persons, is necessary to avoid damage to our neighbor or to the common good. It will be one of commutative justice if our office entails such testimony; a burly detective, for instance, cannot become kittenish at the thought of facing all those strange faces. It can be one of legal justice when our testimony is demanded by a legitimate judge.
Even if we are obliged to testify, we need not empty out our minds as we would an old purse, turning it inside out. There are some things about which testimony simply cannot be given. The district attorney who would hammer away at the priest, trying to uncover something that was told in confession, is wasting his time. The priest knows these things, not as a man, but as a minister of God; the knowledge is God’s and the priest cannot use it. Ordinarily the things learned by doctors, lawyers and so on in their professional capacities cannot be the matter of testimony; these are natural secrets, and it was with this understanding that they were told to these professional men.
However these professional secrets have nothing like the inviolability of the seal of confession. Sometimes they may be revealed; and sometimes they must be revealed. A doctor, who knows that a mid-wife is constantly procuring abortion, would be obliged to offer testimony to that effect in order to avoid grave evil to the common good; indeed, even where it is not a question of the common good, but of serious damage to an individual, or to the doctor himself, he is not bound to hide these natural secrets.
Secrets are only a small part of the things that need not be testified to. Much of the confusion in this matter comes from the fact that often only a sickly ray of the sun of common sense can fight its way through the dust of a legal library. While it may pain the attorney, it seems obvious that a witness does not have to do himself grave damage by giving testimony, nor give testimony to the injury of a close relative; a father, for example, can refuse to testify against a son. Obviously we do not have to testify at the command of a judge who has no jurisdiction, nor reply to a judge or a lawyer asking questions not pertinent to the trial in hand. It also seems nothing more than common sense that the detective who has tapped a private phone line or the bored postmistress who has steamed open letters should not be obliged to testify in these matters, for both have obtained their knowledge by injuring others. The milkman who, on his early morning rounds, has seen a drunken man kill another, can legitimately avoid giving testimony if there is no danger of damage to a third party; for here too, there is no serious question of protecting the common good or vindicating justice, for the drunken man was obviously irresponsible.
Perhaps it would be well to sum all this up. If a man is not summoned by the judge, he is nevertheless obliged to give testimony to save a man from unjust execution, from serious penalty, from the loss of his good name, or from serious damage; a just proportion always being observed between the damage he is trying to avert and the damage he himself will incur. If this testimony is not demanded by a legitimate superior, then a man is obliged in charity to do what he can to bring out the truth; but if his testimony will contribute to the condemnation and consequent execution of another rather than to saving him, then no one is obliged to offer testimony, though that testimony can be required in justice by a superior.
Injustice in lawyers
St. Thomas knew enough about lawyers to be sure they were as weak as other men. They too might become negligent and handle a case carelessly, might let a professional secret slip, use some unjust means to escape from a dangerous situation, or prolong a case to swell the fee. All these are distinctly possible injustices; but they are also distinctly obvious. Thomas neglects them to concentrate on the fundamental injustices that have a much more direct effect on society.
Thus he insists that a lawyer may not knowingly defend an unjust civil case; if he does, he is not only carrying the burglar’s tools, he is instructing him in the use of them. He may start in innocently enough, thinking the case is just, and later discover that it is, as a matter of fact, unjust; but his original innocence does not give him a license for robbery. True he is not obliged to help the opponent, nor to reveal the secrets manifested to him professionally; but he is obliged to give up his part in the case or to induce his client to withdraw the case. In other words, there is no limitation to the prohibition of partaking in an unjust civil case.
In a just civil case, the lawyer’s defense of justice cannot be waged unjustly; he has no permission to lie. But of course he does not have to tell all he knows, in fact he would be doing an injustice if he did not prudently withhold the things that would impede his case. In criminal cases a lawyer may defend the accused man even when that man is certainly guilty; the guilt must still be juridically proved. On the other hand, a prosecuting attorney is guilty and bound to restitution when he wins the condemnation of an innocent person culpably; indeed he is unjust when he pursues a trial after learning of the innocence of the accused, or after gravely doubting his guilt. Nor can he dodge the charge of injustice when he injures society by his lackadaisical exercise of his office.
This has been an unpleasant chapter. We might say it had some of the unpleasantness of hell about it; both hell and this chapter are crowded with sins and for all their gaiety, there is nothing more depressingly unpleasant than an empty-faced crowd of sins. Perhaps that is another clue to the unpleasantness of this chapter — the fact that the eyes of sin are always so terribly blank, so completely unseeing; the lights have gone out behind these windows of the soul and they tell only the fearful message of darkness.
The same unnamed dread of unreasoning blindness is behind the horror that grips a visitor to an insane asylum. An insane man is one who is terribly blind and does not realize it; he is a man who acts against his very humanity. Sometimes it is the less violent insanity of sin; or again the openly violent insanity of mania. In both cases it is the surrender of control, of the foundation of the humanity of man’s actions; the insane man attacks himself. The man who is socially insane, living in society and depending on that society as every man must, attacks the foundation, the reason for the existence of that society.
This social insanity goes by the very ordinary name of injustice; and it consists in attacks on the rights of man. For it is precisely because of the mastery of man, because of his possession of rights, that society is possible and is necessary.
Social sanity and human life; and human dignity
Social sanity looks upon the rights of man not as rivals to be destroyed, but as a solid foundation to be carefully preserved. To it the life of man is sacred, above all human power: a thing to be challenged only in self-defense against the criminal, who has already forfeited his right to life. Nor is social sanity deceived by high-sounding terms or pseudo-scientific theories; euthanasia, mercy-killing, justified abortion, sterilization may catch the fancy of the unthinking for a day or an hour. But not very stable castles can be built on air; and the solid rock of social structures is the sacredness of man’s life, the integrity of his body, his inviolable dignity as a sovereign being. Eugenics or social inferiority are not seasons for a violation of these things; they are excuses for the inexcusable.
A society that has begun to lose this reverence for man’s personal life is a society that has become feeble-minded. When blood purges, murder, and mutilation become the order of the day, or even a part of legal procedure, society has gone mad; it is attacking itself. It no longer functions as a society.
Social sanity and private property
A disrespect for or lack of interest in man’s right to private property is a serious threat, because social life cannot exist without private property. Like other natural rights, this one too is at the basis of society; it is, in fact, the concrete guarantee of another fundamental right, the right of human freedom. When a state has begun to look upon human individuals, not as persons, but as things, as slaves, as instruments of social perfection, then that society has gone mad. Social sanity insists that the state exists that men’s lives be fuller, not that the state be gorged with the bodies and souls of men.
Social sanity and human freedom; and the instruments of social life In all these cases, society is openly acting as the enemy of its members; it is feeding on its own body. Nor is the attack less mad when it adopts the disguise of friendship in government favoritism. Rather it is more dangerous because somewhat more subtle; but it is none the less a betrayal of the citizen by his government. The dastardly betrayal is complete when a government becomes corrupt in the very acts which were meant to protect the rights of man and minister to his needs, the very instruments of government and justice. The citizen is being stabbed in the back by a friend who has gone insane.
Social sanity holds fast to a knowledge of both man and society; it does not surrender the principle of social control, because it does not give up its knowledge of man, And, in the last analysis, it is man who is the measure of society, as well as its foundation and its goal. The defense of social sanity, then, will not be brought about in any other way than a last-ditch, desperate defense of the humanity of man.