THE ESSENCE OF ANARCHY II
(Q. 72-80)Universal contempt for pettiness
THE normal response of the human soul to pettiness is a kind of nausea. Pettiness in human nature is as revolting as squalor in a hospital or laughter at a funeral. These two, humanity and pettiness, do not belong together; when we see them so we are scornful, contemptuous, even angry. We shrug off the victim of self-pity impatiently; the misery of the miser moves us to anger rather than pity. And we can fully understand the indignation of the Scots at Sir Harry Lauder’s constant quips about their penurious caution.
If taken at all seriously, such an accusation is far from comic. We do not have to hold our sides to keep from bursting with laughter when we see a husband or wife ready to scurry out of marriage at the first wave of misfortune; the victim of envy or jealousy must make a long, long search for sympathy; and the executive who counts the carbon sheets in the stenographer’s desk need have no illusions about the stenographer’s opinion of him.
Its foundations — the nature of man
The fact is that man is too big to enjoy pettiness. Bigness is a part of the very make-up of man. By the design of infinite wisdom, he was made to bring all things into his mind and to carry his heart out to all things not to spend his time grubbing in the little plot of his own being. He was born, not to plunge into the swirling waters of the world and drown himself, but to stand aside from the world, even from himself, as the one spectator of the material universe. He was made for infinite variety. He was given the mastery of the universe, all other things being the tools by which he carves out an eternal destiny. He was made to give himself utterly to another, rather than to attempt to gather all things in the pitiful compass of his own hands.
On the other hand, smallness is a part of the irrational world, for that world is fenced in, determined to one narrow path. No creature in that world has an interest, a knowledge, an ability outside of itself; it is a world incapable of using the rest of the world as its instrument, incapable of surrendering itself to anyone or anything. It is a small world in spite of its size, its power, its beauty and its ruthlessness. Man’s nature has set him apart from this small world and given him something of the infinity of God. His actions, since he is made in the image of God, should be godlike; one of the divine characteristics that must stand out in the acts of a man, if he is to retain the respect of his fellows, is that of largeness, of wide horizons and far off goals. Indeed this characteristic is a condition for the maintenance of self-respect, for deep in his heart every man is revolted at pettiness, even though the pettiness be his own.
Pettiness and society
The fundamental notions of society are really an insistence upon this greatness of man; nor is this surprising, since society is such an exclusively human thing, a thing which only men need and only men can have. There is, in the very notion of society, an open admission of our need for help; a big thing to come from a man. For society exists that man might live the full life of which he is capable, living with others, but incapable, living alone. At the same time, society is a statement of a willingness to give help to others, to pool capacities in order that all might live a more perfect human life. From both angles, pettiness is always an injury, and sometimes a serious threat, to the very notion of society. To admit the need of help and, at the same time, he willing to help others is the work of a creature who can get outside himself: he can stand aside from himself and see his own insufficiency: and he can see the world through the eyes of another, focusing his own vision to an impartial, even a sympathetic view.
Petty injustice is a deliberate campaign of injury, not of help. No matter how great an injury it may do, it is still petty in itself; it is an admission of defeat, of pique, of envy or jealousy. Violence, in general, is the work of a small soul unable to compete with the talents of another: the violence of petty injustice is the work of a craven soul, of a soul not only too small to compete with the talents of others, but even too small to risk the slightest injury or misfortune to itself in its very campaign of injustice to others.
We might say that this petty injustice takes two forms, apparently contrary, according to the particular angle at which a man looks at himself. In one case it puts up a pretense of pride, claiming its own self-sufficiency because a man is unable to stand outside himself and see himself truly; it is the result of a vision, so short that it never quite reaches to a man’s own limitations. On the other hand, this petty violence may set up a constant wail for help, when a man looks at the world and is shocked, aggrieved that the rest of the world can see anything but him, that other men do not spend their time and energy thinking of him. This small soul is quite blind to the rights (let alone the needs) of others but cannot understand why the world should be so blindly cruel as to neglect him for an instant.
Pettiness and anarchy
It may seem a long jump from pettiness to anarchy. Nor does the gap look smaller when we remember that anarchy, etymologically, means “without a head.” It calls up the dismal picture of jungle law let loose in a civilized community whose government, or head, has been cut off, the incongruous picture of a man thrashing about like a recently beheaded chicken, or the horrifying picture of a man who has lost control of himself, who has lost his head and has become a beast of prey. No, it still seems a long way from pettiness to anarchy; but bring the thing close to human life and the distance disappears.
We live in an age where the shambles of domestic groups are taken as much for granted as a shell hole in no-man’s-land. This destruction is laid to cruelty, desertion, infidelity, the third angle of the triangle and so on. Perhaps, in a majority of cases, these alleged grounds are true. But does anyone seriously believe that the course of home life was running smoothly, peacefully, with love ruling supreme, sacrifice constant and generosity the ordinary thing, when one morning husband and wife awoke to discover that lightning had hit their home and cruelty, desertion and the rest were pouring through the hole in the roof?
It is conceivable that a home be broken up suddenly; but normally these big things that destroy a home can be traced back to the constant annoyance of very small things. A man, wrapped up in his business, forgets that his wife and children are human and need some attention, some thought. A wife, now that the excitement of the hunt is over allows her natural slovenliness to assert itself as she appears at the breakfast table disheveled, unkempt, in a state that adds nothing to the tastiness of the cold toast. The husband may spend most of his time at home pitying himself: the wife may be addicted to tears; or either side may cultivate its will power by the constant nagging of the born reformer. They are little things but by their constancy the big things come about. It is well to know the tremendous danger of these small things well too, to realize that they are the fruits of a small soul, the products of thoughtlessness, of selfishness, of discontent and self-pity. But they are at the root of domestic anarchy.
Considering the place the family must hold in society, this alone would be enough to establish the connection between pettiness and social anarchy. However, the direct connection is close enough in the purely social sphere. A revolution is not the work of a moment but the result of years. Society prepares for a revolution slowly, as steam is built up in a locomotive but this steam is applied to terribly destructive purposes when its inevitable explosion rips society to shreds.
Limitations of pettiness
It must be noted that the word pettiness, as descriptive of the type of injustice with which we shall deal in this chapter, must not be taken for a moral evaluation of this injustice. It expresses the contempt of men for this injustice; it is not a statement of its insignificance. It can be exceedingly grave; and its very gravity does not diminish but rather increases the well-earned contempt given it by men.
There is, for instance, the whole group of sins we include under the term “sins of the tongue;” the sins that we confess as uncharitable in a tone that says we know they were not particularly noble, but they are only offenses against charity; and who could blame us for a lack of love for these people? Out attitude is an implicit ignorance of the fact that we are violating justice by these sins we have not merely spoken “unkindly”, we have spoken unjustly, for we have refused others the rights that are theirs. We miss the obvious fact that Christ, commanding the kind word, or at least the kind silence, merely demanded that we refrain from molesting others, that for love of Him we leave others alone.
There are times when we can work up a kind of pride in these sins. when we boldly insult or revile a man, tell him to his face that he is a thief; taunt him with his deafness; upbraid him for his stupidity, his poverty, or with reminders of the favors we have done him–we claim a double justification. The things we said were true, and they were not said behind a man’s back but to his face. As a matter of fact, is there a justification for the wounds left in a human heart, for the shame and embarrassment of another, for the loss of his good name with others, or even for our refusal to give the respect to which this image of God has a just claim? All of these sins are direct attacks on the honor and respect due to our neighbor. If our intention has been to dishonor him or refuse him respect, the sins are no less mortal than are theft and burglary, understanding, of remorse, that they can become venial when the matter of our insults is less grave.
We need not be surprised if, at one time or another, our insults explode in our face. Some people just will not take insults, while others will take just so many as a matter of fact, they do not have to submit to such reviling, any more than a man has to stand by meekly while his watch is stolen or his children kidnapped. He is within his rights in resisting an unjust aggressor and it may be the best thing in the world for a novice at the dangerous game of insulting others to discover that it is not always an easy avocation. If our resistance to insult has that fraternally charitable end of discouraging a too facile tongue, it is not only justified, it is praiseworthy. A man in authority, who must maintain that authority, or a man whose loss of honor would result in grave spiritual loss to others, is not only permitted, he may be obliged to resist insults. In both these cases the motive was not so much defense of one’s own rights but the protection of the good of others normally we can be much more sure of these stainless motives in protecting the honor of another, than we can in rushing to our own defense.
To see these sins as examples of boldness and courage is to blindfold ourselves as we approach a mirror. We are really afraid to look at them closely; if we do we must see them as truly petty. They are an adult version of the little-boy trick of calling names: a gesture of helplessness, of impotent anger, of contempt. If we turn these sins to let strong light fall on their faces, we shall immediately recognize them as the offspring of stupidity they are the product of a mind paralyzed by anger, rushing madly to the handiest means of venting its passion upon another. Pride, of course, helpfully prepares us for sins of the tongue by keeping us well supplied with contempt for others in the admiration we have for ourselves. But it is really the stupid blindness of anger that usually turns loose the flood of insults.
Although insulting words cut deep, they are superficial wounds compared to the gashes made by the words of a backbiter. An insult is an attack on the respect or honor due a person, i.e., on the external testimony of a neighbor’s character. The backbiter digs deeper to attack the very reason for honor: he attacks the reputation or good name of a neighbor. This is a sly, deadly sin, this backbiting, and always committed secretly. It is a cowardly knife-thrust in the back, giving its victim no chance for self-defense: indeed, it is quite the ordinary thing for a victim of backbiting to be unaware of the attack until his good name is entirely gone.
Detraction Thomistic and modern definitions
Modern theologians distinguish between true and false backbiting, calling the first detraction, and the second, calumny. But St. Thomas, seeing both as frequenters of the dark alleys of secrecy and assassins of reputations, makes no distinction. As the thing actually works out, backbiting is rarely limited to the truth, at least by the time it reaches its most deadly stage. I recall a case of backbiting that is an excellent illustration of this fact. A disgruntled mother was stopped by a cheery neighbor as she came out of Mass, just at the unfortunate moment when her mind was considerably disturbed by thoughts of her own somewhat meanly dispositioned daughter. The neighbor remarked happily on the attractiveness and popularity of one of the parish girls passing by. In a fit of spite, the disappointed mother remarked acidly: “Well, there are some things much more important than popularity.” The remark was absolutely true and hopelessly banal: it could be whispered in the most innocent ears or shouted from the highest pulpits. But it was the starting point of a chain of remarks that practically made an outcast of the innocent victim for at each repetition, more details were added as to what was more important than popularity and much more embroidery was painstakingly added to the original inference that this girl lacked these very important things.
Falsehood, the fitting accomplice of sly secrecy, permeates backbiting as the odor of decay permeates a swamp. It is true that we can ruin a good name by secretly telling unsavory truths, revealing secrets and so on. But we can also make a boy’s theft of a piece of candy sound like a bank robbery by a careful inattention to detail. We can declare ourselves actual witnesses of a murderous attack with an automobile when all we have seen is a friendly gesture of help to a stalled motorist on a cold morning. This sort of thing may demand some creative imagination and a good deal of craftsmanship: perhaps that is why there is something of an artist’s pride in the completed masterpiece. But it takes no genius and very little practice to accomplish backbiting without bringing our neighbor’s sins into the matter at all: by brazenly denying his good points, maliciously guarding a silence on those good points or stopping the whole conversation cold by a frigid trickle of praise that drops from our lips with the slow reluctance of a drop of water from an icicle.
Sometimes an injury to another’s name is necessary, as in the doctor’s warning against an engagement to a person suffering from a contagious disease; in these cases there is no question of sin. Very frequently the empty-headedness of the prattler saves him from serious sin, for even sin demands some thought. In fact, there is a saving element in most of these sins of the tongue; they are so often slips, words that escape from our mouths so quickly that we cannot even grab the tail of the disastrous sentence. This is not something of which we can be proud, but at least it often indicates a complete lack of malice
Its comparative malice
Yet once the thing is done, injuries to reputation remain unjust, and seriously so, even though there was no malice on our part. Not so serious, perhaps, as murder destroying the life of a man, or adultery attacking his family and the very beginning of life but among the sins aimed against the external goods of man, detraction holds a top place. It is, for example, much worse than theft, for it robs a man of a much more valuable and personal thing than his wallet; but like theft, insults and backbiting demand restitution. They demand that we return to another the most precious of temporal things, a thing nearly impossible of returning — a good name.
A gossip, to be at her (or his) best, really needs cooperation. There is no more complete example of futile effort than a pair of gossips whose alternating silences are not the relaxed, docile attention of a listener, but the tense, eager, unheeding preparation of one waiting to go on the air. It is at least possible that gossip would decline sharply if the quota of listening could be curtailed. But of course there will always be some excellent listeners; nor do they have all the excitement of malicious gossip with none of the sin. The listener whose ears actually rise up at the first breath of gossip gives full consent to the talk and joins in the sin; so too does the person who could and should stop such unjust remarks. But the timid person, the negligent one, or the man who is ashamed to appear in the role of defender of a reputation is normally guilty only of venial sin.
One of the most serious, and certainly one of the most contemptible forms of gossip is what St. Thomas calls “whispering,” and what may be called, somewhat vaguely, tale-bearing. It is a complete campaign whose chief objective is the destruction of friendship. In the eyes of Thomas, this was more serious than insult, detraction or calumny: for it is much more important to us that we be loved than that we be honored, while a friend is much more precious than a reputation. Men can live without honor, without a good name, but not without friends; for no man is sufficient unto himself.
In sharp contrast to the magnitude of whispering stands the pettiest of the sins of the tongue, the sin of mockery or derision. Do not be deceived by its air of jollity or its disguise of humor; it is a petty, vicious snob that considers the rights of others as so many coins to buy laughs. It is the sarcastic weapon of the negative wit. Insult and backbiting strip a man of the external rewards of virtue, honor and a good name, much as a bandit might strip a man of his clothes. Mockery saunters lightly into the house of the soul to rob a man of his intrinsic goods, his peace and self-respect. Its aim is to shame a man, to shatter him publicly that others might make sport of his shame. Christ was a victim of it when the taunts from Calvary echoed back from the walls of Jerusalem; nor has the satanic art been lost through the ages. Its modern masterpieces are government executed Jew-baitings.
The other sins of the tongue treat man’s faults and weaknesses, whether real or fictional, with some degree of seriousness. Mockery makes sport of them, thus adding a stinging note of contempt. If the subject matter of our costly joke is only slight, then the sin may be venial; but if our contempt for our neighbor is so great that his sin and misfortunes strike us as merely material for a joke, then our sin is mortal, greater indeed than its fellow public performer — insult — for it contains more of contempt.
Mockery is an agile sin that runs up the ladder of gravity with a light-hearted step; it is rarely content to stop short of the top, for it has a reputation for wit to maintain and the strain of the upkeep is terrific. It becomes steadily more grave as its victims have greater claim to reverence. Thus to mock a virtuous man and his virtues is more serious than mockery of a sinner, because virtue is man’s fundamental claim to honor and a good name. In a society where this is widespread, a man may be seen at his sins, but he has to be caught at his virtues; he will keep them secret, or abandon them, for human nature has no relish for mockery. Mockery of parents is a step up the ladder; it is so revolting a robbery of the reverence due them that it is always a shock to spectators. Only in a depraved society does a laughing slash across the face of a parent win a laugh. We reach the heights of this sin when its victim is God; surely when the divine claim to reverence is the butt of jokes, reverence is dead in the world and with it goes all pretence at respect for the dignity of man.
This same proportional upswing of gravity is found in the sin of cursing, taking cursing, not in the vague, general sense of nasty or irreverent language, but strictly as the expression of evil to another by way of wish or command. As men have greater claim to our reverence and our love, we do them a greater injustice by cursing them.
As a matter of fact, all men have at least a minimum claim on our love and reverence; so no slightest degree of evil wished to men, precisely under the aspect of evil, is harmless. Obviously it is against charity; and its execution is patently against justice. But notice that the evil must be willed under the aspect of evil. A judge, damning a man to prison, is not guilty of cursing; nor is the citizen who wishes for the speedy capture and execution of a notorious public enemy, that the peace of society might be preserved. The old Irish mother gives effective expression to her impatience when she exclaims: “I wish the Lord had his soul!” But she is not cursing: rather she is seeing even her tormentors through the eyes of that divinely wise love that has worn smooth the hills of Ireland by its long, steady regard.
Cursing directed against God is blasphemy; against the irrational world it is a waste of breath, for good or evil have no place where necessity is king; against the devil, it is an attempt to gild the lily. More often than not, cursing is no more than a safety-valve blowing off the steam of impatience and anger that have proved too much for a limited vocabulary.
Petty injustice in act: In buying and selling
Some time ago The Saturday Evening Post came out with a cover that brought a chuckle from the nation. It pictured a tiny, meek, sweet-looking old lady looking across a swinging scale, at a butcher who looked as all good butchers should but rarely do. He was fat, good-natured and ruddy, as though he had frequently sampled his own products, all of them, and found them good. He was weighing a piece of meat, resting his hand, meanwhile, gracefully and unobtrusively on the edge of the scale. Both the butcher and his customer had their eyes fixed on the figures of the scale; the butcher with a look of astonishment and the sweet old lady with a smile of serene peace, for underneath the scale her index finger was more than offsetting the weight of the butcher’s hand.
This sort of thing never happened; but we feel, somehow, that if it did happen we could enjoy it thoroughly. Our vicarious and fictional satisfaction focuses attention on petty injustice in one of its commonest forms, cheating, particularly cheating in the contract between buyer and seller. Perhaps it is because the average man is such a constant and gullible victim of the cheat that the “besting” of a swindler evokes such enthusiastic approval.
Unblushing fraud in buying and selling is clearly unjust and is properly and immediately condemned. After all this contract is a mutual thing, designed for the good of both parties; men are right in hotly resenting its open violation. But there are many less patent injustices that are not so heavily frowned on, that are even approved by constant practice. It is, for instance, petty injustice to charge forty dollars for a ticket to a football game — yes, even for that game! The value of the ticket is by no means equal to the price demanded; the equality of justice has been disturbed and must be restored by repairing the damage suffered by the buyer.
It is argued, of course, that the ticket is worth that amount to the buyer here and now; he needs the ticket and cannot get it anywhere else. That sounds very plausible; but whose need is it? If it already belongs to the buyer, surely he cannot be charged for it, it cannot be sold to him. The seller cannot sell what is not his own; he can charge for the thing he is delivering to the buyer, but he cannot charge for the need under which the buyer labors. The case is altogether different if a man insists on buying my rubbers in the midst of a rainstorm. I am justified in adding to the price of the rubbers the price of a cold in the head which I shall suffer by the sale of the rubbers. I am not charging the buyer for his need, but for the damage that will come to me as a result of the sale.
A woman who sells a pet parrot worth five dollars for the price of ten, may be acting justly, charging the buyer for the damage done to her affections and the consequent loneliness of her life. A baseball magnate who would sell his franchise just before a world series is right in asking a higher price, charging to the buyer the loss of gain which was involved in the sale. In all these cases, the seller is charging for something that is intimately his; not for the need of the buyer.
When we discover that the gold-fish we bought at a fire sale looks something like a smoked herring, we should not feel surprised or indignant. That is why we got it so cheap. Obviously the intrinsic worth of a thing is lessened by its defects; as the worth goes down, so must the price, for the price is primarily the measure of the intrinsic value of a thing. But there are some defects that rule out the question of any price at all. The confidence man who sells glass for a diamond offers material with a specific defect; the grocer who gives short weights puts a defect of quantity in the matter of the sale: the horse-trader who sells a blind horse as sound, sells a horse who suffers from a defect of quality. But all three agree in selling something that does not exist; they are all bound to restitution, for they have in their possession something that is not theirs, the money for which they have not given value.
The same holds true of a buyer who, by some strange accident, buys a real diamond at a ten-cent store for the usual dime; or who gets too much change from a cab-driver. In these cases the defect is not in the goods; it is on the other side of the contract, a defect in price. Of course restitution is strictly obligatory. It may happen that the seller of poor goods does so innocently; the butcher, for example, who sells corrupt meat thinking it is good has committed no sin, no deliberate injustice. Yet the thing is unjust; he has money that does not belong to him and it must be returned to its rightful owner.
The advance of science might easily confuse the issue here. Science has been able to produce a substitute that looks like butter, acts like butter and produces the effects of butter; then too there is the abundance of synthetic fruit flavors dispensed at soda fountains, flavors of such delicacy as to move chemists to choose the poetic name of “ester” for them. St. Thomas and the men of his time gave no thought to synthetic butter nor synthetic fruit flavors; but they gave much thought to synthetic gold and silver. St. Thomas’ answer on the matter of the alchemist’s gold and silver, an answer of common sense, still stands for any synthetic product. If science produces real butter, as it has produced real sugars and real alcohols, the product can be sold as real: the synthetic or natural character of its origin is unimportant, it has no interest in a pedigree or a coat-of-arms. What is important is that it have all the qualities of natural butter: that is, that it really be butter, not a substitute for butter.
Let us take the case of a business man with a stock of defective goods on hand. What will he do with them? In a responsible firm, the ordinary thing would be to sell the goods as defective and at a lower price, not only from considerations of justice, but as a protection for the reputation of the firm. But what if this particular business man has no established name to protect, and the defects in the goods are hidden, i.e., they can be detected only by an expert: strict defects for instance as flaws in a diamond or faults in the barrel of a pistol? It is clear that he cannot demand the price he would for a perfect product. Is it enough for him to cut down the price and to say nothing? Hardly. The drop in price will take care of any damage that might otherwise have come to the buyer in the sale itself; but it will not take care of the gun later exploding in the buyer’s face, nor of the explosion of wrath from his fiancee who happens to be a jeweler’s daughter.
Lowering the price to a proportionate level is sufficient when the defects are evident, when they should be seen easily and quickly by an ordinary purchaser. Hidden defects, however, must be revealed. In fact there are times when even manifest defects must be explicitly pointed out; but this is quite accidental, a matter of protecting a particularly simple-minded buyer, such as the man who might have drowned on the lot he had just purchased if he had not been warned of the tide.
Business as such
We come now to an article of the Summa that is a ringing challenge to the modern world, for it is an article that questions the unquestionable. It demands that business itself give the password that will identify it as belonging to the army of acts properly human, the password of morality. How moral is business? How legitimate is trade for the sake of profit? Business is business, but does it need no other references than it can furnish for itself, can it stand on its own feet? Thomas’ questions are a challenge, a challenge that comes as a surprise and brings a surprise with it; for business does not answer these questions too brilliantly.
To get at the heart of the question it is necessary to distinguish between trade for the necessities of life and trade for the sake of gain. Trade of the first type is undeniably praiseworthy in itself as serving the very ends of nature. This trade does not belong in the hands of private individuals but rather to those in charge of the domestic or social groups, to housekeepers and to governments; in other words, it is the proper act of those responsible for the necessities of life.
Trading for gain, which is business strictly so-called, i.e., buying for the sake of selling at a profit, has the type of face that is automatically cast in gangster roles. When business comes to the house of human acts, it must have its hat in hand, references ready, and perhaps even the company of a police officer to prove that it is not nearly so tough as it looks; as a matter of fact, it is not evil. But it has an air of baseness about it. It is ordered to earthly profit, is often accompanied by sins of speech and injustice, and frequently put to work to serve cupidity. To put the objections in plain language, let it be said that business has for its end the making of money; and this is a mere means, a mere tool for a man. Unless it is ordered further, to some such virtuous and necessary ends as to support a family, to the public good, to help the poor and so on, it has no justification in human affairs. When it is ordered to these further ends, it is no longer an end in itself but rather it is the price a man exacts for his labor.
Usually these extrinsic ends are the ends of the business man and because of them the ordinary profit of business can be justified; but there is one profit that defies justification, that is always and everywhere wrong, and that is the profit of the usurer. For quite a while after the break-up of Christian unity, the question of usury was soft-pedaled, receiving nothing like the constant attention it had during the middle and later middle ages. One might have suspected that the unclean thing had disappeared from the face of the earth; but of course it had not. Today more and more is being written on it, more and more questions being asked about it, serious, dangerous questions; for usury today is being pointed out by men who do not speak lightly as the power that makes modern wars possible, modern depressions universal and calamitous, and as the most serious threat to capitalistic civilization which it attacks in the disguise of credit.
At any rate, wherever usury is found it is wrong; and its evil is manifest. It is absurdly simple to understand that to charge a man twice for the same thing is always unjust; yet that is precisely what usury does, it sells the same thing twice. The trick is possible only when the thing sold or loaned is consumed in its very first use, things like wine or sandwiches, or money. When we demand, over and above the return of the original sum of money loamed, an added amount for the use of the money, our act is the same as selling a man a glass of wine and then charging him for the privilege of drinking it.
If we keep this simple statement of usury in mind, it will not be difficult to understand the absolutely necessary distinction between usury and legitimate interest. The latter is charged, not for the mere use of the money as in usury, but on some extrinsic title; this doctrine of interest is not something new to Catholic theologians, there has been no softening of the condemnations of usury, for there has never been a question of the legitimacy of a charge on grounds extrinsic to the money itself. Among such extrinsic grounds for legitimate interest we might mention: positive damage caused to the creditor by making the loan; a special danger to the capital loaned, which justifies a man demanding payment for his risk; the cessation of profit proximately hoped for: or the legal premium (necessarily small) allowed to facilitate exchange.
These two, usury and legitimate interest must not be confused: nor must usury be allowed to masquerade as legitimate interest. For the one, usury, is evil and forbidden; the other is indifferent or even good and certainly permitted. The evil of the one is clear to reason and positively declared by the Church the other is permitted by all the theologians. The difference between the two seems, quite clearly, to be the difference between a loan’s intrinsic and extrinsic title to a larger return. Thus, for instance, a loan for productive purposes has a certain claim to a larger return, that is to a share in the profits but by the same token a consequent loss should also be shared. On the other hand, a loan for unproductive purposes certainly seems to have no such title to a larger return. A demand for a larger return because of delayed payment does not seem unreasonable, for it is in the nature of a fine, where the original contract has not been kept, or because of increased loss as a result of the longer term of the loan. Stockholders who are really partners in a business are not guilty of injustice when they receive a dividend, for they share in the losses as well as in the gains of a business.
A contrast — the wide embrace of justice: Nature of the potential parts of justice
We are not used to such a concentration on the anti-social vice of injustice: consequently the result of these last two chapters is a somewhat embarrassed discomfiture not unlike that of a student nurse at her first operation or a young priest’s first call to a nasty accident. This is one of the difficulties faced by officials who must deal with injustice constantly. The anti-social character of the thing creates such a stifling, unwholesomely artificial atmosphere that these officials face a double danger: they may be increasingly uncomfortable in that atmosphere, irritated with an irritation that gradually rises to a climax of disgust, brutality and ruthless condemnation of the perpetrators of injustice or, acclimating themselves to that atmosphere, they may become as anti-social as those with whom they are dealing.
Perhaps a realization of this is at the bottom of St. Thomas’ method of treating the virtues and the vices together, never dallying very long at any one vice; but rather giving us, side by side with that vice, the perfect respite had by examining a virtue. Here, coming to the end of this first treatise on justice itself and its opposite vice, he throws open the door to let in a gust of fresh air and to reveal to us the wide, inspiring country which comes under the sovereignty of justice.
Their number and name
You will probably have noticed, in our earlier treatment of justice, the three outstanding characteristics of that virtue: its regard for others, its note of equality and its note of debt. All the members of the family of justice bear prominently stamped on their very nature one absolutely universal family trait: all of these lesser virtues that come under justice deal with another. They are in some sense social, rather than personal, virtues. A glance at these virtues introduces us to the sources of the harmony, unity, smoothness and efficiency, the joy that has entered human life through man’s existence in society. All these lesser parts of justice will fall short of that absolutely essential social virtue itself. Some will lack the note of equality; others that of debt. But all have essentially the happy end of bringing man to a fuller life by giving him an integral part in a social body.
We shall see them all in detail, one by one. For the present we must be satisfied merely to name them. These potential parts of justice are: religion, piety, observance, truth, gratitude, vindication, friendship and liberality.
Two mistakes on petty injustice: Too small to matter
By way of summary of this chapter, we might point out that there are two mistakes to be noticed in this matter of petty injustice: one of under-estimation and the other of over-estimation. To those with a good grasp of the serious and important things of life, with a scale of values accurately balanced, the pettiness of this injustice is quite clear: but its very clarity may move them to dismiss these things as trifling, as they concentrate on the bigger, more important things. In this same vein, a man might shrink in horror from beating his wife, but have no qualms whatever of being niggardly with her; while as far as the stability of marriage and the peace of the home is concerned, this niggardliness may do more damage than an annual beating. These things are small; but precisely because they are so small, they can accumulate almost unnoticed until they are an overwhelming force, until they have undermined the structure of society. Then we are astonished at thc catastrophe and, belatedly, search for a cause, a big cause, a cause as momentous as the damage that has been done. It will be a very human thing if we pick the wrong cause, or finding nothing proportionate, if we create a cause to satisfy our minds, while we go on blithely indulging ht the petty injustice that is behind it all.
Too big for anything else to matter
The other mistake, not uncommon in our day, is made by those who have lost or inverted their scale of values. There are men and women today to whom lying, cheating, petty thievery, backbiting, mockery and so on are so revolting as to be unthinkable as a personal vice. Yet these same people are not seriously perturbed by such things as abortion, euthanasia, suicide. They strain at the gnat, while the camel slides down as easily as a sip of wine.
The conditions of life with others — strength and largeness of soul
Life of friendship with God and men
Both these mistakes are socially, as well as individually fatal. The absolute condition for our life with others is one of justice. There is no place in social life for either violence or pettiness. Certainly life with others seems to demand a strength and largeness of soul. There are no stingy saints; for life with God demands surrender, not concessions. In human friendship no selfish friends are true friends: selfishness knows only one loyalty. In domestic life, there is no marriage for long on a basis of self-defense, whether that defense be thrown up before a career, a “developing personality”, freedom or such trifles as convenience, taste, relaxation or shape. And in society there is no social life for long without regard for others, without justice. For generosity, for surrender, for unselfishness, for justice it is demanded that we have the strength and largeness of soul to get out of ourselves, to give ourselves, to forget our point of view in seeing the world through the eyes of others, even through the eyes of God. We must not only see with the eyes of others, we must work for their good as well as for our own.
In the last chapter we saw the basic attack on man’s rights in the great injustices, in the social insanity directed at the rights of man’s person, his life, his integrity, his dignity, his freedom, against his property. In this chapter we have been examining the small, nagging attacks in the home of society; the kind of attack that completely usurps peace and harmony and eventually destroys society as nagging eventually destroys the home. This petty injustice is the injustice of a shrew of society. While it is effective in exploding peace, harmony and cooperation, it is yet so small as hardly to merit our notice let alone our determined opposition. Its pettiness, in other words, is one of its greatest dangers.
Full essence of anarchy
Consequently this petty injustice plays almost as important a part as violent injustice in bringing about the destruction of society, in accomplishing anarchy, in depriving man of his social head. These petty injustices are the contributions of the small souls, the sneak-thieves of society; violent injustices are the contributions of the pirates of society. Both work for the same end: the destruction of the social structure by denying in act and in word the rights of man, refusing him his fundamental rights on the one solid ground on which he can lay claim to them, on the ground of his humanity. Both work to the same end of self destruction, destroying their own rights by denying their own obligations which are at the root of those rights. Both work for an isolation, a solitary confinement of man they commit social suicide, but, unfortunately, social suicide is not a crime that can be committed alone. Those who destroy society pull it down upon their own heads, but it also comes down on the heads of all the thousands of innocent men and women who have been big enough and brave enough to make the adventure of life in society.