Rights VS. Justice
According to the Biblical account, 3400 years ago a band of “stiff necked” people were given 613 laws by the Creator and Master of the Universe. These laws, it is said, and has been proved, encompassed every aspect of human existence. They regulated personal and public behavior, developing a polity capable of bottom up management. The King was given limited power, elected by the polity; the priests were not to own land, less they were inclined to secure more stature through its procurement. Persons were obligated to become literate and to pass these laws unto their children, allowing for generation to generation engagement. Memory was preserved and intellect flourished, according all the faculties necessary for a just society. Courts were never harsh, “a court that administers the death penalty once in 70 years is a bloodthirsty court,” opined a Jewish sage in the same century in which roman coliseums stank from the metallic odor of freshly butchered human beings, the blood providing a sufficient lacquer to disguise and protect the mental and spiritual perverseness of a society now called the “Classical Age.” Even in the age of our serial and perfidious, hypocritical, pandering to a human rights mantra the origins of which we would like to forget, the leap from cage fights to coliseum is not a difficult one. Civilization has very rarely had a civilizing effect.
Seven Laws were delineated for the nations of the world. They are simple, sensible laws. They almost operate in algorithmic, logically cohesive form. The seven Noahide laws are thus:
1. Idolatry is forbidden.
2. Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden.
3. Murder is forbidden..
4. Cursing the name of G-d is forbidden
5. Theft is forbidden.
6. Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden. (Against cruelty to animals.)
7. Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order to enforce the first six laws.
Of the literally hundreds of thousands of modern ordinances, codes, laws, and regulations at the local, state, federal and international level, only two of these laws that are accounted for in any appreciable way are 3 and 5. This should be of no surprise. The only thing secular society can agree on in ethical terms, all frivolous chanting about unity in diversity aside, is that life is a fine thing, an affection really, an emotive attachment, not a sacred fact, and that individual choice and the right to seek redress of damages is the paramount duty of Justice. Alas, even these definitions are contested. The right to die is now being conferred and legitimized. Infanticide is not only legal, but championed. Theft is explained away as the resultant artifact of an “unjust” society, and murder rapidly approaching such a common occurrence that it is explained in terms of genetics.
Protestations now may follow; seven is clearly in effect today. False, there is not a single court that is designed to enforce the previous six laws. In fact, almost every court in existence is designed to protect individuals from being legally censured for any of the six. A larger point, though, is unmasked in this line of inquiry. The modern courts were legislated into existence for the sole purpose of not pursuing Justice but, on the contrary, to impede its advance. The law today explicitly states that the job of the courts is to encumber laws from being legislated that affect the individual’s ability to pursue any ludicrous act that they so desire. The only exceptions, again, are 3 and 5. And even these can be superseded with the testimony of the deft, or the daft, psychologist.
A stunning refrain, a moment of clarity in the darkness, the Constitution of the United States as its founding implication demands a cynical view of human beings. As many a scholar has opined, the biblical polity, so perfect in its construction, influenced the division of powers of the federal Constitution. This manuscript was not a novel work. Its implicit accusation, man is unable to govern effectively unless his power over his subjects is stringent, limited, and circumscribed to the extent where abuse becomes self defeating. Why, one may be inclined to ask, should this cynicism about the ability of man to make decisions about the correct form of government only be limited to that case? The constitution left government impotent to control man for fear of its abuse, but left man to his own devices, which he readily used to abuse himself.
The idea of rights is a latent artifact of the enlightenment. In its most pristine renderings, the utopia dreamt up by those bookish philosophers of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries extrapolated that if man was able to calculate the universal force of gravitation, he surely could calculate the moral algorithm of the universe unaided by any axioms or metaphysical convictions. With reason and experience mankind could arrive at “thou shalt not kill” just as he arrived at F=MA. Conferring rights upon the individual was designed to be a shield against unwarranted censure by a government while the libertines flitted about Paris and London discovering nothing but destroying everything. Sadistic is the term we use to denote the evil and overly vain, the superficial and the repugnant. Marquis de Sade told his tale of French liberty while locked in the Bastille with great alacrity, the filth and depravity of his prose having a delirious way of turning the dream of rights and freedom upside down. Man is not a moderate creature; given the opportunity, he slips into great abyss or achieves great righteousness. Man is the only creature that has the capacity to do more evil than his revealed faculties are assessed to allow him. All the savagery of the natural world is tame compared to the bestial indulgences of men without moral restraint. To give man rights rather than duties is to give man a fairway to the sadistic, the cruel and the wicked. Only a naif would believe that his appetites will be arrested at the frontier of his rights and those of another. This is a lesson that we repeatedly fail to grasp.
To pursue Justice is to pursue obligations. When Socrates concerned himself with the proper way to live ones life, he was not in pursuit of rights, for rights are negative, nor did he find in democracy anything worth preserving. He was singularly focused on a specific set of positive acts or a mental disposition that would bring about a just society. A legal system predicated on rights will not emerge a Just society, for it does not require anything of the individual. Thus, to say that theft and murder is a sociological result of an unjust society is semantically correct but also hopelessly lost. For if we are to complain about the social inequality brought about by the effects of many varied persons eagerly and dully pursuing their rights, then we cannot refer to the inequality itself but the legal system that allows it. And if the legal system is concerned with rights, then we are attacking rights as a legal framework. And if we are attacking rights as a legal framework because it does not produce a Just society, then we have found the rights of man wanting; and if we find the rights of man wanting, we have discovered man wanting. Because of this, true Justice excludes rights immediately, and demands obligations precisely.
A riposte may now be seen to emerge. Rights, it may be asserted, are the very buffer, the intellectual space, in which Justice is to be found. This may be so; but the assertion operates from the platform of a very bold assumption, that Justice and moral clarity can arrive by pure reason and intellect. This idea was done to history and contemplation with David Hume’s skepticism, and there is little hope for its resuscitation. It was an appeal to State “Rights”, remember, that acted as the most powerful argument for the perpetuity of slavery 150 years ago. It was a powerful argument, the conclusions of which could not be easily denied.The southern states had the legal edge. Lincoln, however, with the moral edge, unable to advance an argument that could not be devastated by a twitching finger pointing to “rights”, crushed them under artillery and swarming armies, with the loss of 600,000 men. Rights are, in almost every instance, used as an excuse for evil. G-d, the abolitionists demanded, obligates you to free the slaves. “Rights”, the slave owners responded, protects us from G-d.
As such, the greatest single intellectual failure of the enlightenment was to divorce the moral from the legal. The legal was reduced to protect the rights of individuals; with punitive measures in place, they are secured. The moral, however, to the chagrin of those who thought it could be found by reason, has all but disappeared. There are many bad men who are legal, and there are many good men who are not legal. When it does appear, it is a fire that is quickly extinguished. The moral requires definitions and distinctions, a model which everyone desires in the abstract but hates in the particular. Thus, furious invective arises when our expectations for human behavior fail. For some unannounced reason, we expect people to be morally responsible in a society that doesn’t require it. We expect, for reasons further unknown, a person to care about the well being of others when it is detrimental to his pursuit of happiness. Theft is forbidden; the world is not ours to do with as we please; but this is a negative commandment. And without a counterweight pulling in the opposing direction, a positive obligation, “leave the edges of your field for the poor,” theft will occur, and apathy will increase.
The second greatest failure of the enlightenment was the banishment of the idea that existence is a creation, not an accident. Accidents are those incidents that we are morally ambivalent towards. Those things happen. And they occur precisely the number of times we expect them to. We can have no moral or ethical view of an accidental existence. To derive an ought from an is, especially when that is is an accident, amounts to an intellectual leap that spans the length of the Grand Canyon. Man under the persuasion that he is an accidental incident, and by extension all those things around him, those things being human beings, are also accidents, his moral imperatives of compassion and concern become mere whimsical labors, an emotive drive rather than a pursuit of justice and are thus atrophied to a punctuated expression when the “feeling” arises. “Justice, Justice you shall pursue it,” is a Deuteronomical demand arriving out of the axiom that the world is a precious creation and that all which inhabits it is to be treated properly, regardless of ones “feelings.” Moses was banned from entering the holy land because he struck a rock in anger, a narrative that allows us to appreciate the fact that ancient man appreciated the rocks more than we today appreciate each other. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” is meaningless in a world of accidents. For if a person doesn’t appreciated themselves as a created and cherished being, then one is to suspect that he will be less inclined to extend that indulgence to others.
If we were to coin a religious commandment for modern society it would be “happiness, happiness, pursue it; pleasure, you shall pursue it. The blood of your fellow you shall abide. When your enemies’ ox stumbles under its burden, add a larger burden. Reduce your discomfort by any means necessary. Your life has no meaning outside the meaning you give it. Do nothing important, because nothing is important”
This should not be considered progress by any post-modern definition. And we can squarely and unabashedly place the blame at the feet of the idol of “rights” that we so emphatically support as the rectifier of all wrongs. If we keep up our demand for a Just society while at the same time ignoring Justice to advance “rights” because we are afraid someone’s intelligence or sensibility might be offended, then we are surely in the twilight of civilization.
The remedy for this decay, this disease, is a renaissance of morality. One does not have to advocate for a return to medieval Europe for this to be accomplished, although it is still hard for the modern intellect to imbibe. To demand responsibility of the individual to other individuals is counter the zeitgeist of at least the last 100 years and will not be an easy tide to turn. It has sucked up and destroyed culture, language and borders, creating a commercialized post-modern culture of anxiety and depression. To chisel out the borders and definitions again we can first look to the ancient sages who set about creating society with morality, a good place to start is the seven laws above.
Society is shaped by its moral compass; the winds of time can be easily tacked, and the destination arrived. Morality created society and has sustained it; rights have merely given impetus for us to demand more of the world while giving less. It does not require a great mathematician to see that this is unsustainable. The question is how long we allow “rights”, in lieu of obligations, to further their damaging influence.
To deny the rights of man can be implicitly seen to aggravate for tyranny. On the contrary, we need not to begin legislating moral laws with punitive effects. But a cultural awakening needs to occur such that we once again recognize that our happiness is only secured through correct moral action and moderation. We cannot allow desire to rule the soul, for even beasts of burden have a higher moral station than their animalistic desires. Justice is either revealed or does not exist at all; it is a metaphysical conviction that has zero evidence to support its procedures; dare I say, it is religion. If we want it, we must believe in it. Accordingly, the idea of freedom that society has so languidly hung to, and hung from, economic in nature, and empty in meaning, will suffer. But if Justice exists it must be in accordance with freedom. And if Justice precludes freedom as we have it currently articulated, unrestricted action, than so much the worse for our definition. We can believe in unrestricted action, or Justice, but never both.