Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Proudhon on moral sanction

[The final study in Proudhon's Justice in the Revolution and in the Church deals with the question of "moral sanction." This section explains the identity, within Proudhon's thought of the law, the legislator, and the sanction of the law, understood both as the guarantee of its authority (a notion we obviously have to use carefully in this context) and as the rewards or punishments associated with compliance or non-compliance.]

II. — We have just seen what is meant, in the practices of each State, by the word sanction. It is a question now of knowing the nature of the higher sanction, the final, humanitary sanction of Justice.
In the system of our old governmental legislations, founded at once on the reason of the Church and the reason of the State, proceeding by imperial decrees, sénatus-consultes, parliamentary adoptions, bulls, mandates, plebiscites, one thing to note is the distinction which has been made between the different powers which take part in the formation of the law. The legislative authority is A; the text of the law, B; the ratification or seal, C; the guarantee or penal sanction, D. If, besides the penal sanction, there is a remunerative sanction, that is yet another thing, E. There, all are separate; all assume a body, face, and will; all are personified. In the same way that the law is desired by one personage, who is the sovereign or prince, it is drawn up by another, which is the parliament; signed and posted by a third, who is the minister; avenged by a fourth, who is the judge; finally, if there is occasion, encouraged by a fifth, which will be the public treasury. These functions of the law are still subdivided; the prince has the nation behind him; parliament is divided into two houses; the judge is accompanied by the executioner. Such was, in the ancient world, the dramaturgy of the law, which the Church reproduced in its own way: God, the Revelation, the Priesthood, Hell and Paradise.
The principle of that realization, or, if you prefer, of that legislative poetry, is easy to discover. In the infancy of societies, the law is nothing but the will of the father, prince or patron god of the city; a subjective commandment, issuing from pure will, which has no value but that conferred on it by the power and respect of its author. Raised to the level of theological ideality, that legal empiricism has become the entire system of religion. It supposes that the morale law if prior and superior to humanity; the subject of Justice outside the human race, to which notification of the law is made by deliberate revelation; consequently that the sanction of right is not of this earth, or at least that it is only partially manifested here, etc.
I have refuted this system at length: in this regard, the discussion is exhausted. In the last analysis, man recognizes no law but that admitted by his reason and conscience; all obedience on his part, based on other considerations, is a beginning of immorality. There results from it, contrary to what the human multitude have believed, or appeared to believe, thus far, that religion, precisely because it places the principle of Justice outside of man, does not and cannot have morals, let alone moral sanction.
Modern philosophy makes us conceive of the law from an entirely different point of view. The law is the reason and the relations of things, in society as much as in nature; an essentially objective reason, and consequently impersonal, freed from all arbitrary will, which persists by itself, independent of the caprice and the aberrations of the so-called legislators. Here, the law and its subject appear identical; what’s more, the seal of the law, or the sign that guarantees its truth, is equally identical to the law; the penal or remunerative sanction is also identical. And that triple identity results from the objectivity and impersonal nature of the law.
I say that the law and the legislator are one: that means that the law itself is considered to be the subject of things, intelligent with its own reason, which is to say with relations that the law expresses. I add that the law bears with it the seal of its certainty, that is to say that it gives the explanation of all the facts that fall under its category, and that without it none are explained. Finally, I maintain that it possesses its penal sanction within itself, which also means that all that is done under its inspiration is good, that nothing that is done against it can last, so that it is to itself, considered as an intelligent subject, its own pleasure or torture.
A comparison will make me understood. By virtue of attraction, bodies reciprocally attract one another in a straight line. So for a building to remain standing, it is necessary, in conformity to the principle on which all statics rest, that it has been raised perpendicular to the horizon; if it deviates a little, it will fall. Its fall will be the sanction of the law. So it is with Justice: it bears its sanction in itself; neither man nor society will persist contrary to its rules. The Psalmist seems to have understood this when he said that the decrees of Jehovah bear their sanction in themselves, Judicia Domini recta, justificata in semetipsa. But while attraction is a law of destiny of which the subject, blind, mute, deaf, insensitive, can neither enjoy or suffer the violations that it experiences, it is otherwise with Justice, of which the subject is living, intelligent and free, capable of vouching for its dignity and devoting itself to defending it.
According to this new notion, the legislator, the law, and the legal sanction, in the double sense that we have recognized in the word sanction, being one single thing considered from various points of the, ethics or the science of morals in humanity, can cone down to a small number of headings:
1. What is the subject-object of the moral law, or, to speak like the jurists, what is the legislator? — The human conscience, the man: we have demonstrated it, in right and in fact, first by the impossibility of relating Justice to an external subject, so holy and venerable as it may be; then by the manifestations of the conscience attesting for itself its legislative authority, manifestations of which theology is only the allegory and worship a symbolism.
2. What does the law desire? — We have already explained it: the respect of man in all of his faculties, the balance of social forces, the free development of the mind, indispensable coefficient of the harmony of the universe.
3. How is the authenticity of the moral law recognized? — By this infallible sign that everything, in the conscience of man and in his thought, and thus in the social order, in the march of the generations and even in nature, is explained by Justice, while without it everything becomes obscure and unintelligible. Moral skepticism has for corollary speculative skepticism; the depravity of the heart leads to the depravity of the understanding.
4. What is the penal sanction attached to the law? — Everything rejoices in man, in society and in nature, when justice is observed; everything suffers and dies, when it is violated.
5. Is that sanction enough, in every case, for the recompense of virtue, the expiation of crime and the correction of error? — YES.
These last three propositions, of which I would make just one, have already in large part received their proof, since it is impossible to reason about the object of a law and its applications without making known its consequences at the same time. So I will limit myself to restate quickly, in the form of general conclusions, what the previous discussion has only indicated in passing.
So the moral sanction, in all spheres where the action of Justice extends, is posed, in general, in the form of a dilemma: certainty or doubt, knowledge or ignorance, liberty or servitude, civilization or barbarism, wealth or poverty, order or anarchy, virtue or crime, progress or decadence, life or death; compensation and punishment always adequate to the work produced, so that the sanction of the law being itself the law, it implies contradiction that it could be judged insufficient.

[working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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