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her an ugly name exactly expressive of what she is; but then, she has the right, because, being a king's mistress, she has the power.
But the right of might is not a right, it is the violation of right; and the obligation to obey the strongest is not a duty, it is a physical necessity. It is playing with words to call that a right which is a faculty growing and waning with the power which imposes it, and that a duty which is necessary submission to a power against which resistance is vain.
As Hobbes has observed, the well-being of man being his end, and egoism the principle of his actions, all men in a state of nature rush upon the same objects for the satisfaction of the same appetites; and as full satisfaction of the appetites of all cannot constitute a state of peace, the state of nature is a state of warfare.
But war is a bad state, and peace is better; to obtain it men will surrender their rights, and constituting societies with governments at their head, will renounce their natural liberties. The best government will therefore be the strongest, and the strongest is an absolute monarchy. But the more absolute a monarchy is, the less liberty the subjects enjoy, and their duties merge into the one duty of obedience.
Sovereignty resides in a monarch as the result of a tacit convention; to him the multitude has made over irresponsible power, in order that he may exercise it as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence. The king therefore is the supreme and infallible judge of what is expedient for the people and what is inexpedient. If they enjoy so much liberty, it is because he wills it, not because they have a right to it. If the sovereign were to surrender his judicial rights, society would fall back, says Hobbes, into its former condition of anarchy, out of which it rose by constituting a sovereign.'
To this it must be objected that before a sovereignty can be established on a contract, it is necessary to know first on what conditions the contract is binding. Now a convention which binds a portion only, or binds unequally, cannot be the foundation of a right. I may displace the centre of my liberty, change the circumference of my right, permute my duties with my rights, in other words, I may give up what I have in excess in exchange for what is deficient to me, but I cannot abdicate my free-will without just compensation. According to Hobbes' theory the sovereign has all rights, but no responsibilities, for responsibility is the dissolvent of right. Sovereignty has therefore no solid basis, for even if the compact took place, it would not constitute a right.
Spinoza, starting from the assumption that nature is God, possessing a sovereign right over all things, draws the consequence that the right of the individual is nothing other than the power of the individual. In his system all natural forces are in the same rank; the brute is equal to the man, the fool to the sage, the child to the adult, and the power of all these beings is the power of God.
This power being absolute, it follows that every man has a right to whatever he can lay hold of. The right of the strongest is therefore the only natural right; every being has but one rule of action, determined by the tendency of his nature, so that it is not within his compass to be unjust. Spinoza is very consequent; the strong, says he, are made to enslave the feeble, by the same title that big fish devour little ones."
1 Leviathan, c. xvii. De Cive, c. viii. · Tractatus Theologico-politicus, c. xvi.
The right of the strongest is, as he admits, the instinct of the brute.
Spinoza has, thus, mistaken force for right.
Grotius, on the other hand, makes right consist in the faculty of doing all that which will not have for result the disturbance of the social state; or, as he defines it, “the dictates of right reason governing man's actions, according to the convenience of his actions with his rational nature."!
According to this system, every action is just, which agrees with a right reason; and individual right is the correlative term to the duty of another. This is confusing the law of society with the law of the individual. Before a man can ascertain his rights, and when his liberty of choice and action can be exercised, he must become intimately acquainted with the doctrine of political economy. Right is nothing per se but the spot of ground left uninvaded by the waves of duty, and that is sterile.
The vice of this definition is, that it subjects right to all the fluctuations which may result from the necessities, well or ill understood, of society. Individual right has no existence by itself, it is not a principle of action, it is merely a faculty whose exercise is subordinated to a superior principle, or rather, to exigencies which by their nature are incessantly varying. Moreover, these exigencies, even if they remained invariable, might be differently appreciated, and that would forbid their forming a solid foundation; for society is not to man an object, but a means, and its necessities come after, do not precede, the right of the individual. The criterium of right is, according to Grotius, not in me, but in every one else: he attempted to trace a circle without fixing its centre. Kant derived right from equality. “Every action is just which is not, or whose maxim is not, an obstacle to the agreement of the will of all with the liberty of each, according to the general law,” and his categorical imperative is promulgated in these words, “ Act so that the free use of your will may agree with the liberty of all.”
1 De Jure Belli ac Pacis, lib. i. c. sec. 10.
The objection to Kant's definition is, that it is not a definition but a law, it is a criterium by which licit acts may be distinguished from those which are illicit, but it is not a principle, it gives no fundamental notion of what constitutes right, but in its place puts a measure of appreciation. When he says, Place yourself in the position of your neighbour and do to him as you would be done by, he lays down a maxim of duty, but not a principle of right.
Krause on the other hand deduced right from necessity, and gave the individual a natural faculty of exacting from another all that was necessary for him to realize his destiny; in other words he considered right to be the power of the individual to develop his nature, and to take from others everything that his nature demands as a requisite for its perfection.
But who is to be the criterium of this necessity ? If each man is to be the judge, we have anarchy once more, and force prevailing. Have I a right to sink my higher faculties, like the Nibelungen gold, in a flood of sensual indulgence? If I am the law to myself, if my will and judgment are absolute, I have the right to do so. Have I a right to cut my throat if fortune ceases to smile on me? Most certainly, if my will is the measure of right.
If we assume that man has liis own nature to realize, his faculties to develop, his gross passions to subordinate to his mental powers, himself, in short, to create, this is a duty; and a duty is authoritative, and the author imposing it on man can be no other than God.
Krause's doctrine is satisfactory enough if the idea of duty be admitted, that is, if his system be underpropped by dogma, but without dogma it must fall. To realize our destiny is either a duty or it is optional. If it is at our option, we are reduced to the position of assuming individual will to be the basis of right.
The theories of right we have been considering have proved erroneous or insufficient; for they have either identified right with the will, or with force, or have confused it with authority.
If self-interest be the principle of right, men are armed by it for fratricidal war, and against such a principle the moral sense protests, because it launches society into absolutism. Force is the annihilation of rights and liberties, and cannot be mistaken for it. Right cannot emanate from society as its first source, for society is the assembly of individuals, and it can only have such rights as belong to its constituents. It cannot found individual right, for right is not of human creation. The bird and the fish have their rights without having constituted societies. Kant's equality gives no sufficient explanation, for it is a result, not a principle, and the necessity of Krause will not make a right, unless that necessity be supposed to be due to the fiat of a Creator.
If all these principles fail, we are brought, by way of exclusion, to the only principle that remains, on which right may be permanently based—the idea of duty to God.
Duty is the faculty of doing freely, and if necessarily, forcibly, that which is imposed on man by God. It is a dogma, and must be accepted as an irrational verity. We can have our rights and demand liberty on no other condition.
If we are creatures of God, we are morally bound to ac