« PrécédentContinuer »
complish our destiny, and we have a right to do so freely, and to resist to the uttermost, as immoral, every assault made upon it. Admit duty as the basis of right, and every difficulty vanishes. Seek a rational basis of right, and you are precipitated into despotism or inconsequence.
Right is a form of Truth. It must reside primarily in God, and relatively in man by communication, or it must be absolute in man. If it be absolute in man, there is not such a thing as duty, responsibility, morality. The result is the despotism of every man as far as his force can control the wills and actions of others,-a despotism monarchical, aristocratic, or democratic.
But if I recognize God as absolute, my rights and duties fall into their proper places, and can each be rationally accounted for
If I have a right to the fruits of my toil, it is because to provide for the sustenance of my life is a duty I owe to the giver of my life. If I have a right to freedom of worship, it is because worship is a duty I owe to my Creator. I demand the liberty of the press, because it is my duty to teach what I believe to be the truth.
There is not a single right to be discovered without a duty from which it springs.
Assuming the link between man and God, the idea of duty is the mother of right. Right, in its generality, is nothing else than that which ought to be realized by the activity of free beings, that is to say, it is duty considered from an objective point of view. The free creature finds itself, by the fact of its creation, subject to duty; it is able to destroy its liberty, it is bound to preserve it; the act which conferred on it existence and liberty imposes on it the duty of conserving it, that is, of realizing the liberty it has received.
The liberty of the creature is at once alienable and inalienable; alienable because it depends on the will of the creature, and inalienable because it is absolutely willed by the Creator. It is alienable in fact, but inalienable by right. Natural right is the will of God, as it expresses itself in the essence of our reason, which is His workmanship. And as God alone is absolute, no pretended positive has any authority to contravene a natural right proceeding from Him.
Deriving the right of the creature from the will of God, with the idea of a free creature, we acquire at the same time the law of liberty. That a law does exist inherent in created liberty, must be allowed, otherwise created liberty would dissolve into contradictions. The law of created liberty is to confirm, realize, and render inalienable in fact what is inalienable in right.
The moral law is therefore the law of creation, it is the law of all development, the universal norm: “Realize your essence; become that really which you are virtually."
We have seen in the first chapter that the law of progress manifests itself in the gradual emancipation of the creature; nature gives to the creature a share in carrying out the operation of its own development. We see in man the same law take a wider expansion. The liberty of man is greater than the liberty of the dog, because the point of perfection to be attained by the former is greater than that within reach of the latter.
But there is this difference, and in this difference morality consists. The brute cannot descend to the plane of the vegetable; but man may, at will, surrender his liberty which constitutes him man, and brutalize. His right, which is latent, he surrenders, and instead of rising as a morning mist to heaven, he runs down like Jordan into a Sea of Death.
The child has its rights, and the power to emancipate itself from the chrysalis of animality into the dignity of manhood. He grows up a drunkard and a sensualist. He contradicts, blunts, sterilizes his rights and enslaves himself in grossness.
Moral science is the development of the law which orders the creature, essentially free, to appropriate its liberty by action, to manifest it and maintain it, and thus to realize its nature.
If then it be admitted that right reposes on a dogmatic verity, four consequences follow.
1. All rights are equal. For God being the author of our nature, and the nature of one man being identical with the nature of another man, and right being the faculty of developing his nature without contradiction and constraint, the right of one man must be equal to the right of another
2. All infringement of rights is immoral. For the rights of man being of divine origin, and given for a perfect purpose, interference with these rights is interference with the purpose of God, and is therefore a crime against God.
If it be objected that this corollary makes legal penalties immoral,—such as imprisonment for theft and execution for murder,—I answer No, these are not immoral to society, but they are immoral to the criminal; for it is the criminal who deprives himself of liberty or life by his violation of the rights of others. But if society were to hang a man for sheep-stealing, it would commit an immorality, for the invasion of the right of living in the criminal is greater in degree than the invasion of the right of property in the prosecutor.
3. All primitive rights are morally inalienable. By primi
tive rights I mean those which belong to a man in virtue of his being a free, intelligent being, and not those acquired in society. They have their title in the nature of man, they are the circle in the centre of which each individual finds himself at the moment of birth, whereas the others are an extension, and suppose an exterior fact, an act which produces them. I have a right to the development of my reason,—that is a primary right. I have a right to the property inherited from my father, that is a secondary, social right.
If these primitive rights come from God immediately, and I am responsible immediately to God for their exercise, and if without their exercise I am unable to accomplish my functions in the world,—the development of my nature,it is evident that I cannot surrender them, or any of them, without treason to my Creator, the author of my right.
4. No primary rights are opposed to one another. For, if God be the source from which all rights flow, He is the conciliator of all, just as He is the conciliator of all truths. Every man's rights being held on the same title as my own, if they seem to contradict mine, I must rectify my moral sight by the Ideal, and in Him I shall find that all are equal and all agree. It is my duty to exact, even by force, respect for my own primary rights, and it is my duty, without compulsion, to respect the primary rights of every one else.
As these latter consequences may not appear self-evident to every one, I will say a few words on the primary or natural rights of man, which will make these consequences clearer.
The first natural right man has in society is that of disposing freely of his person. It is the most sacred property in the world. Of what use is
Of what use is any other property, if between it and you is an impenetrable wall ?
Individual liberty is a right by itself, and is the condition of the exercise of other rights. Without freedom they would be nothing, for they could at any moment be confiscated along with the person of the individual.
The right of living, and of living protected from every attack, is by its nature without limit. It was only partially understood in a state of barbarism, it was ignored under an absolute government, it has risen into recognition in modern times.
The only person who can alienate this right is the possessor of it, and the alienation is a violation of right, a crime. He
He may alienate it by intellectual or actual suicide, or by violating the rights of another, and therefore making it necessary for the commonwealth to suppress his liberty for a time, or totally deprive him of it.
Interference with personal liberty for opinions is immoral, for every man has a right to his own opinions and a right to express them; and interference with the liberty of A is only lawful when A has violated the rights of B, and then one interference must exactly balance the other. When an idea takes the knife like Lady Macbeth, it has on its hands a dye which all the perfumes of Araby cannot efface. It has defied morality, and, as its penalty, morality delivers it over to impotence.
The second natural right is that of having a good reputation, jus existimationis. Like the jus vito illesoe it can only be exercised when it is made to be respected. Nevertheless, it is no less a primordial right, as no one can perfectly exercise his faculties in the social state without that public consideration which a life without reproach can alone give him.
It is a right, like that of personal liberty, which is without limits by its very nature, and which can suffer no