In Chalk and Cheese we looked at the Right<>Left political polarity. And though we started by examining it as a kind of political cliché, we found this binary persists at many levels of society. Like the ghost of Hegel, the positing of one pole invariably conjures the other. This time we will present a case for seeing the social>moral motives that fall under ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ as being analogous to a Justice<>Mercy polarity. This is not a naive assumption that the goal of Rightists is always Justice and Leftist is always Mercy. It may be that the most powerful actors care little for either of these virtues. Yet the memetic struggle for social control often incorporates in a Justice<>Mercy showdown. Not to say these intuitions are mere props; the polarity is deeply rooted in thought; in meaning itself. Even if utilized opportunistically, The carpetbagger is manipulating something real in the collective social discourse.
Both Justice and Mercy are used variously in contemporary language so we will need to clarify our use here. To the contemporary Liberal, Mercy is Justice. Mercy transmogrified into Tolerance which in turn mutated into Diversity. Whereas tolerance once meant putting up with things we don’t like, it now has the proactive meaning of embracing multicultural variety, or even insisting on it. In its laziest contemporary form, mercy is indifference to sin. The Libertarian shows mercy by not caring what anyone does.
But Mercy depends on Justice; we cannot really be merciful into a void of relativism. Mercy is nonsensical if there is no authority or punishment it is granted against. Traditionally Justice is served on behalf of a victim by punishing the transgressor. In a way Justice was retributive Mercy in the name of the victim; who could be an individual or society at large. (For a deeper consideration of this theme consider going over to quas lacrimas where there is a fruitful series on Loving the Sinner.) To be fair the contemporary Left’s predilection for tolerance as mercy is grounded in a sense of a historical justice mission. The ‘everything is permissible that does not harm others’ moral code is put up against capricious, oppressive and outmoded norms. So Mercy is exercised in removing unfounded judgement for artificial ‘sins’. On the surface of this it is hard not to sympathize, though Progs spend precious little time considering the systemic social harm of these liberated behaviours.
We have gotten ahead of ourselves though. Of course we are writing of ideals, but for our purpose here Justice is founded on Righteousness; an approach to the human condition that takes natural consequences as the foundation of morality. I wrote a piece last year in my Beatitudes series, Hunger, in an attempt to revive Righteousness, so we wont go into it very deeply now. Interestingly the Latino preacher at the Trump inauguration switched Justice for Righteousness (2:07 mins in) in his rather mangled text of the Beatitudes. This was perhaps due to his translation, or it was an intentional political move (probably both). Righteousness is not such a popular concept in a default libertine society. Everyone knows what they mean by Justice these days (even if they really don’t have a clue.) Righteousness is the fullness of doing what is right. Who says so? Well God; or nature or Nature’s God. When we sin we interfere with the natural flow of society, and so incur the Wrath of Gnon.
To explain we can ask, why is it ‘wrong’ to steal? Is it the mere act of taking something that is not ours; getting something for free? This would be a pedagogic and purely normative criterion; a child’s self-centred view. This is also the view of many thieves though. Resentment is the motive of the BLM looter. They want what they think some other is just hording selfishly in a store. But from a natural law perspective, stealing is wrong because objects don’t materialize at our will. Some objects take a good deal of effort to make or money to exchange for. If we take something from someone we are taking all their efforts in acquiring that thing. If it is something they have spent time with, we are taking a part of them; a relationship they have with that object. If it is a tool they use for earning a living the theft is even worse. If they cannot replace it quickly we will have robbed them of earnings as well. Theft is wrong not so much because it gives us something without much effort. If we find something and have no hope of finding its owner this is not a crime. Theft is wrong because it harms the one we stole from. It is not wrong because we have broken a rule, but because of the inevitable natural harm our actions cause.
Traditionally Justice meant punishment for wrongdoing. Not just normatively wrong but the wrong of harming another, or society. To the Marxist, Justice is always the act of equalization. For Anarchists theft can be justified, even righteous, because ‘property is theft’. If someone has what we do not it is because society is oppressive and unjust. Theft, especially through looting by the State or people, is just wealth redistribution. A psychology instructor at college in the 90s spun the Rodney King Riots in this way. They were not race riots, to him they were consumer activism. The blacks were just taking what the system had denied them by pricing them out of the market. I seriously doubt he would have liked to have his stuff stolen by a mob of angry black youths. It looks like Chicano and Cracker youth got in on the action, and Sublime hymned this ‘righteous rebellion’ in Riot: April 26, 1992. Looting cannot be an everyday means of exchange in a market though. No matter how much fun it might be for the resentful to LARP as their own personal Robin Hood, it kind of kills the profit motive, which in turn kills the production motive. Looting decimates the natural incentives for commerce.
We have finally come to the efficient cause of this post. The tension between Justice and Mercy, like most things we were once able to take for granted, is disfigured in contemporary society. To wrest this topic from Anarchic chaos though we will continue from a traditional interpretation. Justice is what we naturally feel needs to be meted out when someone breaks the acceptable Righteousness code of society, causing harm. If the transgressor shows no remorse or has no extenuating circumstances that might have lead them to commit the crime we will generally not feel a uneasy if they receive the full weight of the law. If not done it will only encourage the criminal and others so inclined to continue in wrong doing. If the transgressor shows remorse, or stole bread in dire poverty we will be inclined to show mercy. In English common law we have the tempering of Justice by Mercy built right into laws governing even something as serous as killing. A person is no less dead weather I planned to kill them, killed them in a passionate rage. or accidentally killed them by my stupidity, but the law is more merciful for the latter two. In this case intent does seem to matter. And proper justice for crime is assessed from the user side.
In our contemporary Leftist infused culture the logical dictates of Justice are too hard to take; too final and too judgmental. The nebulous convictions of the Kingdom of Sodom do not provide the requisite courage to perform righteous judgement and justice. Mercy did not water down Justice historically. Rather Mercy confirmed Justice, for it had no meaning on its own. Mercy without Justice is mere licence. And so we live in an age where pedophilia is being seriously considered as acceptable by our learned class; an age where it is unmerciful to deny any desire its fulfillment. Like the childish view of theft, moderns focus on the desire of the perpetrator, atomized from social ramifications.
The soul sickness of the Western world can be seen as a breakdown of the Justice<>Mercy polarity. The two need each other for societal health. Intransigent Justice is cruel in its autism. Of course it is right, but it is applied by and to weak and fallible human beings If reform and restitution into society will be better served by a merciful tempering of punishment this seems well. But when Mercy becomes expected, partly due to general moral decay and partly due to bureaucratic indifference, social cohesion and responsibility erode. Even worse is the current state we find our societies in where mercy is a feminized virtue in itself, an antidote to patriarchal justice.
It is easy for us on the Right to expose the folly of the mercy-as-tolerance and mercy-as-licentiousness on the Left. They speak of social justice, when they are often Social Mercy Warriors. We need to be careful in our reaction to their corruption not to become too impossibly harsh. Our intent is to restore a holistic health to society, not to be a cantankerous mirror to Leftist lunacy. Progs have done violence to social order, letting a misguided Mercy gobble up Justice. Both Justice and Mercy remain intact if we conform to the natural order.