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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jean Valjean Conviction Overturned by Appeal to Natural Law

It has been said that the rich and poor need each other.  The poor need the rich to help them, and the rich need the poor for the opportunity to obtain salvation.  Jesus told the rich young man that if he wished to reach perfection to shed himself of his wealth to the benefit of the poor (likened to the camel that has all it's goods taken off so it could enter Jerusalem through the gate called the "Eye of the Needle."  While we perhaps lose our attachment to worldly goods in the state called purgatory, could we not profitably do this while we are still alive?  And do not the poor need the basics of a decent life?

One of the severe criticisms of Pope Francis is that he (in agreement with prior Popes and the entire body of Catholic Social Teaching, although with more english the ball called solidarity)  has repeated called for more help for the poor from the church, from government and from the rich, and further has sought to limit neo-liberalism to the benefit of the poor and the workers.  It is far better, some feel, that a Pope should repudiate some of the teachings of Jesus Christ than he should miss part of the Gospel of Adam Smith or the Epistles of Ayn Rand the Atheist.

Now blogger Mike Flynn in them Dang Commies (later cited and amplified by our friend Mark Shea) notes that Thomas Aquinas, using natural law, made the same point as  Pope Francis.  What's the matter with this Jesuits that they read Aquinas instead of Rand, you may ask?

 Or you may just ask are you bloggers just taking in each others laundry?  Well Flynn did the wash and Shea the rinse, and I felt someone had to stick this in the dryer. Maybe we can get Arur Rosman to fold the stuff up.  Back to the subject at hand.

Aquinas, in the great Summa Theolgicala, for reasons that may appear obscure to those who believe in the Divine Right of Rich Guys, believed that "whatever the rich have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor." Aquinas then said if the need is urgent it can be remedied by any means at hand.  Thus a father in a SS camp may properly or even by duty, steal to feed his son.   So Jean Valjean, says Shea, was guilty of no sin, secular state aside, and to very loosely paraphrase, unless Ayn Rand be right.

I'm going to share with you, before moving on to the implications of this for jurisprudence, the two most important things my Grandfather ever taught me.  First, one day a bee flew inside our glass window enclosed front porch, and having once been stung it scared me. He took a newspaper, I thought to swat, then wrapped it around the bee, opened the door and released it, then turned to me and said "Always be merciful whenever you can be."

Second, he told me a story from his days as a home owner in Seattle's Central district.  At that time, his family was the only white family on the block and most of the neighboring black families were poor.  He had a cherry tree in the backyard, and one day he saw a neighbors kid up in the tree, picking cherries. He approached the tree to chase the child out and then the unawares boy plucked a cherry and dropped it to his mouth with the proclamation "Honey, honey, comes to me honey." This changed by Grandfathers heart,  so that he walked away leaving the tot to his repast. This of course, was a different motive for stealing fruit than Augustine ascribed to his boyhood episode in his Confessions.  Where Augustine and his pals stole for the pleasure of crime, the boy in my Grandfather's tree clearly took for the pleasure his family could not afford. Thus my Grandfather applied mercy to his property rights.

Thus in jurisprudence we could approach justice with a benevolent assumption rather than assume that conflict with justice. Jean Valjean's judge could have said that while I must convict you to uphold the property rights of bakers and shopkeepers, I benevolently assume your sisters huger is real and superior to the shopkeepers needs.  So I will suspend your sentence, I will direct you to the nearest source of aid, hoping you can obtain it.  In the 30th depression, a judge in Canada was disbarred for doing just that, but he had a good defense in the court of heaven.

In his book Unrugged Individualism, philosopher David Kelly says that benevolence does not conflict with justice.  We do not temper Justice with mercy.  Benevolence is essential to justice.

The links to Shea, Flynn and Kelly below.

The Dangerous Komminism of Thomas Aquinas

Them Dang Commies


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