This is the last lesson from Chapter 31. Pike completes his thoughts on justice, “The ideal justice which men ever look up to and strive to rise toward, is true; but it will not be realized in this world.“ Tomorrow, we start on Pike’s final chapter of Morals and Dogma, which hold countless Masonic secrets:
It is not true to say that “one man, however little, must not be sacrificed to another, however great, to a majority, or to all men.” That is not only a fallacy, but a most dangerous one. Often one man and many men must be sacrificed, in the ordinary sense of the term, to the interest of the many. It is a comfortable fallacy to the selfish; for if they cannot, by the law of justice, be sacrificed for the common good, then their country has no right to demand of them self-sacrifice; and he is a fool who lays down his life, or sacrifices his estate, or even his luxuries, to insure the safety or prosperity of his country. According to that doctrine, Curtius was a fool, and Leonidas an idiot; and to die for one’s country is no longer beautiful and glorious, but a mere absurdity. Then it is no longer to be asked that the common soldier shall receive in his bosom the sword or bayonet-thrust which otherwise would let out the life of the great commander on whose fate hang the liberties of his country, and the welfare of millions yet unborn.
On the contrary, it is certain that necessity rules in all the affairs of men, and that the interest and even the life of one man must often be sacrificed to the interest and welfare of his country. Some must ever lead the forlorn hope: the missionary must go among savages, bearing his life in his hand; the physician must expose himself to pestilence for the sake of others; the sailor, in the frail boat upon the wide ocean, escaped from the foundering or burning ship, must step calmly into the hungry waters, if the lives of the passengers can be saved only by the sacrifice of his own; the pilot must stand firm at the wheel, and let the flames scorch away his own life to insure the common safety of those whom the doomed vessel bears.
The mass of men are always looking for what is just. All the vast machinery which makes up a State, a world of States, is, on the part of the people, an attempt to organize, not that ideal justice which finds fault with God’s ordinances, but that practical justice which may be attained in the actual organization of the world. The minute and wide-extending civil machinery which makes up the law and the courts, with all their officers and implements, on the part of mankind, is chiefly an effort to reduce to practice the theory of right. Constitutions are made to establish justice; the decisions of courts are reported to help us judge more wisely in time to come. The nation aims to get together the most nearly just men in the State, that they may incorporate into statutes their aggregate sense of what is right. The people wish law to be embodied justice, administered without passion. Even in the wildest ages there has been a wild popular justice, but always mixed with passion and administered in hate; for justice takes a rude form with rude men, and becomes less mixed with hate and passion in more civilized communities. Every progressive State revises its statutes and revolutionizes its constitution from time to time, seeking to come closer to the utmost possible practical justice and right; and sometimes, following theorists and dreamers in their adoration for the ideal, by erecting into law positive principles of theoretical right, works practical injustice, and then has to retrace its steps.
In literature men always look for practical justice, and desire that virtue should have its own reward, and vice its appropriate punishment. They are ever on the side of justice and humanity; and the majority of them have an ideal justice, better than the things about them, juster than the law: for the law is ever imperfect, not attaining even to the utmost practicable degree of perfection; and no man is as just as his own idea of possible and practicable justice. His passions and his necessities ever cause him to sink below his own ideal. The ideal justice which men ever look up to and strive to rise toward, is true; but it will not be realized in this world. Yet we must approach as near to it as practicable, as we should do toward that ideal democracy that “now floats before the eyes of earnest and religious men,–fairer than the Republic of Plato, or More’s Utopia, or the Golden Age of fabled memory,” only taking care that we do not, in striving to reach and ascend to the impossible ideal, neglect to seize upon and hold fast to the possible actual. To aim at the best, but be content with the best possible, is the only true wisdom. To insist on the absolute right, and throw out of the calculation the important and all-controlling element of necessity, is the folly of a mere dreamer.
In a world inhabited by men with bodies, and necessarily with bodily wants and animal passions, the time will never come when there will be no want, no oppression, nor servitude, no fear of man, no fear of God, but only Love. That can never be while there are inferior intellect, indulgence in low vice, improvidence, indolence, awful visitations of pestilence and war and famine, earthquake and volcano, that must of necessity cause men to want, and serve, and suffer, and fear.
But still the ploughshare of justice is ever drawn through and through the field of the world, uprooting the savage plants. Ever we see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. The injustice of England lost her America, the fairest jewel of her crown. The injustice of Napoleon bore him to the ground more than the snows of Russia did, and exiled him to a barren rock, there to pine away and die, his life a warning to bid mankind be just.
We intuitively understand what justice is, better than we can depict it. What it is in a given case depends so much on circumstances, that definitions of it are wholly deceitful. Often it would be unjust to society to do what would, in the absence of that consideration, be pronounced just to the individual. General propositions of man’s right to this or that are ever fallacious: and not infrequently it would be most unjust to the individual himself to do for him what the theorist, as a general proposition, would say was right and his due.
We should ever do unto others what, under the same circumstances, we ought to wish, and should have the right to wish they should do unto us. There are many cases, cases constantly occurring, where one man must take care of himself, in preference to another, as where two struggle for the possession of a plank that will save one, but cannot uphold both; or where, assailed, he can save his own life only by slaying his adversary. So one must prefer the safety of his country to the lives of her enemies; and sometimes, to insure it, to those of her own innocent citizens. The retreating general may cut away a bridge behind him, to delay pursuit and save the main body of his army, though he thereby surrenders a detachment, a battalion, or even a corps of his own force to certain destruction.
These are not departures from justice; though, like other instances where the injury or death of the individual is the safety of the many, where the interest of one individual, class, or race is postponed to that of the public, or of the superior race, they may infringe some dreamer’s ideal rule of justice. But every departure from real, practical justice is no doubt attended with loss to the unjust man, though the loss is not reported to the public. Injustice, public or private, like every other sin and wrong, is inevitably followed by its consequences. The selfish, the grasping, the inhuman, the fraudulently unjust, the ungenerous employer, and the cruel master, are detested by the great popular heart; while the kind master, the liberal employer, the generous, the humane, and the just have the good opinion of all men, and even envy is a tribute to their virtues. Men honor all who stand up for truth and right, and never shrink. The world builds monuments to its patriots. Four great statesmen, organizers of the right, embalmed in stone, look down upon the lawgivers of France as they pass to their hall of legislation, silent orators to tell how nations love the just. How we revere the marble lineaments of those just judges, Jay and Marshall, that look so calmly toward the living Bench of the Supreme Court of the United States! What a monument Washington has built in the heart of America and all the world, not because he dreamed of an impracticable ideal justice, but by his constant effort to be practically just!
But necessity alone, and the greatest good of the greatest number, can legitimately interfere with the dominion of absolute and ideal justice. Government should not foster the strong at the expense of the weak, nor protect the capitalist and tax the laborer. The powerful should not seek a monopoly of development and enjoyment; not prudence only and the expedient for to-day should be appealed to by statesmen, but conscience and the right: justice should not be forgotten in looking at interest, nor political morality neglected for political economy: we should not have national housekeeping instead of national organization on the basis of right.
We may well differ as to the abstract right of many things; for every such question has many sides, and few men look at all of them, many only at one. But we all readily recognize cruelty, unfairness, inhumanity, partiality, over-reaching, hard-dealing, by their ugly and familiar lineaments, and in order to know and to hate and despise them, we do not need to sit as a Court of Errors and Appeals to revise and reverse God’s Providences.
There are certainly great evils of civilization at this day, and many questions of humanity long adjourned and put off. The hideous aspect of pauperism, the debasement and vice in our cities, tell us by their eloquent silence or in inarticulate mutterings, that the rich and the powerful and the intellectual do not do their duty by the poor, the feeble, and the ignorant; and every wretched woman who lives, Heaven scarce knows how, by making shirts at sixpence each, attests the injustice and inhumanity of man. There are cruelties to slaves, and worse cruelties to animals, each disgraceful to their perpetrators, and equally unwarranted by the lawful relation of control and dependence which it has pleased God to create.
A sentence is written against all that is unjust, written by God in the nature of man and in the nature of the Universe, because it is in the nature of the Infinite God. Fidelity to your faculties, trust in their convictions, that is justice to yourself; a life in obedience thereto, that is justice toward men. No wrong is really successful. The gain of injustice is a loss, its pleasure suffering. Iniquity often seems to prosper, but its success is its defeat and shame. After a long while, the day of reckoning ever comes, to nation as to individual. The knave deceives himself. The miser, starving his brother’s body, starves also his own soul, and at death shall creep out of his great estate of injustice, poor and naked and miserable. Whoso escapes a duty avoids a gain. Outward judgment often fails, inward justice never. Let a man try to love the wrong and to do the wrong, it is eating stones and not bread, the swift feet of justice are upon him, following with woolen tread, and her iron hands are round his neck. No man can escape from this, any more than from himself. Justice is the angel of God that flies from East to West; and where she stoops her broad wings, it is to bring the counsel of God, and feed mankind with angel’s bread.
We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure. The Power, the Wisdom, and the Justice of God are on the side of every just thought, and it cannot fail, any more than God Himself can perish.
In human affairs, the justice of God must work by human means. Men are the instruments of God’s principles; our morality is the instrument of His justice, which, incomprehensible to us, seems to our short vision often to work injustice, but will at some time still the oppressor’s brutal laugh. Justice is the rule of conduct written in the nature of mankind. We may, in our daily life, in house or field or shop, in the office or in the court, help to prepare the way for the commonwealth of justice which is slowly, but, we would fain hope, surely approaching. All the justice we mature will bless us here and hereafter, and at our death we shall leave it added to the common store of humankind. And every Mason who, content to do that which is possible and practicable, does and enforces justice, may help deepen the channel of human morality in which God’s justice runs; and so the wrecks of evil that now check and obstruct the stream may the sooner be swept out and borne away by the resistless tide of Omnipotent Right. Let us, my Brother, in this, as in all else, endeavor always to perform the duties of a good Mason and a good man (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 1871, p. 833-838).
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