The Saint Petersburg Dialogues
by Joseph de Maistre
FIRST DIALOGUETHE KNIGHT: You believe, then, that the wicked are not happy? I too would like to believe this, yet I hear it said every day that they succeed in everything. If this were really the case, I would be a little angry that Providence had reserved the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the just entirely for another world; it seems to me that a little on account on both sides, in this life, would have done no harm....
THE COUNT: For long there have been complaints of Providence in the distribution of good and evil, but I confess that these difficulties have never been able to make the least impression on my mind. I see with the certainty of intuition, and I humbly thank this Providence for it, that on this point man misleads himself in the full meaning of the phrase and in its natural sense.
I should have liked to be able to say with Montaigne, Man fools himself, for this is exactly right. It is quite true: man fools himself; he is his own dupe; he takes the sophisms of his naturally rebellious heart (alas, nothing is more certain) for real doubts born of his understanding. If occasionally superstition believes in belief, as it is accused of, more often still, you can be sure, pride believes in disbelief. In both cases, man fools himself, but in the second this is much worse.
In a word, gentlemen, there is no subject on which I feel more strongly than the temporal rule of Providence: it is therefore with complete conviction and profound satisfaction that I shall reveal to two men whom I love dearly some useful thoughts I have gathered through an already long life entirely devoted to serious studies.
THE KNIGHT: I will listen to you with the greatest pleasure, and I have no doubt our common friend will give you the same attention, but allow me, I beg you, to start by contradicting you before you begin. Do not accuse me of replying to your silence, for it is just as if you had already spoken, and I know very well what you are going to say to me. Without any doubt, you were about to start where the preachers end, with the life eternal. "The guilty are happy in this world, but will be tormented in the next; the just, on the other hand, suffer in this but will be happy in the next." This is a commonplace. And why should I hide that this peremptory reply does not satisfy me fully? I hope you will not suspect me of wishing to destroy or weaken this valuable argument, but it seems to me that it would not be harmed at all if it was associated with others.
THE SENATOR: If our friend is indiscreet or too precipitous, I confess that I am at fault like him and as much as he, for I was also about to quarrel with you before you had broached the question; or, more seriously, I should like to ask you to leave the beaten tracks. I have read several of your ascetic writers of the first rank, whom I honor deeply, but, while giving them all the praise they deserve, it pains me that, on this great question of the ways of divine justice in this world, they almost all seem to accept criticisms of the fact and to admit that there is no way of justifying divine Providence in this life. If this proposition is not false, it seems to me at least to be extremely dangerous, for there is grave danger in allowing men to believe that virtue will be rewarded and vice punished only in another life. Skeptics, for whom this world is everything, ask for nothing better, and the masses themselves must take the same line: man is so muddled, so dependent on the things immediately before his eyes, that every day even the most submissive believer can be seen to risk the torments of the after-life for the smallest pleasure. What will be the case with those who do not believe or whose belief is weak? Let us then rely as much as you like on the future life, which answers every objection, but if a truly moral regime exists in this world, and if even in this life crime should go in fear, why relieve it of this fear?
THE COUNT: Pascal observes somewhere that the last thing that is discovered in writing a book is to know what should be put first. I am not writing a book, my friends, but I am beginning a discourse that may well be long and should have had the opportunity to think about its beginning. Fortunately, you have saved me the trouble of deliberation by telling me where I should start.
The familiar expression that should be addressed only to a child or an inferior, You do not know what you are saying, is nevertheless the compliment that a man of good sense has the right to make to the crowd who meddle in discussions of the thorny questions of philosophy. Have you ever heard a soldier complain that in war wounds are suffered only by honest men and that it is sufficient to be a rascal to be invulnerable? I am sure the answer is no, for in fact everyone knows that the bullet does not choose the person it hits. It would be quite proper to lay down at least a perfect parallel between the evils of war in relation to soldiers and the evils of life in general in relation to all men; and this parallel, exact as I assume, is alone sufficient to overcome a difficulty based on a manifest falsehood; for it is not only false but obviously false that crime in general prospers and virtue suffers in this world: on the contrary, it is very evident that good and evil are a kind of lottery in which each, without distinction, can draw a winning or a losing ticket. The question therefore should be changed to, Why, in the temporal world, are the just not exempt from the evils which can afflict the guilty; and why are the wicked not deprived of the benefits that the just can enjoy? But this question is entirely different from the other, and I should even be astonished if the simple statement of it does not show you its absurdity; for it is one of my favorite ideas that the upright man is very commonly informed, by an inner sentiment, of the falsity or truth of certain propositions before any examination, often even without having made the studies necessary to be in a position to examine them with full knowledge of the case.
THE SENATOR: I am so much of your opinion, and so drawn to this doctrine, that I have perhaps exaggerated it by carrying it into the natural sciences; yet I can, at least to a certain point, invoke experience in this respect. More than once, in questions of physics or natural history, I have been shocked, without knowing quite why, by certain accepted opinions, which in one case at least I have had the pleasure subsequently of seeing attacked and even ridiculed by men deeply versed in these very sciences, in which as you know I have few pretensions. Do you think it necessary to be the equal of Descartes to make fun of these flurries? If anyone tells me that this earth we inhabit is only a bit of the sun drawn off some millions of years ago by some erratic comet hurtling through space; or that animals are made like houses by putting this by the side of that; or that geological strata are only the result of some chemical action, and a hundred other splendid theories of this kind that have been spread abroad in our time, must I be very well read and very reflective, should I have been to four or five universities to feel that these theories are absurd? I shall go further: I believe that in those very questions pertaining to the exact sciences or which appear to rest entirely on experience, this rule of the intellectual conscience is far from worthless for those who are not initiated in this kind of knowledge; which is what has led me to doubt, I confess to you in confidence, several things which commonly pass as certain. The explanation of tides by lunar and solar attraction, the decomposition and recomposition of water and other theories that I could quote to you and that are accepted today as dogmas are repelled by my mind, and I feel led to the inevitable conclusion that some day a scholar of good faith will come to teach us that we were in error on these important subjects or that they were not understood. Since friendship carries this right, you might say to me, This is pure ignorance on your part. I have said this to myself a thousand times. But tell me in your turn why I should not be equally intractable about other truths. I believe them on the word of the masters, and never does a single idea against the faith occur to my mind.
Where then does this internal feeling that revolts against certain theories originate? These theories are based on arguments that I am unable to counter, and yet this conscience of which we talked still says, Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi....
THE COUNT: I shall not examine at this point to what degree one can rely on this internal feeling that the Senator so justly calls intellectual conscience. Still less will I allow myself to discuss the particular example to which he has applied it; these details would carry us too far from our subject. I shall say only that righteousness of heart and habitual purity of intention can have hidden effects and results that extend very much further than is commonly imagined. I am therefore very disposed to believe that among men such as those who now hear me, the secret instinct we were just talking about will very often guess correctly even in the natural sciences, but I am led to believe it well-nigh infallible in questions of theoretical philosophy, morality, metaphysics, and natural theology. It is well worthy of the supreme wisdom, which has created and regulated all things, to have excused man from deep learning in everything that really matters to him. I have thus been right to affirm that once the question occupying us was posed exactly, the internal agreement of every right-thinking person had necessarily to precede discussion....
I repeat that I have never understood this eternal argument against Providence drawn from the misfortune of the just and the prosperity of the wicked. If good men suffered because they are good, and likewise the wicked prospered because they are wicked, the argument would be incontrovertible; it falls to the ground once it is assumed that good and ill fortune are distributed indiscriminately among all men. But false opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing. Impiety first noised this objection abroad; frivolity and good nature have repeated it; but in truth it is nothing. I return to my first analogy: a good man is killed in war; is this an injustice? No, it is a misfortune. If he has gout or gravel, if his friend betrays him, if he is crushed under a falling building, this is again a misfortune, but nothing more, since all men without distinction are subject to these kinds of bad fortune. Never lose from sight this great truth: A general law, if it is not unjust to all, cannot be unjust to an individual. You have not a certain illness, but you could have it; you have it, but you could be free from it. Whoever has perished in a battle could have escaped; whoever returns from it could have remained. All are not dead, but all were there to die.
Consequently more injustice: the just law is not that which takes effect on everyone but that which is made for everyone; the effect on such and such an individual is no more than an accident. To find difficulties in this order of things, they must be loved for their own sake; unfortunately they are loved and sought out; the human heart, always in revolt against the authority that constricts it, tells stories to the mind, which believes them; we accuse Providence in order to be freed from accusing ourselves; we raise objections to it that we would be ashamed to raise against a sovereign or even an official whose wisdom we would assess. How strange that it is easier for us to be just toward men than toward God!
It seems to me, gentlemen, that I would abuse your patience if I went any further in proving to you that the question is ordinarily wrongly put, and that really they know not what they are saying when they complain that vice is happy and virtue unhappy in this world; whereas, even on the assumption most favorable to the grumblers, it is patently proved that evils of every kind fall on humanity like bullets on an army, without any distinction of persons. Now, ff the good man does not suffer because he is good, and if the wicked man does not prosper because he is wicked, the objection vanishes and good sense has reasserted itself.
THE KNIGHT: I admit that, if the distribution of physical and external evils alone is considered, the objection drawn from it against Providence is obviously based on inattention or bad faith, but it seems to me that the impunity of crimes is much more significant. This is the great scandal and the point on which I am most curious to hear what you say.THE COUNT: It is not yet time, Knight. You have decided in my favor a little too quickly on the evils that you call external. If I have up to now assumed, as you have taken it, that evils are distributed equally among all men, this was only for the sake of argument, for in truth this is not the case. But before going any further, let us be careful not to stray from our path; there are questions which are so interconnected that it is easy to slide from one to another without being aware of it. So, for example, the question Why do the just suffer?, leads imperceptibly to another, Why does man suffer? Yet the last is quite different, being a question about the origins of evil. Let us then start by abjuring all equivocation. That evil exists on the earth is alas a truth that needs no proof, but, it should be added, it is there very justly, and God could not have been its author. This is another truth that we here do not, I hope, doubt and that I can dispense with proving since I know to whom I am speaking.
THE SENATOR: I wholeheartedly profess the same belief without any reservation, but this profession of faith demands an explanation precisely because of its scope. Saint Thomas said with the laconic logic that marked him, God is the author of the evil which punishes, but not of the evil which defiles[Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part x, (Qu. 49, Art. iii.] He is certainly right in one sense, but it is necessary to understand him aright. God is the author of the evil which punishes, that is to say, of physical evil or pain, as a sovereign is the author of punishments inflicted under his laws. In a remote and indirect sense, God himself hangs men and breaks them on the wheel, since all authority and every legal execution derives from him; but in the direct and immediate sense, it is the robber, the forger, the murderer who are the real authors of this evil which punishes. It is they who build the prisons, who raise the gallows and the scaffolds. In all this the sovereign acts, like Homer's Juno, of his free will, but very unwillingly.[Iliad, IV, 43.]
It is the same with God (while still excluding any rigorous comparison which would be blasphemous). Not only can he not in any sense be the author of moral evil or of sin; he cannot even be taken to be originally the author of physical evil, which would not exist if rational creatures had not made it necessary by abusing their liberty. Plato said, and nothing is more immediately obvious, The good person cannot wish to injure anyone.[Timaeus, 29e.] But as no one will ever think of holding that the good man ceases to be so because he justly punishes his son or kills an enemy on the battlefield or sends a ruffian for punishment, let us, as you have just said, Count, guard against being less equitable toward God than toward men. Every right-thinking person is convinced by intuition that evil cannot proceed from an all-powerful being. This was the infallible feeling that formerly taught Roman good sense to join, as if by a necessary link, the two august titles of MOST GOOD and MOST POWERFUL. This wonderful expression, although born of paganism, appeared so right that it passed into our religious vocabulary, so discerning and exclusive. I shall even say that it has occurred to me more than once that the ancient inscription IOVI OPTIMO MAXIMO could be placed in full on the pediments of your Latin churches, for what is IOV-I but IOV-AH?
THE COUNT: You know well that I have no wish to dispute anything you have just said. Without doubt, physical evil could come into the world only through the fault of free beings; it can be there only as a remedy or an expiation, and consequently God cannot be its direct author; these are for us indisputable dogmas. Now I come back to you, Knight. You agreed just now that it was unjustifiable to quarrel with Providence over the distribution of good and evil but that the scandal lies above all in the impunity of sinners. I doubt, however, if you can give up the first objection without abandoning the second, for if there is no injustice in the distribution of pains, on what will you base the complaints of virtue? The world being governed only by general laws, you do not claim, I imagine, that, if the foundations of the terrace on which we are now speaking were suddenly thrown into the air by some underground disturbance, God would be obliged to suspend in our favor the laws of gravity because this terrace holds three men who have never murdered or stolen; we would certainly fall and be crushed. The same thing would happen if we were members of the Bavarian Illumines or of the Committee of Public Safety. Do you wish that, when it hails, the fields of the just man should be spared? This indeed would be a miracle. But if by chance this just man was to commit a crime after the harvest, it would then be necessary for the corn to rot in his barns; here would be another miracle. So that each moment would require a new miracle, and miracles would become the ordinary order of events, or in other words there could be no more miracles, for the exception would be the rule and disorder order. To set out such ideas is enough to refute them.
What misleads us still more often on this point is that we cannot stop ourselves from ascribing to God, without our perceiving it, our own ideas on the dignity and importance of individuals. In relation to us, these ideas are very proper, since we are all subject to the established order in society, but, when we apply them to the general order of the universe, we are like that queen who said, You can well believe that God thinks more than once about damning people like us. Elizabeth of France mounts the scaffold, Robespierre follows the next moment. In coming into the world, the angel and the monster were subjected to all the general laws which regulate it. No terms are strong enough to describe the crime of the villains who spilled the most pure and noble blood in the world, yet, in relation to the general order of things, there is no injustice; it is still a misfortune implicit in the human condition, nothing more. Every man, as a man, is subject to all the misfortunes of humanity: the law is universal and so is not unjust. To suggest that a man's worth or position should shield him from the action of an iniquitous or misguided court of law is the same as wanting them to protect him from apoplexy, for example, or even from death.
Notice however that in spite of these general and inevitable laws it is very far from the truth that this assumed equality, on which I have insisted up to now, actually exists. As I said, I have supposed it for the sake of argument; but nothing is more false, as you will see.
Start first of all by leaving the individual out of account: the general law, visible and visibly just, is that The greatest amount of happiness, even temporal, belongs, not to the virtuous man, but to virtue. If it were otherwise, there would be neither vice nor virtue, merit nor demerit, and in consequence no moral order. Supposing that each virtuous action was repaid by some temporal advantage, the act, no longer having any higher purpose, could not merit a reward of this kind. Supposing on the other hand that, by virtue of a divine law, a thief's hand was to drop off when he committed a theft, men would refrain from stealing as they refrain from putting their hands under a butcher's chopper; and moral order would disappear completely. To reconcile this order (the only one possible for rational beings, as is shown by experience) with the laws of justice, it is necessary for virtue to be rewarded and vice punished, even in this world, but not always or immediately. It is necessary that much the greater share of temporal happiness should be allotted to virtue and that a proportional share of unhappiness should fall to vice, but that the individual should never be sure of anything, as is in fact the case. Any other hypothesis will lead you directly to the destruction of the moral order or to the creation of another world.
To come now to detail, let us start with human justice. Wishing men to be governed by men at least in their external actions, God has given sovereigns the supreme prerogative of punishing crimes, in which above all they are his representatives....
This formidable prerogative of which I have just spoken results in the necessary existence of a man destined to inflict on criminals the punishments awarded by human justice; and this man is in fact found everywhere, without there being any means of explaining how; for reason cannot discern in human nature any motive which could lead men to this calling. I am sure, gentlemen, that you are too accustomed to reflection not to have pondered often on the executioner. Who is then this inexplicable being who has preferred to all the pleasant, lucrative, honest, and even honorable jobs that present themselves in hundreds to human power and dexterity that of torturing and putting to death his fellow creatures? Are this head and this heart made like ours? Do they not hold something peculiar and foreign to our nature? For my own part, I do not doubt this. He is made like us externally; he is born like us but he is an extraordinary being, and for him to exist in the human family a particular decree, a FIAT of the creative power is necessary. He is a species to himself. Look at the place he holds in public opinion and see if you can understand how he can ignore or affront this opinion! Scarcely have the authorities fixed his dwelling-place, scarcely has he taken possession of it, than the other houses seem to shrink back until they no longer overlook his. In the midst of this solitude and this kind of vacuum that forms around him, he lives alone with his woman and his offspring who make the human voice known to him, for without them he would know only groans. A dismal signal is given; a minor judicial official comes to his house to warn him that he is needed; he leaves; he arrives at some public place packed with a dense and throbbing crowd. A poisoner, a parricide, or a blasphemer is thrown to him; he seizes him, he stretches him on the ground, he ties him to a horizontal cross, he raises it up: then a dreadful silence falls, and nothing can be heard except the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unfastens him; he carries him to a wheel: the shattered limbs interweave with the spokes; the head falls; the hair stands on end, and the mouth, open like a furnace, gives out spasmodically only a few blood-spattered words calling for death to come. He is finished: his heart flutters, but it is with joy; he congratulates himself, he says sincerely, No one can break men on the wheel better than I. He steps down; he stretches out his blood-stained hand, and justice throws into it from a distance a few pieces of gold which he carries through a double row of men drawing back with horror. He sits down to a meal and eats; then to bed, where he sleeps. And next day, on waking, he thinks of anything other than what he did the day before. Is this a man? Yes: God receives him in his temples and permits him to pray. He is not a criminal, yet it is impossible to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is estimable, and so on. No moral praise can be appropriate for him, since this assumes relationships with men, and he has none.
And yet all grandeur, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and at that very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears. God, who is the author of sovereignty, is the author also of chastisement: he has built our world on these two poles; for Jehovah is the master of the two poles, and on these he makes the world turn.[1 Samuel 2:8.]
Thus there is in the temporal sphere a visible and divine law for the punishment of crime, and this law, as stable as the society it upholds, has been carried out invariably from the beginning of time. Evil exists on the earth and acts constantly, and by a necessary consequence it must be continually repressed by punishment; indeed, we see over the whole globe constant action by every government to prevent or punish criminal outrages. The sword of justice has no scabbard; it must always threaten or strike. What then do these complaints about the impunity of crime mean? For whom are the knout, the gallows, the wheels, and the stakes? Obviously for the criminal. The mistakes of courts are exceptions that do not shake the rule: I have, besides, several reflections to offer to you on this point. In the first place, these fatal errors are much less frequent than is imagined. If it is allowed to doubt, opinion is always contrary to authority, and the public ear listens avidly to the slightest suggestions of a judicial murder; a thousand individual passions can fortify this general inclination....
That an innocent dies is a misfortune like any other; that is to say, it is common to all mankind. That a guilty man escapes is another exception of the same kind. But it always remains true, generally speaking, that there is on the earth a universal and visible order for the temporal punishment of crimes; and I must again draw your attention to the fact that criminals do not by any means cheat justice so often as might be ingenuously supposed in view of the infinite precautions they take to avoid it. There is often in the circumstances that betray the most cunning scoundrels something so unexpected, so surprising, so unforeseeable, that men who are called by their position or reflections to follow this kind of affair tend to believe that human justice is not entirely without a certain supernatural assistance in seeking out the guilty.
Allow me to add one more consideration to bring to an end this chronicle of punishments. Just as it is very possible for us to be wrong when we accuse human justice of sparing the guilty, since those we regard as being such are not really guilty, so it is equally possible on the other side that a man punished for a crime he has not committed has actually merited it by another completely unknown crime. Fortunately and unfortunately, there are several examples of this kind of thing shown by the confessions of criminals, and there are many more, I believe, of which we are ignorant. This last supposition deserves especially close attention, for, although in such a case the judges are extremely blameworthy or unfortunate, Providence, for whom everything, even an obstacle, is a means, makes full use of dishonesty or mistakes to execute the temporal justice we demand; and it is certain that these two suppositions restrict considerably the number of exceptions. You can see, then, how far this assumed equality that I supposed at the beginning is already disrupted by the consideration of human justice alone.
From the corporal punishment inflicted by justice, let us move now to illnesses. Already you have anticipated me. If intemperance of every kind was removed from the world, most illnesses, perhaps even all of them, would be expelled too. Everyone can see this in general and in a confused manner, but it is as well to pursue the matter more closely. If there had been no moral evil on the earth, there would be no physical evil....
For my part, I must agree with the opinion of a recent apologist who held that every illness has its source in some vice proscribed by Scripture, that this holy rule of conduct is the real medicine for the body as much as for the soul, so that in a society of just men following it death would be no more than the inevitable end of a healthy and robust old age; a view that was, I believe, that of Origen. What misleads us on this question is that, when the effect is not immediate, we no longer perceive it, but it is no less real. Once established, illnesses spread, connect up, and amalgamate by a deadly affinity, so that we can suffer today the physical penalty of an excess committed more than a century ago. However, in spite of the confusion resulting from these terrible mistakes, the parallel between crimes and illnesses is plain to every attentive observer. As with sins, there are diseases that are actual and original, accidental and habitual, mortal and venial. There are illnesses of anger, of gluttony, of incontinence, and so on. Notice, moreover, that there are crimes which have distinctive characteristics and therefore names in every language, such as murder, sacrilege, and incest, while others can be designated only by general terms such as fraud, injustice, violence, and embezzlement. Likewise there are distinctive illnesses such as dropsy, consumption, and apoplexy, and others which can be designated only by the general names of malaise, discomfort, aches, and nameless fevers. Now, the more virtuous a man, the more he is protected against illnesses which have names....
Leaving aside from this discussion everything that could be regarded as hypothetical, I am still entitled to put this indisputable principle: Moral vices can increase the number and intensity of illnesses to a degree that it is impossible to fix; and conversely that this dreadful grip of physical evil can be loosened by virtue to a degree that it is equally impossible to fix. As there is not the slightest doubt of the truth of this proposition, there is no need to go further to justify the ways of Providence even in the temporal sphere, above all if this consideration is joined to that of human justice, since it is clear that from these two points of view the advantage of virtue is incalculable, without giving any reasons or even appealing to religious considerations....
SECOND DIALOGUETHE COUNT: All pain being a punishment, it follows that no pain can be considered as inevitable and, no pain being inevitable, it follows that every pain can be prevented either by the suppression of the crime which made it necessary or by prayer, which has the power of preventing or mitigating punishment. Since the empire of physical evil can still be restricted indefinitely by this supernatural means, you can see-
THE KNIGHT: Allow me to interrupt you and to be a little impolite, if necessary, in order to force you to be clearer. You are touching here upon a subject which has more than once disturbed me profoundly; but for the moment I shall defer my questions on this point. I should just like to point out to you that, unless I am mistaken, you are confusing the evils immediately due to the faults of those who suffer them with those which an unfortunate heritage has transmitted to us. You said that we perhaps suffer today for excesses committed more than a century ago; now, it seems to me that we ought not to be held to account for these crimes, as for those of our first ancestors. I do not believe that faith extends as far as that; and, if I am not mistaken, original sin is quite enough, since this alone has subjected us to ail the miseries of this life. It seems to me, then, that the physical ills which come to us by heredity have nothing to do with the temporal government of Providence.
THE COUNT: I pray you to notice particularly that I did not by any means insist on this sad heredity and that I did not give it to you as a direct proof of the justice Providence exercises in this world. I talked of it in passing in an incidental observation, but I thank you with all my heart, my dear Knight, for bringing it back to our notice, for it is well worthy of our attention. If I have not made any distinction between illnesses, it is because they are all punishments. Original sin, which explains everything and without which nothing can be explained, unfortunately repeats itself at every moment of time, although in a secondary manner. Since you are a Christian, I do not believe that this idea, when it is explained to you exactly, will shock your mind at all. Doubtless, original sin is a mystery, yet if man examines it closely he will find that this mystery, like the others, has its understandable sides, even to our limited intelligence.
Let us leave on one side the theological question of imputation, which we have not touched, and confine ourselves to the common view, which agrees so well with our most natural ideas, that every being with the power of propagating itself can produce only a being similar to itself. The rule has no exception; it is inscribed all over the world. If then a being is degraded, its descendants will no longer be like the original state of this being, but rather like the state to which it has been reduced by whatever cause. This is very plain, and the rule holds in the physical as in the moral order. But it must be noticed that there is the same difference between an infirm and an ill man as between a vicious and a guilty man. Acute illness is not transmissible, but that which vitiates the humors becomes an original malady that can taint a whole race.
It is the same with moral maladies. Some belong to the ordinary state of human imperfection, but there are certain transgressions or certain consequences of transgression which can degrade man absolutely. These are original sins of a second order which nevertheless portray to us, however imperfectly, the first. This is the origin of the savages of whom so many extravagant things have been said and who have especially been used as an eternal text by J. J. Rousseau, one of the most dangerous sophists of his age and yet the most bereft of true knowledge, wisdom, and above all profundity, having an apparent depth that is entirely a matter of words. He has continually taken the savage to be primitive man, whereas the savage is not and cannot be anything other than the descendant of a man detached from the great tree of civilization by some transgression, but of a kind that can no longer be repeated, as far as I can judge, for I doubt if new savages can be created.
As a consequence of the same error, the languages of the savage have been taken for the original languages, whereas they are not and cannot be other than the debris of ancient languages, ruined, as it were, and degraded like the men who speak it. Indeed, every degradation, individual or national, is immediately marked by a rigorously proportional degradation in language. How could man lose or even blur an idea without losing the word or the correct usage of the word that expresses it? And, on the other hand, how could he extend or sharpen his thinking without this showing itself at once in his language?
There is therefore an original illness just as there is an original sin, that is to say, that by virtue of this primitive degradation, we are subject to all kinds of physical suffering in general, as by virtue of this same degradation we are subject to all kinds of vices in general. This original illness has no other name. It is only the capacity to suffer every disease, as original sin (an abstraction derived from imputation) is only the capacity to commit every crime, which ends the comparison.
But there are, besides, original maladies of the second order, as there are original transgressions of the second order; that is to say, certain transgressions committed by certain men have been able to degrade them afresh to a greater or lesser degree, and so to perpetuate to a greater or lesser degree in their descendants both vices and maladies. It may be that these great transgressions are no longer possible, but it is no less true that the general principle still operates and that Christianity showed that it possesses vital knowledge when it turned its whole attention and all the force of its legislative and originating power on the legitimate reproduction of man to prevent every harmful transmission from father to son. If I have talked of illnesses without distinguishing those we owe directly to our own sins from those we owe to our fathers' vices, the mistake was slight, since, as I just now said, they are all in truth only punishments of sin. It is only the element of heredity that shocks the reason at first; but until we can talk of it at greater length, let us be satisfied with the general rule that I pointed out at the beginning: Every being which reproduces itself can produce only something in its own image.
Here, Senator, I call on your intellectual conscience: if a man has indulged in certain crimes or in a certain series of crimes, so that they are capable of altering the moral principle within him, you accept that this degradation is transmissible, as you accept the transmission of scrofulous or syphilitic vice. Besides, I have no need of these hereditary ailments. If you like, look on everything I have said on this subject as a conversational parenthesis; everything else remains unshakable. Taking into account all the considerations that I have set before you, I hope you will not retain any doubts that the innocent, when he suffers, always suffers only in his quality as a man, and that the great majority of evils fall on crime; which would be enough for me as a start. Now-
THE KNIGHT: It would be quite useless, at least for me, for you to go any further, for I have heard you no more since you spoke of the savages. You mentioned something in passing about this kind of man that entirely occupies me. Can you prove to me that the languages of savages are the remains and not the rudiments of languages?
THE COUNT: The essence of all intelligence is to know and to love. The limits of knowledge are those of its nature. The immortal being learns nothing: he knows by nature everything he should know. On the other side, no intelligent being can love the bad naturally or by virtue of his nature; for this to be so, it would be necessary for God to have created man evil, which is impossible. If then man is subject to ignorance or evil, this can be only by virtue of some accidental degradation, which can be only the consequence of a crime. The need, the hunger for knowledge, which stirs man, is nothing but the natural tendency of his being that carries him toward his primitive state and shows him what he is.
If I can so express myself, he gravitates toward the areas of light. No beaver, swallow, or bee wishes to know more than its predecessors. All these creatures are happy in the place they occupy. All are degraded, but are ignorant of it; man alone senses it, and this feeling is the proof at once of his grandeur and his misery, of his sublime prerogatives, and his incredible degradation. In the state to which he is reduced, he has not even the sad satisfaction of being unaware of himself: he must continually contemplate himself, and this he cannot do without shame; even his grandeur humiliates him, since the understanding that raises him to the angels serves only to show him the abominable tendencies in himself that degrade him to the brutes. He seeks in the depths of his being some healthy part without being able to find it: evil has stained everything and man in his entirety is nothing but a malady.[Hippocrates, Letter to Demagetus.] An incredible combination of two different and incompatible powers, a monstrous centaur, he feels that he is the result of some unknown crime, some detestable mixture that has corrupted him even in his deepest nature.
Every intellect is by its very nature the result, single yet in three parts, of a perception that apprehends, a reason that affirms, and a will that acts. The first two powers are only weakened in man, but the third is broken, and like Tasso's serpent it drags itself along,[Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, xv, 48.] completely ashamed of its sad powerlessness. It is in this third power that man feels himself fatally injured. He does not know what he wants; he wants what he does not want; he does not want what he wants; he would want to want. He sees in himself something which is not he and is stronger than he. The wise resist and call out, Who shall deliver me?[Romans 7:24.] The foolish surrender and call their cowardice happiness, but they cannot rid themselves of this other will incorruptible of its nature although it has lost its dominance; and remorse, piercing them to the heart, constantly cries out to them, By doing what you do not want, you consent to the law.[Ibid., 7:16.] Who could believe that such men could have been molded in this form by the Creator? This idea is so repulsive that philosophy itself, that is, pagan philosophy, hit on original sin....
After all, when the philosophers ... assure us that the vices of human nature belong more to the father than to the sons, it is clear that they are not talking of any generation in particular. If the proposition remains in the air, it has no meaning, so that the very nature of things relates it to an original and thus universal corruption. Plato tells us that in contemplating himself he does not know if he sees a monster more arrant, more evil than Typhon, or rather a moral, gentle, and beneficent being who partakes of the nature of divinity. He adds that man, so torn between these opposite natures, cannot act well and live happily without mastering that power of the soul in which evil resides, and without setting free that which is the abode and the agent of virtue. This is precisely the Christian doctrine, and original sin could not be more clearly admitted.
What do words matter? Man is evil, horribly evil. Has God created him like this? Emphatically no, and Plato himself hastens to reply that the good being neither wishes nor does evil to anyone. We are then degraded - yet how? This corruption Plato saw in himself was obviously not something peculiar to himself, and certainly he did not believe himself more evil than his fellow men. Thus he was saying essentially what David said, My mother has conceived me in iniquity, and if these words had been presented to him he would have been able to accept them without difficulty. Now, as every degradation can be only a penalty, and as every penalty presupposes a crime, reason alone is forced to accept original sin. For, since our fatal inclination to evil is a truth of feeling and experience attested by every age, and since this inclination is always more or less victorious over conscience and laws, never having failed to produce on earth transgressions of every kind, man has never been able to recognize and deplore this sorry condition without admitting by the same token the woeful dogma I am expounding to you; for he cannot be wicked without being evil, nor evil without being degraded, nor degraded without being punished, nor punished without being guilty.
In short, gentlemen, nothing is so well attested, nothing so universally accepted under one form or another, nothing finally so intrinsically plausible as the theory of original sin.
Let me add this - you will not I hope feel it difficult to accept that an originally degraded intelligence is and remains incapable, short of a substantial regeneration, of that ineffable contemplation that our old masters very aptly call beatific vision, since it produces and even is eternal happiness, just as you accept that a physical eye which is seriously injured can be incapable of bearing sunlight. Now, this incapacity to enjoy the sun is, if I am not mistaken, the only consequence of original sin that we are bound to regard as natural and independent of every present transgression. Reason can, it seems to me, reach this point, and I think that it is right to congratulate itself on this without ceasing to be docile.
Having thus studied man in himself, let us pass on to his history.
All mankind springs from Adam and Eve. This truth has been denied like every other - but what does it matter?
We know very little of the time before the Deluge, and, according to some convincing speculations, we should not know more. One consideration only is of interest to me, and we should never lose sight of it. This is that punishments are always proportionate to crimes and crimes always proportionate to the knowledge of the guilty, so that the Deluge presupposes unparalleled crimes and these crimes presuppose knowledge infinitely higher than that which we possess. This is certain, and needs thorough investigation. This knowledge, untrammeled by the evil that has made it so fatal, survived the destruction of humanity in the righteous family. On the nature and the development of humanity, we are bemused by a rank but attractive fallacy: this lies in judging the age in which men saw effects in causes by that in which they rise painfully from effects to causes, in which they even concern themselves only with effects, in which they say that it is useless to concern oneself with causes, in which they do not even know what a cause is. It is constantly repeated, Just imagine the time it took to get to know such and such a thing! What incredible blindness! It needed only a moment. If man could know the cause of a single physical phenomenon, he would probably understand all the others. We do not want to see that the most difficult truths to discover are very easy to understand. The solution of the problem of the annulus once brought joy to the best geometer of antiquity, but this very solution is now to be found in all the elementary mathematical textbooks and is well within the capacities of a fifteen-year-old.
Plato, talking somewhere of what it is most important for man to know, adds immediately, with that incisive simplicity natural to him, that these things are easily and perfectly learned if someone teaches them to us.* This is exactly right. It is, moreover, obviously apparent that the first men who repeopled the world after the great catastrophe needed miraculous help to conquer the diverse difficulties facing them. And notice, gentlemen, the splendid character of this argument! Do you want to prove it? Witnesses present themselves on every side: they never contradict one another, whereas witnesses of error are contradictory even when they lie. Listen to what wise antiquity has to say about the first men. It will tell you that they were wonderful men, whom beings of a superior order favored with the most important messages. There is unanimity on this point: initiates, philosophers, poets, history, myth, Asia and Europe speak with one voice. Such complete agreement of reason, revelation, and all human traditions constitutes a proof that cannot reasonably be contradicted. Thus, not only did men start with knowledge, but with a knowledge different from and superior to our own, since it penetrated more deeply, which made it the more dangerous. This is why science at the beginning was mysterious and confined within the temples, where the flame finally burned out when once it had no purpose other than to burn....
[* What follows is no less valuable; but, he says, no one will teach us unless God shows him the way. - Epinomis 989d.]It is impossible to think of modern science without seeing it perpetually surrounded by all the apparatus of the mind and every kind of methodological aid.... So far as we can penetrate the mists of time to perceive the science of the earliest days, it always emerges free and independent, flying rather than walking, and presenting in its entire person something aerial and supernatural.... Yet, although it owed nothing to any man and knew no human support, it is no less the case that it possessed the rarest understanding. If you think of it, this is a convincing proof that ancient science had been freed from the travail imposed on our own and that nothing could be more mistaken than the calculations we make on the basis of modern experience....
If all men spring from the three couples who repeopled the world, and if humanity began with a science, the savage can be, as I have said, nothing more than a branch broken off from the social tree. Although it is incontestable, I could abandon the argument from science and rely on religion alone, which is of itself enough to exclude a state of savagery, however imperfectly. Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists. The poor man in his hut with straw alone to cover him is doubtless less learned than we are, yet more truly social if he attends his catechism class and profits from it. The most shameful errors, the most despicable cruelties have stained the history of Memphis, Athens, and Rome, but all the virtues together honor the huts of Paraguay.... We must then recognize that the state of civilization and science is in a certain sense the natural and primitive state of man.... Has not Voltaire himself (and nothing more need be said) admitted that the motto of every nation has always been, The golden age was the first to show itself on earth? So every nation has protested in unison against the hypothesis of an original state of barbarism, and surely this protest counts for something.
What does it matter at what point in time such and such a branch was broken from the tree? It has been, and that is enough for me: there is no doubt about the degradation and, I dare add, no doubt about the cause of the degradation, which could only have been a crime. Once the leader of a people had changed its moral character by some of those grave transgressions which are apparently now no longer possible, since happily we no longer know enough to become guilty to this degree, this leader passed on the curse to his posterity; and since every constant force is by nature accelerative because it is accumulative, this degradation bears constantly on his descendants until finally it makes them into what we call savages. It is this final degree of brutalization that Rousseau and his like call the state of nature. Two quite different causes have thrown an obfuscating cloud around the dreadful situation of the savages, one is ancient; the other belongs to our own age. In the first place, in its immense charity the Catholic Church has often, in talking of these men, imposed its desires upon reality. There was only too much truth in the first reaction of the Europeans, who refused in Columbus's time to recognize these degraded men peopling the New World as equals. The priests employed all their influence to contradict this opinion which favored too much the barbarous despotism of the new rulers. They cried out to the Spaniards, "No violence; the Scripture condemns it. If you cannot overthrow the idols in the hearts of these unfortunates, what good is it to destroy their wretched altars? To make them know and love God, you must take up other tactics and weapons." From deserts watered with their sweat and blood, they traveled to Madrid and Rome to ask for edicts and bulls against the pitiless greed which wanted to enslave the Indians. The merciful priest exalted them in order to make them precious; he played down the evil, he exaggerated the good, he stated as truth what he wished to be true; indeed, a reliable witness, Robertson, warns us in his History of America, that on this subject one must be suspicious of all the writers who belonged to the clergy, seeing that they are in general too favorable to the natives.
Another source of false judgments about them lies in the philosophy of our own age, which has made use of the savages to support its empty and culpable harangues against the social order; but even the slightest consideration is enough to put us on our guard against the errors of both charity and bad faith. It needs only a glance at the savage to see the curse written not only on his soul but on the external form of his body. He is a deformed child, sturdy and fierce, on whom the light of intelligence throws no more than a pale and fitful beam. A formidable hand weighing on these doomed races wipes out in them the two distinctive characteristics of our grandeur: foresight and perfectibility. The savage cuts the tree down to gather the fruit; he unyokes the ox that the missionary has just entrusted to him, and cooks it with wood from the plow. For over three centuries, he has known us without wanting anything from us except powder to kill his fellows and spirits to kill himself, yet he has never thought of making these things for himself: he relies for them on our greed, which will never fail him.
Just as the meanest and most revolting substances are nevertheless still capable of some degeneration, so the vices natural to humanity are still more corrupt in the savages. He is a thief, he is cruel, he is dissolute, but he is these things in a different way than we are. To be criminals, we surmount our nature: the savage follows it, he has an appetite for crime, and has no remorse at all. While the son kills his father to preserve him from the bothers of old age, his wife destroys in her womb the fruit of their brutal lust to escape the fatigues of suckling it. He tears out the bloody hair of his living enemy; he slits him open, roasts him and eats him while singing; if he comes across strong liquor, he drinks it to drunkenness, to fever, to death, equally deprived of the reason which rules men through fear and the instinct which saves animals through aversion. He is visibly doomed; he is flawed in the very depths of his moral being; he makes any observer tremble: but do we tremble at ourselves, in a way which would be very salutary? Do we think that with our intelligence, our morality, our sciences and our arts we are to primitive man what the savage is to us?
I cannot leave this subject without suggesting to you yet another important point. The barbarian, who is a kind of midway point between the civilized man and the savage, could and still can be civilized by any religion whatever, but the savage, properly speaking, has never been civilized except by Christianity. This is a miracle of the highest order, a kind of redemption, the exclusive prerogative of the true Church.... The savage must not be confused with the barbarian. In the one the germ of life is dying or dead; in the other it has been sown, and needs only time and circumstances to develop itself. At this point his language, which was degraded with the man, is reborn with him and perfects and enriches itself. If one wishes to call this a new language, I should agree: the phrase is right in one sense, but a sense very different from that which is taken by the modern sophists when they talk of new or invented languages.
No language could be invented, either by a single man, who would not be able to compel obedience, or by several men, who would not be able to understand one another. Nothing can be better said about words than what has been said by that which is called THE WORD. They are those whose goings forth have been from of old, from ever-lasting... who shall declare their generation?[Micah 5:2; Isaiah 53:8.] Already, in spite of the unhappy prejudices of the age, a natural philosopher - yes, truly, a natural philosopher - has taken upon himself to agree, with a timid intrepidity, that man first spoke because SOMEONE spoke to him. God bless the word SOMEONE, so useful on difficult occasions. While rendering this tentative effort all the justice it deserves, it is nevertheless necessary to admit that every philosopher of the last century, not even excepting the best, was chickenhearted, afraid of thought....
But before finishing on this subject, I should like to draw your attention to a thought that has always struck me. How is it that in the primitive languages of all the ancient peoples there are words which imply ideas foreign to these peoples? ... These words ... are obviously the remnants of more ancient languages that have been destroyed or forgotten....
Reading the modern metaphysicians, you will come across huge generalizations on the importance of symbols and on the advantages of what they call a philosophical language, which should be created a priori or perfected by philosophers. I do not want to throw myself into the question of the origins of language (the same question, incidentally, as that of innate ideas). What I can assure you of, since nothing is clearer, is the astonishing talent of infant nations in forming words and the total inability of philosophers to do likewise. I recall that Plato, in the most refined of ages, drew attention to this talent of nascent peoples. What is astonishing is that it has been said that they proceeded by way of deliberation, by virtue of an established system of agreement, although such a thing is strictly impossible from every point of view. Each language has its genius, and this genius is one and indivisible, so that it excludes any idea of composition, of arbitrary formation and of previous agreement....
Each language, taken separately, mirrors the spiritual realities that were present at its birth, and the more ancient the language, the more perceptible are these realities. You will not find any exception to the observation on which I have insisted so much, which is that the further back you go toward the ages of ignorance and barbarism which saw the birth of languages, the more logic and profundity you will find in the formation of words, and that this talent disappears conversely as you move toward the ages of civilization and science....
Languages have started, but not the word, not even with man. The one has necessarily preceded the other since the word is possible only through the WORD OF GOD. Every particular language comes into being like an animal, by birth and development, without which man would have passed from the state of aphonia to the use of speech. He has always talked, and it is sublime reason that prompted the Hebrews to call him a TALKING SOUL. When a new language emerges, it is born in the heart of a society which already has full possession of a language, and no word is invented arbitrarily in this formation; the new language uses the materials it finds around it or that it calls from further off; it lives off them, it chews them, it digests them; it never adopts them without modifying them to some degree....
In all the writings of the time on this interesting matter there has been continually expressed a wish for a philosophical language, but without any knowledge or even suspicion that the most philosophical language is that in which there is the least philosophy. Philosophy lacks two small things to be a creator of words - the intelligence to invent them and the power to make them used. If it sees a new object, it leafs through its dictionaries to find an ancient or a foreign word; and almost always it turns out badly.... If the right to create new expressions belonged to anyone, it would be to the great writers and not to the philosophers, who are in this respect peculiarly inept: yet the writers use this right only very sparingly, never in moments of inspiration and only for making nouns and adjectives; as for words themselves, they hardly dream of offering new ones. Indeed, this idea of new languages should be erased, except only in the sense I have just explained; or, to put this another way, the spoken word is eternal and every language is as old as the people who speak it.... It is certain that every nation has had the power of speech and that it has spoken precisely as much and as well as it thought; for it is equally foolish to believe either that a symbol can exist for an idea which does not exist or that an idea can exist without a symbol to express it....
THE KNIGHT: In talking of another subject, you claimed that the question of the origin of language was the same as that of the origin of ideas. I would be interested to hear your reasons for this....
THE COUNT: Before anything else, I should like to suggest to you that authority should be the fundamental ground for decision. Human reason is manifestly incapable of guiding men, for few can reason well, and no one can reason well on every subject, so that it is in general wise to start from authority, whatever people say. Just balance the voices on both sides; against the ideas that knowledge originates in sensory perceptions there are Pythagoras, Plato, Cicero, Origen, Saint Augustine, Descartes, Cudworth, Lami, Polignac, Pascal, Nicole, Bossuet, Fenelon, Leibnitz, and the renowned Malebranche, who occasionally went wrong in the pursuit of truth but never abandoned it. I shall not give the names of the spokesmen for the other side, for they offend my tongue. When I am ignorant about a problem, I decide without any reason other than my taste for good company and my aversion for bad.
I would put yet another preliminary argument to you which has much force; this is the hateful results of that absurd system which would wish, so to speak, to materialize the origins of our ideas. To my mind, nothing is more degrading or destructive to the human spirit. Because of it, reason has lost its wings and drags itself along the ground like some filthy reptile; it has dried up the divine source of poetry and eloquence; because of it, all the moral sciences have fallen into a decline.
THE KNIGHT: It is not perhaps for me to dispute the consequences of the system, but as far as its defenders are concerned, it seems to me, my dear friend, that it is possible to cite various respectable names besides those which offend your tongue....
THE COUNT: Now, whether universal ideas are innate in us, or whether we derive them from God, or whatever you like, is not relevant, and I do not want at this point to examine it: the negative side of the question is undoubtedly the most important; let us establish first of all that the greatest, noblest, and most virtuous geniuses in the world are agreed in rejecting the origin of ideas in sensory perceptions. It is the holiest, most unanimous, most inspiring protest of the human spirit against the gravest and vilest of errors....
After this short preliminary, Knight, I should like first of all, as you have done me the honor of choosing me to introduce you to this kind of philosophy, to remark that any discussion of the origin of ideas is extremely foolish until the question of the nature of the soul has been decided. Would you allow anyone to claim in the courts an inheritance as a relative, if it were doubtful that he was such? Well, gentlemen, there are equivalents in philosophic discussions to those questions that lawyers call pre-judicial which must be cleared up completely before other questions can be considered. If the estimable Thomas was right in the beautiful phrase, Man lives by his soul, and the soul is thought, everything has been said; for if thought is the essential nature of man, to ask what is the origin of ideas is to ask what is the origin of the origin.
Here is what Condillac has to say, I shall be concerned with the human spirit, not with ascertaining its nature, which would be foolhardy, but only with examining its operations. Let us not be fooled by this modest hypocrite: every time you see a philosopher of the last century bowing respectfully before some problem and telling us that the question passes beyond the boundaries of the human mind, that he will not undertake to resolve it, and so on, you can be sure that on the contrary he fears the problem is only too clear and that he is hurrying to leave it on one side in order to retain the right of causing trouble. I do not know one of these gentlemen to whom the sacred title of honest man would be fitting. You can see an example in the point under discussion. Why lie? Why say that one does not want to pronounce on the essential nature of the soul while one is expressly putting forward a view on this point by holding that ideas come to us through the senses, which obviously excludes thought from the category of essences?
I do not see, moreover, that there is any more difficult problem relating to the nature of thought than that of its origin, which is tackled so courageously. Can thought be conceived as an accident of a substance that does not think? Or rather, Can this accident-thought be conceived as knowing about itself, as thinking and meditating on ihe nature of that which gives rise to it and which does not itself think? Here is the problem posed in two different forms, and for my part I confess that I do not see it as hopeless; yet one is perfectly free to pass it over on condition of agreeing and even warning people at the head of every work on the origin of ideas that it should be treated as simple jeu d'esprit, as a completely airy hypothesis, since the question is not seriously broached so long as the preceding question is not resolved.
I would then point out, Knight, that there is something equivocal in the very title of all the books written in the modern idiom on the origin of ideas, since the word origin can apply equally to the cause simply occasioning and exciting ideas and to the cause producing ideas. In the first case, there is no argument since the ideas are assumed to preexist; in the second, it is precisely the same as holding that the substance of an electrical discharge is produced by that which sparks it off.
We should now examine why these writers always talk of the origin of ideas, and never of the origin of thoughts. There must have been a hidden reason for the preference continually given to one word rather than the other, but this point should not take long to clear up. I would simply say to you, using the words of Plato, whom I am always happy to quote, Do you and I understand the same thing by this word, "thought"? For my part, thought is the DIALOGUE THAT THE MIND HOLDS WITH ITSELF.[Theaetetus, 189-190.]
And this sublime definition alone should show you the truth of what I was just saying, that the question of the origin of ideas is the same as that of the origin of language, for thought and language are simply two splendid synonyms, the mind not being able to think without knowing what it thinks, nor being able to know what it thinks without putting it into words, since it must say, I know. So if some follower of modern doctrines comes and says to you that you speak because someone has spoken to you, ask him (but will he understand you? ) if, in his view, understanding is the same as hearing, and if he believes that to understand language it is enough to hear the noise that strikes the ear.
For the rest, let us leave this question on one side. If we want to study the main question, I would ask you to look at a very essential preliminary, which is that, even after so much argument, the definition of innate ideas is still not properly understood. Is it conceivable that Locke never took the trouble to tell us what he meant by this phrase? Yet this is the exact truth. The French translator of Bacon says, in the course of pouring scorn on innate ideas, that he confesses that he does not remember having known about the square on the hypotenuse when he was in his mother's womb. Here then is an intelligent man (for Locke was this) who attributes to spiritualistic philosophers the belief that a foetus in its mother's womb knows mathematics, that we can know without learning, or, in other words, learn without learning, and that this is what philosophers call innate ideas.
A very different writer with quite a different authority, who honors France today by his superior talents or by the distinguished use he can make of them, thought it a decisive argument against innate ideas to ask, "How, if God has engraved a certain idea on our minds, could man succeed in obliterating it? How, for example, can the idolatrous child, born just like the Christian with the clear notion of a single God, yet be reduced to the point of believing in a multitude of gods?"
I would have much to say on this clear notion and on the appalling power that, only too really, man possesses to obliterate more or less his innate ideas and to pass on his degradation. I shall restrict myself here to noticing an obvious confusion of an idea or simple notion with a statement of belief, two things which are nevertheless quite different. It is the first which is innate and not the second, for no one, I believe, has thought of saying that there have been innate powers of reasoning. The deist says, There is only one God, and he is right; the idolater says, There are several Gods, and he is wrong, but he is wrong in the same way as a man who makes a mistake in a process of calculation. Does it by any chance follow that the latter has no idea of number? On the contrary, it proves that he possesses it, for without such an idea, he could not even be mistaken. In fact to be mistaken one must state a view, which one cannot do without any use of the verb to be, which is the soul of all speech, and every statement of view assumes a preexisting idea. Thus, without the previous idea of a God, there would be neither theists nor polytheists, inasmuch as one can say neither yes nor no to what one does not know about, and as it is impossible to be mistaken about God without having an idea of God. It is therefore the notion or the pure idea that is innate and necessarily does not derive from the senses....
THIRD DIALOGUETHE KNIGHT: Allow me to point out a contradiction to you that has always struck me ever since I entered into the world's bustle, which is also a good teacher, as you know. On the one side, everyone extols the happiness, even in this world, of virtue.... But, on the other side, a no less universal voice, from one end of the earth to the other, tells us of innocence on its knees baring its bosom to crime. It is said that virtue exists in this world only to suffer, to be martyred by barefaced vice which always goes unpunished. The successes of audacity, fraud, and bad faith are on every tongue, as is the continual disappointment of ingenuous probity....
THE COUNT: Yes, you are no doubt right, humanity dwells on both the happiness and the calamities of virtue. But, in the first place, men could be told, Since profit and loss seem so evenly balanced, you should, in cases of doubt, decide for that virtue which is so lovable in itself, especially as this saves us from making such calculations. In fact, you will find this contradiction of which you have just spoken everywhere, since the whole world is subject to two forces.... In truth, there is no real contradiction, since it is not the same subject who holds these opposing views. Like us, you have read:
My God, what a cruel war is this,Well, here is the solution to your problem and to so many others which are only the same basic problem in different forms. It is a man who quite rightly praises the advantages of virtue, even in this world, and it is another man within the same man who will argue a moment later that virtue exists on earth only to be persecuted, disgraced, butchered by crime. What then has the world shown you? Two men who are in disagreement. There is nothing really astonishing in that, but it is far from the truth that these two men are equal in worth. It is right reason, it is conscience which tells us, with the weight of facts behind it, that in every calling, in every undertaking, in every piece of business, the advantage, other things being equal, always lies on the side of virtue; that health, the first of temporal goods, without which all others are useless, is in part a result of it; that finally it bestows on us an inner contentment a thousand times more precious than all the wealth in the world.
On the other hand, it is rebellious or resentful pride, it is envy, avarice, and impiety which complain of the temporal disadvantages of virtue. It is then no longer man who speaks, or rather it is another man....
THE SENATOR: It seems to me that the existence and progress of governments cannot be explained by human means, any more than the movement of bodies by mechanical means. Mens agitat molem. There is in each state a directing spirit... that animates it as the soul animates the body and that produces death when it fades out.
THE COUNT: You are rephrasing, in what seems to me a happy manner, a very simple phenomenon, the necessary intervention of a supernatural power. This is recognized in the physical world without anyone contesting the effects of secondary causes. Why not recognize it in the same way in the political world, where it is no less essential? Without accepting its direct intervention, one cannot, as you very rightly say, explain either the creation or duration of governments. It manifests itself in the national unity that constitutes them, in a multiplicity of wills working unconsciously to the same end, showing that they are simply instruments, and above all in the wonderful mechanism that makes use of all the circumstances we call accidental, of our very follies and crimes, to maintain and often to establish order....
FOURTH DIALOGUETHE COUNT: Here is how I was led to talk to you about prayer. Every pain being a punishment, it follows that no pain can be regarded as necessary, since it could have been prevented. On this point, as on so many others, the temporal order is the image of a higher order. Punishments being made necessary only by crimes, and every crime being the act of a free will, every punishment could have been prevented, since the crime need not have been committed. I would add that even after it has been committed, the punishment can still be prevented in two ways; for in the first place the merits of the guilty person or even those of his ancestors can balance his faults, and in the second place his earnest entreaties or those of his friends can disarm the sovereign....
THE KNIGHT: I never mocked my cure when he threatened his parishioners with hailstones or blight because they had not paid their tithes, yet I see an order in the physical world so invariable that I do not really understand how the prayers of these poor little men could have any effect on these phenomena. When a meteorologist is certain, because of a series of exact observations, that so many inches of rain must fall in a certain country each year, he would begin to laugh if he attended public prayers for rain. I am not approving of him; but why hide from you the fact that the jeers of the natural philosopher give me an uneasy feeling which I distrust all the less as I should like to dismiss it?...
THE SENATOR: Believe me, my dear Knight, you have just shown us the most perfidious temptation the human mind can face, that of believing in invariable laws of nature. This theory has an attractive appearance, yet it leads directly to the decline of prayer, that is the death of spiritual life, for prayer is the breath of the soul, as M. de Saint-Martin said, I believe. Whoever has ceased to pray no longer lives. No religion without prayer, said Voltaire . . .; nothing is more evident, and it necessarily follows, No prayer, no religion. This is very nearly the state to which we are reduced. Since men have never prayed except by virtue of a revealed religion (or one recognized as such), they have ceased to pray to the degree that they have approached deism, which is and can be nothing; and now you can see them with their eyes glued to the physical world, occupied solely with physical laws and studies and without any longer the slightest feeling for their natural dignity. Such is the misfortune of these men that they can no longer even desire their own regeneration, not only because of the recognized reason that what is not known cannot be desired, but because they find in their moral brutalization some curious but frightful charm, which is an appalling chastisement. In vain are they told what they are and what they will become. Plunged in the divine atmosphere, they refuse to breathe, whereas if they only opened their mouths, they would draw down the spirit to themselves.[Psalm 119:131.] Such is the man who no longer prays; no other proof of the indispensable necessity of public worship is required than that, if it did not check a little the general degradation, we would end up, I honestly believe, no better than animals. Consequently the antipathy of the men of whom I am speaking toward this worship and its ministers is boundless.
Unhappy confidences have taught me that there are those for whom the atmosphere of a church is a kind of poison gas which literally stifles them and forces them to leave; whereas healthy souls feel themselves there refreshed by some spiritual dew which is beyond description, but needs none since no one can fail to recognize it. Vincent de Lerins set out a well-known religious rule, saying that it was necessary to believe what has been believed ALWAYS, EVERYWHERE AND BY ALL. Nothing is so true and so universally true. Man, in spite of his fatal degradation, bears always the evident marks of his divine origin, in that every universal belief is always more or less true. Man may well have covered over and, so to speak, encrusted the truth with the errors he has loaded onto it, but these errors are local, and universal truth will always show itself. Now, men have always and everywhere prayed. Doubtless it is possible that they have prayed badly, asking for what they had no need and not asking for what they needed, but this is man's nature; yet they have always prayed, and this is the work of God.
The splendid theory of invariable laws would lead us straight to fatalism and make an automaton of man. As our friend did yesterday, I swear that I do not mean to insult reason. I respect it infinitely in spite of all the harm it has done to us, but it is certain that, every time it is opposed to common sense, we should reject it as pernicious. It is reason that has said, Nothing can happen except what happens, and nothing happens except what must happen. But good sense has said, If you pray, something which was to have happened will not happen; in which common sense was very reasonable, whereas reason lacked common sense. For the rest, it matters little that certain subtle arguments can be raised against proven truths and cannot be answered immediately, for there is no source of gross error more fruitful or more dangerous than rejecting such and such a dogma simply because it raises an objection we cannot resolve.
COUNT: You are perfectly right, my dear Senator: no objection can be admitted against the truth, otherwise it would no longer be the truth. Once its character is recognized, the unanswerability of an objection shows nothing more than a defect in the knowledge of those who cannot answer....
It is enough for me to draw from the mass of instances a general theory, a kind of formula which will serve to resolve all particular cases. I would say that "every time a proposition is proved by the kind of proof relevant to it, no objection whatever, even an unanswerable one, should be countenanced." The very inability to reply shows that the two propositions, taken to be true, are not really contradictory; which can always happen when the contradiction is not in the terms.
KNIGHT: Would you explain that more fully?
THE COUNT: No authority on earth, for example, has the right to claim that three and one are the same; for I know the meaning of one and three, and, since the sense of the terms does not change in the two propositions, to ask me to believe that one and three are and are not the same is the same as God telling me to believe that God does not exist. But if someone said to me that three persons partake of one nature, I am ready to believe it, provided that revelation provides me with a sufficient proof, especially, though not necessarily, if revelation is backed by solid psychological theories and even by the more or less obscure traditions of every nation; it does not matter to me that three is not one, for this is not here the question, which is to know if three persons can have one nature, quite another problem.
SENATOR: Indeed, in this case where is the contradiction, when it cannot be supported either by the facts, since we do not know them, or by the terms, since they have changed? Allow, then, the stoics to tell us that the proposition It will rain tomorrow is as certain and as immutable in the ordained order of things as the proposition It rained yesterday; allow them to perplex us, if they can, with the most dazzling sophisms. We shall let them prattle on, for no objection, even an unanswerable one (which I am very far from admitting in this case), can stand against the proof that resides in the innate belief of all men. If you accept what I say, Knight, you will continue when you return to your homeland to say your Rogation-day prayer. In the meantime, it will be as well to pray to God with all your might to bless you by returning you there, in the same way letting them prattle on who would object that it is determined beforehand whether or not you will see your dear country again.
THE COUNT: Although I am, as you have seen, completely convinced that the general sentiments of all men constitute, so to speak, intuitive truths before which all rationalist sophistries fade away, I nevertheless think like you, Senator, that in the present question we are by no means reduced to these intuitions. For, first, if you look at it more closely you will recognize the fallacy without being able to explain it fully. No doubt, the proposition It rained yesterday is no more certain than the other, It will rain tomorrow, but only if in fact it must rain, but this is precisely the point at issue, and one is back where one started.
In the second place, and this is the main point, I do not see these inevitable laws and this inflexible chain of events about which so much is spoken. On the contrary, I see in nature only complex forces, as must necessarily be the case if the functioning of free agents, interacting frequently in this world with the natural laws of matter, is to be accommodated. Just look at the variety of ways and the degree to which we influence the reproduction of animals and plants. Grafting, for example, is or is not a law of nature according to whether man exists or does not exist. You speak, Knight, of a certain precise quantity of rain that falls on each country during the year. As I have never concerned myself with meteorology, I do not know what has been said on this point, although, to tell you the truth, it seems to be impossible that this can be proved, at least not with even an approximate certainty. However that may be, here it can be a question only of an average year; then on what period of time are we to base this average? It could be ten years, it could be a hundred. But I want to pick more quarrels with these theorists. I shall allow that precisely the same amount of water must fall in every country each year; let this be an invariable law; but the distribution of this rain will be, so to speak, the flexible part of the law. So you see that even with your invariable laws we can still very well have floods and droughts, general rains for the world at large, and exceptional rains for those who have asked for it.[Psalm 68:9.]
... I can well accept that philosophers of our time all talk constantly about inevitable laws: their aim is simply to prevent man from praying, and this is the infallible means of success. This is the reason for the anger of these unbelievers when preachers or moralists are led to tell us that the physical scourges of this world, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and so on, were divine punishments. They affirm that it was absolutely inevitable that Lisbon should have been destroyed on November 1, 1755, as it was inevitable that the sun should have arisen that same day - a truly splendid theory, very suited to bring man to perfection. I recall how indignant I was one day while reading a lecture that Herder addressed somewhere to Voltaire on the subject of his poem about the Lisbon disaster. Seriously he said, "You dare to complain to Providence about the destruction of this town: you are thoughtless, for this is an explicit blasphemy against the eternal wisdom. Do you not realize that man, like his beams and his tiles, is a debtor for his existence, and that all things in existence must pay their debts? Elements combine, elements come apart; this is a necessary law of nature: what then is surprising in this or that event that should give rise to complaints?"
Is not this, gentlemen, a splendid consolation, well worthy of the honest comedian who preached the Scripture in the pulpit and pantheism in his writings? But this is the limit of the wisdom of philosophy. From Epictetus to the bishop of Weimar and to the end of time, this will be its unchanging role and its necessary law. It is ignorant of the balm of consolation. It withers and hardens the heart, and thinks it has made a man a sage by making him callous. In any case, Voltaire had already replied to his critic in this same poem on the Lisbon earthquake:
"No, offer no more to my distressed heart,Up to this point, this could not be better put; but as if repenting of having talked sense, he adds immediately:
"Why then do we suffer under a just master?Here the rash questions begin. Why then do we suffer under a lust master? The catechism and common sense agree in replying, BECAUSE WE DESERVE IT. This is the fatal knot wisely untied, and any deviation from this solution is meaningless. In vain does Voltaire exclaim:
"Seeing this pile of victims, do you say;This is bad reasoning, lacking care and close analysis. Doubtless there were children at Lisbon as there were at Herculaneum in A.D. 79, as there were at Lyons some time previously, or as there were, if you like, at the time of the flood. When God punishes any society for its crimes, he enacts justice as we do it ourselves in this sort of case, without anyone thinking of complaining about it. A town revolts; it massacres the king's representatives; it closes its gates to him; it resists him; it is taken. The king dismantles it and strips it of all its privileges; no one will condemn this judgment on the grounds that there were innocent people in the town. We should never deal with two questions at once. The town has been punished because of its crime, and without this crime it would not have suffered. This is a true proposition, independent of any other. Will you then ask me why innocent people have been included in the same punishment? This is another proposition to which I am not obliged to reply. I could reply that I have no idea of the reason without weakening in any way the first proposition. I can also reply that the king can do no other, and I would have good grounds for claiming this.
THE KNIGHT: Allow me to ask you this - what would prevent the good king from taking into his protection the inhabitants of the town who remained faithful and taking them to some more fortunate district so that they could there enjoy, not the same privileges, but greater privileges, more fitting to their loyalty?
THE COUNT: That is precisely what God does when innocent people perish in a general catastrophe. But let us go back. I flatter myself that I feel no less sincere a pity than Voltaire for these unfortunate children broken and bloody on their mothers' breasts; but it is madness to cite them to contradict the preacher who claims, God is avenged; these evils are the price of our crimes, for nothing is in general more true. The question is only to explain why the innocent are included in the penalty directed against the guilty: but, as I have just said to you, this is only an objection, and if we allow troth to submit to difficulties, there is no more philosophy. Moreover, I wonder if Voltaire, who wrote in such haste, took care to treat this as a general question rather than as a particular question relating to the event concerning him on this occasion. I wonder too if he did not ask, without realizing it, why infants who could not yet be either condemned or praised are subject throughout the whole world to the same evils which can afflict grown men. For if it is determined that a certain number of infants must perish, I do not see that it matters to them whether they die in one way rather than in another. A man dies whether he is stabbed to the heart or has a brain tumor, but it is said in the first case that he ended his days by a violent death. But, to God, there is no such thing as a violent death. A steel blade thrust in the heart is an infirmity like a simple corn that we call a polypus.
We must then go to a further question and ask why it became necessary for a host of infants to be stillborn, for a good half of those born to die before the age of ten and for a great many others still to die before reaching the age of reason....
Why are these children born and why do they die? What will one day happen to them? These are perhaps unapproachable mysteries, but it is senseless to use the incomprehensible as an argument against the easily comprehensible.
Would you like to hear another sophistry on the same subject? It is Voltaire again who gives it to us and still in the same work:
"Had Lisbon, which is no more, more vicesGood God, does this man want the Almighty to convert every great city into an execution chamber? Or does he want God never to punish because he does not punish always and everywhere and at the same time?
Had then Voltaire been given the divine balance for weighing the crimes of kings and individuals and for fixing punishments at the right time? And what would this rash man have said fi, when he was writing these senseless lines, in the middle of the town steeped in its delights, he could have seen suddenly, in the not so distant future, the Committee of Public Safety, the Revolutionary Tribunal and the long pages of the Moniteur quite red with human blood?
Doubtless pity is one of the noblest sentiments to honor man, and nothing should be done to kill it, even to weaken it in men's hearts; yet in treating philosophic subjects, every kind of poetry should be carefully avoided and things should be seen as they are. For example Voltaire, in the poem I quoted, shows us a hundred thousand unfortunates devoured by the earth; but, first of all, why a hundred thousand? Especially as he could have told the truth without spoiling the meter, since in fact only about twenty thousand people died in this horrible catastrophe, many less in consequence than in many battles I could name to you.
It should then be noticed that in these great catastrophes many things are only superficial. For example, the crushing of a child under a rock is a frightful sight to us, but to the child it is much better than dying of smallpox or a painful dental operation. To the reason, it is the same thing no doubt whether three or four thousand men scattered over a wide area perish, or they die all at once in a single catastrophe, in an earthquake or a flood; but to the imagination the difference is enormous. So that it can very well happen that one of those terrible events that we place among the world's greatest scourges is in reality of no account, not just to humanity in general but to a single country.
You can see here a fresh example of those laws, at once flexible and invariable, that rule the universe. If you will let us accept as a proven point that in a given time in a certain country a certain number of men must die, this is what is invariable; but the distribution of life among individuals, as well as the place and time of deaths, constitute what I have called the flexible part of the law, so that a whole town can be destroyed without the general mortality being increased. A scourge can even be just in two ways, by reason of the guilty who have been punished and the innocent who have gained in compensation a longer and happier life. The omnipotent wisdom governing all things has means at its disposal so numerous, so diversified, so wonderful that the part we can comprehend should well teach us to revere the other. A good many years ago, I came across certain mortality statistics gathered in a small province with great care and exactitude. I was not at all surprised to learn from these figures that two serious epidemics of smallpox had not increased the mortality rate in the year when they raged. So much is it true that this hidden force we call nature has means of compensation which can scarcely be doubted.
THE SENATOR: A sacred saying says that pride is the beginning of sin;[Ecclesiasticus 10:13.] I think one could very well add, and of error. It misleads us by rousing in us an unfortunate spirit of contention that leads us to seek out difficulties for the pleasure of argument rather than referring them to a proved principle; but, unless I am very much mistaken, the disputants themselves at bottom feel that it is all in vain. How many arguments would be saved if every man was forced to say what he really thought!
THE COUNT: I agree with you entirely, but, before going any further, allow me to point out a peculiar characteristic of Christianity which strikes me in regard to the calamities of which we are speaking. If Christianity were a human artifact, its teaching would vary with human opinions, but since it emanates from the unchangeable Being, it is as unchangeable as he. Certainly this religion, the fount of all good and true knowledge in the world, whose greatest concern is the advancement of this very knowledge, takes great care not to forbid it to us or to impede its progress. For example, it approves strongly of our inquiring into the nature of all the physical factors that play a part in great natural convulsions. As for itself, in direct relation with God, it scarcely bothers about the agents which execute his orders. It knows that it was created to pray and not to dispute, since it knows with certainty what it needs to know. Whether one approves of it or condemns it, admires or ridicules it, it remains unmoved; and on the ruins of a town destroyed by an earth tremor, it says to the eighteenth century what it would have said to the twelfth:
We beg of you, O Lord, to be pleased to protect us; by your supreme grace make firm once more this earth unsettled by our iniquities, so that every man may recognize in his heart that it is your wrath that imposes punishments on us, as it is your mercy that delivers us from them....
FIFTH DIALOGUETHE SENATOR: No living creature can have knowledge other than that which is part of its nature and which is entirely relative to its place in the world; and to my mind this is one of the many and unanswerable proofs of innate ideas; for, if there were no ideas of this sort in every cognitive creature, each of them, owing its ideas to its own particular and fortuitous experience, could move outside its proper sphere and overturn the order of things; however, this will never happen. The half-reasoning dog, monkey, or elephant will, for example, draw near to the fire and find pleasure in its warmth as we do, but you will never teach them to throw a log on the embers, because fire is alien to their nature; otherwise the human domain would be invaded. They can very well grasp the notion of one, but never that of unity; the rudiments of numbering but never the idea of number; one, two, or a thousand triangles together or one after another but never the concept of triangularity. The constant association of certain ideas in our minds makes us confuse them, although they are essentially distinct. I see your two eyes and immediately I associate my perception of them with the idea of duality; in fact, however, the two notions are of a totally different order, and one does not lead to the other.
Since I am on the subject, I shall add that I shall never understand how the morality of intelligent beings, either the human species or any other cognitive species, can be separated from innate ideas. But let us go back to animals. My dog accompanies me to some public spectacle, an execution, perhaps: certainly it sees everything that I see: the crowd, the melancholy procession, the officers of justice, the soldiers, the scaffolds, the condemned man, the executioner, in a word everything: but what does it understand of all this? - what it should understand in its quality as a dog: it will be able to make me out in the crowd and find me again if by chance we are separated; it will contrive not to be trampled underfoot by the spectators; when the executioner raises his arm, the animal, if it is nearby, will draw back for fear that the blow is meant for him; if it sees blood, it might tremble, but it would do the same in a butcher's shop. Its understanding stops there, and, no matter how much intelligent instruction it is given, it will never progress beyond this point; the ideas of morality, sovereignty, crime, justice, authority, and so on, which are implicit in this dismal spectacle, mean nothing to it. All the symbols of these ideas surround it, touch it, press in on it, but all to no avail, for no symbol can be meaningful unless the idea it represents is preexistent. It is one of the most obvious laws of the temporal rule of Providence that every active creature acts within a sphere laid down for it without being able to escape from it. And no one of good sense could imagine otherwise! Starting from this incontestable principle, who can deny that a volcano, a whirlwind, or an earthquake is to me what the execution is to my dog? Of these phenomena, I understand what I should understand, that is to say, everything that is in keeping with those innate ideas appropriate to the human condition. The rest is a closed book....
As I have just said, animals are surrounded, touched, pressed in by all the symbols of comprehension without being able to improve the least of their acts: refine as much as you like by thought this soul, this unknown principle, this instinct, this inner light which has been given to them with so great a variety of direction and intensity, yet you will find only an asymptote of reason, capable of approaching it, if you will, but never of reaching it; otherwise the province of creation would have been encroached upon, which is obviously impossible.
For a very similar reason, no doubt we can ourselves be surrounded, touched, pressed in by actions and agents of a superior order of which we have no knowledge other than that appropriate to our present situation. I am fully aware of the sublime uncertainty about which you have just spoken: yes, I know that I do not know, perhaps I know something more still; but it remains true that, by virtue of our intelligence, we shall never be capable of achieving direct knowledge on this point. I make great use, besides, of this uncertainty in all my inquiries into causes. I have read thousand of witticisms about the ignorance of the ancients who saw gods everywhere: it seems to me that we, who see them nowhere, are much more foolish. We are constantly told about physical causes, but what is a physical cause?
THE COUNT: It is a natural cause, if we want to confine ourselves to defining the word; but, in the modern usage, it is a material cause, that is to say, a cause which is not a cause, for matter and cause are mutually exclusive like black and white or circle and square. Matter has an effect only by movement: however, all movement being an effect, it follows that a physical cause is, strictly speaking, NON-SENSE and even a contradiction in terms. Thus there are and can be no physical causes properly speaking, because there is and can be no movement without an original mover, and because every original mover is outside matter; everywhere, that which actuates comes before that which is actuated; that which leads comes before that which is led; that which commands comes before that which is commanded: matter can be and even is nothing other than evidence of mind. If a hundred balls are placed in a line and each is moved successively by an impulse from the first, does this not presuppose a hand which impelled the first ball through an act of will? And when the disposition of things prevents me from seeing this hand, is it any the less obvious to my intelligence? Is not the mind of a clockmaker comprised within the drum of this clock, in which the mainspring is charged, so to speak, with the instructions of an intelligence?... The question is to know if there are nothing but material bodies in the world, and if these bodies can be moved by impulses of another kind. However, not only can they be so moved but originally they must have been so: for, since every movement can be conceived only as the result of another, it is necessary either to accept the idea of an infinite series of movements, that is to say, of effects without cause, or to agree that the principle of movement cannot be found in matter; and we carry in ourselves the proof that movement starts in the will. In a common and essential sense, it is quite legitimate to call causes effects that produce other effects: it is this sense that, in the line of balls I just referred to, every moving force is a cause except the first. But if we wish to speak with philosophic precision, we must use the word otherwise. It cannot be too often repeated that the ideas of matter and cause are mutually and rigorously exclusive.
On the question of the forces acting in the universe, Bacon developed a chimerical idea which has led to confusion in a host of thinkers: he supposed first of all material forces, then superimposed them indefinitely one on top of another; and the suspicion has often forced itself upon me that, in putting forward these genealogical trees in which everyone is a son except the first and everyone a father except the last, he made on these lines a god of the ladder, and that he arranged causes in the same way in his head; in his own way believing that one cause was the son of that which preceded, and that the generations, contracting as one goes back, would lead the true interpreter of nature to a common ancestor. Here are the ideas that this great jurist formed of nature and the science which must explain it: but nothing is more illusory.
I do not want to draw you into a long discussion. A single observation will suffice for the moment. It is that Bacon and his disciples have never and will never be able to quote to us a single example to support their theory. Let someone show us this alleged order of general, more general, and most general causes, as they are pleased to call them. Much has been argued and much discovered since Bacon: let someone give us an example of this wonderful genealogy, point out to us a single mystery of nature that has been explained, not necessarily by a cause, but even by a primary effect previously unknown, reached by working back from one to the other. Imagine the most common phenomenon, elasticity, for example, or any other you care to choose. Now, I shall not pose any difficulties; I do not ask for either the grandparents or the great-great-grandparents of the phenomenon, but will be content with its mother: alas, everyone remains silent; and always it is (I mean in the material order) Proles sine matre creata. How can anyone be so blind as to seek causes in nature when nature itself is an effect? So long as the material sphere is looked at in isolation, no one man can progress more than any other in the investigation of causes: all are and must be checked at the first step.
The genius of discovery in the natural sciences consists solely in uncovering unknown facts or relating unexplained phenomena to already known primary effects that we take as causes. Thus, the discoverers of the circulation of the blood and of the sex of plants doubtless both advanced science; but the discovery of facts has nothing to do with the discovery of causes. For his part Newton immortalized himself by relating to gravity phenomena which no one had ever thought of attributing to it; but the great man's footman knew as much as he did about the cause of gravity. Certain disciples, for whom he would blush if he returned to the world, have ventured to say that gravitation is a mechanical law. Newton never blasphemed against common sense in such a way, and it is in vain that they have sought to give themselves so distinguished an accomplice. On the contrary, he said (and this certainly is quite a lot) that he left to his readers the question of deciding if the agent which produces gravity is physical or spiritual. Read, I pray you, his theological letters to Dr. Bentley: you will be equally enlightened and edified by them.
You can see, Senator, that I strongly approve of your way of envisaging this world and, unless I am absolutely mistaken, base it on very good arguments. For the rest, I repeat what you said, I know that I do not know; and this uncertainty fills me at once with joy and with gratitude, since I find united in it both the ineffaceable title deed to my grandeur and a salutary protection against all ridiculous or foolhardy speculation. In looking at nature from this point of view, in the greatest as in the least of its works, I always recall (and this is enough for me) the phrase of a Lacedaemonian thinking about what prevented a stiffened corpse from standing upright however it was positioned: My God, he said, there must have been something inside. Always and everywhere the same can be said, for without this something everything is a corpse and nothing can stand upright. The world, considered thus as a collection of appearances in which the least phenomenon hides a reality, is a true and wise system of ideal forms. In a very true sense, I can say that material objects are nothing like what I see; but what I see is real in relation to me, and it is sufficient for me to be so led to the existence of another order in which I believe firmly without seeing it. Resting on these principles, I understand perfectly not only that prayer is useful in general in warding off physical evil, but that it is the true antidote, the natural specific, for it and that in its essence it tends to destroy it....
This digression on causes leads us to an equally just and fruitful idea: it is to look at prayer from the point of view of its effects simply as a secondary cause; for from this standpoint, it is nothing but that and should not be differentiated from any other secondary cause. If then a fashionable philosopher is surprised to see me use prayer to protect myself against lightning, for example, I shall say to him, And why do you, sir, use lightning rods? Or, to restrict myself to something more usual, Why do you use fire engines in fires and medicines in illnesses? Are you not setting your face against eternal laws quite as much as I am? "Oh, but that is very different," I shall be told, "for if it is a law, for example, that fire burns, it is also a law that water puts out fire." I shall reply, That is exactly what I say for my part, for if it is a law that lightning produces a certain catastrophe, it is also a law that prayer, sprinkled in time on the HEAVENLY FIRE, extinguishes or diverts it. And you can be sure, gentlemen, that there is no objection of this kind that I cannot counter to my advantage: there is no mid-point between a rigid, absolute, and universal fatalism and the widespread faith of men in the efficacy of prayer....
How great has been the cost of natural sciences to man! It is entirely his own fault, for God had offered him sufficient safeguards; but pride has lent its ear to the serpent, and once again man has put his guilty hand to the tree of knowledge; he has lost his way, and unfortunately does not know it. Notice a fine decree of Providence; since the primitive ages (of which I shall not speak at this point), it has granted the experimental sciences only to Christians. The ancients certainly surpassed us in intellectual power, as is shown by the superiority of their languages, in a way which seems to silence all the sophistries of our pride; for the same reason, they surpassed us in everything that they undertook in common with us. On the other hand, their physical science was almost nothing; for not only did they not attach any value to physical experiments, they despised them, and even suspected them slightly of impiety, and this confused feeling came from further back. Once the whole of Europe was Christian, once priests were the universal teachers, once all the institutions of Europe were Christianized, once theology had taken its place at the head of teaching and all the other faculties had grouped themselves around it like ladies-in-waiting around their queen, humanity being prepared for them in this way, the natural sciences were given to it, tantae molis erat ROMANUM condere gentem. Ignorance of this great truth has misled very strong minds, and Bacon is no exception, and perhaps the misconception even started with him.
THE SENATOR: Since you have reminded me of him, I confess that I have more than once found him extremely amusing with his desiderata. He has the air of a man who frets beside a cradle, complaining that the infant who is being rocked is still not a professor of mathematics or an army commander.
THE COUNT: That is very well said, although I fancy one could quarrel with the exactness of your comparison, for science at the beginning of the seventeenth century was by no means an infant in the cradle. Leaving aside the illustrious monk of the same name three centuries earlier in England, whose teachings could still earn him from men of our time the title of scholar, Bacon was the contemporary of Kepler, Galileo, and Descartes, while Copernicus had preceded him: leaving aside a hundred other less well-known persons, these four giants alone deprive him of the right to talk with so much contempt of the state of the sciences, which already threw such a dazzling light in his own times and were at bottom as developed as they could then be. The sciences are not progressing as Bacon imagined: they germinate like everything that germinates; they grow like everything that grows; they are connected with the moral condition of man.
Although free and active, and in consequence capable of devoting himself to science and its perfection, as with everything that has been put within his reach, man is nevertheless left to his own devices in this field less perhaps than in any other; but Bacon took it into his head to abuse the knowledge of his age without ever being able to grasp it, and nothing is more curious in the history of the human mind than the imperturbable obstinacy with which this famous man continued to deny the existence of the light shining around him, because his eyes were not capable of seeing it, for there was never a man more ignorant of the natural sciences and the laws of the world.
Bacon has very justly been accused of having retarded the progress of chemistry by trying to make it mechanical, and I am intrigued that the charge has been leveled against him in his own country by one of the foremost chemists of our day.* He has done worse still by retarding the progress of that transcendental or general philosophy, of which he never stopped telling us, without ever having any idea of what it was about; he even invented words which are false and dangerous in the sense he gave to them, for example, form which he substituted for nature or essence, and to which modern gross ignorance has not failed to lay claim, by seriously proposing to inquire into the form of heat, expansiveness, and so on: and who knows if some day someone, following in his footsteps, will not come to teach us the form of virtue?
[* J. Black, Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry ( London, 1803), I, 261.]The force which seduced Bacon was not by any means yet fully developed at the time when he wrote, yet it can be seen even then fermenting in his writings, in which it boldly nurtured the seeds that we have seen blossom out in our own day. Full of an unconscious rancor, whose origin and nature he did not himself recognize, against all spiritual ideas, Bacon fastened the general attention with all his might upon the physical sciences in such a way as to turn men away from all other branches of learning. He rejected all metaphysics, all psychology, all natural and positive theology, and locked them all up in the Church, forbidding them to come out; he relentlessly denigrated final causes, which he called the limpets on the ship of science: and he dared to hold openly that the inquiry into causes was harmful to true science, an error as gross as it was dangerous, and yet incredibly an infectious error, even for well-disposed minds, so much so that one of the closest and most distinguished followers of the English philosopher felt no compunction in warning us to take great care not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the order we see in the universe.
Bacon did not ignore any means to turn us away from Plato's philosophy, the human preface to the Scriptures, and praised, expounded, and propagated that of Democritus, that is to say, atomic philosophy, a desperate attempt of materialism pushed to extremes, which, being aware that matter escapes it and explains nothing, plunges into the infinitely small, seeking, so to speak, matter without matter and being completely happy even amid absurdities so long as it does not find intelligence.
In conformity with this system of philosophy, Bacon urges men to seek the cause of natural phenomena in the configuration of constituent atoms or molecules, the most false and gross idea ever to have stained the human understanding. And this is why the eighteenth century, which has always loved and praised men only for the evil they bear, made Bacon its god, while nevertheless refusing to give him justice for his good and even excellent qualities. It is quite wrong to believe that he forwarded the progress of science, for all the real scientific innovators preceded him or were ignorant of him. Bacon was a barometer who announced good weather, and because he announced it people believed that he had made it. Walpole, his contemporary, called him the prophet of science,* and this is all that can be granted to him. I have seen the design of a medal struck in his honor, of which the main part is a rising sun with the motto Exortus uti aethereus sol. Nothing is more obviously false; I would sooner accept a rising sun with the inscription Nuntia solis, and even this could be said to be exaggerated, for, when Bacon arose, it was at least ten o'clock in the morning. The immense respect paid to him in our own time is due, as I just before said, only to his reprehensible sides. Notice that he was not translated into French until the end of the eighteenth century, and by a man who told us naively that he had, against his own experience, a hundred thousand reasons for not believing in God.
[* See the preface to the small English edition of the Works of Bacon, published by Dr. Shaw, London 1802.]THE KNIGHT: Are you not afraid, Count, of being abused for such blasphemies against one of the great gods of our age?
THE COUNT: If it was my duty to be abused, I would have to bear it patiently, but I doubt if anyone is going to abuse me here. However, if it were a question of writing and publishing what I have said, I should not hesitate for a moment; I should not be very afraid of the storms, so convinced am I that the true intentions of a writer are always felt and that everyone renders justice to them. I am sure then that I would be believed if I protested that I think myself inferior in talent and knowledge to most of the writers now in the public eye, as much as I surpass them in the truth of the doctrines I profess. I am even pleased to confess their superiority in the first, which provides me with the subject of a charming reflection on the inestimable gift of the truth and on the sterility of talents which dare to divorce themselves from it.
There is a splendid book to be written, gentlemen, about the harm inflicted on works of genius, and even on the characters of their authors, by the errors they have professed for three centuries. What a subject if it were ably treated! The book would be the more useful as it would rest entirely on facts and so would lay itself open very little to pettifogging criticism. I can quote to you a striking example on this point, that of Newton, who comes to mind here as one of the most outstanding men in the realm of science. What did he lack to justify fully the beautiful tribute of an English poet, who called him
"... pure intelligence, whom GodHe lacked the ability to rise above national prejudices, for surely if he had held more firmly to the truth, he would have written one book less. Exalt him as much as you like, and I shall agree fully, provided that he keeps to his place; but if he comes down from the heights of his genius to dabble in theology, I no longer owe him my respect. In error, there are not and cannot be great names or ranks or distinctions, NEWTON being the equal of Villiers.
After this profession of faith, which I am always ready to repeat, I am perfectly at peace with myself. I assure you I cannot accuse myself of anything, because I know what I owe to genius, but I know also what I owe to truth. Moreover, gentlemen, the time is now ripe, and all the old idols must now fall. Let us get back to the subject.
Do you find any difficulty at all in this idea that prayer is a secondary cause and that any objection to it could be made in the same way to medicine, for example? This sick man is to die or he is not to die; thus it is useless to pray for him, and for my part I say, then it is useless to give him cures and there is no art of medicine. Where, pray, is the difference? We do not want to hold that secondary causes form part of the higher scheme of things. This sick man will die or will not die: yes, undoubtedly he will die if he does not take remedies, and he will not die if he does: this condition is itself a part of the eternal order.
Without doubt God is the universal moving force, but each being is moved according to the nature that God has given it. What would you yourselves do, gentlemen, if you wanted to lead that horse we see in the meadow over there? You would mount it or lead it by the bridle, and the animal would obey you, according to its nature, although it is quite capable of resisting you and even of killing you with a blow of its hoof. But if you wanted that child we see playing in the garden to come to us, you would call him or, if you did not know his name, you would make some signal to him; the most understandable thing for him no doubt would be to show him this cake, and he would come according to his nature. If finally you had need of a book from my library, you would go to fetch it, and the book would be moved by your hand in a purely passive way according to its nature. This is quite a straight-forward parallel to the action of God on his creatures. He directs angels, men, animals, brute matter, in sum all created things, but each according to its nature, and man having been created free, he is freely led. This rule is truly the eternal law and in it we must believe.
THE SENATOR: I agree with you with all my heart, yet it must be confessed that the agreement of the divine will with our free will and the acts that flow from it is one of those questions in which human reason, even when it is quite firm in its convictions, has not nevertheless the power to rid itself of a certain doubt that derives from fear and assails it in spite of itself. This is an abyss into which it is better not to look.
COUNT: My good friend, it is not entirely possible for us not to look into it; it is there before us, and, not to see it, we should have to be blind, which would be much worse than being afraid. Let us rather repeat that there is no philosophy without the art of ignoring objections, otherwise mathematics itself would be shaken. I must admit that, when one thinks of certain intellectual mysteries, one's head whirls a little. Yet it is possible to recover completely, and nature itself if wisely consulted leads us toward the truth. No doubt you have thought a thousand times about the relationship between movements. For example, if you run from east to west while the earth turns from west to east, what do you want to achieve? Let me suppose you want to travel a verst on foot from east to west in eight minutes: you have done it; you have achieved your end; you are weary and covered in sweat; you feel, in a word, all the symptoms of fatigue: but what did this superior power, this prime moving force, which is carrying you along with it, aim at? It wanted you to be carried back in space with an incredible speed, rather than moving forward from east to west; and this is what happened. It, like you, has thus achieved what it wanted. If you play at shuttlecock on a ship in sail, is there not in the movement which carries both you and the shuttlecock along something that interferes with your action? Suppose you hit the shuttlecock from the bows to the stern with a speed equal to that of the boat (which can be rigorously true): the two players are certainly doing everything that they wanted, but the prime moving force has also done what it wanted. One of the two believed he hit the shuttlecock, but only stopped it: the other player went to the shuttlecock rather than, as he thought, waiting for it and getting it on his racket.
Would you say perhaps that, since you have not done all you believed, you have not done all you wanted? In this case, you would be ignoring the fact that the same objection can apply to the superior moving force, about which it could be said that while it wished to carry the shuttlecock along, yet the shuttlecock remained where it was. Thus the argument could be used equally against God. Since the argument that divine power can be limited by human power has precisely the same force as the converse proposition, it follows that it is not applicable in either case and that the two powers act together without harming each other.
Many lessons can be learned from the relationship between moving forces which, whatever their number and direction, can act on the same body simultaneously and which all have their effect, so that the moving body at the end of a single movement produced by them will be at precisely the same point at which it would have stopped if they had all acted one after another. The only difference between the two dynamics is that in the case of bodies, the force moving them never belongs to them, while in the case of minds, the wills, which are in substance motions, themselves join, intersect, or collide, since they are nothing but motions. It can even come about that a created will cancels out, not perhaps the exertion, but the result of divine action; for in this sense, God himself has told us that God WISHES things which do not happen because man DOES NOT WISH THEM!* Thus the rights of men are immense, and his greatest misfortune is to be unaware of them; but his real spiritual action is prayer by means of which, by putting himself in harmony with God, he so to speak exercises an omnipotent power by determining it.
[* O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often would I have gathered thy children together... and ye would not! (Luke, 13:34).]Do you want to know what this power is and what its extent? Think what the human will can achieve in the sphere of evil; it can contradict God, as you have just seen: what then can this same will do when it acts in harmony with him? What are the limits of this power? Its nature is not to have any. The efficacy of the human will is dimly visible to us in social matters, and we often say that man can do what he will; but in the spiritual sphere, where effects are not so perceptible, ignorance on this point is only too general, and even in the material sphere we do not by far reflect sufficiently. For example, you can easily knock over this rosebush but you cannot overthrow an oak; why is this, I pray? The earth is full of foolish men who will hasten to reply, Because your muscles are not strong enough, thus mistaking completely the limit for the means of power.
Human power is limited by the nature of man's physical organs, and this is necessary in order that he can disturb the established order only up to a certain point; for you can imagine what would happen in this world if a man could unaided pull down a building or root up a forest. It is perfectly true that that same wisdom which made man perfectible has given him dynamics, that is to say, artificial means of augmenting his natural powers, but this gift is still accompanied by a striking sign of infinite foresight: for, wishing that every possible advance should be proportionate, not to the limitless desires of man, which are immense and almost always ill directed, but only to his wise desires, based on his needs, this wisdom has determined that each of his powers is attended by a check which is born and grows with it, so that the power must necessarily destroy itself by the very effort it makes to expand.
For instance, the power of a lever cannot be increased without a proportional increase in the difficulties of working it, which must eventually render it useless; it can be said, moreover, that in general and in the very operations which are, properly speaking, far from mechanical, man cannot increase his natural powers without using proportionately more time, space, and material, which in the first place inconveniences him in a cumulative way and then prevents him from acting secretly, and this should be carefully observed. So, for instance, every man can blow up a house by means of dynamite, but the indispensable preparations are such that the public authorities will always have the time to ask him what he is doing. Optical instruments give another striking illustration of the same law, since it is impossible to perfect one of the qualities whose combination constitutes the perfection of these instruments without weakening another. Something similar could be said about firearms. In a word, there is no possible exception to a law the suspension of which would destroy human society. Thus, on all sides, in the natural as in the artificial order, limits are set. You will not bend the bush I was talking about before if you push it with a reed; but this would be because the reed, and not you, lacked the power; and this overweak instrument is to the rosebush what men's arms are to the oak. By its nature, the will would move mountains, but the muscles, nerves, and bones given to it as its means of acting in the material world give way to the oak as the reed gives way to the rosebush.
Imagine the suspension of the law that lays down that the human will can act materially in an immediate manner only on the body which it animates (a purely accidental law relative to our state of ignorance and corruption), and this will will be able to pull up a tree as easily as it lifts an arm. However one looks at the human will, one finds that its powers are extremely wide. But since prayer is the dynamic granted to men in the spiritual order, of which the material world is only an image and a kind of reflection, let us take great care not to deprive ourselves of it, for this would be like wanting to substitute our unaided strength for a winch or a fire engine.
The philosophy of the last century, which will appear to posterity as one of the most shameful phases of the human mind, ignored nothing in seeking to turn us away from prayer by considering eternal and inevitable laws. Its favorite, I almost said its only, object was to separate man from God: and what better means of success had it than by weakening prayer? In actual fact, this whole philosophy was nothing but a real system of practical atheism; I have given a name to this strange disease, calling it theophobia, which you can see in all the philosophic works of the eighteenth century, if you look closely. No one said openly, There is no God, an assertion that could have led to some physical inconvenience, but they said: "God is not there. He is not to be found in your ideas, which originate in the senses; he is not to be found in your thoughts, which are only converted sensations; he is not to be found in the scourges which afflict you, for these are physical phenomena like others that are explained by known laws. He does not think of you and has done nothing for you as an individual; the world is made for the insect as for you; he does not revenge himself on you for you are too insignificant and so on." In short, the name of God could not be mentioned to this philosophy without throwing it into consternation. Even those writers of the period who stood out above the crowd and were distinguished by excellent if partial views freely denied the creation. How could divine punishments be mentioned to these men without sending them into a rage? No physical event can have a cause superior to man: this was their dogma. Perhaps sometimes this philosophy does not dare to state this dogma in general, but when it is a question of detail, they constantly assert it, which comes to the same thing.
I can quote to you a remarkable example of this, which is in some ways amusing although in others it is saddening. Nothing shocked these writers so much as the Flood, the greatest and most terrible judgment God has ever imposed on man, yet nothing is better established by every kind of proof capable of establishing an important fact. What then were they to do? They started by obstinately refusing to us all the water necessary to the Flood, and I recall that in my salad days my young faith was unsettled by their reasoning; but, as the fantasy has since occurred to them that the world was created by precipitation and as water is absolutely necessary to them in this remarkable operation, the lack of water no longer troubles them, and they have gone as far as us by granting freely that there was an envelope eight miles high around the whole surface of the globe - which is very honest. Some have even thought of calling Moses to their aid and of forcing him by the strangest distortions to testify in favor of their cosmogenetic dreams. Of course, it is well understood by them that divine intervention does not enter at all into this venture, which has nothing extraordinary in it. Thus they have admitted the total submersion of the globe at the very time fixed by this great man, which seems to them sufficient seriously to declare themselves defenders of Revelation, but of God, of crime, and of punishment, not a word. We have even been given a gentle hint that there were no men on the earth at the time of the great flood, which is, as you can see, very Mosaic. The word flood, having something too theological about it to please them, it has been suppressed in favor of catastrophe: so they accept the flood, which they need for their futile theories, but they remove God, who tires them. Here, it seems to me, is a very clear symptom of theophobia.
I honor with all my heart the numerous exceptions which console the observer and, among the very writers who have been able to sadden the true faith, I gladly make the necessary distinctions; but the general character of this philosophy is nonetheless as I have described it, and it is this philosophy which, by working ceaselessly to separate man from God, has produced in the end the despicable generation which has done or allowed what we see before our eyes....
Can I think, Knight, that you are now perfectly happy about eternal and inevitable laws? Nothing is necessary except God, and nothing is less necessary than pain. All pain is a punishment, and every punishment (except the last) is inflicted for love as much as for justice.
THE KNIGHT: I am happy that my petty quibbles have brought us reflections from which I will profit, but, I pray, what did you mean by the words, Except the last?
THE COUNT: Look around you and you will see the acts of human justice. What does it do when it condemns a man to a punishment less than the capital? It does two things in regard to the condemned; it chastises him, which is the work of justice, but it also wants to correct him, which is the work of love. If justice could not hope that punishment will make the condemned man examine his conscience, it would almost always punish by death; but when justice is finally persuaded, either by the repetition or the extent of the crimes, that a criminal is incorrigible, love withdraws and justice pronounces an eternal punishment, because every death is eternal, for a dead man cannot cease to be dead. Without doubt, both human and divine justice punish but to correct, and every punishment, except the last, is a remedy: but the last is death....
We can then contemplate divine justice in our own, as in a mirror, dull in comparison with reality yet faithful, which can reflect no images other than those it has received. We see there that the only end of punishment is to root out evil, so that the greater and more deeply rooted is the evil, the longer and more painful is the operation. But if a man has surrendered completely to evil, how can it be cut away from him? And what room does he leave for love? All true teaching, so mingling fear with consolatory ideas, warns the free being not to advance to the limit beyond which there is no limit....
SIXTH DIALOGUETHE COUNT: If ever you are called on to make a strict examination of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, I recommend the chapter on liberty to you. La Harpe, forgetting what he had more than once said, that he understood only literature, went into ecstasies over Locke's definition of liberty. Here, he said majestically, here is philosophy. He would have done better to say, Here is incapacity demonstrated, for Locke makes liberty consist in the power to act, whereas this purely negative word signifies only absence of obstacles, so that liberty is and can be only the unimpeded will, that is to say, the will. Condillac, embellishing the mediocrity of his master, said in his turn that liberty is only the power of doing what one has not done or of not doing what one has done. This pretty antithesis can no doubt dazzle a mind unaccustomed to this kind of discussion, but it is obvious to every educated or experienced man that Condillac here takes the result or external sign of liberty, which is physical action, for liberty itself, which is entirely moral.
Liberty is the power to do. How is this? Has not the man who is in prison and laden with chains the power to make himself guilty of all crimes without acting? He has only to will them.... If then liberty is not the power to do, it can be only the power to will, but the power to will is the will itself, and to ask if the will can will is like asking if perception has the power to perceive, if reason has the power of reasoning, if a circle is a circle, a triangle a triangle, in a word if a thing in itself is a thing in itself. Now, if you consider that even God is unable to coerce the will, since a coerced will is a contradiction in terms, you will see that the will can be moved and led only by sympathy - an admirable word that all the philosophers together could not have invented. However, sympathy can have no effect on the will other than increasing its vigor by making it will still further, so that sympathy could no more detract from liberty or the will than teaching of any kind could harm the understanding. The curse that weighs on unfortunate human nature is the double sympathy.
Vim sentit geminam paretque incerta duobus?[Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 472.] The philosopher who reflects on this terrible enigma will render justice to the Stoics, who at one time predicted a fundamental Christian dogma by declaring that only the wise man is free. Today this is no longer a paradox but an incontestable truth of the first order. Where the spirit of God exists, there is to be found liberty. Whoever has not grasped these truths will forever move around the principle, like Bernouilli's curve, without even reaching it. Now, would you like to see how far Locke was from the truth on this as on so many other subjects? I pray you, listen to his splendid nonsense. He claimed that liberty, which is one faculty, has nothing in common with the will, which is another faculty, and that it is no less absurd to ask if the human will is free than it would be to ask if a man's sleep is rapid or his virtue squared. What do you say to that?
THE SENATOR: This indeed is going a bit too far! But would your memory be good enough to recall the demonstration of this splendid theory, for doubtless it had one?
THE COUNT: It is of a kind that could never be forgotten. Listen and you will judge for yourself.
You are going across a bridge; it collapses; at the moment you feel it giving way under your feet, the exertion of your will, if it were free would no doubt carry you to the opposite bank; but its effort is useless: the sacred laws of gravitation must be carried out in the world, and you must therefore fall and perish: THEREFORE liberty has nothing in common with the will.[Essay, Book II, Chap. xxi, Para. 9.] I hope you are convinced....
Locke is perhaps the only author known who has taken the trouble to refute his whole book or to declare it useless, from the beginning, by telling us that all our ideas come from the senses or from reflection. But who has ever denied that certain ideas come to us from the senses? What is it Locke wants to teach us? The number of simple perceptions being nothing compared to the innumerable combinations of thought, it remains clear, from the first chapter of the second book, that the immense majority of our ideas do not come from the senses. But where then do they come from? The question is embarrassing and, in consequence, his disciples, fearing the results, no longer talk of reflection, which is very prudent from their point of view.[Condillac, Art de penser, Chap. 1; Logique, Chap. vii.]
Since Locke started his book without reflection or any deep thought on his subject, it is not surprising that he constantly went off the tracks. He had first of all put forward the argument that all our ideas come to us from the senses or from reflection. Then, spurred on by his bishop pressing him hard and perhaps also by his conscience, he reached the point of agreeing that general ideas (which alone make up the intelligent being) came neither from the senses nor from reflection but were inventions and CREATURES of the human mind.[Essay, Book II, Chap. xxii, Para. 3. ] For, according to the doctrine of this great philosopher, man makes general ideas with simple ideas, just as he makes a boat with planks, so that the most abstract general ideas are only collections or, as Locke, seeking as always for the coarsest expression, says, companies of simple ideas....[Ibid., Book II, Chap. xxx, Para. 2.]
Here I beg you to admire the illuminating course of Locke's argument: he establishes first that all our ideas come to us from the senses or from reflection and takes this opportunity to tell us that he understands by reflection the knowledge that the mind gains of its different operations.[Ibid., Book II, Chap. i, Para. 4.] Then, torturing the truth, he confesses that general ideas come neither from the senses nor from reflection but are created or, in his ridiculous phrase, invented by the human mind. Now, as reflection has just been expressly excluded by Locke, it follows that the human mind invents general ideas without reflection, that is to say, without any knowledge or examination of its own operations. But every idea that does not originate in either the interaction of the mind with external objects, or the consideration of itself by the mind, necessarily appertains to the substance of the mind. There are therefore innate ideas or ideas anterior to all experience; this, it seems to me, inevitably follows, but it is not a surprising conclusion.
All the writers who have set themselves against innate ideas have found themselves led by the force of truth alone to make admissions more or less favorable to this theory. I do not except even Condillac, although he was perhaps the eighteenth century philosopher the most on guard against his conscience. But I have no desire to compare these two men of very different character, the one foolish, the other brazen. Yet what reproaches cannot rightly be leveled against Locke and how can he be exonerated from having unsettled morality in order to overthrow the theory of innate ideas without knowing what he was attacking? At the bottom of his heart he himself felt that he was rendering himself guilty; but, he said, excusing himself by deceiving himself, the truth must come first,[Ibid., Book I, Chap. iii, Para. 24.] which is to say that the truth must come before the truth.
Perhaps the most dangerous and the most culpable of these fatal writers who will not cease to damn the last century in the eyes of posterity, the one who has used the most talent with the most composure to produce the most evil, Hume, has also told us in one of his terrible Essays, that the truth comes before everything else, that it is a somewhat ingenuous critic who reproaches certain philosophers for the harm that their opinions can do to morality and religion, and that such injustice can only hamper the discovery of truth. But no man, at least if he does not wish to fool himself, will be misled by this dangerous sophistry. No error can be useful, just as no truth can be harmful. What is misleading on this point is, in the first place, that the error is confused with some element of truth mingled in it, an element which is, according to its nature, beneficial in spite of its association with error; and, in the second place, that the announcement of truth is confused with the acceptance of truth. Doubtless it can be imprudent to expose the truth, but it is injurious only if it is rejected, whereas error, knowledge of which can be useful only like knowledge of poisons, begins to destroy the moment it has succeeded in ingratiating itself under the mask of its divine enemy. It is thus harmful because people accept it, whereas truth can be harmful only because people combat it: therefore everything that is harmful in itself is false, just as everything that is useful in itself is true. Nothing is clearer to the wise....
In vain does Locke, as ever troubled in his mind, seek to deceive in another way by the explicit statement he makes, "That in denying an innate law, he does not at all mean to deny a natural law, that is to say, a law prior to all positive law."[Essay, Book II, Chap. ii, Para. 13.] This is, as you can see, a new conflict between conscience and obligation. In fact, what is this natural law? And if it is neither positive nor innate, what is its base? Has he given us a single argument valid against innate law that is not equally valid against natural law? The latter, he tells us, can be known by the light of reason alone, without the help of positive revelation.[Ibid.] But what then is this light of reason? Does it come from men? Then it is positive. Does it come from God? Then it is innate.
If Locke had had more insight or diligence or good faith, instead of saying, A certain idea is not present in the mind of such and such a people, therefore it is not innate, he would on the contrary have said, Thus it is innate for every man who possesses it, for this shows that, if the idea did not preexist, the senses would never have given birth to it, since the nation which lacks it has five senses just as much as any other; and he would have inquired into how and why such an idea could have been destroyed or distorted in such a human group. But such a fruitful notion was very remote from a man who again went so far as to hold that a single atheist in the world was for him a sufficient justification for denying that the idea of God is innate in man,[Ibid., Book I, Chap. iii, Para. 8.] or, to put this another way, that a single deformed child, born, for example, without eyes, would prove that sight is not natural to man. But nothing would stop Locke. Has he not told us that the voice of conscience is no proof of innate principles, as the claims of conscience can differ from person to person?[Ibid., Book I, Chap. ii, Para. 8.]
It is very strange that it has never been possible to show to either this grand patriarch or his sorry followers the difference between ignorance of a law and admitted mistakes in applying this law. An Indian woman sacrifices her newborn infant to the goddess Gonza and they say, Thus there is no innate morality; but it should still be said, Thus it is innate, since the idea of duty is sufficiently strong in this unfortunate mother to make her prepared to sacrifice to her duty the most tender and powerful feeling of the human heart. Abraham formerly showed his worth by determining on this same sacrifice which he rightly believed to be divinely ordained; he echoed the Indian woman, God has spoken, and I must close my eyes and obey. The one, bowing before divine authority which wished only to test him, obeyed a sacred and direct command; the other, blinded by a deplorable superstition, obeys an imaginary command; but, on both sides, the fundamental idea is the same, the idea of duty carried to its highest degree. I ought to do it - this is the innate idea whose nature is independent of every error of application. Do, by any chance, the errors men commit every day in their calculations prove that they have no idea of number? Now, if this idea was not innate, they could never have acquired it; they would never even have been able to be mistaken, since to be mistaken is to deviate from some anterior and known rule. The same is true of other ideas, and, I would add, what seems to me to be clear in itself, that, if this assumption is not accepted, it becomes impossible to conceive of man, that is to say, the unity of mankind or the human species, or consequently any coherence relative to a given class of rational beings.
It must also be admitted that Locke's critics are on a false track when they distinguish between ideas and take innate ideas to be only first-order moral beliefs, which seems to make the solution of the problem depend upon the rightness of these beliefs. I do not want to imply that they do not deserve particular attention, and I can come back to this subject; but for the philosopher who looks at this question in its most general terms, there is no distinction to be made here, because there is no idea that is not innate or foreign to the senses by virtue of the universality from which it takes its shape and of the intellectual act of thinking it.
Every rational belief is founded on antecedent knowledge, for man can learn nothing except because he knows. Since syllogism and induction always start from already known principles, it must be admitted that before reaching a particular truth we must already know it in part. Take, for example, a particular triangle; of course you were ignorant of it before seeing it, yet you already knew, if not this triangle, the triangle or triangularity, and this is how from different standpoints one can know and be ignorant of the same thing. If one rejects this theory, inevitably one falls into the insoluble dilemma of Plato's Meno, and is forced to agree either that men cannot learn anything or that everything they learn is only recollection. If one refuses to accept these innate ideas, no proof is any longer possible, for there are no longer any first principles from which it can be derived. Indeed, the essence of first principles is that they are anterior, evident, primary, undemonstrable, and causal in relation to the conclusion; otherwise they would themselves need to be proved, would in other words cease to be first principles, and it would be necessary to admit what the school calls infinite regression, which is impossible. Moreover, notice that these first principles on which proofs are founded must be not only known, but better known than the truths uncovered by their means, for whatever or whoever imparts something must have a greater grasp of it than the subject who receives it. For example, just as the man we love for love of another is always less loved than the latter, in the same way every acquired truth is less clear to us than the first principle which has made it visible to us. The light being by nature brighter than the lit, one must believe not only in science but also in the scientific principle, whose character is to be at once both necessary and necessarily believed. For proof has nothing in common with arbitrary and external assertion which denies whatever it wishes, but derives from that profounder voice that speaks in the heart of man and has no power to contradict truth. All the sciences communicate with one another by means of these common first principles; and I beg you to understand clearly that I mean by this word common not what these different sciences prove but that which they use in order to reach proofs - in other words, the idea of the universal, which is the root of every proof, which exists before any sensory perception or process, and which is so little the result of experience that without it each experience would always be unrelated and could be repeated to eternity without the gap being bridged between it and the universal. This puppy playing before you now played in the same way yesterday and the day before. Thus it has played and played and played, but from its point of view it has not played three times, as is apparent to you; for if you exclude the fundamental and consequently preexisting idea of number by which one experience can be related to another, one and one are nothing but this and that, never two.
You can see, gentlemen, how pitiful Locke is with his "experience," since the truth is nothing but an equation between human thought and the object known, so that if the former is not natural, preexistent, and immutable, the latter necessarily fluctuates and there is no truth.
Every idea therefore is innate in relation to the universal from which it derives its form, and is moreover totally foreign to the senses by reason of the intellectual act of affirmation; for, since thought or (what is the same thing) speech belongs only to the mind, or better since they are the mind, no distinction should be made in this respect between different classes of ideas. Once man says, THIS IS, he is necessarily talking by virtue of an internal and anterior knowledge, for the senses have nothing in common with truth, which the understanding alone can attain. Since what does not pertain to the senses is foreign to the material world, it follows that there is in man a nonmaterial principle in which knowledge resides; and since the sense can receive and transmit to the mind only impressions, not only is its function, which is essentially to judge, not helped by these impressions, but rather it is hindered and confused by them. We should therefore accept, as do the greatest men, that we have concepts naturally which have not come to us through the senses, the contrary opinion offending good sense as much as religion....
The day will come, and perhaps it is not far off, when Locke will be universally placed among those writers who have perpetrated the most evil among men. Yet, despite all the charges I have brought against him, I have touched on only a part of his misdeeds, and perhaps the least part. Having laid the foundations of a philosophy as false as it is dangerous, his deadly mind turned toward politics with a no less deplorable effect. He spoke about the origin of laws as badly as about the origin of ideas, and on this point he again stated principles whose effects are now apparent. These fateful seeds would perhaps have withered in the coldness of his style, but nurtured in the hothouses of Paris, they have produced the revolutionary monster which has devastated Europe....
SEVENTH DIALOGUETHE KNIGHT: Today, Senator, I hope you will make good your promise to say something to us about war.
THE SENATOR: I am quite ready to do so, for this is a subject on which I have thought a great deal. Ever since I began to think, war has been in my mind; this terrible subject has engrossed my thoughts, yet I have never fully plumbed its depths.
The first charge I shall level against it will no doubt astonish you, but it is for me an incontestable truth: "Given man with his reason, sentiments, and affections, there is no way of explaining how war is humanly possible." That is my seriously considered opinion. Somewhere La Bruyere describes this huge human absurdity with all the power you know he commands. It was many years ago that I read this fragment, yet I can recall it perfectly. He insists strongly on the folly of war; yet the more foolish, the less explicable it is.
THE KNIGHT: Yet it seems to me that one could say at the outset that rulers order you and you must obey.
THE SENATOR: This is not at all the case, my dear Knight, I assure you.... Rulers can exact effective and durable obedience only when supported by opinion, which they cannot themselves determine. In every country there are much less repellent things than war that a sovereign would never dare to command.... Peter the First needed all the strength of his invincible personality to get beards shaved off and to alter the style of clothing: to lead countless legions on to the battlefield, even at the time when he was vanquished to learn how to vanquish, he needed, like every other ruler, only to say the word. Yet there is in man, in spite of his profound degradation, an element of love that draws him to other men: compassion is as natural to him as breathing. By what strange magic is he ever ready, at the first beat of the drum, to cast off his divine character in order to set out without resistance, often even with a certain gladness which has also its peculiar character, to hack to pieces on the battlefield a brother who has never offended him and who on his side comes to inflict the selfsame wounds if he can? I could still understand a truly national war, but how many such wars have there been? Perhaps one in a thousand years. As far as the others are concerned, especially those between civilized nations who can consider their actions and know what they are doing, I confess I am puzzled. It could be said, Glory explains everything, but, first, only the leaders gain the glory, and , second, this only pushes back the difficulty a stage, for I then ask precisely why this extraordinary prestige surrounds war.
I have often imagined a scene in which I want you to participate. I suppose that for some good reason a stranger to our planet comes here and talks to one of us about the condition of this world. Among the strange things that are recounted to him, he is told that corruption and vices, of which he has been fully informed, in certain circumstances necessitate men dying by the hand of men, and that we restrict the right of killing within the law to the executioner and the soldier. He will also be told: "The one brings death to convicted and condemned criminals, and fortunately his executions are so rare that one of these ministers of death is sufficient for each province. As far as soldiers are concerned, there are never enough of them, because they kill without restraint and their victims are always honest men. Of these two professional killers, the soldier and the executioner, one is highly honored and always has been by all the nations who have inhabited up to now this planet to which you have come; but the other has just as generally been regarded as vile. Try to guess on which the obloquy falls."
Surely this spirit from afar would not hesitate a moment; he would heap on the executioner all the praise which you did not feel able the other day to refuse him, Count, in spite of all our prejudices, when you talked of this gentleman, to use Voltaire's phrase. "He is a sublime being," he would say to us, "the cornerstone of society. Since crime is part of this world's order and since it can be checked only by punishment, once deprive the world of the executioner and all order will disappear with him. Moreover, what grandeur of soul, what noble disinterestedness must necessarily be assumed to exist in a man who devotes himself to services which are no doubt worthy of respect but which are so distressing and so contrary to human nature! For, since I have lived among you, I have noticed that it hurts you to kill a chicken in cold blood. I am therefore convinced that opinion must cover him with all the honor necessary' and so rightly owing to him. As for the soldier, he is on the whole an agent of cruelty and injustice. How many obviously just wars have there been? How many obviously unjust! How many individual injustices, horrors, and useless atrocities! I imagine therefore that opinion among you has very properly poured as much shame on the head of the soldier as it has thrown glory over the impartial executor of the judgments of sovereign justice."
You know the truth, gentlemen, and the extent of the spirit's mistake. In fact, the soldier and the executioner stand at the two extremes of the social scale, but in quite the opposite extremes put forward by this splendid theory. Nothing is so noble as the first, nothing so abject as the second.... The soldier is so noble that he ennobles what public opinion regards as most ignoble, since he can act as an executioner without debasing himself, provided however that he kills only his fellow soldiers and that he uses only his weapons to kill them.
THE KNIGHT: Ah, but that is important, my dear friend! Wherever, and for whatever reason you like, a soldier is ordered to execute civilian criminals, in a twinkling of an eye and without apparent reason all the glory surrounding him fades. No doubt he will still be feared, for any man who carries a good and accurate rifle in the course of his day's work merits considerable attention: but the indefinable spell of honor has been irretrievably broken. The officer is no longer anything as an officer. If he has birth or virtues, he can still be well thought of, in spite rather than because of his military rank; he ennobles his commission rather than being ennobled by it, and, if his rank provides a large income, he can be wealthy but never noble. But you said, Senator, "Provided, however, that the soldier does not kill anyone except his fellows and that he has only the weapons of his profession to kill them." It should be added, and provided that it is a question of a military crime: once it is a question of a low crime, it is a matter for the executioner.
THE COUNT: In fact, this is the custom. Since the ordinary courts have jurisdiction over civil crimes, soldiers guilty of such offenses are sent to them. However, if it pleased the sovereign to order otherwise, I am very far from thinking it certain that the character of the soldier would be harmed by it. But we are all three agreed on the other two conditions, and do not doubt that this character would be stained indelibly if the soldier were forced to shoot an ordinary citizen or to kill his comrade by burning or hanging....
THE SENATOR: Although the military is in itself dangerous to the well-being and the liberties of every nation, because the motto of this profession will always be more or less that of Achilles, Jura, nego mihi nata, nevertheless those nations most jealous of their liberties have never disagreed with the rest of mankind on the preeminence of the military profession. Antiquity thought as we do on this subject; it is one of those on which men have always been and will always be in agreement. Here then is the problem I want to pose to you, Explain why the right innocently to spill innocent blood is regarded as most honorable by the whole of humanity. If you look at it more closely, you will see that there is something mysterious and inexplicable about the extraordinary value men have always placed on military glory, more especially as, if we consulted only theory and human reason, we should be led to directly opposite ideas. It is then not a question of explaining the possibility of war by the glory surrounding it, but first of all of explaining this glory itself, which is not easy.
I should like to tell you of another idea on the same subject. We have been told thousands of times that, since nations are in a state of nature in regard to one another, they can settle their differences only by war. But, as I am in a mood for questions today, I will put another one, Why has every nation remained in a state of nature toward the others without making a single attempt to break out of it? According to the foolish doctrines on which we were succored in our youth, there was a time when men did not live in society, and this imaginary state was ridiculously called the state of nature. They add that men, having judiciously balanced the advantages of these two states, decided on that which we know -
THE COUNT: Allow me to interrupt you for a moment to tell you of a thought that comes to my mind against this doctrine you have so rightly called foolish. The savage holds so strongly to his most brutal habits that nothing can tear him away from them. You have no doubt seen, at the head of the Discourse on the Inequality of Conditions, the engraving based on an anecdote, true or false, of the Hottentot who returns to his fellows. Rousseau little suspected that this frontispiece was a powerful argument against the book. The savage sees our arts, laws, sciences, wealth, taste, pleasures of every kind, and above all our superiority, from which he cannot hide yet which could arouse some ambition in those capable of it; but all this does not even tempt him, and continually he returns to his fellows. If then the savage of our own time, being aware of the two states and being able to compare them every day in certain countries, remains resolutely in his own, how can it be supposed that the primitive savage emerged from his state by means of deliberation and moved into another state of which he had no knowledge? Hence society is as old as man, and the savage is and can be nothing but a degraded and punished man. In truth, it seems to me that nothing is clearer to common sense unclouded by sophistry.
THE SENATOR: You are preaching to the converted, as the saying goes, but I thank you for your argument; one can never have too many weapons against error. But to return to what I was saying just now: If man passed from the state of nature, in the common usage of the term, into a civilized state either by deliberation or by chance (I am still speaking the language of the madmen), why have nations not had as much foresight or good fortune as individuals; and how is it that they have never agreed on an international society to end quarrels between nations, as they have agreed on a national sovereignty to end those between individuals? It is easy to ridicule the impracticable peace of the Abbe de Saint-Pierre (for I agree that it is impracticable), but I would ask why this is so, why nations have not been able to raise themselves to a social state like individuals; above all, how it is that an enlightened Europe has never attempted anything of this kind.
I would put a particular question to the faithful with still more confidence. How is it that God, the author of the society of individuals, allowed it to happen that man, his cherished creation with the divine attribute of perfectibility, has never even attempted to create a society of nations? Every possible argument to show that such a society is impossible militates in the same way against the society of individuals. The argument drawn primarily from the claim that such an extensive territory would be too comprehensive to be practical has no force, for it is not true that it would have to cover the whole world. Nations are already distinguished and divided by rivers, seas, mountains, creeds, and above all by more or less distinct languages. In practice it would be a great step in itself toward the good of humanity if only a certain number of nations agreed to move into a state of civilization. It might be said that the other nations will attack them. Well, what of it? They would still be more peaceful amongst themselves and stronger in regard to outsiders, which is enough. There is no need for absolute perfection; an approach to it would be a lot, and I cannot persuade myself that nothing of this kind would ever have been tried if it were not for a terrible and mysterious law demanding human blood.
THE COUNT: You look on it as an undeniable fact that this civilization of nations has never been attempted, yet in truth it has often and even stubbornly been tried - true, without it being known what was being attempted (which indeed was a factor working for its success), and in fact has come very close to succeeding, at least so far as the imperfection of our nature allows. But men made mistakes, mistaking one thing for another, and everything failed, apparently because of that mysterious and terrible law of which you spoke.
THE SENATOR: I would put several questions to you if I was not afraid of losing the thread of my ideas. I ask you then to look at a fact well worthy of your attention. It is that the profession of arms does not in the least tend to degrade or to make wild and hard at least those who follow it, as we might believe or fear if experience did no teach us: on the contrary, it tends to improve them. The most honest man is commonly the honest soldier, and, as I said not long ago, I have always for my own part had a particular respect for military good sense. I infinitely prefer it to the long circumlocutions of men of affairs. In ordinary human relationships, soldiers are often more pleasant, more relaxed and, it seems to me, often even more civil than other men. Amid political upheavals, they generally act as intrepid defenders of ancient beliefs, and the most dazzling sophistries are almost always wrecked on their uprightness. They willingly turn their attention to useful works and knowledge, political economy, for example. Perhaps the only work antiquity has left us on this subject is by a soldier, Xenophon, and the first recorded French work on the same subject is also by a soldier, Marshal de Vauban. In them religion combines with honor in a remarkable way; and even when religion reproaches them gravely for their conduct they will not refuse it their sword if it needs it. Much is said about the licence of camps; no doubt it is great, but usually the soldier does not find these vices in his camps; he carries them there. A moral and austere people always make excellent soldiers, frightening only on the battlefield. Virtue, even piety, easily allies itself with military courage, and, far from enfeebling the warrior, it exalts him.... Not only does the profession of arms generally ally itself very well with morality, but what is quite extraordinary is that it does not at all weaken those gentle virtues which seem the most opposed to military attitudes. The gentlest of men love war, desire war, and go to war with passion. At the first call, this likable young man here, brought up with a horror of violence and blood, rushes from his father's house, his weapons in his hand, to seek on the battlefield what he calls the enemy without yet knowing what an enemy is. Yesterday he would have fainted if he had accidentally killed his sister's canary; tomorrow you will see him climb a pile of corpses in order to see further, as Charron put it. The blood flowing on all sides serves only to inspire him to spill his own and that of others. He gradually inflames himself until he reaches an enthusiasm for carnage.
THE KNIGHT: You do not exaggerate. Before I was twenty-five, I had seen the enthusiasm for carnage three times. I have experienced it myself and I especially remember a terrible moment when I would have put an entire army to the sword if I had been able.
THE SENATOR: But if, at this moment, someone asked you to catch a white dove as cold-bloodedly as a cook, then-
THE KNIGHT: For shame, you make me sick at heart!
THE SENATOR: This is precisely what I was just talking about. The terrifying sight of carnage does not harden the warrior. Amid the blood he spills, he is humane, just as the wife is chaste in the transports of love. Once he has put back the sword into its scabbard, saintly humanity regains its sway, and perhaps the highest and most generous feelings are found among soldiers....
In short, gentlemen, the functions of the soldier are terrible, but they must result from a great law of the spiritual world, and no one should be astonished that every nation in the world is united in seeing in this scourge something still more peculiarly divine than in others. You can well believe that there is a good and profound reason for the title LORD OF HOSTS being found on every page of the Holy Scriptures. Guilty, and unhappy because we are guilty, we ourselves make necessary all physical evils, but above all war. Usually and very naturally, men lay the blame on their rulers: Horace wrote playfully, "By the madness of kings nations are punished." But J. B. Rousseau said more seriously and philosophically:
"The wrath of kings brings the earth to arms,Notice, moreover, that this law of war, terrible in itself, is yet only a clause in the general law that hangs over the world.
In the immense sphere of living things, the obvious rule is violence, a kind of inevitable frenzy which arms all things in mutua funera. Once you leave the world of insensible substances, you find the decree of violent death written on the very frontiers of life. Even in the vegetable kingdom, this law can be perceived: from the huge catalpa to the smallest of grasses, how many plants die and how many are killed! But once you enter the animal kingdom, the law suddenly becomes frighteningly obvious. A power at once hidden and palpable appears constantly occupied in bringing to light the principle of life by violent means. In each great division of the animal world, it has chosen a certain number of animals charged with devouring the others; so there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fish of prey, and quadrupeds of prey. There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another.
Above all these numerous animal species is placed man, whose destructive hand spares no living thing; he kills to eat, he kills for clothing, he kills for adornment, he kills to attack, he kills to defend himself, he kills for instruction, he kills for amusement, he kills for killing's sake: a proud and terrible king, he needs everything, and nothing can withstand him. He knows how many barrels of oil he can get from the head of a shark or a whale; in his museums, he mounts with his sharp pins elegant butterflies he has caught in flight on the top of Mount Blanc or Chimborazo; he stuffs the crocodile and embalms the hummingbird; on his command, the rattlesnake dies in preserving fluids to keep it intact for a long line of observers. The horse carrying its master to the tiger hunt struts about covered by the skin of this same animal. At one and the same time, man takes from the lamb its entrails for harp strings, from the whale its bones to stiffen the corsets of the young girl, from the wolf its most murderous tooth to polish frivolous manufactures, from the elephant its tusks to make a child's toy: his dining table is covered with corpses. The philosopher can even discern how this permanent carnage is provided for and ordained in the whole scheme of things. But without doubt this law will not stop at man. Yet what being is to destroy him who destroys all else? Man! It is man himself who is charged with butchering man.
But how is he to accomplish this law who is a moral and merciful being, who is born to love, who cries for others as for himself, who finds pleasure in weeping to the extent of creating fictions to make himself weep, to whom finally it has been said that whoever sheds blood unjustly will redeem it with the last drop of his own?[Genesis 9:6.] It is war that accomplishes this decree. Do you not hear the earth itself demanding and crying out for blood? The blood of animals does not satisfy it, nor even that of criminals spilled by the sword of the law. If human justice struck them all, there would be no war; but it can catch up with only a small number of them, and often it even spares them without suspecting that this cruel humanity contributes to the necessity for war, especially if at the same time another no less stupid and dangerous blindness works to diminish atonement among men. The earth did not cry in vain: war breaks out. Man, seized suddenly by a divine fury foreign to both hatred and anger, goes to the battlefield without knowing what he intends or even what he is doing. How can this dreadful enigma be explained? Nothing could be more contrary to his nature, yet nothing is less repugnant to him: he undertakes with enthusiasm what he holds in horror. Have you never noticed that no one ever disobeys on the field of death? They might well slaughter a Nerva or a Henry IV, but they will never say, even to the most abominable tyrant or the most flagrant butcher of human flesh, We no longer want to follow you. A revolt on the battlefield, an agreement to unite to repudiate a tyrant is something I cannot remember. Nothing resists, nothing can resist the force that drags man into conflict; an innocent murderer, a passive instrument in a formidable hand, he plunges unseeing into the abyss he himself has dug; he dies without suspecting that it is he himself who has brought about his death.[Psalm 9:16.]
Thus is worked out, from maggots up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living beings. The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.[I Corinthians 15:26.]
But the curse must be aimed most directly and obviously at man: the avenging angel circles like the sun around this unhappy globe and lets one nation breathe only to strike at others. But when crimes, especially those of a particular kind, accumulate to a certain point, the angel relentlessly quickens his tireless flight. Like a rapidly turned torch, his immense speed allows him to be present at all points on his huge orbit at the same time. He strikes every nation on earth at the same moment. At other times, minister of an unerring and infallible vengeance, he turns against particular nations and bathes them in blood. Do not expect them to make any effort to escape or abridge their sentence. It is as if these sinful nations, enlightened by conscience, were asking for punishment and accepting it in order to find expiation in it. So long as they have blood left, they will come forward to offer it, and soon golden youth will grow used to telling of devastating wars caused by their fathers' crimes.
War is thus divine in itself, since it is a law of the world.
War is divine through its consequences of a supernatural nature which are as much general as particular, consequences little known because they are little sought but which are nonetheless indisputable. Who could doubt the benefits that death in war brings? And who could believe that the victims of this dreadful judgment have shed their blood in vain? But this is not the time to insist on this kind of question; our age is not yet ready to concern itself with it. Let us leave it to its physics and for our own part keep our eyes fixed firmly to that invisible world which will explain everything.
War is divine in the mysterious glory that surrounds it and in the no less inexplicable attraction that draws us to it.
War is divine in the protection granted to the great leaders, even the most daring, who are rarely struck down in battle, and only when their renown can no longer be increased and when their mission is completed.
War is divine by the manner in which it breaks out. I do not want to excuse anyone inopportunely, but how many of those who are regarded as the immediate authors of wars are themselves carried along by circumstances! At the exact moment brought about by men and prescribed by justice, God comes forward to exact vengeance for the iniquity committed by the inhabitants of this world against him....
War is divine in its results which cannot be predicted by human reason, for they can be quite different for two different nations, although the war seems to have affected both equally. There are wars that degrade nations, and degrade them for centuries; others exalt them, improve them in all kinds of ways and, what is more extraordinary, very quickly replace momentary losses by a rapid increase in population. History often shows us the sight of a population growing in wealth and numbers during the most murderous conflicts; but there are vicious wars, accursed wars, more easily recognized by conscience than by reason: nations are mortally wounded by them, both in their power and in their character; then you can see the victor himself degraded, impoverished, and miserable among his victory laurels, whereas you will find that in the vanquished land, in a very short time, there is not an unused workshop or plow.
War is divine through the indefinable power that determines success in it. Surely you were not thinking, my dear Knight, when you repeated the other day the well-known saying that God is always on the side of the big battalions. I will never believe that it was really by the great man to whom it is attributed;[Turenne] perhaps he put forth this maxim as a jest, or seriously in a limited and very true sense, God in his providential temporal government does not depart (except in the case of miracles) from the general laws he has laid time. Thus, as two men are stronger than one, so a hundred thousand must be more powerful and effective than fifty thousand. When we ask God for victory, it would be foolish to be asking depart from the general laws of the world, but these laws combine in a thousand different ways and can bring victory in a manner cannot be foreseen. Doubtless three men are stronger than one: the general proposition cannot be contested; but one clever man can from certain circumstances, and one Horatius will kill three Curatii. A body with the greater mass has the greater momentum: this is true if speeds are equal, but three parts of mass and two of speed are equivalent to three of speed and two of mass. In the same way an army of forty thousand men is physically inferior to another of sixty thousand, but, if the former has more courage, experience, and discipline it can beat the latter, for it is more effective with fewer numbers. This we can witness on every page of history. Wars, moreover, suppose a certain equality, otherwise there would be no wars. I have never read of the Republic of Ragusa declaring war on the sultans, nor that of Geneva on the kings of France. There is always a certain balance in the political world and (if certain rare, precise, and limited cases are excepted) man cannot upset it at will. This is why coalitions are so difficult. If they were not, since politics is little governed by justice, there would be continual combinations to destroy a particular power; but such projects seldom succeed, and history shows even the weakest power escaping from them with an astonishing ease. When an overdominant power frightens the world, men are angry that no means have been found of checking it, and bitter reproaches are leveled against the selfishness and immorality of the rulers who are preventing an alliance to ward off the common danger. This was the cry heard at the height of Louis XIV's power. But at bottom these complaints are not valid. A coalition between several powers, based on a pure and disinterested morality, would be a miracle. God, who is not obliged to do miracles and never does one needlessly, uses two very simple means to restore the balance: sometimes the giant kills itself; sometimes a much weaker power throws in its path some small obstacle, which yet then grows in some unaccountable way and becomes insurmountable, just as a small branch, stuck in the current of a river, can in the end cause a blockage which diverts its course.
Starting, then, from this hypothesis of a balance, ever present at least in a rough form either because the belligerent powers are equal or because the weakest have allies, how many unforeseen circumstances can disrupt the balance and bring frustration or success to the greatest plans in spite of every prudential calculation! . . . Moreover, if you take a more general look at the role played by moral power in war, you will agree that nowhere does the divine hand make itself felt more acutely to man. It might be said that this is a department, if you will allow me the phrase, whose direction Providence has reserved to itself and in which it has left to man the ability to act only in a well-nigh mechanical manner, since success here depends almost entirely on something he can least control. At no time other than in war is he warned more often and more sharply of his own feebleness and of the inexorable power ruling all things. It is opinion that loses and wins battles. The fearless Spartan used to sacrifice from fear (Rousseau somewhere expresses astonishment at this, I don't know why); Alexander also sacrificed from fear before the Battle of Arbeh. Certainly these people were quite right and, to correct this sensible devotion, it is enough to pray to God that he deigns not to send fear to us. Fear! Charles V made great fun of that epitaph he read in passing, Here lies one who never felt fear. And what man never has felt fear in his life? Who has never had occasion to realize, both in himself, in those around him and in history, the way in which men can be overcome by this passion, which often seems to have the more sway over us the fewer the reasonable causes for it. Let us then pray, Knight, for it is to you that I should like to address this discourse, since you have called up these reflections; let us pray to God that he keeps us and our friends from fear, which is within his power and which can ruin in an instant the most splendid military ventures.
And do not be frightened by this word fear, for if you take it in its strictest sense you can say that the experience it expresses is rare and that it is shameful to be afraid of it. There is a womanish fear reflected in panicky flight, and this it is proper, even necessary, to dismiss entirely, although it is not a completely unknown sight. But there is another very much more terrible fear that descends on the most masculine heart, freezes it, and persuades it that it is beaten. This is the appalling scourge constantly hanging over armies. I put this question one day to a soldier of the highest rank whom you both know. Tell me, General, what is a lost battle? I have never been able to understand this. After a moment's silence, he answered, I do not know. After another pause he added, It is a battle one thinks one has lost. Nothing could be truer. One man fighting with another is beaten when he is killed or overthrown while the other is standing. It is not so with two armies; the one cannot be killed while the other remains on its feet. The balance of strength swings one way, then the other, as does the number of deaths, and, especially since the invention of gunpowder gave more equality in the means of destruction, a battle is no longer lost materially, that is to say, because there are more dead on one side than on the other. It was Frederick II, no mean thinker on this question, who said, To win is to advance. But who is the person who advances? It is he whose conscience and bearing make the other fall back. Do you recall, Count, that young soldier of your own acquaintance who one day portrayed to you in one of his letters that solemn moment when, without knowing why, an army feels itself carried forward, as if it was sliding down an inclined plane. I remember that you were struck by this phrase which indeed describes exactly the crucial moment; but this moment is far from a matter of reflection. Notice particularly that it is by no means a question of numbers. Has the soldier who slides forward counted the dead? Opinion is so powerful in war that it can alter the nature of the same event and give it two different names, for no reason other than its own whim. A general throws his men between two enemy armies and he writes to his king, I have split him, he has lost. His opponent writes to his king, He has put himself between two fires, he is lost. Which of the two is mistaken? Whoever is seized by the cold goddess. Assuming that all things, especially size, are at least approximately equal, the only difference between the two positions is a purely moral one. It is imagination that loses battles.
It is not even by any means always on the day they are fought that it is known whether they have been lost or won; it is on the next day, even two or three days afterward. Men talk a great deal about battles in ignorance of what they are. There is an especial tendency to consider them as happening on a particular spot, whereas they stretch over five or six miles. One is asked seriously, How is it that you do not know what happened in this battle when you were there? Whereas precisely the opposite could very often be Said. Does the man on the right flank know what is happening on the left? Does he even know what is happening two paces from him?
I can very well imagine one of these frightful scenes. On a vast field covered with all the apparatus of carnage and seeming to shudder beneath the feet of men and horses, amid the fire and the whirling smoke, dazed and befuddled by the din of firearms and cannons, by voices that command, howl, or die away, surrounded by dead, dying, and mutilated corpses, possessed in turn by fear, hope, anger, by five or six different passions, what happens to a man? What does he see? What does he know after a few hours? What can he know about himself and others? Among this host of fighting men who have battled the whole day, there is often not a single one, not even the general, who knows who the victor is. I need only cite modern battles to you, famous battles whose memory will never fade, battles which have changed the face of Europe, and which have been lost only because such and such a man has believed they were lost; whereas, in the same circumstances and with the same losses, another general would have had the Te Deum sung in his country and forced history to say quite the opposite of what it will say. But, I ask you, what age has seen moral power play a more astonishing role in war than our own? Is not what we have seen for the last twenty years truly magical? Without doubt it behoves men of this epoch to cry out:
"And what age has ever been more fertile in miracles?"...
EIGHTH DIALOGUETHE KNIGHT: Our conversations started by an examination of the great and eternal complaint constantly being raised against the success of crime and the misfortune of virtue; and we have been wholly convinced that nothing in the world has less justification than this complaint and that, even for those who do not believe in another life, the path of virtue is the best way of securing the highest chance of temporal happiness. What has been said about punishment, illness, and remorse does not leave the slightest doubt on this point. I have paid particular attention to two fundamental axioms; namely, in the first place, that no man is punished because he is just, but always because he is a man, so that it is false that virtue suffers in this world; it is human nature that suffers and it always deserves it: and, second, that the greatest temporal happiness is not and cannot be promised to the virtuous man but to virtue. In fact it is enough to make the dispensation visible and irreproachable even in this world that the greatest volume of happiness goes to the greatest volume of virtues in general; and, given man as he is, our reason cannot even envisage another order of things which would have any appearance of rationality and justice. But, as there is no such thing as a just man, there is no one who has the right to refuse to accept readily his share of human miseries, since he is necessarily guilty or has guilty blood; which led us to a full examination of the whole theory of original sin, which is unhappily that of human nature. We have seen in savage tribes a pale image of the original crime; and, since man is only a talking animal, the degradation of language appears to us, not as the sign of human degradation, but as this degradation itself; which gave rise to several reflections on languages and on the origins of speech and ideas. These points cleared up, prayer naturally presented itself to us as a supplement to everything that had been said, since it is a remedy given to man to restrict the ravages of evil by perfecting himself, and since he should lay the blame only on his own defects if he refuses to make use of this remedy. We have considered the great objection raised against this word prayer by a foolish or guilty philosophy which, seeing physical pain as nothing but the inevitable result of the eternal laws of nature, persists in maintaining that for that very reason it could not be affected in the least by prayer. This fatal piece of sophistry has been discussed and countered in the greatest detail. The scourges which strike us, and which are very rightly called scourges of Heaven, seemed to us laws of nature in precisely the same way as punishments are laws of society, and are consequently only secondarily necessary, which should stimulate rather than discourage our prayer. Doubtless in this connection we could have contented ourselves with general ideas and lumped all these kinds of calamity together; however, we allowed the conversation to roam a little over this sad field, and war in particular occupied our attention. I assure you that, of all our digressions, this is the one that has held me most, for you have made me see the scourge of war from a point of view totally new to me, and I expect to think again on this matter with all my might--
THE SENATOR: Excuse me if I interrupt, Knight, but before leaving the interesting discussion on the sufferings of the just completely, I should like just to put to you one or two ideas which I believe to be well founded and which, to my mind, can make the temporal afflictions of this life appear as one of the greatest and most natural answers to all the objections raised on this point to divine justice. The just man, as a man, is subject to all the ills that threaten humanity and, precisely because he is submitted to them only as a man, he has no rightful grievance; you have observed this and nothing is clearer. But you have also observed, what unfortunately has no need of proof, that there is no such thing as a just man in the full rigor of the term; and it follows that every man has something to expiate. Now, if the just man (so far as he is possible) accepts the sufferings due to his being a man, and if divine justice in its turn accepts his acceptance, I think nothing could be more fortunate for him, nor so evidently just.
Moreover, I believe, in my soul and conscience, that if man could live in this world free from every kind of misfortune, be would end by degenerating to the point of forgetting completely all spiritual matters and God himself. In such a situation, how could he be interested in a superior order, seeing that, even in the world we actually inhabit, the miseries overwhelming us cannot disenchant us with the deceptive charms of this unhappy life?
THE KNIGHT: Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that nothing could be more unfortunate than a man who had never experienced misfortune, for such a man could never be sure of himself or know his own worth. For the virtuous man, sufferings are what battles are for the soldier; they improve him and add to his worth. Does the brave soldier ever complain at being chosen always for the most hazardous expeditions? On the contrary, he seeks them out and glories in them; for him, sufferings are a job and death an adventure. Let the poltroon spend his life in frivolity as much as he likes, but let him not bemuse us with his impertinences about the unhappiness of those who do not resemble him. The comparison seems to me perfectly fair. If the brave man thanks the general who sends him to the assault, why should he not thank the God who imposes sufferings on him in the same way? I do not know how it comes about, but it is nevertheless certain that man gains in stature by voluntary suffering and that general opinion itself thinks the more of him for it. I have often noticed in regard to religious asceticism that the very vice that makes game of it cannot prevent itself from rendering homage to it. Has any libertine ever discovered a rich courtesan, who sleeps on feathers at midnight, happier than the austere Carmelite, who rises and prays for us at the same hour? But always I return to what you have so rightly observed, that there is no such thing as a just man. Thus it is by a special act of mercy that God punishes in this world rather than punishing much more severely in the next.
You should know, gentlemen, that there is nothing in which I believe more firmly than in purgatory. Why are sufferings not always proportionate to crimes? It strikes me especially that the new reasoners who have denied everlasting punishment make a strange blunder if they do not expressly admit purgatory, for, I ask you, whom can these people persuade that Robespierre's soul goes from the scaffold to God's arms like that of Louis XVI? Yet this view is not so uncommon as one might think. I have spent several years since my hegira in different parts of Germany where the doctors of law no longer want either hell or purgatory. Nothing could be more absurd. Whoever thought of having a soldier shot because he had stolen a clay pipe from a barrack room? Yet this pipe must not be stolen with impunity; the thief must be purged of his theft before he can take his place in line with his honest fellows .... Now, I claim that purgatory is a dogma of good sense; as every sin must be expiated in this world or the next, it follows that the afflictions visited by divine justice on men are a real benefit, since these punishments, when we have the wisdom to accept them, are, so to speak, deducted from those of the future. I should add that they are a manifest sign of love, for this anticipation or commutation of the punishment obviously excludes an eternal penalty. Whoever has not suffered in this world cannot be certain of anything, and the less he has suffered, the less sure he is. But I do not see what he can fear or, to put it more precisely, what he can allow himself to fear who has suffered without complaint.
COUNT: You have argued very soundly, Knight .... But I beg you to be on your guard against a slight confusion of ideas. There is no problem about the glory attached to the virtue that bears dangers, privations, and suffering tranquilly, for everyone is in agreement about this: the question is to know why it has pleased God to make this excellence necessary. You will find blasphemous and even simply facile men inclined to tell you that God would have done much better to exempt virtue from this sort of glory .... Even while putting this consideration to one side, you, Senator, have very properly recalled that every man suffers because he is a man, because he would be God if he did not suffer, and, because those who ask for a man beyond grief ask for another world. You added something no less indisputable when you said that, as no man is wholly righteous, that is to say, free from present sin (if saints, properly understood, are excepted, and they are very rare), God is really merciful to the guilty by punishing them in this world ....
The righteous, in suffering voluntarily, make amends not only for themselves but for sinners by way of substitution.
This is one of the greatest and most important truths of the spiritual order, but, to treat it fully, I should need more time than remains to me today. Let me then postpone the discussion until tomorrow and let me devote the remaining time this evening to developing one or two ideas that have struck me on this same subject.
It is said that reason alone cannot explain the success of the wicked and the sufferings of the righteous in this world. Which doubtless means that there is in the temporal order an injustice which violates the justice of God, otherwise the objection would have no sense. Now, as this objection can be heard from an atheist or a theist, I shall take to begin with the case of the atheist to avoid all confusion. You can see the intention of this on the part of one of these atheists by faith and profession.
I do not know if the unfortunate Hume himself knew what he was saying when he remarked so criminally, and even, with all his genius, so foolishly, that it is impossible to justify the character of the Divinity. To justify the character of an unknown being!
Again, what is the meaning of this? It seems to me that it all boils down to this reasoning--God is unjust; therefore he does not exist. How curious! This is as good as the Spinoza of Voltaire who said to God, Just between ourselves I believe that you do not exist. The unbeliever must therefore turn round and say that the existence of evil is an argument against the existence of God, for, if God existed, this evil, which is an injustice, would not exist. But then these gentlemen know that the God who does not exist is just by nature! They know the attributes of a chimerical being, and are ready to tell us to the last detail how God would be made if by chance there was one. In truth, there could be no more well-seasoned folly. If one could laugh on such a sad subject, who could refrain on hearing men, who have surely a head on their shoulders like us, argue against God using the very idea he has given to them of himself, without their thinking that this idea alone proves the existence of God, since one cannot have an idea of something that does not exist? . . . Man can conceive only what is; thus the atheist, to deny God, assumes him.
Moreover, gentlemen, all this is only a kind of preface to a favorite idea I should like to impart to you. Let me admit the foolish supposition of a hypothetical God, and admit further that the laws of the universe can be unjust or cruel in respect to us without their having a cogitative author: all this is the height of nonsense, but what follows from it against the existence of God? Nothing at all. A mind can prove itself to the mind only by means of proportionality. All other considerations can relate only to certain properties or qualities of the thinking subject, which have nothing in common with the basic question of existence.
Proportionality, gentlemen, proportionality. Or order and symmetry, for order is nothing but deliberate proportionality, and symmetry nothing but recognized and compared order.
I pray you, tell me if, when Nero formerly lighted his gardens with torches each of which enclosed and burned a living man, the alignment of these horrible torches did not prove to the onlooker an ordering intelligence just as much as the peaceable illuminations put on yesterday for the Queen Mother's name day? If the plague recurred each year during July, this pretty cycle would be just as regular as the return of harvest time. Let us start, then, by seeing if there is proportionality in the world, only then to seek if and why man is treated well or badly in this same world; this is a different question that can be looked at some other time and that has nothing to do with the first.
Proportionality is the obvious barrier between brute beasts and ourselves; in the spiritual as in the physical order, the use of fire distinguishes us from them in a sharp and unmistakable manner. God has given us proportionality, and it is by proportionality that he proves himself to us, as it is by proportionality that man proves himself to his fellows. Remove proportionality and you remove the arts, sciences, speech, and in consequence intelligence. Bring it back and with it reappear those two graces, harmony and beauty; cries become songs, noise receives rhythm, movements are dances, blind force is called dynamics, and doodles are shapes. A clear proof of this truth is that in languages (at least in those I know, and I believe the same is true in those I do not) the same words express the ideas of proportionality and of thought ....
Like beauty, intelligence takes pleasure in contemplating itself: the mirror of intelligence is proportionality. From this arises the liking we all have for symmetry, for every intelligent being likes on every side to recognize and find a place for its manifestation, which is order. Why are soldiers more pleasing to the eye in uniform than in mufti? Why would we rather see them marching in line than straggling? Why must the trees in our gardens, the dishes on our tables, the furniture in our houses be placed symmetrically to please us? Why do rhymes, meters, refrains, time, and rhythm delight us in music and poetry? Can it ever be imagined that there is, for example, any intrinsic beauty in rhyming couplets? This form and so many others can please us only because the intelligence takes pleasure in everything that proves intelligence and because its principal manifestation is proportionality. Thus it rejoices wherever it recognizes itself, and the pleasure symmetry gives us cannot have any other cause. But let us disregard this pleasure and examine only the thing in itself. Just as the words I am now speaking prove to you the existence of the speaker, and if they were written, would in the same way prove it to all those who read these words arranged according to the laws of syntax, so all created beings prove by their syntax the existence of a supreme writer who communicates with us by these symbols. Indeed, all these beings are letters whose combination forms a discourse proving God, that is to say, the intelligence that gives it: for there can be no discourse without a talking soul, or writing without a writer, unless one wants to hold that the rough curve I draw on paper with compasses adequately proves an intelligence that has drawn it while a similar curve described by a planet proves nothing, or that an achromatic telescope fully proves the existence of Dollond and of Ramsden while the eye, of which this wonderful instrument is only a gross imitation, does not prove in any way the existence of a supreme artist or an intention to prevent optical aberration! . . . Perhaps it will be said that this is chance: what nonsense! Some desperate madmen go about it in another way: they say, and I have heard this, that it is a law of nature. But what is a law? Is it the will of a legislator? In this case they are saying the same as we are. Is it the purely mechanical result of certain elements set going in a certain way? Then, as these elements must be set in order and work in some unvarying manner to produce a general and invariable order, the question comes up again, and it is found that, in place of one proof of order and the intelligence that has produced it, there are two; as if several dice thrown a great number of times all always show sixes, intelligence is proved by unvarying proportionality which is the effect, and the internal travail of the creator, which is the cause.
In a certain town excited by philosophic ferment, I have had reason to notice a curious fact. it is that the sight of order, of symmetry, and in consequence of proportionality and intelligence struck certain men, whom I remember clearly, too sharply for them to escape pangs of conscience, and they invented an ingenious subterfuge of which they made the greatest use. They began to maintain that it is impossible to recognize intention unless one knows the purpose of the intention. You cannot imagine how strongly they held to this idea, so attractive to them since it freed them from the common sense tormenting them. They made the study of intentions into a matter of the first importance, a kind of arcanum involving, according to them, profound knowledge and immense labors. I have heard them say, in talking of a great scientist who had said something of this sort, He dares to inquire even into final causes (this is what they call intentions). What a splendid effort! Another time they warned us to take great care not to mistake an effect for an intention, which would indeed be very dangerous as you can see, for if you come to the conclusion that God interferes in an automatic process, or that he has a certain intention whereas he formerly had another, what serious consequences would follow from such an error! . . . But, sooner or later, every argument comes back to their great maxim, that the intention cannot be proved so long as the purpose of the intention has not been proved. Yet I can imagine no grosser sophistry. How is it not seen that there can be no symmetry without purpose, since the symmetry itself is a purpose of the maker of symmetry? . . . Thus having no need of a purpose to support our conclusion, we need not reply to the sophist who asks us, What purpose? I have a canal cut around my country house: someone says, It is to preserve fish; someone else, It is as a protection against thieves; finally a third, It is to drain and reclaim the land. All of them could be mistaken, but he would certainly be right who restricted himself to saying, He has had it cut for ends known to himself ....
These philosophers talk of disorder in the world; but what is disorder? It is obviously a departure from order. Thus one cannot object to disorder without admitting a previous order and consequently intelligence ....
You see now the essence of the well-known argument, Either God could prevent the evil we see and was deficient in kindness; or, wishing to prevent it, he could not and was deficient in power. My God, what does this mean? It is not a question of either omnipotence or omni-benevolence, but only of existence and power. I well realize that God cannot change the natures of things, but I know only an infinitesimal part of their natures, so that I am ignorant of an infinitely large number of things that God cannot do, without ceasing because of that to be omnipotent. I do not know what is possible or what is impossible. In my lifetime, I have studied only proportionality; I believe only in proportionality; it is the mark, the voice, the speech of intelligence, and, since it is everywhere, I see it everywhere.
But let us leave the atheists, who fortunately are very few in number in the world, and take issue again with theism. I want to show myself just as obliging to the theist as I have been to the atheist, so he will not take it amiss if I start by asking him what an injustice is. If he does not concede to me that it is an act that violates a law, the word no longer has any meaning; and if he does not concede to me that law is the will of a legislator, manifested to his subjects to be their rule of conduct, I will understand the word law no better than the word injustice. Now I can understand how a human law can be unjust when it violates a divine or revealed or innate law. But the legislator of the universe is God. What, then, is an injustice of God in regard to men? Is there by any chance some common legislator above God who prescribes to him the way in which he should act toward men? And who will be the judge between this being and ourselves? If the theist believes that the idea of God does not involve the notion of a justice similar to ours, what is his complaint? He does not know what he is saying. But if, on the contrary, he believes God to be just according to our lights, while still complaining of the injustices he sees in our situation, he makes, without knowing it, a shocking contradiction, that is to say, the injustice of a just God. A certain order of things is unjust; therefore it cannot take place under the rule of a just God: this argument is only an error in the mouth of an atheist, but from a theist it is an absurdity. Once God is admitted, and once his justice is admitted as a necessary attribute of divinity, the theist cannot retrace his steps without talking nonsense, and he must say on the contrary, A certain order of things takes place under the rule of an essentially just God: thus this order of things is just for reasons of which we are ignorant, explaining the order of things by the attributes instead of foolishly condemning the attributes because of the order of things.
But I shall even accept from this imaginary theist the no less culpable and foolish proposition that there is no way of justifying the character of the Divinity.
What practical conclusion are we to draw from this? For this is the most important question. Allow me, I pray you, to set up this impressive argument: God is unjust, cruel, pitiless; God takes pleasure in the unhappiness of his creatures; therefore--here I pay attention to the grumblers--therefore apparently there is no need to pray to him. On the contrary, gentlemen, and nothing is more obvious, therefore it is necessary to pray to him and serve him with much more zeal and care than if his mercy was without bounds, as we think is the case. I should like to put a question to you. If you had lived under the rule of a prince, not, you will note, wicked, but only severe, touchy, never easy in his authority, and seeking to supervise every movement of his subjects, I am curious to know if you would have thought yourself able to take the same liberties as under the rule of another prince of a wholly opposite character, content with general liberty, always tender of individual freedom, and always fearing his own power so that no one else should fear it? Certainly not. Well, the comparison leaps to the eye and admits no reply. The more terrible God seems to us, the more we must increase our religious fear of him, the more ardent and indefatigable must be our prayers, for there is no reason for us to think that his goodness will make up for our ignoring them. Since the proof of the existence of God precedes that of his attributes, we know that he is before knowing what he is; it is even that we can never know fully what he is. Here we are then placed under an empire whose sovereign has proclaimed once for all the laws which regulate all things. These laws in general bear the stamp of a remarkable wisdom and even kindness: nevertheless some (I assume for the moment) seem hard, even unjust, if you like. That being the case, I ask all the discontented, what are we to do? To leave the empire, perhaps? Impossible; it is everywhere and all-embracing. Complain, take offense, write against the sovereign? This will result in chastisement or being put to death. There is no better course to take than that of resignation and respect, I might even say of love, for, as we start from the assumption that the master exists and that it is absolutely necessary to serve him, is it not better (whatever he is) to serve him with love than without?
I shall not go back over the arguments with which we have in our previous conversations refuted the complaints that the foolhardy have raised against Providence, but I think I should add that in these complaints there is something false and even foolish, or, as the English say, a certain non-sense that hits the eye. In fact what meaning have these sterile or culpable complaints, which do not provide man with any practical consequences, any guide capable of enlightening and improving him, complaints which on the contrary can only harm him, are useless even to the atheist since they do not touch on the basic truth and even argue against it, which are finally at once ridiculous and dangerous in the mouth of a theist, since they can end only by depriving him of love while leaving him with fear? For my own part, I do not know anything so contrary to the most elementary lessons of common sense.
But do you realize, gentlemen, the source of this flood of insolent doctrines which unceremoniously judge God and call him to account for his orders? They come to us from that great phalanx we call intellectuals and whom we have not been able in this age to keep in their place, which is a secondary one. At other times, there were very few intellectuals, and a very small minority of this very small minority were ungodly; today one sees nothing but intellectuals; it is a profession, a crowd, a nation; and among them the already unfortunate exception has become the rule. On every side they have usurped a limitless influence, and yet if there is one thing certain in this world, it is to my mind that it is not for science to guide men. Nothing necessary for this is entrusted to science. One would have to be out of one's mind to believe that God has charged the academies with teaching us what he is and what we owe to him. It rests with the prelates, the nobles, the great officers of state to be the depositaries and guardians of the saving truths, to teach nations what is bad and what good, what true and what false in the moral and spiritual order: others have no right to reason on this kind of matter. They have the natural sciences to amuse them, what are they complaining about? As for those who talk or write to deprive a people of a national belief, they should be hung like housebreakers. Rousseau himself agreed with this without dreaming of what he was demanding for himself.[Social Contract [Book iv, Chap. viii].] What folly it was to grant everyone freedom of speech This is what has ruined us. The so-called philosophers have all a certain fierce and rebellious pride which does not compromise with anything; they detest without exception every distinction they themselves do not enjoy; they find fault in every authority; they hate anything above them. If they are allowed, they will attack everything, even God, because he is master. See if it is not the same men who have attacked both kings and the God who established them ....
NINTH DIALOGUESENATOR: Well, Count, are you ready to take up the question you were talking about yesterday?
THE COUNT: I shall leave no stone unturned, gentlemen, to meet your wishes, according to my power; but allow me first of all to point out to you that all sciences have their mysteries and show at certain points a contradiction between the apparently most obvious theory and experience. Politics, for instance, gives a number of illustrations of this truth. Is there anything more absurd in theory than hereditary monarchy? We judge it by experience, but if government had never been heard of and it was necessary to set one up, whoever hesitated between hereditary and elective monarchy would be regarded as a madman. Yet we know from experience that, everything considered, the first is the best imaginable and the second the worst. How many arguments there are for showing that sovereignty derives from the people! Yet it is nothing of the sort. Sovereignty is always taken, never given; and a second, more profound theory then brings out that this must be so. Who would not say that the best political constitution is that which has been debated and written by statesmen thoroughly acquainted with the national character, who have foreseen all circumstances? Nevertheless nothing could be falser. The best-constituted people are those which have the fewest written constitutional laws; and every written constitution is sterile ....
We should not then be astonished if, in other branches of knowledge, particularly in metaphysics and natural history, we come across propositions which offend our reason deeply and yet which are then demonstrated by the most solid arguments.
Among the most important of these propositions must be ranged one that I was happy to put yesterday, that the righteous, suffering willingly, make amends not only for themselves but also for the culpable who, of themselves, could not expiate themselves ....
Men have never doubted that innocence can make amends for transgression and have believed, moreover, that there is an expiatory power in blood; so that life, which is blood, can atone for another life.
Look at this belief closely and you will see that if God himself had not put it into the human mind, it could never have been thought of. The big words superstition and prejudice explain nothing, for no error has ever been universal and constant. If a false opinion holds sway over a people, you will not find it among its neighbor; or if sometimes it seems to stretch, perhaps not over the whole world, but over a great number of nations, the passing of time will efface it.
But the belief I am talking about has been held at all times and in ~6 all places. Ancient and modern nations, civilized or barbaric nations, advanced or backward ages, true or false religions, there has not been one voice of disagreement in the world.
Finally, the idea of sin and that of sacrifice for sin were so closely identified in the minds of men of antiquity that the holy language expressed both by the same word. Hence that well-known Hebrew phrase, used by Saint Paul, that God made the Saviour to be sin for us[2 Corinthians 5:21.]....
Humanity professed these dogmas from the time of its fall, until the greatest of victims, raised to draw all to him, cried,
Without Christianity man does not know what he is because he is alone in the universe and cannot compare himself with anything; the prime service this religion renders to him is to show him his value by showing him what he has cost.
Yes, let us behold it attentively, my friends, and we shall see everything in this sacrifice: the enormity of the crime that called for such an expiation, the incredible grandeur of the being capable of committing it, the boundless value of the victim who said, Lo, I come.[Psalm 40:7; Hebrews 10:7.]
Now, it can be seen that, on the one side, this whole doctrine of antiquity was only the prophetic cry of humanity heralding salvation by blood, and that, on the other, Christianity came to justify this prophecy, substituting reality for myth, so that an innate and basic dogma continually foretold the great sacrifice which is the basis of the new revelation, and this new revelation, glittering with all the brightness of truth, proves in its turn the divine origin of the dogma which we see constantly like an oasis of light among the shadows of paganism. This agreement is one of the most stirring proofs it is possible to imagine.
But these truths are not proved by calculation or by mechanical laws. The man who has lived his life without ever tasting the divine fruits, who has narrowed his mind and dried up his heart with sterile speculations incapable either of making him better in this life or of preparing him for the next; such a man, I say, will reject this kind of proof and will not even understand it. There are truths that men can grasp only with the imagination of their hearts.[Luke 1:51] Often the upright man is shaken by seeing men whose minds he admires reject proofs which seem to him to be clear: this is a pure illusion. These men lack a sense, that is all. If the cleverest man has not the religious sense, not only can we not beat him in argument, but we lack even any means to make ourselves understood to him, which proves nothing except his misfortune ....
I should have to go into much greater detail to plumb the depths of the fascinating subject of sacrifices, but I should abuse your patience, and be afraid of going astray. It is one of those questions that require all the calm of a written discussion to be treated in depth.[See Enlightenment on Sacrifices.] I think, my good friends, that we have at least learned sufficient about it to deal with the sufferings of the just. This world is an army, an eternal battle. All those who have fought courageously in a battle are doubtless worthy of praise, but doubtless also the greatest glory belongs to those who return from it wounded .... As we have so often said, there are no wholly righteous men; but, if there was a man sufficiently righteous to merit the approval of his Creator, who could be astonished if God, ATTENTIVE TO HIS OWN WORK, takes pleasure in improving him? The father of a family can laugh at a coarse servant who curses or lies, but his tenderly severe hand punishes rigorously these same faults in an only son for whom he would freely lay down his life. If tenderness forgives nothing, it is because there is no longer anything to forgive. In visiting misfortune on the righteous man, God purifies him of his past faults, puts him on guard against future faults, and prepares him for Heaven. Without doubt he takes pleasure in seeing him escape the inevitable justice awaiting him in another world. Is there a greater joy for love than the submission that disarms it? And when one thinks, moreover, that these sufferings are not only useful to the righteous but also that they can, by a holy agreement, profit the guilty, and that in suffering thus they really sacrifice themselves for all men, one will agree that it is in fact impossible to imagine a sight more worthy of the Divinity.
One more word on the sufferings of the righteous. Do you by any chance believe that the viper is venomous only at the moment it bites and that the man afflicted with epilepsy is truly epileptic only when he is having a fit?
THE SENATOR: What is your point, my worthy friend?
THE COUNT: I am not going a long way round, as you will see. The man who knows men only by their actions calls them wicked only when he sees them commit a crime. Yet we might as well believe that the viper's venom is engendered at the moment of the bite. The event does not create wickedness; it manifests it. But God who sees all things, God who knows our most intimate inclinations and thoughts much better than men know one another through the senses, uses punishment prophylactically and strikes the man who seems to us healthy to extirpate the disease before the seizure. Often in our blind impatience we complain of the delays of Providence in punishing crimes; and, by a curious contradiction, we still blame it when with salutary speed it represses vicious inclinations before they have given rise to transgressions.
Sometimes God spares a known sinner, since punishment would be useless, whereas he chastises the hidden sinner since this chastisement will save a man. Thus the wise doctor avoids tiring an incurable patient by useless remedies and operations. "Leave him," he advises, "keep him amused; give him everything he asks for." But if the nature of things allowed him to see clearly in the body of an apparently healthy man the germ of an illness which will kill him tomorrow or in ten years, would he not advise him to submit to the most distasteful remedies and the most painful operations in order to escape death? And if a coward preferred death to pain, would not the doctor, whose eye and hand we suppose to be equally infallible, advise his friends to tie him down and save him in spite of himself for his family? Those surgical instruments whose sight sickens us--the saw, the trepan, the forceps, the cystotome--have presumably not been invented by some evil genius of humanity. Well, these instruments are in man's hand, for the cure of physical ills, what physical ills are in God's hand, for the extirpation of true ills. Can a dislocated or fractured limb be restored without pain? Can a hemorrhage or an internal complaint be cured without abstinence, without privations of all kinds, without a more or less tedious regimen? In the whole of pharmacology, how many remedies are there that do not revolt our senses? Are sufferings, even those caused immediately by illnesses, anything other than the effort of life to preserve itself? In the sensory as in the higher order, the law is the same and is as old as evil: THE REMEDY FOR DISORDER WILL BE PAIN ....
TENTH DIALOGUETHE SENATOR: It seems to me, Count, that you have put the principle of sacrifices beyond any attack and have drawn from it a host of useful conclusions. I believe, moreover, that the theory of substitution is so natural to man that it can be regarded as an innate truth in the full meaning of the term, since it is absolutely impossible that we have learned it. But do you think that it is equally impossible to discover or at least to catch a glimpse of the reason for this universal belief?
The more one looks at the world, the more one feels oneself led to believe that evil derives from some kind of inexplicable discord and that the return to good depends on an opposite force which constantly impels us toward some kind of unity just as inexplicable. This community of deserts, this substitution that you have so well proved, can come only from this unity beyond our comprehension. Reflecting on the general beliefs and natural instincts of men, one is struck by the tendency they have to unite things that nature seems to have totally separated. For example, they are very much inclined to regard a people, a town, a corporation, and above all a family as a single moral being, having good and bad qualities, open to praise or blame and consequently open to reward and punishment. From this stems the prejudice or, more exactly, the dogma of nobility, so generally held and deeply rooted amongst men. If you submit this to the bar of reason, it will not pass the test, for, if we consult nothing but reason, there is no distinction more foreign to us than that which we owe to our ancestors: yet there is none more esteemed or even more willingly recognized except in factious times, and even then the attacks made on it are still an indirect homage and a formal recognition by those who would like to destroy it.
If glory is hereditary in the eyes of all men, so too is blame, and for the same reason. It is sometimes unthinkingly asked why the shame of a crime or a punishment should fall on the descendants of the criminal; yet those who put this question then brag about the merits of their ancestors: it is an obvious contradiction ....
Could not this same theory throw some light on the dark mystery of the punishment of sons for the crimes of their fathers? At first sight nothing is so shocking as a hereditary malediction; yet why not, since benediction is also hereditary? And notice that these ideas do not come only from the Bible, as is often imagined. This fortunate or unfortunate heredity belongs to all times and all countries: it belongs to paganism as well as to Judaism or Christianity, to the infancy as well as the old age of nations; the idea is found in theologians, philosophers, poets, in the theater and in the Church ....
The family is no doubt composed of individuals who, according to reason, have nothing in common, but, according to instinct and general persuasion, every family is one.
This unity is especially conspicuous in reigning families: the sovereign changes his name and face, but he is always, as they say in Spain, THE KING HIMSELF. You Frenchmen, Knight, have two acute maxims, truer perhaps than you think; one of civil law, The dead distrain the living; the other of constitutional law, The king does not die. Therefore a king should not be treated as a separate entity when the time comes to judge him.
People are sometimes astonished at seeing an innocent monarch perish miserably in one of those political upheavals so frequent in the world. You can well believe that I have no wish to stifle compassion in men's hearts, and you know how much recent crimes have wrung my own; nevertheless, if I stick to strict logic, what can be said? Every culprit can be innocent and even saintly on the day of his punishment. There are crimes which become obvious and are consummated only after a long interval: there are others which consist in many acts more or less excusable taken separately, but whose repetition in the end becomes highly criminal. In this sort of case, it is obvious that the penalty cannot precede the completion of the crime.
Even in instantaneous crimes, punishments are always suspended, and this must be the case. This is again one of those instances when human justice serves as an interpreter of that justice of which it is simply an image and a branch.
A thoughtless or frivolous act, a breach of some bylaw, can be countered at once, but in questions of crime properly speaking the culprit is never punished the moment he becomes one. Under the rule of Muslim law, authority punishes, even with death, the man it thinks deserves it at the very moment and place it seizes him; this brusque enforcement of the law, which has not lacked blind admirers, is nevertheless one of the many proofs of the brutalization and divine censure of these peoples. Among us, things are quite different. The culprit must be arrested, he must be charged, he must defend himself, he must above all settle his conscience and his worldly affairs, practical arrangements for his punishment must be made; finally, to take everything into account, a certain time must be left to take him to the appointed place of punishment. The scaffold is an altar: it cannot therefore be either set up in a certain place or moved except by authority. These delays, praiseworthy in their very excessiveness yet still not lacking their blind detractors, are no less a proof of our superiority.
If then it happens that, during the inevitable interval between the crime and its punishment, sovereignty changes hands, what does this matter to justice? It must take its ordinary course. Even disregarding the unity I am reflecting upon at the moment, nothing is more humanly just, for nowhere can the rightful heir avoid paying the debts of his inheritance, unless he renounces it. The sovereign is responsible for all the acts of sovereignty. All its debts, all its treaties, all its crimes bind him. If, by some dissolute act, he sows a bad seed today whose natural growth will bring about a catastrophe in a hundred years' time, the blow will fall with justice on the crown in a hundred years' time. To escape the penalty, the king would have to refuse the crown. It is not THIS king, it is THE king who is innocent or guilty ....
Having looked at man, let us look at his most wonderful characteristic, speech. Again we find the same mystery, that is to say, an inexplicable division and just as inexplicable a tendency toward some kind of unity. The two greatest dates in the spiritual calendar are without doubt that of Babel, when languages split up, and that of Pentecost, when they made a prodigious attempt to unite: on this it can be remarked in passing that the two most extraordinary wonders of which mention is made in human history are at the same time the most certain facts we possess. Anyone who contests them must lack both reason and integrity ....
Our mutual unity results from our unity in God praised by philosophy itself. Malebranche's theory of vision in God is only a superb commentary on the well-known words of Saint Paul, For in him we live, and move, and have our being.[Acts 17, 28.] The pantheism of the Stoics and that of Spinoza is a corruption of this great idea, but it is still the same principle, it is still this tendency toward unity. The first time I read in the work of the worthy Malebranche, so neglected by his unjust and blind country, that God is the locus of souls as space is the locus of bodies, I was dazzled by this flash of genius and ready to prostrate myself before it. Few sayings are as beautiful ....
Sometimes I should like to leap beyond the narrow limits of this world, to anticipate the day of revelations and lose myself in infinity. When the twofold law of human nature is annulled and man's two poles are merged, he will be ONE, for, being no longer torn by inner conflict, how could the idea of duality occur to him? But, if we consider men in their relations with one another, what will they be like when evil is destroyed and with it passion and personal interests? What will become of the EGO when all thoughts, like all desires, are common, when every mind will see itself as others see it. Who can comprehend, who can imagine this heavenly Jerusalem all of whose inhabitants, filled with the selfsame spirit, will fuse together and reflect happiness on one another? A countless number of shining specters of the same size, coming together on exactly the same spot, are no longer a countless number; they become a single, intensely shining specter. However, I am taking good care not to deal with individuality, without which immortality is nothing; but I cannot avoid being struck by the fact that everything leads us back to this mysterious unity.
Saint Paul invented a word that has passed into every Christian language; it is to edify, a word which is at first sight very surprising, for what is there in common between the construction of an edifice and good advice given to one's fellow creature.
But the root of this expression is soon unearthed. Vice separates men, just as virtue unites them. There is no act against order that is not born of an individual interest contrary to the general order; there is no pure act that does not sacrifice an individual interest to the general interest, that is to say, that does not tend to create one indivisible and steady will in place of a multitude of divergent and culpable wills. Saint Paul then started from the fundamental idea that we are all God's edifice, and that this edifice we must build is the body of the Saviour.[1 Corinthians 3:9-11.] He turned this idea to many uses. He wanted us to edify one another; that is, he wanted each man freely to take his place as a stone in the spiritual edifice and to strive with all his might to call others to the same task, so that every man edifies and is edified. Above all, he gave us the well-known saying, Knowledge puffs up but charity edifies,[1 Corinthians 8:1.] an admirable and strikingly true phrase, for knowledge left to itself divides rather than unites and all its works are only appearances, while virtue truly edifies and indeed cannot act without edifying. Saint Paul had read in the sublime testament of his master that men are one and many like God,[John 17:11, 21, 22.] so that all are brought to fulfillment and perfected in unity,[Ibid., 17:23] for until then the work is unfinished. And how could there not be some kind of unity (let it be and be called what you will) between us, since a single man ruined us by a single act? I am not here arguing in a circle, proving unity by the origin of sin and the origin of sin by unity: not at all, sin is only too well proved by its existence, being everywhere and especially in ourselves. But of all possible theories explaining its origin, none satisfies good sense, the enemy of quibbling, so much as the belief that sees it as the hereditary result of an original transgression and that has the weight of every human tradition in its support.
The fall of man can thus be numbered among the proofs of human unity and can help us to understand how, by the law of analogy that rules all divine things, salvation likewise came from a single man ... [Romans 5:17.]
Following this train of thought, Count, do you think it completely impossible to form some idea of this joint responsibility between men (if you will allow this legal term), from which flows the reversibility of deserts that explains everything?
THE COUNT: It would be impossible, my good friend, to tell you, however imperfectly, how much pleasure your discourse has given me, but I confess with a frankness your worth demands that this pleasure is mixed with a certain fear. The path you have taken can only too easily lead you astray, more especially as you have not, like me, a light to guide you at all times and over any distance. Is it not foolhardy to want to understand things so far above us? Men have always been attracted to unusual ideas that flatter the pride: it is so pleasant to walk along out-of-the-way paths previously untrodden by human feet! But what is the point? Does man become better by it? For that is the important question. Why should we place our trust in these beautiful theories if they cannot lead us very far or in the right direction? I admit that there were some very profound insights in everything you have just said, but, to repeat myself, are we not running two grave risks--of going astray in a fatal manner and of losing in vain speculation precious time that could be better spent in useful study and perhaps even discoveries?
THE SENATOR: Precisely the opposite is true, my dear Count. No studies are more useful than those that have the intellectual world for their subject, and they form the best road to discoveries. Everything that can be known in theoretical philosophy is to be found in a passage of Saint Paul; this is it:
There is therefore no law of the natural world that has not behind it (if you will allow this ridiculous phrase) a spiritual law of which the former is only a visible expression; and this is why no explanation of cause in material terms will ever satisfy a good mind. Once you leave the sphere of material and sensory experience to enter that of pure philosophy, you must leave matter and explain everything metaphysically. I mean here the true metaphysics, and not that which has been cultivated so ardently for the last century by men who are seriously called metaphysicians. Splendid metaphysicians, who have spent their lives proving that there is no such thing as metaphysics, famous ruffians in whom genius was brutalized!
Thus, my worthy friend, it is absolutely certain that one cannot succeed except by those out-of-the-way paths you fear so much. But if I am not successful, either because I lack the ability or because authority has raised barriers along my route, is not the knowledge that I am on the right road an important point in itself? Every inventor, every man of originality has been religious and even fanatically so. Perverted by irreligious skepticism, the human mind is like waste land that produces nothing or is covered with weeds useless to man. At such a time even its natural fertility is an evil, for these weeds harden the soil by tangling and intertwining their roots and moreover create a barrier between the sky and the earth. Break up these accursed clods; destroy these fatally hardy weeds; call on every human aid; drive in the plow; dig deep to bring into contact the powers of the earth and the powers of the sky.
Here, gentlemen, is the natural analogy to the human intelligence opened or closed to divine knowledge.
The natural sciences themselves are subject to the general law. Genius does not rely much on the slow crawl of logic. Its gait is free, its manner derives from inspiration; one can see its success, but no one has seen its progress .... Let no one appeal to enlightenment and to mysticism. These words mean nothing, and yet it is with this nothing that genius is intimidated and its way to discoveries barred. Certain philosophers in this age have taken it into their heads to talk of causes, but when will it be understood that there cannot be causes in the material order, for they must all be sought in another sphere?
Now, if this is the rule, even in the natural sciences, why, in sciences of a preternatural kind, should we not devote ourselves to researches that we can also call preternatural? I am surprised, Count, to find prejudices in you from which the independence of your mind should have been able to escape easily.
THE COUNT: I assure you, my dear friend, that there might well have been a misunderstanding between us, as happens in most discussions. God preserve me from ever intending to deny that religion is the mother of knowledge. Theory and experience join forces to announce this truth. The scepter of science belongs to Europe only because it is Christian. It has reached this high point of civilization and knowledge only because it has started from theology, because its universities were in the beginning nothing but theological schools, and because all the sciences, grafted onto this divine subject, have shown their divine sap by their long vegetation. The indispensable necessity for this lengthy development of the European genius is a basic truth that has totally escaped modern thinkers. Bacon himself, whom you have rightly criticized, was as mistaken about this as lesser men. His treatment of the subject is extremely amusing, especially when he flares up about scholasticism and theology. It must be agreed that this famous man appeared completely to disregard the preparations necessary if science is not to be a great evil. Teach young people physics and chemistry before having steeped them in religion and morality, or send scientists before missionaries to a new nation, and you will see the result. I believe it can even be proved conclusively that there is in science, if it is not entirely subordinated to the national creed, some hidden element that tends to degrade man and above all to make him a useless or bad citizen. Properly worked out, this principle would provide a clear and decisive solution to the difficult problem of the utility of the sciences, a problem that Rousseau greatly confused in the middle of the last century by his treacherous mind and his half-knowledge.
Why are intellectuals almost always bad statesmen and in general inept in administration?
What is the reason that, on the contrary, priests (I repeat PRIESTS) are statesmen by nature? In other words, why does the sacerdotal order produce more of them in proportion than all the other orders of society? Why especially does it produce more of those natural statesmen, if I can use the phrase, who throw themselves into government and succeed without preparation, such as for instance those whom Charles V and his son employed a great deal and who played such a striking role in history?
Why has the noblest, strongest, and most powerful of monarchies been literally made by BISHOPS (this is Gibbon's confession) as a hive is made by bees?
I could go on endlessly about this great subject; but, my dear Senator, for the very benefit of this religion and the respect due to it, let us remember that it commends nothing to us so strongly as simplicity and obedience. Who knows our clay better than God? I dare say that what we ought to be ignorant of is more important for us than what we ought to know. If he has put certain subjects outside our range of vision, it is doubtless because it would be dangerous for us to perceive them clearly. I wholeheartedly accept and admire your simile of the earth open or closed to the influences of the sky; yet take care not to draw a false conclusion from an obvious principle. That religion and even piety are the best preparations for the human mind, that they incline it, as far as individual capacity allows, to every kind of knowledge, and that they set the mind on the road to discoveries, these are matters beyond dispute for every man who has even moistened his lips on the cup of true philosophy. But what conclusion should we draw from these truths? That we must make every effort to penetrate the mysteries of this religion? Not at all; allow me to say that this is sheer sophistry. The legitimate conclusion is that we must subordinate our learning to religion, hold firmly that we study by praying, and above all, when we are concerned with pure philosophy, never forget that every metaphysical proposition that does not issue from a Christian dogma is and can be nothing but a culpable extravagance. This is sufficient for our practical life, and what does all the rest matter?
I have followed with keen interest everything you have told us about this incomprehensible unity, the necessary basis for substitution which would explain all things if they could be explained. I applaud your learning and the way in which you are able to draw it together: yet what advantage does it give you over me? I believe in substitution just like you, as I believe in Peking just as much as the missionary we dined with the other day who has returned from there. When you penetrate the reason for this dogma, you will lose the merit of faith, not only without profit but also with very grave danger to yourself, for, in this event, you will not be able to answer for the direction of your thoughts. Do you remember what we read together some time ago in a book of Saint-Martin? That the rash chemist runs the risk of adoring his own work. This is not an idle phrase: did not Malebranche say that a false belief about the efficacy of secondary causes could lead to idolatry? It is the same idea . . . We often talk with an inane surprise about the absurdity of idolatry, but I can well assure you that, if we had the learning which misled the first idolaters, we would all be idolaters or at least God could mark down for himself barely twelve thousand men in each tribe. We always start from the banal hypothesis that man has gradually raised himself from barbarism to science and civilization. This is the favorite dream, the root error, and as the school has it, the protopseudodox of our time. But if the philosophers of this unhappy age, with the horrible perversity that marks them and the obstinacy that they still persist in despite the warnings they have had, had possessed in addition some of the acquirements which the first men must have had, woe betide the world! They would have brought on humanity some catastrophe of a supernatural order. Just look at what they have achieved and have drawn on us in spite of their profound ignorance of the spiritual sciences.
I am therefore completely opposed to all inquisitive research that moves outside man's temporal sphere. Religion is the spice that prevents science becoming tainted: Bacon put this excellently and, for once, I have no wish to criticize him. I am just a little tempted to think that he did not himself take sufficient heed of his own maxim, since he worked expressly to divide the spice from science.
Again notice that religion is the greatest vehicle of science. No doubt it cannot create talent which does not exist, but it exalts it without stint wherever it finds it, especially the talent for discoveries, whereas irreligion always restrains and often stifles it. What more do we want? We are not allowed to fathom the secrets of this instrument that has been given to us to fathom secrets. It is too easy to break it or, what is worse perhaps, to make it false. I thank God for my ignorance still more than for my knowledge; for my knowledge is mine, at least in part, and in consequence I cannot be sure that it is good, but my ignorance, at least that of which I am speaking, is his, therefore I trust it fully. I shall not go and try to scale the necessary wall with which the divine wisdom has surrounded us; on this side, I am certain to stand on the grounds of truth, but who can vouch that on the other (to put it in its best light) I shall not find myself in the field of superstition?
THE KNIGHT: Between two superior combatant powers, a third, although very weak, can well come forward as a mediator, provided that it is acceptable to them and acts in good faith.
It seems to me first of all, Senator, that you have been a little too indulgent to your religious ideas. You say the explanation of causes must always be sought outside the material world, and you cite Kepler who reached his famous discoveries by some system or another of celestial harmony, about which I am wholly ignorant; but I do not see in all this a shadow of religion. It is quite possible to be a composer and work out chords without being pious. It seems to me that Kepler could very well have discovered his laws without believing in God.
THE SENATOR: You have replied to yourself, Knight, by saying outside the material world. I did not say that each discovery must issue from a dogma as the chicken comes from the egg: I said that there are no causes in matter and that consequently they should not be sought in matter. Now, my dear friend, only religious men want to or can go outside it. The others believe only in the material world and get angry if one so much as talks to them of another order of things. Our age must have a mechanistic astronomy, a mechanistic chemistry, a mechanistic gravity, a mechanistic morality, a mechanistic language, mechanistic remedies to cure mechanistic illnesses, and goodness knows what else besides--is not everything mechanistic? Now, only the religious spirit can cure this disease. We talked of Kepler, but Kepler would never have taken such a fruitful path if he had not been eminently religious ....
THE KNIGHT: All right, I am no match for you in argument, but there is one point on which I should still like to quarrel with you. Our friend has said that your taste for out-of-the-way explanations could perhaps lead you and others into very grave dangers and that moreover they have the serious disadvantage of being prejudicial to useful studies. To this you replied that precisely the opposite was true and that nothing favors the advancement of the sciences and of discoveries of every kind so much as the cast of mind that carries us continually outside the material world. Again this is a point on which I do not think myself capable of arguing with you, but what seems to me to be clear is that you have left on one side the other objection, and yet it is a serious one. I agree that mystical and extraordinary ideas can sometimes lead to important discoveries, but the drawbacks that can result from them must be put into the opposite side of the balance. Let us agree, for example, that they can inspire a Kepler; if nevertheless they necessarily produce ten thousand fools who disturb and even corrupt the world, I feel very inclined to sacrifice the great man.
Thus, if you will forgive my impertinence, I think that you have gone a little too far and that it would not be a bad thing for you to be a little more suspicious of your spiritual impulses: at least, I would never have said so much, as far as I can judge. But, as the duty of a mediator is to deny and to concede something to both parties, I must also tell you, Count, that you seem to me to push timidity to excess. I congratulate you on your religious obedience. I have seen much of the world, and, truly, I have found nothing more impressive, but I cannot easily understand how faith leads you to fear superstition. Quite the opposite should happen, it seems to me; I am more surprised that you bear so much ill-will toward this superstition which does not seem to me such a bad thing. What is superstition at bottom? . . . It is neither error nor fanaticism, nor any other monster of this kind under another name. I repeat, what is then superstition? Does not super mean beyond? Superstition will therefore be something which goes beyond a sufficient belief. Really, there is nothing in this to raise a hue and cry. I have often noticed that in this world what suffices is not sufficient; do not take this as a play on words, for he who wants to do just what is permissible will soon do what is not. We are never sure of our moral qualities except when we have been able to exalt them a little. In the political world, the constitutional powers established in free nations scarcely exist except by coming into conflict. If someone comes to knock you over, it is not enough to stand your ground; you must hit him yourself and make him retreat if you can. To jump a ditch, you must always fix your eyes well beyond the bank if you do not want to fall in. Indeed, this is a general rule; it would be very peculiar if religion was an exception to it. I do not think that a man, and still less a nation, can believe just what he should. He will always fall a little above or a little below the mark. I imagine, my good friends, that honor cannot fail to please you. Yet what is honor? It is the superstition of valor or it is nothing. In love, friendship, loyalty, sincerity, and so on, superstition is pleasing, even valuable and often necessary; why should not the same be true of piety? I am inclined to believe that the outcries against the excesses of a thing start from the enemies of the thing. Reason is no doubt good, but it is very far from the case that everything ought to be settled by reason ....
I believe that superstition is an advanced fortification of religion which must not be destroyed, for it would not be safe to allow men to come unimpeded to the foot of the wall to measure its height and set up ladders. You will use errors as an argument against me; but first, do you not think that mistakes about something divine have certain natural limits in the very nature of the case and that the disadvantages of these mistakes could never outweigh the danger of unsettling belief? To follow my metaphor, I shall add that, if an advanced fortification is too far forward, this is also a great error, for it is useful only to the enemy who will make use of it to take cover and to attack the town: is it necessary then not to set up advanced fortifications at all? With such an exaggerated fear of mistakes, one would end by no longer daring to move ....
THE COUNT: I should like to put to you an idea that might well, it seems to me, serve as a peace treaty between us. It has always appeared to me that, in higher metaphysics, there are rules of trial and error as there were formerly in arithmetic, This is how I regard all opinions which depart from express revelation and which are employed to explain in a more or less plausible way such and such a point in this same revelation. If you like, let us take as an example the idea of the preexistence of souls which has been used to explain original sin. You can see at once all that can be said against the successive creation of souls and the use that can be made of preexistence to provide a host of interesting explanations. Nevertheless I can tell you without demur that I do not claim to adopt this system as a truth, but I say (and here is my rule of trial and error), "If I, a puny mortal, have been able to find a by no means absurd solution that accounts reasonably well for a puzzling problem, how can I doubt that, if this theory is untrue, there is another solution of which I know nothing and which God has thought advisable to hide from our curiosity?" I say as much of the ingenious hypothesis that the renowned Leibnitz based on the crime of Tarquin and developed with so much wisdom in his Theodicee; I say as much of a hundred other theories and of yours in particular, my worthy friend. So long as they are not regarded as proved, are put forward modestly, are propounded to set the mind at rest, as I have just told you, and above all do not lead to pride or contempt for authority, it seems to me that criticism should keep silent in view of these precautions. Progress is slow and cautious in all the sciences; why should metaphysics, the most obscure of all, be excepted? I always come back to the point that, however little you indulge in this kind of transcendental inquiry, you show at least a certain disquiet that clearly displays the merit of faith and docility. Have we not already spent some considerable time in the clouds? And have we been improved by it? I doubt it a little. It is time to come down to earth. I must confess I am very fond of practical ideas and especially of those striking analogies that exist between Christian doctrines and the universal beliefs humanity has always held without it being possible to trace any human origin for them ....
ELEVENTH DIALOGUETHE KNIGHT: Although you do not like excursions in the clouds much, my dear Count, I should nevertheless like to take you there again .... In our own day, men seem no longer able to live within the old sphere of the human faculties. They wish to pass beyond it; they grow restless like an eagle angry with the bars of his cage. See what they are attempting in the natural sciences! See, too, the new alliance that they have created and that they promote with so much success between physical theories and the arts. As it works wonders in the cause of science, how can this general spirit of the age not stretch itself to questions of the spiritual order? And why should it not be allowed to direct its attentions toward the subject that is most important to men, provided that it can restrain itself within the limits of a prudent and respectful moderation?
THE COUNT: First, Knight, I do not think I would be demanding too much if I asked that the human mind, free on every other subject with this one exception, should refrain from all rash inquiry into this. In the second place, this moderation of which you speak and which is so splendid in theory, is actually impossible in practice; at least, it is so rare that it must pass for impossible. Now, you will allow that when a certain inquiry is not necessary and is capable of producing countless evils, it is a duty to abstain from it. This is what has always made all these spiritual impulses of the illumines suspect and even, I confess, odious to me.
THE SENATOR: You are certainly afraid of these illumines, my dear friend! But I do not think I am asking too much on my part if I put the humble request that words be defined, and in short that someone be kind enough to tell us what an illumines is, so that we know who and what we are talking about. This name, illuminess, is given to those disgraceful men who have dared in our own time to conceive and even to organize in Germany, by the most criminal association, the frightful project of killing off Christianity and sovereignty in Europe. The same name is given to the virtuous followers of Saint-Martin, who not only profess Christianity but who work only to raise themselves to the most sublime heights of this divine law. You must admit, gentlemen, that never have men fallen into a greater confusion of ideas. I confess even that I am unable to listen calmly in society to the fools of both sexes crying out against illuminism, at the least word that passes their understanding, with a frivolity and ignorance which pushes to the limit the most practiced patience. But you, my dear Roman friend, you, who are such a strong defender of authority, speak to me candidly. Can you read the Holy Scripture without being forced to acknowledge a host of passages which oppress your mind and tempt it to devote itself to attempting a discreet exegesis? Have not you like others been told, Search the Scriptures? In conscience tell me, I pray, do you understand the first chapter of Genesis? Do you understand the Apocalypse and the Song of Songs? Does Ecclesiastes not give you any difficulty? When you read in Genesis that the moment our first ancestors became aware of their nakedness God made them coats of skins, do you take this literally? Do you think the All-powerful spent his time killing animals, skinning them, curing their pelts, finally creating needles and thread to finish off these new costumes? Do you believe that the guilty rebels of Babel really undertook, to put their minds at rest, to build a tower whose weathercock merely reached the moon (I am not saying much, as you see!); and when the stars fall on the earth, will you not be at a loss to place them?... A thousand expressions of this kind should show you that it pleased God sometimes to let men speak at will, according to the reigning ideas of such and such an epoch, at other times to hide under apparently simple and occasionally vulgar forms high mysteries not made for all eyes. Now, given these two assumptions, what harm is there in excavating these seams of grace and divine goodness as we mine in the earth for gold or diamonds? More than ever, gentlemen, we should devote ourselves to these broad speculations, for we must hold ourselves ready for a huge event in the divine order, toward which we are moving with an increased speed that cannot fail to strike every observer. Religion no longer holds sway on earth, and humanity cannot remain in this state. Moreover, formidable prophets are foretelling that the time is here There is hardly one truly religious man in Europe (I speak of the educated class) who is not at this time awaiting some extraordinary event .... How can we make light of this general persuasion? And what right have we to condemn the men who, warned by this sign from heaven, devote themselves to holy studies.
Would you like another illustration of what is brewing? Look for it in the sciences: consider carefully the progress of chemistry and even of astronomy, and you will see where they are leading us .... Wait until the natural affinity of religion and science manifests itself in the head of one man of genius. The appearance of such a man cannot be far off, and perhaps he exists even now. He will be a monumental figure and will put an end to the eighteenth century, which still endures today; for intellectual centuries do not conform to the calendar like centuries properly speaking. Then opinions that seem to us bizarre or nonsensical today will be axioms impossible to doubt. Men will talk of the stupidity of our times as we talk of the superstition of the Middle Ages .... At the moment, European thinkers are like conspirators or initiates who have made a kind of monopoly of science and who are absolutely opposed to anyone knowing more or otherwise than they. But this science will be continually execrated by an enlightened posterity, who will justly charge today's adepts with having been unable to draw from the truths God had confided to them those conclusions most valuable to man. The whole of science will then change its face. The spirit, for long dethroned and forgotten, will take its former position. It will be shown that all the ancient traditions are true, that the whole of paganism is nothing but a system of tainted and ill-conceived truths which need only cleaning, so to speak, and restoring to their place to shine brilliantly. In a word, all ideas will be changed ....
You, my dear Count, who are so severe an apostle of unity and order, you have no doubt not forgotten all you told us at the beginning of these conversations about the many extraordinary events of the times. Everything foretells, and your own observations themselves demonstrate it, some kind of great unity toward which we are moving very rapidly. Therefore you cannot without contradicting yourself condemn those who greet this unity from afar, as you put it, and who try according to their abilities to penetrate mysteries no doubt difficult but nonetheless comforting to us ....
COUNT: That there are mysteries in the Bible is beyond doubt, but to tell you the truth it does not matter much. I am very little concerned with knowing what a coat of skins is. Do you, who have worked to discover this, know more about it than I? And would we be better men if we did know it? Once more, search as much as you please, but take care, however, not to go too far and not to mislead yourself by giving rein to your imagination. It has been well said, as you recall, Search the Scriptures, but how and why? Read the text, Search the Scriptures and you will see that they testify of me.[John 5:39.] Thus it refers to an already certain fact and not to interminable researches into a future which is none of our concern ....
[Translation by Jack Lively]
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