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The Mystery Of Justice
by [?]

I speak, for those who do not believe in the existence of a unique, all-powerful, infallible Judge, for ever intent on our thoughts, our feelings and actions, maintaining justice in this world and completing it in the next. And if there be no Judge, what justice is there? None other than that which men have made for themselves by their laws and tribunals, as also in the social relations that no definite judgment governs? Is there nothing above this human justice, whose sanction is rarely other than the opinion, the confidence or mistrust, the approval or disapproval, of our fellows? Is this capable of explaining or accounting for all that seems so inexplicable to us in the morality of the universe, that we at times feel almost compelled to believe an intelligent Judge must exist? When we deceive or overcome our neighbour, have we deceived or overcome all the forces of justice? Are all things definitely settled then, and may we go boldly on: or is there a graver, deeper justice, one less visible perhaps, but less subject to error; one that is more universal, and mightier?

That such a justice exists we all of us know, for we all have felt its irresistible power. We are well aware that it covers the whole of our life, and that at its centre there reigns an intelligence which never deceives itself, which none can deceive. But where shall we place it, now that we have torn it down from the skies? Where does it weigh good and evil, happiness and disaster? Whence does it issue to deal out reward and punishment? These are questions that we do not often ask ourselves, but they have their importance. The nature of justice, and all our morality, depend on the answer; and it cannot be fruitless therefore to inquire how that great idea of mystic and sovereign justice, which has undergone more than one transformation since history began, is being received to-day in the mind and the heart of man. And is this mystery not the loftiest, the most passionately interesting, of all that remain to us: does it not intertwine with most of the others? Do its vacillations not stir us to the very depths of our soul? The great bulk of mankind perhaps know nothing of these vacillations and changes, but for the evolution of thought it suffices that the eyes of the few should see; and when the clear consciousness of these has become aware of the transformation, its influence will gradually attain the general morality of men.

In these pages we shall naturally have much to say of social justice: of the justice, in other words, that we mutually extend to each other through life; but we shall leave on one side legal or positive justice, which is merely the organisation of one side of social justice. We shall occupy ourselves above all with that vague but inevitable justice, intangible and yet so effective, which accompanies and sets its seal upon every action of our life; which approves or disapproves, rewards or punishes. Does this come from without? Does an inflexible, undeceivable moral principle exist, independent of man, in the universe and in things? Is there, in a word, a justice that might be called mystic? Or does it issue wholly from man; is it inward even though it act from without; and is the only justice therefore psychologic? These two terms, mystic and psychologic justice, comprehend, more or less, all the different forms of justice, superior to the social, that would appear to exist to-day.

It is scarcely conceivable that any one who has forsaken the easy, but artificially illumined, paths of positive religion, can still believe in the existence of a physical justice arising from moral causes, whether its manifestations assume the form of heredity or disease, of geologic, atmospheric, or other phenomena. However eager his desire for illusion or mystery, this is a truth he is bound to recognise from the moment he begins earnestly and sincerely to study his own personal experience, or to observe the external ills which, in this world of ours, fall indiscriminately on good and wicked alike. Neither the earth nor the sky, neither nature nor matter, neither air nor any force known to man (save only those that are in him) betrays the slightest regard for justice, or the remotest connection with our morality, our thoughts or intentions. Between the external world and our actions there exist only the simple and essentially non-moral relations of cause and effect. If I am guilty of a certain excess or imprudence, I incur a certain danger, and have to pay a corresponding debt to nature. And as this imprudence or excess will generally have had an immoral cause–or a cause that we call immoral because we have been compelled to regulate our life according to the requirements of our health and tranquillity–we cannot refrain from establishing a connection between this immoral cause and the danger to which we have been exposed, or the debt we have had to pay; and we are led once more to believe in the justice of the universe, the prejudice which, of all those that we cling to, has its root deepest in our heart. And in our eagerness to restore this confidence we are content deliberately to ignore the fact that the result would have been exactly the same had the cause of our excess or imprudence been–to use the terms of our infantine vocabulary–heroic or innocent. If on an intensely cold day I throw myself into the water to save a fellow-creature from drowning, or if, seeking to drown him, I chance to fall in, the consequences of the chill will be absolutely the same; and nothing on this earth or beneath the sky–save only myself, or man if he be able–will enhance my suffering because I have committed a crime, or relieve my pain because my action was virtuous.