What is Justice

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James L. Walker

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What is Justice?

It is an idea presupposing a power that lays down a rule or law to which the individual owes respect and obedience. God is presented as the supreme egoist. My wishes must yield to his. This is God's justice or law. Those who believe in God fear and obey, — not I. Then comes society's justice. "Society," the egoist, orders what it wills. I must sacrifice my wishes to the family, to the State, to humanity. If the power exists and knows how to subject me, I must, — not otherwise. Shall I waste my life in setting up and obeying an idea that I must treat all men alike? They are not alike, — not equally able or willing to sustain me in return. Society is the natural state of men, and holds each individual to "duties" so long as it can, or till he refuses to obey. When he comes to mil consciousness, he sets up as his own master, and thereafter, if there is to be any use for the word justice, it must mean the rules of a union of egoists with benefits to at least balance duties; and these duties are simply matter of contract. The egoists will act as they see fit or prudent toward natural society. Can any infidel say why he directly enslaves horses and not men? Men are indirectly enslaved, and their deference to ideas keeps them enslaved. It is useless to urge that slavery is unjust. The chameleon changes color, but remains a chameleon. One form of slavery is abolished to give place to another so long as men consent to be held subject. The idea that slavery is "unjust" is the idea that there is a rule or law against it. The facts of nature are there. The mere idea that, if rulers would cease to oppress, all would be better, is not effective of improvement to the subject man. When, however, it comes to his consciousness that he is naturally a subject till he refuses, and realizes that power and will are the essential matters, he makes himself free so far as he can. It is "just" to enslave those willing to be enslaved,—that is, it is according to the rule, or law, or shortest line of nature. Those who believe that man has an immortal soul, and that a horse has not, may act from superstitious fear or reverence. The intelligent egoist will "respect" the "vicious" horse sooner than the tame, subservient man. Viciousness is the resistance to enslavement. There is more virtue in the criminal classes than in the tame slaves. Crime and virtue are the same under State tyranny, as sin and virtue are the same under theological tyranny. "Justice," as a generality, with reference to natural society, is a snare, or a transposition of the horse and cart. I recognize no duty toward the powers that control me instead of bargaining with me. I am indifferent to the annihilation of the serfs whose consent enslaves me along with themselves. I am at war with natural society, and "all's fair" in war, although all is not expedient. All was lawful, but not expedient, with the apostle. So it is with the individual come to self-consciousness, not for the Lord's sake or humanity's sake, but for himself. The assertion of himself will be as general and various as his faculties'. To utterly dismiss the idea that there is any other justice in nature than force seeking the least line of resistance is to dismiss at the same time the idea that there is any injustice. This may save generations of complaining and begging. In short, we want to perceive the facts and processes of nature without colored glass before our eyes. No justice, no injustice, as between an individual and any other in nature? Why then no wrong in any method of becoming free! Startling thought to the halting slave! Nothing in crime bnt a fact? Nothing. See the complaining wife, not loving, but submitting and suffering. Nothing wrong in putting six inches of steel into the bosom of her liege lord? The egoist says, call it what you like, there is no hell. What the woman will do depends upon what are her thoughts. Therefore, my reader, as the laws of society, and the State, one of its forms, are tyrannies or disagreeable impediments to me (but I need not give any reason except to influence yon), and I see no difficulty in discarding them but your respect for ideas such as "right," "wrong," "justice," etc., I would have you consider that these are merely words with vague, chimerical meanings, as there is no moral government of the world, but merely an evolutionary process, and it depends upon perception of this fact, and self-direction of our individual powers united as we shall agree, how we can succeed in obtaining and enjoying more or less of the things of this world. Do yon feel fully conscious of this? Then you and I can perhaps join our forces, and I begin to have an appreciable interest in you. Nothing that I could do for you (without setting you in power over myself) could fail to be agreeable to me. I think we will not act very benevolently toward outsiders. They might take all we offered, as the ox takes the grass in his pasture. Disinterestedness is said to feed on unreciprocating self-indulgence in those upon whom it is spent. Do you not begin to think that by suiting only myself I am really doing far better toward others than by throwing myself away to serve them? If so, it is a lucky coincidence, for I only serve and amuse myself. And I really do not care if you call that unjust. I shall begin to work for you when I see yon are able to work for me. But if you are afraid to be free,—stay in slavery. I must have the satisfaction of seeing that you do not wholly escape suffering, if you are so unfit to aid me when I would aid you. And if you are thus lacking in stamina or sense, it will be no harm if you do get overworked and your existence is shortened. But I hope better things from you.

Tak Kak.

  • James L. Walker, “What is Justice?,” Liberty 3, no. 25 (March 6, 1886): 8.