Published in Journal of Markets & Morals, 7 (Fall, 2004). 409-20.

 

 

                  [James V. Schall, S. J. is a Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.  His books include At the Limits of Political Philosophy, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, Another Sort of Learning, Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society, Schall on Chesterton, What Is God Like?, and Roman Catholic Political Philosophy.  This essay was originally presented as a lecture in the Business School at Loyola University in New Orleans, March, 2004.]

 

                  [Summary:   The place of justice among the virtues, both moral and theological, has always been a delicate issue.  Machiavellians tend to underestimate or deny its central significance.  Contemporary religious rhetoric often tends to exaggerate it.  Classical philosophy was ever aware of the ambiguity of justice, its impersonality and rigidity.  Unless placed within a higher order of “good,” as Plato saw, or of “charity,” as Aquinas understood, justice introduces an unsettling utopianism into any existing polities.]

 

                                                                                         

JUSTICE: THE MOST TERRIBLE OF THE VIRTUES

 

                  “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.  Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”

                                                                                                                                                                                            – Psalm 85, 10-11.

 

                  Summum jus, summa injustitia.

                                                                                                                                                                                      – Cicero, De Officiis.

 

                  Deus misericorditer agit, non quidem contra justitiam suam faciendo, sed aliquid supra justitiam operando....”

                                                                                                                                                           – Thoms Aquinas, I, 21, 3, ad 2.

 

I.

                  In ethical and political affairs, no more frequent or more agonizing word is found than that of justice or its related words “fair,” “equitable,” “right,” or “rights.”  In its own way, of course, it also is a noble word standing at the height of the practical, not theoretical or theological, virtues.  It is also one of the attributes applied to the divinity  – God is just.  Justice, following Plato, can have a very brad scope.  It means that everything is voluntarily doing what it ought to do so that the whole may do what it is ordered (that is, designed) to do.  Such is the fifth definition of justice in the fourth book of Plato’s Republic.  The standard sub-title of this famous dialogue is precisely “On Justice.”

                  Justice is classically treated in the fifth book of Aristotle’s Ethics, wherein he distinguishes between legal or general justice and special justice.  In earlier books, he offered an overall description or analysis of virtue and responsibility, together with the vices opposite to each of the virtues.1  Aristotle explained how virtues applied to human action and passion in which they exist as habitual guides or moderators.  Justice is a virtue which, unlike courage or temperance, does not look inward.  Rather, it looks ad alium, to how we stand to another or others besides ourselves when we chance to come into various relationships with them.   It implies that our perfection is not something totally dependent on or related to ourselves alone.  If we speak of ‘justice to ourselves,’ we mean that we compare or relate what we ought to be with what we in fact are and do.

                  Justice is usually the first virtue that children and youth become aware of, the one that causes most of the loudest controversies existing within families or society.  “He took my toy” or “she won’t give me my cake” are protestations frequently heard by parents throughout the world and in all times.  And whether the toy is his or the cake hers is itself a controversy about justice.  Justice has something strangely incomplete about it, even when it is complete.  Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was addressed to the potential conflict between justice and charity, to the reasons why the famous ‘pound of flesh,’ even though due in “justice,” was not just in its carrying out.2  Justice seems to overlook “exceptions,” something Aristotle discussed under the heading of epichia or equity in the same fifth book of his Ethics.  This problem with exceptions also explains, in part, the length and nature of Plato’s dialogue on the Laws, why each law needed a “preamble” to explain what it was intended to accomplish whatever the words used to describe it.

                  Actually, Aristotle tells us, every virtue or vice, not merely justice and injustice, can have an effect on others so that it thereby acquires a justice component.  Thus, it can fall under the law.  Our excessive anger or intemperance, for example, can require legal standards and restrictive coercion or penalty.  This need is what drunken driving laws, after all, are all about, the combination of temperance and justice.  When a virtue is looked upon under the aspect of how it relates to others, it is what Aristotle meant by “genera” or “legal” justice, an action that could or should be subject  to legislation but only under the aspect of justice, not of itself.  The actual acquiring and practicing the virtues ought to be the normal accomplishments of human moral growth acquired for their own sakes.  That is, we should control our eating or drinking even if it had no effect on others.

                  But justice was also its own particular virtue, not just an element in the other virtues.  It had its own specific realm or object, something that was not merely subjective.  It concerned itself with how ee stand to others either voluntarily or involuntarily in relationships that, broadly speaking, had to do with exchanges in which something could be measured or at least reasonably estimated.  Liberality or generosity was treated in book four of the Ethics.  This particular virtue also dealt with something outside of ourselves, with how we handle our wealth or property.  This is one of the origins of the term “liberal,” which meant, in such writers as Locke, that the state was designed to protect our wealth so that we can freely use it.  In Aristotle, it meant our being “free” of our wealth so that we could use it in a reasonable manner when occasion arose.

                  Clearly, property or wealth is something related to justice, at least indirectly.  But in fact, liberality is related to wealth as a means to meet the bodily and human needs of finite, corporeal beings, particularly the family.  Indeed, liberality, strictly speaking, means that we show in our actions that we sue our wealth for proper or beneficent ends.  Chesterton, in a famous essay explaining why he was not a socialist, remarked that he did not want to live in a world in which everything was “shared” because sharing had attached to it the notion of justice rather than of something beyond justice.  He wanted to live in a world in which he could actually give what was really his freely to someone else.3  He also wanted to be able to receive something that was really given to him, not just “shared,” as if it were a matter of justice.  Strictly speaking, justice does not require thanks.  Without this economic foundation of freedom, without some basic abundance or superfluity, it is impossible to have the virtue of generosity, of liberality.  But this notion does not mean that the poor cannot be generous or liberal.  Often they are more generous proportionately than the rich, a reminder of the story of the widow’s mite in the New Testament (Luke, 21, 1-4).  Wealth and its production are thus not only related to justice.

                  Liberality, nevertheless, was, like fear and pleasure, still concerned with something more directly related to ourselves, even to our bodies.  And, but it noted, there is nothing pejorative or wrong about things naturally related to ourselves.  It is good that we exist, as Genesis teaches.  Nature also looks to ourselves and to the things needed to be what we are in our flourishing.  “No ethically unfavorable connotation attaches to the notion of a need centered about the self...,” Yves Simon has written.  “Needs relative to such goods as food and shelter are self-centered y nature....”4  We have a proper good that needs reasonable attention.  The common good in principle is not opposed to our private good.  Indeed, one of the purposes of the common good is that private goods in their proper manner, be achieved by us.  One of the basic purposes of authority, as Yves Simon also wrote in his great boo, is that it fosters and protects the autonomy of families and smaller institutions.5

II.

                  Aristotle considered justice itself under two headings.  The first was distributive justice, namely, ow are the general or common goods and burdens to be equitably divided among the various people within a polity or organization?  In this sense, justice, like all virtues, always involved an element of prudence, namely, the discovery of a proper judgment about what this proportion was, more or less.  We should not expect, as Aristotle warned us, more certitude of a science than its subject matter will allow (1094b13-15; 1103b28; 1104a3-5).  Thus, it was recognized that it was impossible, usually, to have an exact mathematical relationship, even though Aristotle spoke of distributive justice in terms of geometric proportion and commutative justice, the second form of justice, in terms of mathematical proportion.  Aristotle thought that these goods and burdens should be decided in accordance with their relative contributions to a common good.  Thus, those who contributed or suffered more deserved more rewards, spiritual or temporal.  Burdens, be it noted, were likewise to be distributed according to some standard of equitable bearing of what commonly needed to be done, in wars, for instance, or in taxation, or in honors.

                  The second form of justice, that  is the one with which we are most instinctively familiar, the one we learn, or fail to learn, as children, is generally called “commutative” or “rectificatory” or “rectifying” justice.  Its classical definition, itself a kind of self-evident principle, is “reddere cuique quod suum est,” to “render to another what is due.”  Thus, if I borrow a hundred dollars from you and promise to repay it back in a month, then I “make right’ what is unbalanced in our relationship when I pay back the hundred dollars.  Thing are restored to the status quo ante, to the state of things when I owed nothing to anyone, and  no one owed me anything.  At first sight, this restored condition seems to be the model of the way things ought to be.

                  Be it noted in the beginning, however, that to live in a world in which we “owe” nothing to anyone or no one “owes” anything to us can be a kind of isolated hell.  It is what Aristotle was worried about when he inquired whether God was lonely because He did not apparently have friends (1159a5).  This concern was also Chesterton’s point on giving and receiving.   Indeed, in a sense, receiving may be more important than giving.  We are initially beings to whom things can be given, including, ultimately, ourselves, our own being.

                  Justice implies, as Josef Pieper has well written, a kind of constant unsettlement that reflects the ever changing activity of seeking and restoring, tearing down and rebuilding, yes, of giving and receiving.  It implies the possibility of newness and likewise of preservation.  Indeed, it implies that destruction or obsolescence is not always a bad thing.  “What it (the ever recurring need to restitution, the rendering of what is due) means,” Pieper wrote, “is, rather, that the fundamental condition of man and his world is provisory, temporary, non-definitive, tentative, as is proved by the ‘patchwork’ character of all historical activity, and that, consequently, any claim to erect a definitive and unalterable order in the world must of necessity lead to something inhuman.”6

                  Pieper, I think, has his finger on something absolutely fundamental here about human condition.  It can never be perfect in this world and attempts to make it so, by our own powers, are fundamentally totalitarian.  I shall return to this point later in commenting on C. S. Lewis’ problem with progress, namely, “do things get better if men do not get better?”  This view by no means denies the importance, even the economic or political importance, of the Platonic or Augustinian forms or ideas, but it does serve to put them in their proper place.

                  Aristotle pointed out that there are two general ways in which I enter a relation with someone else under the heading of justice.  In the first case, I voluntarily enter an agreement with him to do this or that in exchange for this or that contribution on his part.  We begin a business together on these terms, for example.  Justice seems almost like an open invitation to men to see what they can do to improve things already given to them, as if what is given by nature is not, by itself, complete.  The failure to understand this point is what, I think, is wrong in general with modern ecology movements when they reduce man to some a priori notion of what the earth can carry.  One very dangerous strand of modern tyranny stems from this source.  Indeed, I think this is where much of the left went at the collapse of Marxism, itself another view about how to perfect the earth and mankind within it by our own powers and theories.

                  In the second case of commutative justice, some accident or other incident occurs to set up a relation that was not voluntary between two or more people, but the situation needs to be rectified.  For instance, someone totally unknown to me and I to him smashes into my parked car in a strange city or country.  A thousand dollars of damage is done to my car.  Thus, under the aspect of commutative justice, I can be related potentially to anyone in the whole world, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to whomever I sign a contract with or to whoever crashes into my parked car in any time or place.  There is a striking and philosophically significant negative universality to justice that underscores the possible relation of anyone to everyone.  It implies that we each should have a positive relation, but, I think, not really under the aegis of justice.  It is what Aristotle said when he remarked that friendship is more important to the city than justice (1155a21-28).  This is a notion that revelation carries even further almost, I think, to the point of subsuming or eliminating justice altogether.

                  Justice, to give it its due, implies that we are and need to be bound to others in a specific judgment and action.  It will be recalled that, in the first book of the Republic when the question of the initial of five definitions of justice came up, the first definition, associated with Socrates’ old friend Cephalus, was “to render what is due and to tell the truth” (331c).  Why does the “truth” have to come into the definition?  It is because if I lie, I cannot render what is due because the other does not, quite literally, know what is due.  If t here is no implicit and objective standard by which anyone can assess the fairness of the exchange, what is left is not justice but power, as Hobbes in fact would later put it, even advocate.  What is “just” becomes not what is due but what is enforced.  When Socrates pointed out that we do not return a borrowed sword to a madman from whom we borrowed it, he was saying that reason and truth are already included in all the exchanges of justice.

III.

                  Against this background discussion, I have selected the somewhat odd and provocative title to these reflections  – the thesis that justice is the “most terrible of the virtues.”  These are not literal words of Aristotle, though I think he implies then when, in his two books on friendship but only one on justice.  I have suggested elsewhere, moreover, that “sincerity” is the “most dangerous of the virtues.”7  The greatest crimes are often committed by quite sincere men who believe in their cause and are earnest in its pursuit  – as far as we can tell, most “suicide bombers” in our time seem to think in this manner.  Sincerity is often a very charming thing and is not, in itself, a vice.  The most dangerous fanatic is not the ne who knows he is doing wrong and does it anyhow, but the one who sincerely thins th is doing right  – and does it enthusiastically.  We like people to be sincere so that their inner intentions correspond to their external actions.  Sincerity, as such, however, prescinds from the truth or validity of the cause about which one is sincere.  In this sense, I call sincerity the most “dangerous “ virtue.

                  But here, I have something else in mind when I talk about justice as the “most terrible of the virtues.”  Notice, I do not intend to suggest that justice is not a virtue.  It is indeed a virtue, often said to be the highest of the “practical” virtues, of courage, temperance, prudence, and justice.  To be sure, a case can be made that prudence, the intellectual of the moral virtues, is the highest of the practical virtues, that is, of the virtues related to human action, not the theoretical virtues related to thought and truth.  The seeds of my thesis, of course, are already in Aristotle and indeed in Plato, though the words “the most terrible of the virtues” are mine.  An examination of why justice can be so described, I think, brings us to considerations of the highest moment.

 

 

IV. 

                  To make these points more clear, however, let me cite some of the classical descriptions or definitions of justice.  We must begin by recalling the young potential philosophers, Adeimantus and Glaucon, in the second book of the Republic.  They explain to Socrates that they want to hear justice praised for its own sake.  The trouble with justice, they soberly tell Socrates, is that it is common knowledge that no one follows justice except for fear of punishment or hope of reward, not the highest motives.  No one, these two young potential philosophers thought, would be just if he did not have rewards or punishments hanging or dangling over his heard.  Justice, the brothers explain, is merely a mid-point between doing the maximum evil, which we would do without law if we could, or suffering the maximum evil from someone else doing evil to us.  Thus, the so-called “just” laws are merely compromises between being unjust and suffering injustice.

                  Adeimantus adds that if we read the great poets, those witnesses to what men really think, we will find that, even in the most famous poetry, say, Homer, the unjust are praised and rewarded while the just suffer and are punished.  “Because I think we’ll say that what poets and prose-writers tell us about the most important matters concerning human beings is bad.  They say that many unjust people are happy and many just ones wretched, that injustice is profitable if it escapes detection, and that justice is another’s good but one’s own loss.  I tink we’ll prohibit these stories and order the poets to compose the opposite kind of poetry and tell the opposite kind of tales” (392a-b).  Thus, no one really believes that justice is any good by itself. 

                  This poetic opinion about justice is the common testimony of mankind.  So the young men urge Socrates to explain to them why we should be just whether or not we are rewarded or punished.  “Can’t we hear justice praised for its own sake?” they plead with Socrates.  In a touching moment, Socrates stops to praise these two brothers of Plato for being able to explain the charges against justice so well without themselves being persuaded by them or seeing what is wrong with them.  No one with any perception can fail to have some sympathy with these two charming young men who sense that something terrible lies behind justice.  “But in what does this ‘terribleness’ consist?” we wonder.

                  Let me recall for you some of the most famous statements about justice.  We will see that it is both praised and feared.  Cicero, for instance, in words I cited in the introduction, stated, in a terse and famous passage: Summum jus, summa injustitia (Cicero, De Officiis).  “The highest or most perfect justice leads to the worst injustice.”  We intuitively suspect some truth is found in this famous observation.  The Roman poet Terrence had the same idea: Jus summum saepe summa malitia.(Terrance, Haeutontimosun unos, 77).  “The most perfect justice often leads to the most perfect evil.”  These concerns about justice, I think, cannot be ignored. Even if there are more positive things to be said about it.  And the rather notorious Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I (1503-64), remarked: Fiat justitia, pereat mundus.  “Let justice be done even though the universe be destroyed.”  Again there is a suspicion about the effects of justice.  Yet another famous phrase reads, Fiat justitia, ruat caelum.  “Let justice be done even if it ruins the heavens.”

                  Yet, the opposite principle is also seen in the literature: Fiat justitia ne pereat mundus.  “Let justice be done so that the world be not destroyed.”  The motto of the District of Columbia, for example, is Justitia omnibus.  “We stand for justice for all.”  We can hardly say, “We want injustice for all.”  We cannot even say, “we want injustice for anyone.”  Giorgio Filibeck, at the Pontificial Commission on Justice and Peace (2001), wrote, “La justice renvoie B une autre notion-clé, cette de la vérité, aui constitue un présupposé de la justice.”  “Justice sends us to another key-idea, that of truth, which constitutes a presupposition of justice.”  We have seen that Plato already included truth in his first definition of justice.  “Liberty and justice for all” is a phrase familiar to all of us from the Pledge of Allegiance.

                  Suddenly, it occurs to us that we must relate justice and charity.  Or must we make a choice between justice and charity?  Is forgiveness unjust?  Plato says that not to be punished for our crimes is unjust so that we should want to be punished for them.  Is it justice instead of charity?  Or does charity come before justice?  Or must we fist be just before we can think of having charity?  If that latter were true, we suspect, there would be no revelation as we know it, since it seems to have been arrived before the world was just.  And what about benevolence and gratitude?  Benevolence means giving more than what is due.  Strictly speaking, we need not be “grateful” for receiving what is our due.  When he arrived at book 6 of the Republic, Plato suddenly ceased speaking of justice and began to speak of the good, almost as if to say that justice must be, to be itself, contained in the good, that something beyond justice exists.

VI.

                  I have always held that the most important and poignant passage ever penned about justice is found in C. S. Lewis’ wonderful novel, Till We Have Faces.  This is a Christian retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche.  In the novel, Redival, Psyche’s ugly but most intelligent sister, is speaking with the Greek philosopher, the Fox.  She is blaming the gods for their taking away her beautiful sister from her.  This is the conversation that follows: “(Redival): ‘My judges?’  (Fox): ‘Why, yes, child.  The gods h ave been accused by you.  Now it’s their turn.’  (Redival): ‘I cannot hope for mercy.’  (Fox): “Infinite hopes  – and fears – may both be yours.  Be sure tat, whatever else you get, you will not get justice.; (Redival): ‘Are the gods not just?’  (Fox): ‘Oh, no, child.  What would become of us if they were?’”8

                  We need to ponder again and again these words  – “Oh, no, child, what would become of us if they were?”  What would become of us if the gods were just?  We would all be lost.  Our only hope, it seems, lies in the ironic possibility that the gods are not just.  And if they are not just, are they not “terrible?”  Yet, I am arguing that justice itself is what is “terrible,” not the gods.

                  Thomas Aquinas makes the same point about the gods that C. S. Lewis’ philosopher, the Fox, does  – “what would become of us if the gods were just?”  Aquinas writes, “Opus autem divinae justitiae semper praesupponit opus misericordiae, et in eo fundatur (I, 21, 4).  “The work of divine justice always presupposes the world of mercy and is founded in it.”  What an amazing passage!  It is the key, in fact, to all I have been saying about the limits of justice.  Once we understand that justice, even for its own sake, must first be taken up into the Good and into mercy, we can begin to understand its proper place among us.  I do not argue, be it noted, that justice does not have a proper place.  Rather I argue that what it is itself points to something beyond its own terms and cannot safely exist without it.  In his address to the Diplomatic Corps, John Paul II stated that the Church “wishes to make all her spiritual energies available, convinced that ‘justice must find its fulfillment in charity.’”9  Justice leads beyond itself by being itself.

                  What does it mean, then, to maintain that justice is the most “terrible” virtue?  Josef Pieper, as is his wont, has again provided us with just the right context.  Justice is not opposed in principle to power or even war.  It is opposed to injustice.  Its opposition to injustice must include the ability actually to do something about injustices as they occur in concrete reality.  This “doing something” may require the reasoned use of force.  The lack of any coercive or punitive forces is to a virtue or nobility, but itself an injustice, a lack of what ought to be there.10  Here is how Pieper put it: “The fundamental rationale for all power is to safeguard and to protect these rights....  No calamity causes more despair in the world than the unjust exercise of power.  And yet ay power that could never be abused is ultimately no power at all  – a terrible thought.”11 

                  What is it that Pieper calls precisely “a terrible thought?”  The terrible thought is not that we are always capable of abusing power. This is a metaphysical consequence of the very nature of freedom.  Rather it is that no power may exist to be abused in the first place.  For if there is no way to abuse power, there is likewise no way to use it rightly.12   The rationale for power is to protect and safeguard that which is just or right when it needs protection.  Take away this power and we have unlimited injustice unopposed.  This consequence is one of the most difficult things for many, especially religious people, to understand.  So if it is a “terrible thought” that no power exists to protect what is just and right, it is always a “terrible” virtue that does the protecting.  The virtue of justice is rightly exercised precisely that injustice may be contained.  I have always make this same point with retard to Lord Acton’s famous phrase, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  To this aphorism I reply, “ lack of power corrupts, and absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely.”  That is Pieper’s point.

VI.

                  Earlier, I mentioned C. S. Lewis’s problem with the idea of progress.  In his essay, “Is Progress Possible?”, he states: “The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the world wise paternalism of a technocracy without loving  all pw4ersnal privacy and independence?”13  Lewis did not think so.  The possibility of a world-wide tyranny, one not imposed but freely chosen, has been in the literature for centuries.  Indeed, it was in Plato himself.  In his Seventh Letter, Plato wrote:

At last I came to the conclusion that all existing states are badly governed ad the condition f their laws practically incurable, without some miraculous remedy and the assistance of fortune; and I was forced to say, in praise of true philosophy, that from here height alone was it possible to discern what the nature of justice is, either in the state or in the individual, and that the ills of the human race would never end until either those who are sincerely and truly lovers of wisdom come into political power, or the rulers of our cities, by the grace of God, learn true philosophy (326)a-b).

Whether the “miraculous remedy” has in fact happened or the “assistance of fortune” come about can be debated.  It is my suspicion, of course, that they have.  Plato’s “possibility to discern what the nature of justice is, either in the state or in the individual” requires reference to this “miraculous remedy,” if I might so refer to revelation.

                  One is, in my view, reinforced in this position by the point I am trying to make with regard to the “terribleness” of justice.  We have to maintain, at the same time, that justice is a good but that it is strangely empty.  Aristotle, I think, understood this perfectly well.  If we return to a consideration of justice, we see that relationships of justice, by themselves, are quintessentially impersonal.  We get what is “due”  – no more, no less.  This indifference to the person to whom we are just or who is unjust to us is what I meant earlier in suggesting that gratitude, benevolence, and charity are needed in addition to justice.  We must be just even to our enemies, to those who hate us, to those we do not know or care to know.

                  If we now look at Aristotle’s famous books on friendship, we see that he proposes three kinds of friendship, that based on utility, that based on pleasure, and that based n the highest virtues.  Each of these kinds of friendship remedies, as it were, what is lacking in a justice relationship.  What is lacking?  Justice is wholly indifferent to the person to whom we are just.  When Aristotle said that cities need friendship more than justice, he put his finger on the essential issue.  If I am related to another in justice, I do not, in that relationship as such, care about him.  What I care about is the unbalanced relation between him and myself that came about because of contract or injury.

                  That the world is a constant network of changing, impersonal relationships of justice is the political background whereby human exchanges can take place, as such a good and necessary thing, itself a great achievement.  But every human exchange, be it economic, political, or of any other nature, is potentially open to the modification of friendship.  The hard relationship tat is justice is always better if it can be softened.  Its impersonality is what makes it “terrible,” the realization that the person who is being just to me does not really care about me or does not have the time or opportunity to do so.  He only cares, and in essence should only care, about a mutual relationship that is out of balance.  We can be related to someone in justice and have no other relationship with him.  It is a very cold virtue, but still a virtue.  It is very common, not intimate at all. 

                  The remedy for this problem exists on two levels.  The relationship of friendship is reciprocal and reaches to the inner person of the friend.  It is distinctly not impersonal.  Aristotle tells us that friends have no need of justice.  This implies that there is something higher  – some good – that is higher than justice into which it is subsumed.  Moreover, revelation adds the consideration not merely that our relation to the Godhead is not primarily in justice but in mercy.  There is a possibility of forgiveness or compassion.   Our injustices need not always be subject to the criteria of justice, even when they are questions of justice.

VI.

                  In an old Peanuts, to conclude, it is near Christmas.  Lucy is watching Linus mailing his Christmas lists to Santa.  She asks him, “Are you sending those greedy letters to Santa Claus again?”  Without looking at her, Linus replies,  “I’m not greedy.”  He then turns around to confront her grim stare.  Loudly, he protests, “All I want is what I have coming to me!  All I want is my fair share.”   Lucy throws up her hands, and shouts, “Santa does not owe you anything!”  But Linus responds defiantly, “He does if I’ve been good!  That’s the agreement.”  In the last scene, Linus walks in one direction, Lucy in the other.  He mutters to her, “Any tenth grade student of commercial law could tell yo that.”  All Lucy can say is “Oh, good grief!”

                  Actually, all the problems of justice and charity are in this charming scene.  The “terribleness” of justice is to claim that Santa “owes” us something because we have agreed to be virtuous.  There are no gifts possible in this view of the world.  I suppose, in the end, that is the thought that I want to emphasize.  Justice is a virtue, but a “terrible” one that will, when taken to its extreme, deprive us even of Christmas.  Perhaps this is why, at bottom, we are no longer allowed to show images of Christmas on our streets or to say “Merry Christmas” to each other.  We live in a world that claims justice is the only virtue.  “Summum jus, summa injustitia.”  “‘Are the gods not just?’  ‘Oh, no, child, what would become of us if they were?’”

                  The last words on the most “terrible” virtue can safely be left with Aquinas:  Opus autem divinae justitiae semper praesupponit opus misericordiae, et in eo fundatur.”   “The work of divine justice always presupposed the work of mercy, and is founded in it.”   Deus misericorditer agit, non quidem contra justitiam suam faciendo, sed aliquid supra justitiam operando....  “God always acts mercifully, not by going against justice, but by effecting something beyond it.”

                                  



                  1See James V., Schall, “Virtue and Vice: The Rule of the Self over the Self,” At the Limits of Political Philosophy (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 161-86.

                  2See Allan Bloom, Shakespeare’s Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), Chapter 2.

                  3G. K. Chesterton, “Why I Am Not a Socialist,” The Chesterton Review, 7 (August, 1981).  This essay was originally in The New Age, January 4, 1908).

                  4Yves Simon, A General Theory of Authority (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980), 25.

                  5Simon, ibid., 56-80.  This book is perhaps the best discussion of authority and justice.

                  6Josef Pieper  – an Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 63.

                  7James V. Schall, “The Most Dangerous Virtue,” The Praise of ‘Sons of Bitches’: On the Worship of God by Fallen Men (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1978), 53-62.

                  8C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1956), 297.

                  9John Paul II, Address to the Diplomatic Corps,” L’Osservatore Romano, January 21, 2004, 5.

                  10See Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War against Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2003).

                  11Pieper, ibid, 60.

                  12See James V. Schall, “Justice, Brains, and Strength,” Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society (Langham, MD.: Roman & Little field, 1998), 1020.

                  13C. S. Lewis, “Is Progress Possible?” God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1989), 316.