(N.B.: Based on the book entitled Armageddon: A Beginning? to be published soon. Citations of sources also included therein.)
by Ruel Padua, PhD
‘Right-based’ or ‘duty-based’
Dealing only with the competences and needs that are recognised in the state’s laws as ‘rights’, in cases in which individuals and groups lay claim to them right-based justice may be said to require that they be allowed or upheld no matter who may be owing it, be they rulers or not. Nonetheless, every legal benefit (‘individual good/end’) that it brings about will only devolve to those found entitled. This is best exemplified by the idea of individualised human rights—i.e., civil and political. Contrarily, duty-based justice is concerned with realising common—especially ‘life-and-death’—needs of people, rights or not. Of the essence, surely, is the Pauline ‘fair balance’ or ‘goal of equality’. Yet, whether anything non- or anti-despotic as this ‘pursuit’ could be so aimed would depend on none but the ones supposedly owing it notably in two ways at that, namely:
• in what they might do or not of their own free will—or even arbitrarily (to be dealt with further in Chs. 2 and 8 below); and
• on how to comply with legally binding duties and other limitations (as discussed in detail in Chs. 7, 9 and 10 below).
In any case, what the common people might wish would not matter for much. Being merely the ruled, it would seem unlikely they could prevail over the rulers and resolve the issues by their will. Between the above criteria, though, the distinct role of ‘in pursuit of justice’ (common good) should be seen to devolve upon those who made themselves so bound—and at least what rulers ought to be like! It could be summed up in the extreme as ‘honourable bondage’ (endoxos douleia). Anyhow, needing only a brief sketch of it here we would consider justice based on duty as in keeping with Jesus’ initial refusal to help a Canaanite woman, saying (in Matt. 15:24) that He ‘was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. That is to say, He owed others no duty. So is it also with His teaching (in Luke 17:10) that ‘when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves [douloi achreioi]; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’. And in a defining sense, the king (or ruler) is made duty-bound (in Deut. 17:17) as follows:
… silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.
In relation to ‘who rules?’ and ‘what rules?’, duty-based justice in the extreme seems too difficult an intent or task to do in our times. All the same, it is only our ‘second-level’ inquiry set out as a practical task in the Introduction above; namely, ‘to find out … upon which institution the supreme doing and achieving of it should devolve …’. In no other than such role, however, are we to deal with it as ‘pre-eminently … a virtue of rulers …’.
Thus, a sense of and case for their ‘role’ so far made up and so as to bring in its theoretical basis or ground plan, we may specify other details of our intensive thrusts, though now only in regard to right- and duty-based justice. This may just enable us to fulfil our ‘first-level’ inquiry as set up in the Introduction as well; that is, ‘to inquire into the source and basis of justice at the highest point…’. To carry on, first, between the extremes on, say, the horizontal scale, towards one end (i.e., right-based) we may find the ‘proportional’ type as in Aristotle’s Ethics, to wit:
The just … is nothing other than the proportionate; the unjust is what violates the proportion … for the man who acts unjustly has too much, and he who is unjustly treated has too little of the goods available for distribution. In the case of evil the reverse is true; for the lesser evil is reckoned a good in comparison with the greater evil, since (a) the lesser evil is preferable to the greater, (b) what is worthy of choice is good and (c) the worthier a thing is of choice the greater good it is.
It may also be referred to in other terms as ‘treating equals equally and unequals unequally, but in proportion to their relevant differences’. Nonetheless, as Professor Passmore himself observes, among others, there is no ‘measuring device which will enable us to determine what persons are to be counted as equal, in what equal treatment consists, or what counts as a “relevant difference”’. It may thus be applied in nearly any situation as one pleases; in fact, Aristotle himself mentions democracy, oligarchy, and aristocracy. Yet, Passmore also bases his own ideal of civil justice in terms of ‘competence’ as the only merit required by Aristotle with which the relevant-difference norm may justify preferential treatment. In any case, those right-bearing persons or groups still have to be identified and their differences, if any, determined to a degree.
And towards the other end (or duty-based), we may cite a situation in the Acts of the Apostles at a formative, though inchoate level of communality: ‘… the whole group of those who believed [in Christ] were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the Apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.’ Being the apostolic church’s elders/leaders, the Apostles in any case were the ones who had the duty-bound role to distribute ‘to each as any had need’. Yet, besides the Scriptures, we also have a precedent in so-called moral economy—that is, the contrast between ‘householding proper’ and ‘money-making’. Professor Booth, following Aristotle and Polanyi, has this to say:
In denouncing the principle of production for gain ‘as not natural to man’, as boundless and limitless, Aristotle was, in effect, aiming at the crucial point, namely the divorcedness of a separate economic motive from the social relations in which these limitations inhere’…. What draws the moral economist to this idea of the household is already suggestive of a normative and critical intent, for the household is seen as a nonmarket community, antiacquisitive, the ‘highest form of economic sociability,’ in which ‘man [is] the end of production’….
And in denouncing ‘property as the mother of all crimes tormenting the world’, the indistinct Frenchman Morelly called for, in effect, a greed-free, duty-based politics during the Enlightenment; that is, before such more renowned Socialists and Social Democrats as Babeuf, Blanc, and others. That is to say, ‘let every man contribute to the commonweal according to his abilities and receive according to his needs’. Steeped in right-based values, surely, no modern state runs in this direction. And so, as often as not, the most influential rulers are also the wealthiest. Yet, it strikes at the heart of an unhappy theme in the Bible—‘there will never cease to be some in need on the earth’ (Deut. 15:11); and ‘[y]ou always have the poor with you’ (John 12:8). Noted non-Biblically too, Weber remarks, ‘in the Middle Ages, the typical needy person was a poor artisan, a craftsman without work’. ‘In Antiquity,’ he also claims, ‘he was a “proletarian,” a former landowner who was politically declasse because he no longer owned any real estate.’ And in our times, following Giddens, the ‘needy poor’s’ occupations will be ‘among the lowest-paid … or [they] are chronically unemployed or semi-employed … an underclass’.