AN EXISTENTIALIST THEORY OF JUSTICE

Existentialist thought as a philosophy has primarily served substantively and practically as a personal philosophy dealing with the meaninglessness of life and the moral decision of suicide. When it tries to deal with social or ethical concepts beyond the needs of an individual, it becomes primarily a means for French dudes to get laid and makes little sense either in theory or in practice. Such result is predictable given its premises and conclusions that all is meaningless and that all social and ethical concepts are equal in the end. Don Juan, the Actor, and the Conqueror are all equally moral individuals when all is meaningless. However, I do not believe that this is a necessary result of Existentialist thought. This is the necessary result and truth when one faces the choice of suicide, however, once one has made the choice to live and to reject suicide, this choice makes possible an Existentialist theory of social ethics or justice that must be systematically studied. It is not necessarily true that Existentialist thought must accept the Conqueror whose strength is his will to conquer as morally or ethically equal to those whose strength is their will not to conquer. An Existentialist theory of Justice is possible.

Once one chooses to live, the second unavoidable realization after ‘I think therefore I am’ is that ‘I think therefore I need power to continue thinking.’ Living requires power. Though life may be gifted to us at conception without our choice, one who wants to live must get the power to continue staying alive from the moment the choice to continue living is made. The individual born rich or an ascetic surviving on small needs may not need to acquire further or much power to live but regardless of how little power one needs to acquire, living does not occur naturally. If we let Nature or Natural Law have its way, both the individual and any society of individuals would die of ‘natural causes’ quickly and most likely painfully and miserably. I refer to this need as ‘power’ or in the classical sense the ‘Will to Power’ because such choice of words best describes the various forms of work and effort in which human life engages in order to survive. This is true of all life. Animals and plants spend their whole existence hunting each other as food to get the power to live. The human need for power in life goes beyond just food: humans want the power to control their lives and thus eventually, once one starts interacting with at least one other individual to form a society, the power to control the lives of other humans (whether real or imagined). Thus, having survived the absurd reality that life is meaningless, the Absurd Man must now face the absurd reality that life is meaningless and unjust. Not only will one never naturally get what one needs to live, survive, and to have some fun and passion in life, but one’s attempts to live, survive, and have some fun will unavoidably be conflicting with and most likely will be threatening to someone else’s attempts and need to do the same.

Furthermore,the need for power and the ability to satisfy the need for power are never in balance. A poor man who is lazy and uneducated and a captive of his vices will most likely always remain poor both materially and in spirit. However, a rich man who is lazy, ignorant, and a captive of his vices will become, with a little bit of luck, a President of the United States and rich in all things. Though hard work may get the poor out from poverty, the cost of such success will be either destroying their spirit by such hard work or the selling of their spirit to the needs of the rich. Either way the poor have lost and sold themselves to those rich in power. The only way a poor man can keep his virtues is to remain poor and surrender hope for a better material life. In short, there is no justice in life; this is not a contingent fact but a necessary fact of life. As the Good Book says,the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.

As with suicide, in standard Existentialism there are two ways for the Absurd Man to respond.

One can respond with the ‘Leap of Faith’ prescribed by the first Existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard: if there is no justice in this life, believe there is justice in the next. Secular existentialists are too quick to reject this option and such quickness shows an irrational bias and prejudice that should not be present in a philosopher. Religion has faced and dealt with the injustice of life for millennia; there is no justification to reject such experienced thought outright without at least understanding or at least trying to understand its complexities and subtleties. The Christian answer is very brilliant, powerful, and has served the Western World successfully and pragmatically for two thousand years now and is best summarized in the Parable of the Workers’ in the Vineyard. This simple yet intense and profound parable dismisses injustice in life because love exists between God and Man. It in no way attempts to hide the true nature of God as the ultimate Power that can do as It pleases with nature and the humans It created. It shows ‘justice’ to be a human concept; an all-powerful Being who created nature can do whatever It wants with it. Trying to attach the term unjust to such a Being as God that in essence defines the Natural Order or Divine Order of existence is meaningless and exhibits only the arrogance and stupidity of humanity.

God is defined as the reason there is something instead of nothing. Christianity offers us union with such power through God’s manifesting itself by becoming human in the Person of Jesus Christ. This is quite an amazing conceptual structure and thought. It turns the arbitrary power of God from being the source of injustice into the negation of the concept. The reward for such a Leap is incredible and it is very tempting to jump if one views it objectively. If faced with a beautiful woman who may be a bitch, a man is still very attracted to her and wants to fornicate with her as long as her beauty lasts regardless of the bitch factor. With God, you know the beauty will never fade and the union will always be  great, so why not put up with the bitch factor especially when by doing so you are essentially becoming One with all of nature and humanity and thus ending all the conflict that is the source of injustice? Christianity has even developed the concept of the Holy Spirit to act essentially as a marriage counselor between God as a Man and God as the supreme Deity the Father.

Of course, the Absurd Man would protest that such a critique misses the point: accepting injustice as answer to the question of justice is the same as accepting suicide as the answer to the question of meaningless. This would be a correct critique if one were still debating the issue of meaningless and suicide. Once one accepts life, such a critique is no longer sound nor valid.

The other option is to go the opposite way and reject nature and the God Who created it. By rejecting such, I do not meet substituting it with another god as usually occurs. I mean nihilism and I mean it as a good. The Absurd Man instead of seeking the power to live by constantly seeking power should achieve such power by constantly fighting all others’ seeking of power without heightening the battle for power. We must remember that in this critique we are no longer dealing with morality or with just one individual’s battle with meaningless and suicide; when thinking of social concepts such as justice and ethics, there is always at least one other person out there trying to get or to share in the same power and thus inevitably trying to defeat us or to conflict with us in our Will to Power. Even if we were to reduce ourselves to the bare essentials of life living in a village of two people with all the resources in the world, unless we die of boredom there will come a time of conflict when the other will want to take power from us or power over us. When that moment comes, the options are either to choose to be a conqueror and fight over such power or to run away, in the end these options are the same because neither change the nature of life and the choices are morally equal.

However, I submit that the Absurd Man has a third option: he can spit in the face of destiny and fight not the conqueror but the fact that the conqueror holds such power. He can in defeat spit in his conqueror’s face. In the latter situation, the Conqueror, Don Juan, and the Actor are not equals. The first cannot but relish, seek, and enjoy power over others. Though the latter also enjoy such power, their enjoyment does not necessarily come from taking power away from others but in multiplying, magnifying, and sharing it. Of course, the latter’s means to power will in the end be defeated by a new or another conqueror just as in the end God will defeat all of us, but that is not the point. Having chosen life, the Absurd Man to exist as a social being must choose the path to power that is unnatural with the same passion that he chooses life. When finally beaten by the bitch factor in a beautiful woman, the Absurd Man will see it and recognize it and reject the whole beauty as unjust. In doing so, though one passion is being lost, a greater passion is gained by the knowledge that one has at least for the moment beaten the unjust nature of life. In this situation for example, the Don Juan who continues to seek dominating power over his woman is no longer ethically equal to the Actor but ethically worse because he does accept and uses the other as a source of power for him. This type of analysis can continue with the Actor and with all others.  I submit it is this power analysis that can be used to discern just and good individuals and acts from unjust and evil individuals and acts in an Existentialist world and in any supposed system of justice and law in it.

Obviously, there is a need to work out the details of such an Existentialist theory of Justice; however, it must first be recognized that such is possible.

THE REFUGEE by Philson Ong

I sit at a bench in the park. The sun is setting, staining the sky with beautiful red and gold. It is autumn and the leaves fall to the ground at the slightest wind. They are as colorful as the sky. I sit there admiring the view. Then I notice him. An aged man walks in my direction. He wears a black silk-lined coat and has black hair. He carries an ebony case, but his most distinguished feature is his eyes. They are the blackest I have ever seen, yet as dark as they are, they seem to have a glow about them. I think he is a European refugee, very wealthy, having to escape his country from conflict. The refugee sits next to me and views the sunset.

The silence is broken by him. In a deep, slightly accented voice he says, “I like music.”
Slightly startled by this question, I regain my composure and respond, “What kind?”
“This.” He waves his hands and cane indicating the scenery.
Finally I ask him, “You’re not from the US are you?”
“No, I am a displaced person.”
“I am sorry. Would you like to tell me about it?”
“I would be wasting your time.”
“Not at all, I have nowhere to be.”

With a sigh he begins to tell his story. “These days it is a familiar story. A leader so blinded by his own glory that he can no longer see his blunders. He developed delusions of greatness and posed as the final judge over everything from birth to death and therefore created seeds of his own destruction. It was inevitable under the circumstances.” Rage boils inside me. No man should have that much power. I see his views so vividly; I would have gladly fought this man, were I in his country. “The revolt didn’t succeed?” “No, it proved too weak, too early. It was crushed. Then came the purge. Nearly all of us died. I organized that opposition. I still think it was justified but I dare not go back.”

I try to comfort him. “You are in a free country now. You can call the president anything you want and nothing will happen.” He continues, “I am not welcome here either. No man can truly be free unless he is beyond his enemy’s reach. When one’s foe gains control of every channel of propaganda, uses them exclusively to present his case and suppress the mind and damns the truth as if it were lies, there is no hope for me.”

The sun has set and the moon is full. It shines in such a way as if it were focusing on him. He stands up and he seems enormous, almost as towering as the trees from my sitting position. He seems not of the world as the moon lights his face. He walks away, his coat in the night breeze resembling billowing wings. As he walks away, I ask his name.

He turns back and looks deep in my eyes, “my name,” he says softly, “is Lucifer.” He disappears into the darkness.