What I am about to say does not concern the ordinary man of our day. On the contrary, I have in mind the man who finds himself involved in today’s world, even at its most problematic and paroxysimal points; yet he does not belong inwardly to such a world, nor will he give in to it. He feels himself, in essence, as belonging to a different race from that of the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries. ~ Julius Evola.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Joseph de Maistre: The Executioner

Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre (1753 – 26 February 1821) philosopher, jurist, and diplomat, is one of the major figures of the so-called Counter-Enlightenment and  of  Throne and Altar conservatism.

The following passages are taken from the first and seventh of de Maistre's St Petersburg Dialogues, a book written in the manner of a classical symposium. The participants in these dialogues are the Chevalier, the Senator and the Count (the latter usually representing de Maistre's final word on a given question). Among various subjects of discussion such as why the just are not exempt from suffering, why the wicked may enjoy happiness, and the necessity of war, de Maistre gives some thoughts on the judicial executioner; for him this widely reviled figure is, like war, an instrument of divine will. For de Maistre order is cardinal; without authority, backed by the threat of punishment, order is impossible.

...Allow me to direct your attention for a moment to a subject that is undoubtedly shocking. It is nevertheless very worthy of our reflections. This formidable prerogative [the punishment of the guilty by the sovereign] of which I have just spoken results in the necessary existence of a man destined to administer the punishments adjudged for crimes by human justice. This man is, in effect, found everywhere, without there being any means of explaining how; for reason cannot discover in human nature any motive capable of explaining this choice of profession. I believe you too accustomed to reflection, gentlemen, not to have thought often about the executioner.

So who is this inexplicable being who, when there are so many pleasant, lucrative, honest and even honourable professions in which he could exercise his strength or dexterity to choose among, has chosen that of torturing and putting to death his own kind? Are this head and this heart made like our own? Do they contain anything that is peculiar and alien to our nature? For myself, I have no doubt about this. In outward appearance he is made like us; he is born like us. But he is an extraordinary being, and for him to be brought into existence as a member of the human family a particular decree was required, a FIAT of creative power. He is created as a law unto himself.

Consider how he is viewed by public opinion, and try to conceive, if you can, how he could ignore this opinion or confront it! Scarcely have the authorities assigned his dwelling, scarcely has he taken possession of it, when other men move their houses elsewhere so they no longer have to see his. In the midst of this seclusion and in this kind of vacuum formed around him, he lives alone with his female and his offspring, who acquaint him with the human voice. Without them he would hear nothing but groans... A dismal signal is given an abject minister of justice knocks on his door to warn him that he is needed. He sets out. He arrives at a public square packed with a pressing and panting crowd. He is thrown a poisoner, a parricide, a blasphemer. He seizes him, stretches him out, ties him to a horizontal cross, and raises his arms. Then there is a horrible silence; there is no sound but the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unties him and carries him to a wheel. The broken limbs are bound to the spokes, the head hangs down, the hair stands on end, and the mouth gaping like a furnace occasionally emits a few bloody words begging for death. He has finished; his heart is pounding, but it is with joy. He congratulates himself. He says in his heart, No one can break men on the wheel better than I. He steps down; he holds out his blood-stained hand, and justice throws him form afar a few gold coins, which he carries away through a double row of men drawing back in horror. He sits down to table and eats; the he goes to bed and sleeps. Awakening on the morrow, he thinks of something quite different from what he did the day before. Is this a man? Yes. God receives him in his shrines and allows him to pray. He is not a criminal and yet no tongue would content to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is admirable etc. No moral praise seems appropriate for him, since this supposes relationships with human beings and he has none.

And yet all greatness, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner; he is both the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and in a moment order gives way to chaos, thrones fall, and society disappears. God, who is the author of sovereignty, is therefore the author of punishment. He has suspended our earth on these two poles;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he has set the world upon them.

There is then in the temporal sphere a divine and visible law for the punishment of the crime. This law, as stable as the society it upholds, has been executed invariably since the beginning of time. Evil exists on the earth and acts constantly, and by necessary consequence it must constantly be repressed by punishment. All over the globe what we see is the constant action of all governments stopping or punishing criminal outrages. The sword of justice has no sheath; it must always be threatening or striking. For whom are there knouts, gallows, wheels or stakes? For criminals. Obviously. Judicial errors are exceptions that do not upset the rule […]

The Count ( from the First Dialogue)

 I have often had a vision that I would like to share with you. Imagine that a stranger to our planet comes here for some sufficient reason, and talks to one of us about the order that reigns in this world . Among the curious things that are recounted to him, he is told that corruption and vices, about which he has been fully informed, in certain circumstances require men to die by the hand of men, and that we restrict this right to kill legally to the executioner and to the soldier. He will also be told: “ The first brings death to convicted and condemned criminals, and these executions are so rare fortunately that one of these ministers of death suffices for each province. As for soldiers, there are never enough of them for they kill without restraint, and they always kill honest men. Of these two professional killers, the soldier and the executioner, the one is greatly honoured and has always been so honoured among the peoples that up to present have inhabited this planet to which you have come. The other, on the contrary, has just as generally been declared infamous. Can you guess on which one the condemnation falls?

Surely this travelling spirit would not hesitate for a moment; he would accord the executioner all the praise that you could not refuse him the other day, Count, despite all our prejudices, when you spoke to us of this gentleman, as Voltaire would have said 'This sublime being,' he would have told us, 'is the cornerstone of society; since crime has become habitual on your earth, and since it can only be arrested by punishment, if you deprive the world of the executioner all order will disappear with him. Moreover. What greatness of soul, what noble disinterestedness must necessarily be assumed to exist in a man who devotes himself to functions that are undoubtedly deserving of respect, but which are so trying and contrary to your nature! For since I have been among you, I have noticed that it distresses you to kill a chicken on cold blood. I am therefore persuaded that opinion surrounds him with all the honour that he needs and that is justly due him. As for the soldier, he is, all things considered, an agent of cruelty and injustice. How many obviously just wars have there been? How many obviously unjust! How many individual injustices, horrors and useless atrocities! So I imagine that opinion among you has very justly poured as much shame on the head of the solider as it has poured glory on that impartial executioner of the judgement of sovereign justice.'

You know what the situation really is, gentlemen, and how mistaken the spirit would be! 

- The Senator (from the Seventh Dialogue)

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