by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
In Objectivism, there are various virtues which are the means, both intellectual and existential, of achieving one’s values in life. One of the primary virtues with regard to others is the virtue of justice; this virtue comes about and is necessitated by the fact that man has free will and does things intentionally. There is no justice in the fact that a meteor may hit your house if it falls from the sky, but the principle of justice must be taken into account if someone tosses a missile your way, as what happens to Israel quite often via Hamas. In the case of the meteor, no intention was involved. There is no one up there determining whether man deserves to live or not and then launching meteors at him to accomplish his sense of justice – it’s just a rock falling from the heavens. In the case of Hamas, certain very intentional actions are taking place, and since these are done by man, they must be assessed by a rational standard according what is and what is not beneficial to man’s life qua rational animal.
Miss Rand has a very exacting derivation to the virtue of justice, available via the online Lexicon:
“What fact of reality gave rise to the concept “justice”? The fact that man must draw conclusions about the things, people and events around him, i.e., must judge and evaluate them. Is his judgment automatically right? No. What causes his judgment to be wrong? The lack of sufficient evidence, or his evasion of the evidence, or his inclusion of considerations other than the facts of the case. How, then, is he to arrive at the right judgment? By basing it exclusively on the factual evidence and by considering all the relevant evidence available. But isn’t this a description of “objectivity”? Yes, “objective judgment” is one of the wider categories to which the concept “justice” belongs. What distinguishes “justice” from other instances of objective judgment? When one evaluates the nature or actions of inanimate objects, the criterion of judgment is determined by the particular purpose for which one evaluates them. But how does one determine a criterion for evaluating the character and actions of men, in view of the fact that men possess the faculty of volition? What science can provide an objective criterion of evaluation in regard to volitional matters? Ethics. Now, do I need a concept to designate the act of judging a man’s character and/or actions exclusively on the basis of all the factual evidence available, and of evaluating it by means of an objective moral criterion? Yes. That concept is “justice.””
In all acts of justice, one must take the facts into account as best as one knows them and act accordingly regarding whether someone has committed an act of injustice towards you or not. In other words, given what you both know, is he acting in accordance with the facts and his understanding of your necessity to live your life? In the case of Hamas, clearly they are not out to do Israel any good whatsoever, and intend to destroy Israel, while Israel is quite content to let them live in peace if they choose to do so. And one can trace this animosity towards one another based on their differences regarding their philosophies and their intent to live a certain way and impose their wishes on others or let them live their own lives in freedom.
But sometimes it is possible for two people or two factions to be at the ready to destroy one another over a misunderstanding that comes about because all the facts are not known by at least one side of the issue. One good example of two people, each acting rationally and justly, but coming to differing conclusions regarding justice and what ought to be done to one another is the example of Dagny Taggart’s response to her knowledge that there was a destroyer let loose on the world intent on destroying civilization. Since Dagny considered civilization to be of great value to her – it supported her life and pleasures and enjoyments – she would, of course, be against anyone who threatened to take this value away from her. In fact, if she ever caught up with John Galt, the supposed destroyer, she wanted to shoot him on sight. As the story of Atlas Shrugged progresses, she gets more and more facts and suddenly discovers what John Galt is really up to. While she no longer wants to kill him on sight, she still doesn’t fully support what he is doing, but the justified anger is no longer present.
This may be a valuable lesson when dealing with others when one does not have all the facts and may be speculating on little evidence. Unlike the clear case of Reagan’s Trust but Verify stance with regard to an enemy nation, who probably should not have been trusted at all; there are cases where the facts are ambiguous or not clear, and one must be very careful to act on what one knows and not draw a final conclusion until all the facts are in. This is not a delay of justice nor a denial of justice, it’s just a recognition of the fact that one needs facts to come to a conclusion about anything, including the most important virtue regarding man and his intent, one way or the other.
Those of us interested in Objectivism have a sort of independent culture presented in one of Ayn Rand’s books The Romantic Manifesto. In these series of articles, she outlines the proper role of art in various contexts. One of the things she really recommends is hero-worship, of finding those characters and stories and other art forms that can inspire one to look up to something to achieve in life. While I agree with her selections and greatly thank her for her own works in fiction and her analysis of the other works presented, I have discovered some modern heroes that she didn’t get a chance to see. One of my favorites, at least for the first couple of seasons, is the TV series Andromeda. In this science fiction genre story, Dylan Hunt is a star ship captain in service to a three galactic republic. But he gets himself into quite a jamb one day when he is fighting with one of his crew members in a death struggle and gets trapped on the edge of a black hole for 300 years. When he is set free by some scavengers trying to get his ship for themselves, he discovers that the entire civilization that he loved and served is no longer existing. In the time he spent in the black hole, the civilization has fallen. Due to the nature of the time effects of a black hole, only a few minutes have passed for him, but it has been 300 years outside the black hole. So, it takes him a few moments to grasp the situation and to decide what to do about it. The conclusion he comes to is that he has to rebuild his civilization. It is a tremendous task, and he knows it is going to take him a long time, but he doesn’t want to just give up and die.
The galactic civilization he was a protector of was very advanced and they had a very powerful weapon called a Nova bomb. When a Nova bomb was injected into a star, it would explode with the force of a super nova, hence the name. Dylan was a man of justice and he had never had to use a Nova bomb when the galactic republic was at peace. Like a nuclear bomb being used to annihilate a city, it would have been immoral to use one on a star system that wasn’t fully overrun by bad guys because innocent people would also perish. It would be a grave abdication of his personal responsibility if he didn’t use them judiciously.
As he is rebuilding his civilization, he assigns several young captains to new ships, and one of them is fearful that his star system is being overrun by flesh-eating monsters who considered humans to be food. In an act of rage, he launches a Nova bomb and annihilates the entire system. Of course, once you do something like that, there is no turning back. A great value has been destroyed, and it couldn’t be put back together again in a billion years.
Like Dylan Hunt, Objectivism is attempting to rebuild civilization and has its own arsenal in its realization of reason and its applications, including ethics and justice. And these must be used judiciously as well. One must be careful not to take out the innocent along with the guilty while dispensing justice. And if, in an act of rage, one nukes an entire system, then there has been an abdication of personal and professional responsibility. Don’t be like the young captain while dispensing justice, be more like Dylan Hunt, and choose your actions carefully.