In Pensees, Blaise Pascal writes:
Justice, Force.—It is just that what is just be followed; it is necessary that what is strongest be followed. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyrannical. Justice without force is contradicted, because there are always bad people; force without justice stands accused. So justice and force must be put together; and to do so make what is just, strong and what is strong, just.
Justice is subject to dispute; force is easy to recognize and is indisputable. And so one could not give force to justice, because force contradicted justice, and said that it is was unjust, and said that it was force that was just. And thus, not being able to make what is just, strong, one made what is strong, just.
The week that Sandra Bland died in police custody, I was working through this passage that Derrida quotes in The Beast and the Sovereign with friends, colleagues and students in Italy. Today, two days after another young black man was shot in Ferguson, MO, I have been recalling this passage. Pascal recognizes our problem: we need justice to have force, but if all we have is force, there will be no justice. What is the just way of giving force to justice? Read more
It’s been a hectic couple weeks in the various institutions that concern my life. The discipline of philosophy reached a boiling point and some well-respected important philosophers finally said enough is enough and organized some collective action to put a stop to some pretty unethical behavior. Leigh Johnson has blogged an Archive of the Meltdown if you want to read more about it. And Wabash has been actively responding to some pretty serious issues that needed to be addressed at the same time.
I’m glad for these actions, but I’m worried, too. I think there is a danger when we do what is just to congratulate ourselves a little too excitedly and to let that congratulations become an avenue for contentment and self-satisfaction. I was reminded yesterday of a point Jacques Derrida makes about how our acts of hospitality and justice are–I want to go further and say must be–accompanied by a bad conscience. Derrida recognizes that when he feeds the poor or gives a place to stay to someone in need he is leaving out all the other hungry and all the others with no place to lay their heads. Responding to one Other gives that Other precedence over all the other equally demanding Others to whom we are responsible. To suppose that we are good in these moments leaves out two important things: a) that our act was too little too late, almost inevitably and b) that there is still more to be done. Read more