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II NATURAL ETHICS

Having defined the five categories of the quincunx of mankind we can in the further course of our investigations draw upon every kind of manifestation of communal life. In the first place let us put the category of morality, if only because ethics accompany man from his primitive beginnings, as passing references in earlier chapters indicate, and also exercises a great influence, often decisive, on other categories of being.

There are ethics and ethics, however, and this diversity must therefore be considered. Every type of clan association had institutions proper to it alone and unknown or at least not recognised in others. A thing which was considered proper somewhere from generation to generation acquired binding force. But in the name of ethics or of law?

Ethics consists in the voluntary fulfilment of duties, in consent to them without compulsion from outside. Could the oldest associations have arisen otherwise than voluntarily? Power to compel was required only in more numerous associations embracing several generations. Then those who were dissatisfied with the norms of the triple law accepted in their clan, and wanted to base the clan on other standards which they considered superior, had the road of emigration open to them. They could found a new clan of their own preference; but if they did not wish to emigrate, could one and the same clan be governed by differing norms? Such a clan would either collapse and perish, passing from disorder to powerlessness, or both sides would have to resort to compulsion, and so to force.

Thus ethics are older than law, and law rests on the sanctions of compulsion for the recalcitrant. Only in this way do the ethical obligations recognised in an association change into obligations before the law. Law which emerged in this way was empirical and lent sanction to ethical postulates already recognised. A posteriori law is also for the most part derived from, and intended to uphold ethics. This is ethical law.

But in prehistory there already existed the law fas et nefas formulated not merely without but in direct opposition to ethics. This was, therefore, an artificial law not resulting from actual normal conditions but designed to change them, and to order the association in accordance with ideas not so far known to it or at least not recognised by it. In this case the idea came first and then the law derived from it to create artificially binding conditions. Thus a priori law comes into existence to give sanction to projected conditions, not to those already existing.

Partnerships and clan communities arose by force of the circumstances of life itself, and in them law developed from ethics, from a conviction of the correctness and necessity of certain regulations in given conditions. There would have been no communities or partnerships if the first generations had not voluntarily submitted to certain standards. The institutions of these associations were empirical, elaborated out of experience, ethics based on tradition, law on ethics.

But clan despotism arose from violation of tradition and ethics, despite the ethic of the association, resting from the first on compulsion. There would have been no clan despotisms if physical force had not brought them in; they were the creation of somebody’s will setting itself against conditions. Whereas associations arose as it were of themselves, brought about by the circumstances of life, despotisms were devised and determined from above. These were a priori institutions.

Primitive-clan-ethics bind only in the case of one’s own people. The highest commandment is clan solidarity; and so it has remained. In Korea one does not summon a kinsman before the courts, so that there is “almost no possibility of getting back from a kinsman a loan or even something which has been stolen”361 unless this is done voluntarily, on grounds of ethics alone. So that in the clan the ethical may be carried to unethical absurdity. Ethics condemns theft and ethics condemns sueing for theft! Here the clan authorities had lost their validity, while the State had not yet acquired any. Among the Yakuts a deliberately unjust verdict to the advantage of a kinsman is taken for granted. Twelve respected householders committed perjury in court, but regarded themselves as justified because the case concerned a kinsman.362 On the other hand, when a man finds himself outside this organisation he is by the same token outside society and as if exempted from the law. A certain Circassian put this very well: “I don’t know anybody, sir. My brothers were killed in the war. My kindred have gone to Turkey. I am left like a lone wolf and nobody troubles about me”.363

Because of this unbounded solidarity, revenge is indispensable to the clan system, lying in its very nature, its highest duty. Revenge is, however, undoubtedly an institution of ethical origin. It arose in the name of right, in order that justice might be done, and crime not go unpunished. But there is no law which would be capable of making certain that a man does everything in his power to take revenge. Here legal compulsion is impossible of exercise. And yet there is no place where revenge has not flourished. All European communities have passed through a period of vendetta, which in Corsica and in the Balkans endured until recent times. Among coloured peoples it is almost everywhere still operative (in China curiously transformed into suicide by the injured party, whereafter the offender is boycotted). Today we know of revenge among the Kabyls, among all the Semites, Yakuts, Indians, Australians, Syrians,364 in Korea, in China, in Mauretania, in Oceania.

In Japan revenge was officially regulated: “The avenger had to observe certain written procedures and directives. There was a separate official who was to be informed of the decision taken, and the term one set oneself for carrying out revenge. The method of exterminating the enemy was a matter of indifference; but murder was considered something blameworthy”.365 Clearly revenge was regarded not only as a law but also as a duty, since an office of the State was drawn into the matter.

The ethical obligation of revenge comes through Sieroszewski’s remarks on the Yakuts: “Members of a clan on whom there weighed unavenged blood suffered and withered like people in an inner conflict. Legends paint for us immensely tragic pictures of these clans, infected in the very marrow of their being, sick and harrassed, blossoming only after satisfaction has been exacted. A clan which had no avengers perished in those times as a not very brave individual perishes among beasts of prey”.366

And in Western Australia, when a man is called upon to avenge the death of a very near relative “until he carries out this task he is mocked without respite by the old women; if he is married, his wives immediately leave him; if he is a bachelor no young woman will exchange a word with him. His mother will shed tears over such an unworthy son and his father will despise him. There will be no end to the reproaches”.367

The unceasing upheavals of revenge made it easier for Europeans to conquer the coloured peoples. Everywhere the white man appeared his help was sought by tribe against tribe, sometimes by clan against clan. “In the story of the first Yakut hunters who reached the watershed of the Kolyma it is said that the clan decided to avenge itself for the murder of one of its members but did not feel strong enough, so called in the Russians to help”.368 And from his memories of Sahara-Mauretania a French officer relates how at the outpost “chiefs would arrive, telling us of their time-honoured quarrels, each begging for help against his enemies”.369

The extent to which revenge lies within the very nature of the clan system is witnessed by the experience which an Apostolic Vicar, Mgr Costamagna, had with the converted Jivaros. On November 2, 1902, they promised that they would desist from taking revenge, and by the end of the month “new quarrels and butcheries broke out”.370 Do not let us imagine that revenge is now weaker than formerly. Among the Arabs it has actually increased in cruelty in the last generation.371

It is the experience of all countries that in the end vengeance degenerates into general banditry and unceasing anarchy, in face of which public security and stable conditions lapse. So that until a State organisation is created and the State takes upon itself the duty of revenge, systems of a higher type are out of the question. It would lead us too far afield to enumerate the difficulties involved, which cannot everywhere be overcome.

Clan revenge must with time pass to the tribe, and tribal revenge “develops” into war. And so it is that primitive warfare is of ethical origin, undertaken to avenge crimes. And then, as in the case of clan revenge, it becomes impossible to discover among the details and complexities on whose side justice lies. In the dawn of history war was a chronic state: abandoning the backward glance at ethics, on the model of its parent revenge it became universal banditry, but on an incomparably larger scale. And peoples inadequately armed for aggression perished among the aggressors. These are the gifts of natural ethics — for the whole of this ethic is natural, with revenge as the crown of its development.

Let us pass to family law. Natural ethics were incapable of devising a suitable system for marriage, but performed its task by abasing women — the Romans only excepted. Are we not struck by that exclusive concern for heirs? Marriages, unless they are religious, know no other purpose. And hitherto sacred marriage is still unknown in Turkey, in China, in Japan. But in Rome a wife was her husband’s companion and helpmate in life exactly as, it must be admitted, she is under Christianity. Under Roman civilisation man achieved by natural reason the discovery of ethical truth consonant with ethics of a supernatural order. The Roman virgin, wife and matron have no cause to feel shame in the presence of Christian women, even by the most severe standards. But outside Rome the ethical side of marriage presents a sad picture, reflected in the drastic examples quoted above. Everything rested upon the supremacy of the man, even the very concern for purity of the marriage-bed.

Passing to property law, we find once more — the Romans again apart — ugly instances of abuse grounded in ownership of children and wife. I have already drawn attention to the fact that ethical views are the basis of variety in property law; in all probability property law would be uniform if ethical views were uniform. Differentiation in ethics contributed to differentiation in very many other manifestations of communal life throughout the categories of our quincunx.

In property matters, ethical views are split. Natural protoethics recognises, for example, work as a source of property (he who first “feeds” the land, etc.), but does not favour harder work: why own more than one needs, when there may not be enough for somebody else? The result is that fresh needs do not develop and a whole community is sunk in poverty for centuries. If every man is to be deprived of what he possesses above the normal needs of the community, the ideal of equality in property must result, and this can only be realised by maintaining the lowest material level. It is regulation of consumption in the name of ethics by suppression of production.

The principle that property is to be derived from labour is as it were smashed in two, since the fruits of labour may become the property of the labourer only on condition that he does not work overmuch, that his work does not become more productive. The absurd ban on work beyond the level of actual need is by no means a discovery of our days: known in prehistoric times, it has the longest possible history behind it. The value of the system can be observed among negro tribes. Where here and there a system was created which allowed each man to collect the fruits of his labour in unrestricted quantity, entirely different systems of communal life developed, producing the historic societies, active and capable of cultivating the whole quincunx of human life.

Such are the paths of natural ethics in their most important directions. For the greater part they are properly not paths but bye-ways. Natural ethics does not lead mankind upwards. “It prevents a community raising itself to the rank of a society because by cultivating poverty it leaves no room for differentiation in property and occupation; it prevents the emergence of States of a higher type because revenge buries communities and even societies in lasting anarchy.

Primary importance, however, attaches to the fact that from the very beginnings to the peaks of development, spiritual factors guide even concepts of the material. Here again we discover that abstractions govern matter. Ethical phenomena cannot, therefore, be regarded as a kind of sanctions for advantages which are gained the more safely because under the protection of ethical slogans. In revenge the avenger exposes himself to great danger, while the practice of “negro communism” involves loss. In these matters there is not, and cannot be an infallible penal sanction. It is all done in the name of duty.372

Having stated above that all five categories of being by their very involvement produce immensely lavish differentiation, let us adduce by way of example the mutual interaction of the categories of morality and prosperity. The relation of concepts belonging to these two categories has more than once shaken the world, and shakes it today. Perhaps this is after all the most important of the axes on which communal life rests. They are ridiculous who imagine themselves among the first makers of this axis which is as old as the world.

Since the number of possible combinations in the quincunx of being is unlimited, upon what condition do these combinations arrange themselves so as to create a stable association, capable of development?


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