Clamour without Consistency. — If all men should get what they deserve, and if what men deserve should be deemed their right, we may find that many have the right to a good whipping, and should get it too. But, having determined so, should we expect that they — a great multitude — would clamour for it?1 The reformer may counter: no man deserves punishment, for no man is the author of his life, his character, or his fate. We disagree, but we go along: So be it, and have it your way, but at least be consistent and hold that no man deserves reward or good treatment either, nor health, freedom, property, or even life; and if you hold, as it seems you would, that no man has a right to what he does not deserve, then maintain the consistency and hold that he has no right to these things and that accordingly you are morally free, albeit not by right, to do with him as you please.
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1. This inspired by John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Vol.II (Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent: George Allen., 1872), Letter XIII (1st January 1872), p.2: “If it chanced, which heaven forbid, — but it might be, — that you deserved a whipping, you would never think of expressing that fact by saying you ‘had a right to’ a whipping”. Also therein, pp.2-3:
“Ever since Carlyle wrote that sentence about rights and mights, in his ‘French Revolution,’ all blockheads of a benevolent class have been declaiming against him, as a worshipper of force. What else, in the name of the three Magi, is to be worshipped? Force of brains, Force of heart, Force of hand; — will you dethrone these, and worship apoplexy; — despise the spirit of Heaven, and worship phthisis? Every condition of idolatry is summed in the one broad wickedness of refusing to worship Force, and resolving to worship No-Force; — denying the Almighty, and bowing down to four-and- twopence with a stamp on it.
“But Carlyle never meant in that place to refer you to such final truth. He meant but to tell you that before you dispute about what you should get, you would do well to find out first what is to be gotten. Which briefly is, for everybody, at last, their deserts, and no more.”