From Chapter II, “Principles”, Le Droit et la Loi, of Mes Idées Politique, by Charles Maurras. This is part two of two.
Clarifications on the Nature of Law
According to a venerable [the Middle Ages] maxim [lex consensus populi et constitutione regis fit], the law is made by the action of the sovereign (constitutione regis) and by the acceptance of the subject (consensus populi). Without doubt our jurists poorly translate these words. They figure that consensus, this must be understood as the agreement of fact, as noisy as the acclamation which follows the coronation of kings, as the simple approving whisper which Homer had follow the word of the leaders, “Epeythymesan axaioi”. But, in the great majority of cases, in the case on which we do not make little stories about, the agreement consists in the fact of raising no important contradiction, of understanding, of carrying out.
To go on to say: “Mister Subject, here is a law that will legally bind you. Do you really want it? Are you sure you want it? We need your signature,” that is exactly to want to inspire him to say “no”, to argue endlessly in order not to agree. The hatred of the new and the spirit of contradiction are so strong in men that we do not put the public good at their mercy.
Yet it remains true that the law must be made to be easily obeyed. A law must be acceptable. The law is not the law when its pronouncement suffices to provoke the people to fear it. It needs a natural and prompt consent.
The party which attacks a law which no one defends can be wrong or right, that is not the question: the author of such a law will not have less committed that political fault of not waiting for the best conditions and most favorable arrangements of the public spirit. Its law is only a decree of a state of siege that it will have to support, arms in hand, without having the right to complain or be surprised.
The spirit of modern laws is far from the spirit of the laws which govern the deeds of real life, and these real deeds, unable to worry about the scraps of paper which distort them or the spider which weaves its web in the legislative mind, continued to develop following the weights, measures, and numbers which compose them.
It is said: “But the deed can be the crime! The deed can be the atrocity! The deed can be the error!”
Definitely: realistic politics and morals do not provide bare facts and beliefs as the types and models of life. But they recommend two points:
First of all, to consider laws depending on which real deeds are chained, for if deeds can be vicious or criminal, the laws of vice and crime are not; the order of causes and effects which preside over realities themselves flawed are not the least flawed in the world, it is even excellent to know and to calculate, knowledge and calculation which alone permit action.
Secondly, action has the chance to be serious and useful only on the condition of aiming for a definite and just goal. It is neither sufficient to have an “ideal” in mind, nor to make a second-rate idea of “right” and “duty”: this moralism, this legalism, this idealism must conform to the ideal, moral, and legal truth. In other words, it is first necessary to be right.
A false idea is a false idea. The will to impose on the world under the pretext that the world must be governed by ideas is an absurd pretence whose application will be forcibly criminal or fatal. Ideas are not equal to each other. All the claimed rights are not valuable. And not all ways of arranging mores are worthy of respect. The modern error comes from that sudden assimilation of contrary systems dreamed by the human mind. It is definitely an easy error for orators and litigants. It allows the latter to support all causes. It lets the former please all audiences. But the people who trust in them pay the price.