Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Law Like Love"--1st Myth--Materialists and Hedonists

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

The first myth of Law, which is not Auden’s view and is the first general theory he implicitly criticizes, is that of the “gardeners.” Who are these gardeners to which Auden refers? The noun “gardeners” may be a reference to the school of the materialistic and hedonist Epicureans, followers of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus of Samos (341-270 b.c.). Like Plato, who established his Academy, Aristotle, who established his Lyceum, and Zeno who established the Stoa Poikile, Epicurus formed his own school that was called The Garden. The inscription at the gate that led to The Garden according to Seneca read “here our highest good is pleasure.”[i] Good and evil were defined by a cost/benefit analysis of pleasure and pain, and justice defined in a social-contract sense of a compact neither to harm nor be harmed. Epicurus taught that the gods were unconcerned with the affairs of men, and so should have no bearing on the formation of laws.

It is doubtful that Auden intended to focus on the Greek Epicureans. Surely, Auden’s gardeners include the modern disciples of Epicurus. The hedonist, atomist notions of Law of Epicurus have enjoyed a modern resurrection. One may find the ancient Greek doctrine in Liberal robes in the consequentialists or utilitarians or their predecessors, such as Hume, Bentham, and Mill, who advanced passion, or pleasure (or avoidance of pain) as the principle of morality, and hence of law. This has had a particular resurgence in the "Law and Economics" group, perhaps the most significant advocate being Judge Posner. This hedonistic ghost was also taken by Locke who robed it in traditional natural law clothes, and through Locke it came to Jefferson, and through Jefferson it made it into our traditions as one of our jurisprudential inheritances. There it meshed like an uneasy patch on the traditional notions of natural law that were part and parcel of the common law and the philosophical inheritances of a (Graeco-Roman) Classical and Roman Catholic past.

Law is the sun which guides the seasons, and which we cannot fight, the Law which we are compelled to obey. We must not resist this Nature but submit to her, as Epicurus might say.[ii] But this Nature is not one with a design, a telos or end under the guidance of a Providential and personal God who is transcendent; ultimately, it is the Nature of a clock fashioned by (at best) the impersonal Deist God whose cogs and wheels we are; or perhaps the nature of Chaos, that is, of the random order of chance in a universe which knows no God. Fate, moira (μοῖρα), is what's behind it all, including law. "The sun will not transgress its boundaries; otherwise, the guardians of Justice, the Furies, will find out," says Heraclitus. Herac. fr. 94. After all, Epicurus was, like many of our modern philosophers, an atomist who rejected the immortality of the soul and the providence of the gods. Without a meaningful nature to guide them, they are materialists or individualists, perhaps the followers and children of Voltaire, who in his Candide, had his hero tend to his own garden.

After such a passing glance at the hedonists and materialists, Auden then turns his gaze upon the traditionalists.

[i] Seneca, Epistle XXI.
[ii] Cf. Vatican No. 21.

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