6 December 2012
Western Philosophy- Period 1
Machiavellian and Hobbesian Parallels to Javert
How does one hand in a resignation to God? Towards the end of his life, this question penetrates deep into Javert’s personality and soul. Can beliefs be so legally moral, that they may be humanly immoral? If so, how and when might one reach that point? Javert may be the model by which to address this discussion.
Being born in a prison to a gypsy and a galley slave, Inspector Javert could easily have gone the bad route and entered a life of criminality. Instead, he chooses the exact opposite. His personality becomes so rigid, it is nearly comical. His single-minded one-track mind is constantly fixated on enforcing the morals and laws of the legal establishment and society. There’s almost an irony to this, seeing as he enforces them so “well”, they’re misguided, mistaken and brutal.
It is quite clear he does have a conscience, seeing as he does think about what he’s doing. Whether this really plays a part into what he does is debatable. Javert can be likened to an automaton. He’d be the type to have any given legal handbook memorized, and be ready with a pair of handcuffs. Javert’s mind will constantly be set on the one road, immovable and unshakable.
One can argue that Javert’s ways were Machiavellian in nature. As Niccolò Machiavelli had once put, “It is not titles that honor men. It is men that honor titles.” Javert has a certain fondness for his title. He is an important part of the police force above everything else. An argument could also be made that Javert’s actions tie in with the idea that “the ends justify the means”; another phrase associated with Machiavelli.
At some point, Machiavelli put forth that “as long as people are not deprived of either their property or honor, they remain satisfied.” Couldn’t this relate to Javert, who had so pertinaciously chased Jean Valjean? Valjean had escaped Javert’s grasp on a handful of occasions. Could it be argued that Javert felt some sense of dishonor or inadequacy in this, resulting in his doggedness to return ValJean behind bars? There’s no Machiavellian theme that may fit Javert more than the idea that “Justice is elegant revenge, and revenge is justice for those who cannot afford elegance.” Had it not been for Javert’s pure rigidness towards the law, it could be possible (and it may still be) that his pursuit of Valjean is a type of revenge. Javert may very well feel humiliated or defeated, having taken so long to find Valjean, only to lose him again and again. Javert could see his justice as a sort of revenge against Valjean.
Javert could also be likened to Thomas Hobbes. Many of Hobbes’ ideas were centered on society and law. Hobbes asserts quite simply that “peace requires law”. This statement could clearly be associated with Javert. In that same way, the idea that “so long as there’s no common power to maintain order, we [society] exist in a figurative cold war with one another” would also ring true with Inspector Javert. In Hobbes’ state of nature, humans try to maintain as much power as they can, and try to be as “good” as they can. It is no secret that Javert had goodness and power, albeit in his own special way. That was Javert’s whole point in life. It was to protect and uphold the law, which he believed, was the best thing to do. He also had quite a decent amount of power, being an inspector. His whole identity as an enforcer of law was to separate him from his early life of being the child of criminals.
As Javert nears the ending of his life, which was initiated by himself, he experiences a turning. All his life, there had been the one path towards justice. His core of being is shaken when Valjean proves himself to be a better human than Javert expected. Javert’s thought of “once a criminal, always a criminal” is turned entirely on his head. On several occasions, Javert would resign if he believed fit. He would never put himself above anyone else in a legal sense. Although his being could be compared to ideas put forth by Machiavelli and Hobbes, there were ideas completely of his own. In the event of realizing that ones behavior actually countered realized moral code and dishonors God’s precepts, offering resignation is not possible without sacrifice.
[i] Sophie is a freshman at Phoenix High School in Oregon