Victor Hugo’s story of mid-nineteenth century France presents a timeless story of our human society. How easy it is to look back on history and recognize today the very concerns Hugo presents for the cross section of society, from the air of superiority of the governing ‘elite’ to the lowest of the low who take advantage of those they live beside every day to enrich themselves. Jean Val Jean strove simply to be the best man he could be, earning his keep and taking on that responsibility availed to him in each situation. He acknowledged his errors and strove to improve on each as it was revealed to him.
Dogging him throughout his life was Javier, the man who lived by and held others to following the law. Val Jean was his self-made nemesis. One man, he thought, flaunting the law would bring down the entire system. One man, along with all others who break the law, must be held accountable. Never mind that Javier overlooked the obvious culpability of the wealthy in the ‘sins’ of the poor (the ‘john’ who attempts to violate Fontine and his constant aversion to arresting the Tinardies’). Javier is ram-rod straight, and to his own detriment.
There is no negotiation with the students at the barricades, only the spying on their plans. If he had empathy for their arguments he might have averted a slaughter. Javier is astounded, time after time, when Val Jean forgives the relentless pursuit pressed upon him, and gives Javier his freedom. So tied to the law without empathy, Javier cannot comprehend mercy, especially the mercy show him directly and through example by Val Jean. He commits himself to punishment by death as he sees fit under the law he has enforced and defended all through his own life, and maybe, we can infer, for his own lack of mercy where val Jean is concerned.
I review Hugo’s story and its principles because I recognize within myself the tendency to emulate Javier rather than comprehend the approach of Val Jean. It is an honest born tendency for one raised in the heartland of a nation graced by God to be the source of outpouring of that same grace to the world through the twentieth century. Out of the second great war of that century a God-fearing people worked to form a stable and respectful society. Raised in that part of the society, this person learned the lessons that would create new Javiers. I am one of them.
Out of the second great war of that century, the leadership of that same society worked to press its political power contrary to the very laws that made it great, and the following generation pushed back, far beyond the blessings of the grace afforded. Both pressed their agendas and a changed society has become the results. No longer is the grace of God respected, no longer are the foundational rules followed in faith. Relativism is the philosophy of the society that finds each may do as s/he desires and individual ‘happiness’ and fulfillment is the goal to be sought. No longer are we to pursue self-sufficiency but reliance on the Central Government is to be the means by which society flourishes. In such a society, Javier cannot survive. The masses will not be held accountable by one working to ‘keep them in line’. There is no power in the old ‘law’.
For this Javier, a change is required. Die, as Hugo’s character died, through self-destruction. Adopt the mercy of val Jean, and more so, his dedication to performing ‘the right’ as brought into his circle of influence, rising and falling with the tide of circumstances while remaining dedicated to the gift of faith afforded him by the Church as given him through the Bishop.
The time just after that second Great War was an historical pause in the ocean of social progression, a glassy calm that comes infrequently in the order of our world. To comprehend and sail a structural model based solely on that time is to venture to sea in folly. The natural condition is a constant rising and falling of swells, of passing storms and gentle breezes. Stiff built ships of Javierian principles are cracked and broken by the power of the movement they suffer. A well-built ship with val jeanean beams creaks as it bends under the same strain, but flexes and remains intact throughout its voyage.
To reflect so is to take time in the yard, to refit the ship with appropriate equipment, then to get back to the sea voyage and conduct the business one is intended for. Anchors aweigh.