The Spirit Of The Law And Historical Context In Les Miserables
When ideas like morality and ethics are discussed, there is a higher percentage of people who will guarantee that the law must be complied with under all conditions, with no special case. It would be very hard to find somebody who believes that culprits must always be judged fairly and circumstantially based on their crimes. The character of Javert in Les Miserables is an exemplary case of an absolutist who puts a lot of pride into a justice-oriented framework. This character demonstrates that absolutism can cause issues based on moral situations. This is one of the first moral hypotheses that is addressed in Les Miserables. Rule-based hypothesis, or the “letter of the law”, says that the ethical thing to do in any circumstance is to adhere to the guidelines and to comply with the law. This implies that if there is a standard not to lie, it is corrupt to lie, regardless of whether lying will help people. Les Miserables allows for the viewer to contemplate the significance of the letter of the law compared to the spirit of the law and which one proves superior. This brings up a moral dilemma for many, and creates an ethical struggle within. This struggle is illustrated through multiple characters throughout the film, primarily Javert, Valjean, and the Bishop.
Javert accepts that laws are to be complied with under all conditions. Crooks are to be brought to equity, and they can never be let go. Javert is the ideal lawman: he performs his responsibility and isn’t degenerate in any scenario. In any case, he can’t resolve the contention inside himself as the story advances and he starts to realize that fresh opportunities do make a difference, individuals can change, and there is such a mind-bending concept as recovery. Javert chooses not to accept this and instead of dealing with it, he chooses to take his own life. Javert committing suicide illustrated just how important the law was to him. He was profoundly pained by his actions as he went through his moral dilemma. For Javert, the letter of the law was his most important ethical belief. This highlights the innate struggle between the morality of law and its enforcement. Although I resonate with Javert’s passion for the law, it may seem illogical to be this devoted to perfection in every case. This is because there should be exceptions in special circumstances. Sometimes the wrong thing to do is ethically right.
The Bishop is a key example of how some people who may seem unlikely to bend the law, may do so on certain occasions. The demonstration of benevolence depicted by the Bishop when he misleads the police in order to spare Valjean changes Valjean’s mentality. He chooses to carry on with his life as a recovered man. The Bishop, who speaks to Christ and the Church, is acting based upon his moral beliefs, not based upon what the law has told him to believe. He misleads the police, yet in the process, he spares Valjean’s life, which is the propulsion for Valjean’s actions throughout the remainder of the play. This demonstrates how actions can affect the lives of others and how all moral decisions come with a consequence.
When Valjean first comes into the play, he is an ex-convict of 19 years. Today if someone served 19 years, the offense would be very severe. But for Valjean, his 19 years was for stealing bread to feed his family, and then attempting to escape prison to take care of his family. It is ethically wrong to place Valjean in prison for doing what is right for his family, even if it violates the letter of the law. Moral codes should be able to be altered under special circumstances. This is hard because then everyone who breaks the law will have to be evaluated based on their circumstances, but it is still the right thing to do. It is unjust to take someone away from their family who they are trying to protect and provide for, even if they are violating petty laws.
When deciding between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law it is much easier to be morally flexible when you have prior experiences that relate to struggling. Valjean, for instance, can identify with Fantine who has ventured to such an extreme that she sells herself into prostitution so she can have enough money for her little girl. His heart throbs for the detainee who was found stealing. All through the whole story, Valjean battles between what is right and what is wrong, and how to make sense of what he should do. Ethics are a constant predicament for Valjean, an everyday decision, on whether he should do good for his family and himself or abide by the rules. Most people go through this thought process daily, as it may be easy to leave behind the nature of the law to get ahead quickly.
It may be hard to follow every law that is written for everyday citizens. This is because morality is based upon circumstances, not by guidelines set forth by the government. Law is something that should be ever-changing and adjusting based upon individuals’ needs. Javert demonstrates one end of the spectrum as he struggles with his decisions throughout the play. His moral compass is construed and he does not base morality on being a decent person, it is put entirely on the letter of the law. The Bishop and Valjean on the other hand, value the ability to adjust ethically based on what is right. There are people like Valijean all over the world. No food, no money, and no opportunities to prove themselves as respectable citizens. It is up to everyday citizens to aid people like this and their families to create a world where the laws do not need to be broken to survive.
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