Oct 10, 2015

Schiller's Tale of Rationalistic and Romantic Rebellion Against Law Leading to Repentance and Imitation of Christ

Whoever proposes to discourage vice and to vindicate religion, morality, and social order against their enemies, must unveil crime in all its deformity, and place it before the eyes of men in its colossal magnitude; he must diligently explore its dark mazes, and make himself familiar with sentiments at the wickedness of which his soul revolts. - Schiller, Preface to the Robbers
Schiller's richly symbolic "The Robbers" (1781) tells the story of two vicious brothers and their bad father. The younger brother, Francis secretly plots to get his older brother disinherited and then collects his father's estate by imprisoning his own father to simulate his death. He symbolizes rationalist amoralism, the cowardly covert lawlessness representative of the sneaking radicalism of Enlightenment rationalists and reminiscent of our contemporary trahison-de-clercs academics. Charles represents those men of open bold lawlessness who act in the name of false incendiary idealism; he becomes a criminal once impoverished to attack those who corrupt justice in the rabid spirit of revolution. Charles is attractive outwardly and initially in a Che-Guevara T-shirt way.  But Charles' lawlessness leads into mass slaughter of innocents and the murder of his true love in an actual Che-Guevara way. The brothers' bad father, symbolizing the modern state, raises both of them poorly. He denies God to both by emphasizing prideful rationalism and prideful militarism respectively. Francis is destroyed by his lawlessness and Charles is ultimately reconciled to law, submitting to law's judgement.

Christian lawyers will find interesting the speech that the two brothers give to explain their differently spirited rejections of law. They illustrate two recognizable paths that also lead modern jurists to err:

Francis, the rationalist denial of the objective truth of justice and law:
Men's natural rights are truly equal, far too equal for the purpose which is claimed for them; for claim is met by claim, effort by effort, and right by right—so equal are all our rights that right is with the strongest—the limits of our power constitute our only true laws. Everyone has a claim to exercise on everything, a right to take if he has the power to do so.  
It is true there are certain organized conventions, which men have devised to keep up what is called the social compact. Honor! truly a very convenient coin, which those who know how to pass it lay out with great advantage. It is another part of power. 
Conscience, they urge on us to obey the compact and its laws! oh yes, a useful scarecrow to frighten sparrows away from cherry-trees; it is something like a fairly written bill of exchange with which your bankrupt merchant staves off the evil day. Well! these are all most admirable institutions for keeping fools in awe, and holding the mob underfoot, that the cunning may live the more at their ease.
Laws are fine institutions, too. They are something like the fences the tenant farmers plant so closely to keep out the hares—yes I' faith, not a hare can trespass on the enclosure, but a hunting lord claps spurs to his hunter, and away he gallops over the teeming harvest trampling the farmers' labors in pursuit! Poor hare! thou playest but a sorry part in this world's drama, but your worshipful lords must needs have hares!
Charles, the idealistic rejection of law as a path to justice in favor of private action:
Fie! fie upon this weak, effeminate age, fit for nothing but to ponder over the deeds of former times... The vigor of its loins is dried up, and even the propagation of the human species has become dependent on potations of malt liquor.
They curb honest nature with absurd conventionalities; have scarcely the heart to charge a glass, because they are tasked to drink a health in it; fawn upon the lackey that he may put in a word for them with His Grace, and bully the unfortunate wight from whom they have nothing to fear. 
They worship any one for a dinner, and are just as ready to poison him should he chance to outbid them for a feather-bed at an auction. ...  
They swoon at the sight of a bleeding goose, yet clap their hands with joy when they see their rival driven bankrupt from the Exchange. ... To prison with the dog! Entreaties! Vows! Tears! (stamping the ground). Hell and the devil!
No, I hate to think of it. Am I to squeeze my body into stays, and straight-lace my will in the trammels of law. 
What might have risen to an eagle's flight has been reduced to a snail's pace by law. Never yet has law formed a great man; 'tis liberty that breeds giants and heroes. Oh! that the spirit of Herman [liberator of the Germans from the Roman yoke] still glowed in his ashes!
Upon finally resolving to take up the black flag against the injustices of the world and deciding on a life of action as a leader of Robin-Hood style bandits, Charles concludes:
My soul's athirst for deeds, my spirit pants for freedom. Murderers, robbers! with these words I trample the law underfoot—mankind threw off humanity when I appealed to it. Away, then, with human sympathies and mercy! I no longer have a father, no longer affections; blood and death shall teach me to forget that anything was ever dear to me! Come! come! Oh, I will recreate myself with some most fearful vengeance;—'tis resolved, I am your captain! and success to him who Shall spread fire and slaughter the widest and most savagely—I pledge myself He shall be right royally rewarded. Stand around me, all of you, and swear to me fealty and obedience unto death! Swear by this trusty right hand.
Here is Charles' speech of reconciliation, where he seeks to imitate Christ:
Oh! fool that I was, to fancy that I could amend the world by misdeeds and maintain law by lawlessness! I called it vengeance and equity. I presumed, O Providence! upon whetting out the notches of thy sword and repairing thy partialities. But, oh, vain trifling! here I stand on the brink of a fearful life, and learn, with wailing and gnashing of teeth, that two men like myself could ruin the whole edifice of the moral world. Pardon—pardon the boy who thought to forestall Thee; to Thee alone belongeth vengeance; Thou needest not the hand of man! But it is not in my power to recall the past; that which is ruined remains ruined; what I have thrown down will never more rise up again. Yet one thing is left me whereby I may atone to the offended majesty of the law and restore the order which I have violated. A victim is required—a victim to declare before all mankind how inviolable that majesty is—that victim shall be myself. I will be the death-offering!
Charles then surrenders himself to a poor magistrate with eleven children so that he can collect the reward for his capture.

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