Pascal on custom and authority

Micheal Paterson-Seymour passes on this quote from Pascal:

“On what shall man found the order of the world which he would govern? Shall it be on the caprice of each individual? What confusion! Shall it be on justice? Man is ignorant of it…

Nothing, according to reason alone, is just in itself; all changes with time. Custom creates the whole of equity, for the simple reason that it is accepted. It is the mystical foundation of its authority; whoever carries it back to first principles destroys it. Nothing is so faulty as those laws which correct faults. He who obeys them because they are just obeys a justice which is imaginary and not the essence of law; it is quite self-contained, it is law and nothing more. He who will examine its motive will find it so feeble and so trifling that, if he be not accustomed to contemplate the wonders of human imagination, he will marvel that one century has gained for it so much pomp and reverence. The art of opposition and of revolution is to unsettle established customs, sounding them even to their source, to point out their want of authority and justice. We must, it is said, get back to the natural and fundamental laws of the State, which an unjust custom has abolished. It is a game certain to result in the loss of all; nothing will be just on the balance. Yet people readily lend their ear to such arguments. They shake off the yoke as soon as they recognise it; and the great profit by their ruin and by that of these curious investigators of accepted customs.”

 

4 Responses

  1. The problem had barely begun, yet Pascal could see clearly where it was tending.

    More than 400 years later, even fewer people recognize this truth than in Pascal’s time.

    I can understand why people would not want to read Pascal’s Pensees, and why they would find the fragmentary style confusing and off-putting – yet anyone who *can* read him, certainly should.

    If Pascal does not make you a Christian, you have not understood what he is saying.

  2. So where does one begin? What is the recommended reading list order?

  3. The collection I read was Peter Kreeft’s “Christianity for Modern Pagans”. Kreeft’s commentary was worthless, (It wasn’t wrong; it’s just that it didn’t add anything.) but the ordering made things seem pretty intelligible.

  4. Pascal’s defence of monarchy:

    “The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.
    This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils.”

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