“I prefer the great Nothing, which leaves me untroubled. -M. le Comtep. 44
Well, of course, but he named it wrong. He prefers the great self. A god would dictate, make demands—expect things. But it’s not like le Comte doesn’t want rules; he just wants them on his own terms. He wants to be left alone. But make no mistake, he wants the government to make sure that others don’t interfere with his standard. He does not prefer the great Nothing: anarchy, really. He prefers a god who will keep others in line, but who will not bother him. That’s what we all want.
“Ah, 1793. I thought we should come to that! The clouds had been gathering for fifteen hundred years and at last the storm broke. What you are condemning is a thunderclap …” [And then Myriel] “The judge speaks in the name of justice. The priest speaks in the name of pity, which is only a higher form of justice. A thunderclap must not make mistakes.”p. 53–54
le Comte is correct. 1793 was the building up of a long pressure. A necessary release of the tension by loosening a bolt would have saved many. But those in charge of and in control of the necessary tools had no interest in turning the bolt. So a break ensued. I don’t know if thunderclaps “make mistakes”—even things that shatter, even floods, even a powerful electric storm—all follow the laws of physics. But 1793 was not strictly a broken dam. The human heart came into play and when that is broken, physics gets thrown out the window. Yes, the clouds could have been dispersed. But they were not. And the thunderclap—an uncontrolled and uncontrollable “natural” result did make mistakes. Pity was not consulted. Justice, without a firm base, was all that was considered. Therefore fallible people with fallible presuppositions made monstrous mistakes, and we can rightly blame both sides. (see book 5, chapter 13).
Again le Comte: “The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human race has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.”
Then the bishop: “Progress must believe in God. The good cannot be served by impiety.”pp. 56–57
According to le Comte the ends justify the means—and looking back, maybe the means weren’t so bad—or maybe the progress is so good. Advance. The mantra of the humanist. But advance to where? If there is no roadmap but instead only a desire for change, then will we not get another 1793 and another? Maybe not in the same form or with the same outward violence but a revolutionary advance none-the-less, the damage to get there irrelevant.
The bishop would say no. Progress must believe in God, i.e., it must have a telos, for God has a telos. And progress then must match the divine’s thought of progress: love. As he defines it, righteousness and justice based on a set standard. And hope, not for some but all. And dependence shot through humility. And this revolution would bring us advance without being roughly handled.
There will be more from Hugo about this later in the novel. And he will agree.