Victor Hugo on right, reality and the morality of the past

The July Revolution is the triumph of right in the overthrow of reality. A splendid thing.

Right overthrowing reality. Hence the magnitude of the 1830 Revolution, hence also its mildness. Right that triumphs has no need to be violent.

Right is that which is just and true.

Characteristic of what is right is to remain eternally beautiful and pure. Reality, even the most apparently inexorable, even the best-accepted by its contemporaries, if it exists only as reality and contains but too little right or none at all, is surely destined to become in the course of time distorted, squalid, perhaps even monstrous. Anyone wanting to take in at a glance how ugly reality can be, seen from a distance centuries later, should consider Machiavelli. Machiavelli is not an evil genius, or a demon, or a wretched and cowardly writer. He is simply the reality. And he is not just the Italian reality. He is the European reality, the reality of the sixteenth century. He seems hideous, and so he is, when confronted with the nineteenth-century moral conception.

This conflict between right and reality has been going on ever since societies came into being. To end this duel, to marry purity of concept with human actuality, to instil right in reality and reality in right, that is the work of the wise.

Victor Hugo – Les Miserables

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