Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification—that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero—that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues or vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous an honor as you bring to financial transactions—that to withhold your contempt from men's vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement—that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit—and that the bottom of the pit at the end of that road, the act of moral bankruptcy, is to punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices, that that is the collapse to full depravity, the Black Mass of the worship of death, the dedication of your consciousness to the destruction of existence.
Note the emphasis Rand places on judging. You would think that Rand, when introducing justice, would want to state clearly her definitional notion of the concept. How does one distinguish between justice and injustice? Why are leftist notions of justice mistaken? What is wrong with the concept of distributive justice? Her treatment of justice does not address these problems, but merely assumes that her own notion of justice is right from the start and goes on to insist on the rigorous application of this view of justice, not just in the legal or political sphere, but in all of life. In short, Rand is insisting, in a particularly vehement manner, on the necessity of judging people and treating people exactly as they deserve.
It is important to understand the extent to which Rand, by her emphasis on moralizing, is challenging traditional norms of morality and judgment. Consider what Hamlet says on the subject in Shakespeare’s play. Hamlet is discussing with Polonius how to treat the actors that have come to give a play.
Hamlet: Good my Lord, will you see these players well bestowed? ...
Polonius: My Lord, I will use them according to their desert.
Hamlet: God’s bodikins, man, much better; use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Polonius is here stating Rand’s view of the matter; Hamlet is sticking up for the traditional view. Now it is important here not to misinterpret Hamlet’s views by taking too literally what he says. The traditional view does not hold that one ought to treat the worst sort of murderers and other criminals with greater consideration because of their viciousness. Hamlet’s stricture applies only to ordinary non-criminals, such as the players of the acting company. It is based on several assumptions about human nature that Rand either ignored or denied:
(1) Human nature is encumbered by “frailties” that render it impossible for any individual to be morally perfect.
(2) People don’t always intend to do bad things, yet end up doing bad things regardless of intention.
(3) Because of the unintended aspects of human behavior, it is impossible to determine the exact degree of moral culpability of other people.
(4) Because moral insight into the behavior of others is fraught with uncertainty, one should not be overly quick to judge others; on the contrary, one should be eager to cut others slack and temper justice with mercy. Moralizing and being excessively judgmental is a vice caused by arrogance and narrow-mindedness.
(6) Since most people are decent but flawed, treating them with kindness even when they seem to stray from the moral straight and narrow demonstrates a nobility of character and generosity of heart that is morally commendable.
The views summarized here are a product of aristocratic sensibilities tempered by Christian sentiment. In other words, they constitute the code of the gentleman, which is to say, the ideals of chivalry. Rand’s notion of justice sticks a dagger into the very heart of chivalric ideals. Justice, she insists, should never be tempered by mercy. Reason can determine exactly what people deserve—and that’s exactly what they should get! Everyone has the responsibility to be morally perfect and to demand from others moral perfection. Nothing less will do!
What is particularly mischievous in the Randian notion of justice is the combination of a moral perfection as defined by “reason” with an intransigent moralizing. Rand’s “reason” is a mere rationalization of artificial sentiments based on mere ideology. It denies not only the frailties of human nature, but even more critically, it disavows the traditional customs and habits that arose to deal with these frailties, such as the chivalric notions about treating people better than they deserve that Hamlet speaks up for in Shakespeare’s play.