Hugo’s character Javert sees anyone who may have commit a crime as simple as the theft of a loaf of bread as a social malefactor, a blight on all of society, a prime evil who needs to be eliminated, removed from the general population, and a devil that can be neither reformed nor tamed. Javert is the true rationalist. Like Medieval philosophers, he believes that people will naturally resort to evil, and that these people can never be saved or reformed. Javert is the true rationalist because he believes the law is the highest authority, sees Jean Valjean as purely evil, and because he wholeheartedly believes in the infallibility of the law.
Javert believes the law is the highest authority throughout Les Miserables. When his character is first described, Hugo states “It will be easily understood that Javert was the terror of all that class which the annual statistics of the Minister of Justice include under the heading: People without a fixed abode” (57). Javert believes that all of those that live in poverty are destined to be criminals because they are forced to live without being able to satisfy certain wants, and that people, who are naturally bad, will violate the law to satisfy themselves. Javert, quick to punish anyone of a low social status, is also quick to punish himself. When he falsely accuses Monsieur the Mayor of being a convict, he asks to be dismissed. To the Mayor, he says “I denounced you as a convict- you, a respectable man, a mayor, and a magistrate. This is a serious matter, very serious.
I have committed an offense against authority” (69). He believes that he has violated the law and should therefore be punished for it, even though he has proved himself to be a worthy inspector and only is guilty of a minor infraction. He believes that any man, despite any previous or future actions, is inherently evil if he has ever done wrong, so Javert automatically condemns himself because he has commit a crime. Javert also believes that the word of the law always supercedes the word of a normal man. Champmathieu, who denied being Jean Valjean, was, in fact, not him, but Javert was positive that he was because the police had accused him of it.
When Champmathieu proclaimed his innocence, Javert said of him “Champmathieu plays off astonished” because he believes that there is no shadow of a doubt on whether this man is Jean Valjean. The police accused him of this, so they must be right. The police, because they are the envoy of the law, the supreme judge of character, must not be wrong, they are infallible in his eyes. Javert is a true rationalist because he believes that the law decides what kind of person you are, and the law is the highest authority, and that once judged by the law, a man cannot change.
Javert is a rationalist because he believes that man is incapable of reform. Throughout the novel, Javert pursues Jean Valjean because he is a convict who is a danger to society. In M_ sur M_, Jean Valjean showed he was reformed by giving to his fellow man before taking for himself. In M_ sur M_, Jean Valjean made 600,000 francs, but not without giving 1,000,000 to the people of the town. Javert pursues him even though he proved himself to be good for the community. Javert is relentless in his pursuit because he firmly believes that a convict is incapable of reformation because he has shown himself to be a doer of evil, and someone who has done evil is inherently evil. When Jean Valjean saved Cosette from the Thenardiers, he showed that he was capable of love and that he was no longer bitter from years of incarceration.
Nevertheless, Javert chases after him because he believes he is still a threat, because of his evil nature. Afterwards, Jean Valjean made it his life’s purpose to raise Cosette and give all his money to the poor, to better their circumstances. When Thenardier intended to kill Jean Valjean, Javert came not to stop a crime in process but to get Jean Valjean. Javert even pursued Jean Valjean after he had spared Javert’s life at the barricade. Even after the innumerable good, selfless deeds that Valjean performed Javert pursued him because he thought Valjean was still and would always be evil, because a man’s soul cannot change, is predestined to good or evil, love or violence. Javert shows he is a rationalist because he is blind to the fact that Valjean has reformed, because it is impossible for a man to do so.
Javert shows he is a rationalist because he believes the law is infallible with all his soul. When saved by Valjean, Javert is confronted with a moral dilemma. He knew that he had to bring back Valjean or else he was in violation of his duty, and that if he were to let Valjean be free he would be equally as evil. Hugo describes this predicament “Javert felt that something horrible was penetrating his soul, admiration for a convict” (336). Javert felt that he was becoming evil because he empathized with a purely evil man. As he empathized with Valjean, “all the axioms which had been the supports of his whole life crumbled away” (336). Javert was infected by a terrible disease, compassion. Compassion blinded his objectivity and was rendered an unworthy judge, now he was merely a wretch of a man, with a soul as black as Jean Valjean’s.
Because in his mind, the mind of a true rationalist, there was only right and wrong, there were only two ways about this. He could either turn the evil man in or die for aiding and abetting the fugitive. Javert must do either the right, and prove himself true, or do wrong and prove himself evil. He must be either good or evil, because there is no such thing as a gray area, and no such thing as compassion, only seeds of evil in his soul. He was his own judge, jury, and executioner. He killed himself because he had failed before the eyes of the law, he failed to do right and was thus proven evil, and did not deserve to live. For this he was a rationalist.
Javert represents the true rationalist in this novel because he believes the law is the highest judge of men. The law is the world’s guiding light and is always true. It is infallible, and the judge, a dispensary of the law, is the direct envoy of God. Jean Valjean is purely evil, and his attempts at repentance are only attempts to get out of trouble and to once again be assimilated into his surroundings, so he can once again do evil. Valjean is only a wolf, attempting to wear a sheep’s skin. His beliefs lead him to be so close minded that he is unable to deal with the fact that the law might be wrong. His mind is his own gallows, because he believes in the supreme power of the law. His rationalist beliefs are his noose, the ultimate cause of his death.