exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
Justice & Law
"You seem ... to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all contitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy... The Contitution has erected no such single tribunal." Thomas Jefferson, 1820
Mortimer Adler's Syntopicon Essay: Justice
Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Justice
Editor's Essay: What is Law, What is Justice?
Cicero Denounces Catiline, fresco (1888) by Cesare Maccari
Sir William Blackstone: "The most universal and effectual way of discovering the true meaning of law, when the words are dubious, is by considering the reason and spirit of it; or the cause which moved the legislator to enact it; for when this reason ceased, the law itself ought likewise to cease with it."
- Editor's note: What a great insight by Blackstone! Not only should we be honoring legislative intent, but, when such expires, the law should be retired as well, lest it be used for private purpose.
John Dean: "If Watergate had succeeded, what would have been put into the system for years to come? People thinking the way Richard Nixon thought and thinking that is the way it should be. It would have been frightening."
Dr. Bill Bennett, President Reagan's Secretary of Education, author of The Death of Outrage: "Those who constantly invoke the sentiment of 'Who are we to judge?' should consider the anarchy that would ensue if we adhered to this sentiment in, say, our courtrooms. What would happen if those sitting on a jury decided to be 'nonjudgmental' about rapists and sexual harassers, embezzlers and tax cheats? Justice would be lost. Without being 'judgmental,' Americans would never have put an end to slavery, outlawed child labor, emancipated women... "How do we judge a wrong - any wrong whatsoever - when we have gutted the principle of judgment itself? ... We all know that there are times when we will have to judge others, when it is right and necessary to judge others. If we do not confront the soft relativism that is currently disguised as a virtue, we will find ourselves morally and intellectually disarmed... The threats we now face are from within. They are far more difficult to detect, more insidious: decadence, cynicism, and boredom... Mr. Clinton [is] 'our first president to be strengthened by charges of immorality' ... We do not expect our presidents to have lived lives of near perfection. We should not even expect all our presidents to have the sterling character of say, a Washington or a Lincoln, although we should hope for it ... [Recent presidents] had an assortment of flaws and failings. They made mistakes. But at the end of the day, they were men whose character, at least, we could count on. Bill Clinton's is not. The difference between these men and Mr. Clinton is the difference between common human frailty and corruption."
the essence of ‘violence’ is ‘violation’ - not gross physical contact
To construe the definition of “violence” narrowly, limiting it to gross physical contact, would suggest that one’s right to defend oneself is also something immoral. And, of course, this is what some people believe – but this is absolute nonsense.
The word “violence,” itself, reveals its nature and underpinnings. “Violence” is part of the concept “to violate.” Those upon whom “violence” is inflicted have been “violated” in terms of human rights and sacred dignity.
And when defense is mustered to stop an attack of “violation” of human rights, this resistance is not “violence” because there is no “violation.” In fact, far from "violation," it is our duty to push back against evil. The form of this reaction becomes a matter of judgment and wisdom, but to allow evil and “violence,” the attacks of “violators,” to proceed unchallenged is grossly immoral.
There are many forms of “violence” which have nothing to do with gross physical contact. Your rights and dignity, as a human being, might be "violated" in numerous ways. But all of it is "violence."
One’s response to “violence” will, of course, be measured against the degree of “violation.” Some issues are small, mere slightings, and the response should be small; but some “violations” are egregious and life-threatening and, in such cases, all necessary force is an appropriate answer.
There are many “Hitlers” in life and in history, big and small, and when they come on the scene to "violate" you or the ones you love, you are well within your rights to resist, in some commensurate manner; and sometimes, if the “violation” threatens human life, then resistance might take the form of deadly force. To do otherwise is to allow monsters to rule the Earth, as the "utterly shameless" will not stop gathering power to themselves until they are stopped. This is the lesson of history. These "violators" are run by the dysfunctional ego. The "Course In Miracles" explains this pathology to us.
Special note: In these few paragraphs, I have emphasized the morality, one’s right, of defending oneself as counter-balance to foolish people who say that self-defense is immoral. However, allow me to take back some of my polemic, not to side with radical pacifists but to appeal to a higher law. Some of the most famous, and possibly most misunderstood, phrases in the entire Bible are those of “turn the other cheek” and “resist not evil.” These statements by Jesus from the “sermon on the mount” have technical, very specific definitions, linked to particular antecedent accounts in the Old Testament. These terms have nothing to do with becoming doormat or sacrificial lamb to the world and its ego-insanity. All this acknowledged, however, Jesus meant to say that there are situations and times in life when the enlightened, spiritual person will agree, with him or herself, to lay down personal rights to self-defense, will decide to suffer wrong and injustice, if such harmlessness serves the greater good. How to know when to “turn the other cheek” or to put up a fight? There’s no catechism or pat answer to help you with that, you’ll have to consult with God directly via the inner whisperings of your own sacred soul. See more discussion of “turn the other cheek” on the "Forgiveness" page.
Abraham Lincoln: "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in dissent, Santa Fe v. Doe, a case that prohibited prayer at a high school football game: "Even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court's opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of 'public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.'"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere."
"There Can Be No Justice As Long As Laws Are Absolute. Even Life Itself Is An Exercise In Exceptions."
STNG season 1, episode 8, “Justice,” finds the crew of the Enterprise visiting what appears to be a free-love utopian society. Just who plants the crops, cleans the bathrooms, and collects the mail is never addressed. However, trouble in paradise quickly presents itself when young Wesley accidentally falls into a flower patch. Sentries immediately appear on the scene to administer lethal injection for his keep-off-the-lawn “crime.” All infractions of this society’s civil code, no matter how trivial, were met by the same recompense: death. Their excuse for draconianism issued as “This is our justice, this is how we keep everyone happy and safe from lawbreakers.” Picard, mindful of the “prime directive” to not interfere with alien civilizations, eventually refuses to allow his young charge to be harmed in this travesty of “justice.” In a memorable chastising of their “perfect society,” the captain forcibly asserts, “There can be no justice as long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”
In my youth, a time of heavy indoctrination with catechisms of “one true answers,” infallible doctrines, black-and-white moral code, and the threat of afterlife death-penalty for so much as missing a Sunday meeting, I might have disagreed with Picard. The problem with utopian moralistic societies, however, is that it’s not possible to legislate, in advance, the perfect answer to life’s knotty problems. Picard is right: “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” The Bible commands us not to kill, but even the RCC’s iconic Aquinas taught of “the just war” and the exceptions under which a person or nation might employ lethal force to protect against evil. Also in the Bible, the apostle Paul, in I Cor. 7, allows the “John and Marys” of his congregations to divorce if they cannot live together in harmony. We could make a long list here of “sacred exceptions” to “laws brought down from Mount Sinai.” Morality cannot be absolutely codified in written texts. Intentions must rule. See the article on “morality.”
Anon.: "A Great law protects me from the government; the Bill of Rights has 10 Great laws. A Good law protects me from you; laws against murder, theft, assault and the like are good laws. A Poor law attempts to protect me from myself."
Daniel Defoe: "Justice is always violent to the party offending, for every man is innocent in his own eyes."
Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 53: "Because, in the case of pirates, say, I should like to know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the gallows. And besides, when a man is elevated in that odd fashion, he has no proper foundation for his superior altitude. Hence, I conclude, that in boasting himself to be high lifted above a whaleman, in that assertion the pirate has no solid basis to stand on."
Pat Buchanan, Jan. 21, 2002: "By 2050, half of all the people of European descent will be over 50, with 10 percent of Europe over 80. With Christianity fading away in the West, with 60 million aged Europeans over 80 to be cared for, the course set by the old submariner [Admiral Nimitz, Jr., suicide] will be followed by tens of thousands... A prediction: In coming decades, involuntary euthanasia will be commonplace in Europe, and Gen-Xers' battles to stay alive into old age will be treated with the same cold contempt as they treated the silent screams of the unborn. Millions will be put to sleep like aged and incontinent household pets. Since the 1960s, the radical young have pleaded for a world free of the strictures of the old Christian morality. They are close to getting what they have demanded; and my sense is that they will not like what they get. We are heading into Bladerunner Country."
Seneca: "The wise man will not pardon every crime that should be punished, but he will accomplish in a nobler way all that is sought in pardoning. He will spare some and watch over some because of their youth, and others on account of their ignorance. His clemency will not fall short of justice, but will fulfil it perfectly."
Cicero: "They who say that we should love our fellow citizens but not foreigners, destroy the universal brotherhood of mankind, and thus benevolence and justice would perish for ever."
Cicero: "Let us not listen to those who think that we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is more praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive."
Marcus Aurelius: "I have formed the ideal of a state, in which there is the same law for all, and equal rights and equal liberty of speech established, an empire where nothing is honoured so much as the freedom of the citizen."
William Lloyd Garrison: "That which is not just is not law."
Thomas Jefferson: "The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or his estate, which would more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills."
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, 1803: "It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own."
Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History: "No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history."
Martin Luther King, Jr.: I submit that an individual who breaks the law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.
Bill Moyers, intro to The Power of Myth: Commenting on the work of Joseph Campbell: "Consider the position of judges in our society, which Campbell saw in mythological, not sociological, terms. If this position were just a role, the judge could were a gray suit to court instead of the magisterial black robe. For the law to hold authority beyond mere coercion, the power of the judge must be ritualized, mythologized. So must much of life today, Campbell said, from religion and war to love and death."
Thomas Paine: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
John Locke: "The people cannot delegate to government the power to do anything which would be unlawful for them to do themselves."
Anacharsis, Scythian philosopher, 600 BC: "Written laws are like spiders' webs, and will, like them, only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily break through them."
Diogenes Laertius, biographer of Greek philosophers, 200 AD: "Solon used to say ... that laws were like cobwebs - for if any trifling or powerless thing fell into them, they held it fast; while if it were something weightier, it broke through them and was off."
Francis Bacon, The Essays of Counsels, Civil and Moral, 1625: "Judges ought to remember that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law."
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth, 1867: "Law represents the effort of men to organize society; governments, the efforts of selfishness to overthrow liberty."
Prince Otto Von Bismarck: "All treaties between great states cease to be binding when they come in conflict with the struggle for existence."
Marcus Cicero, De Officiis ["On Obligations"], 44 BC: "The more laws, the less justice."
Demonax, Roman philosopher, c. 150 AD: "Probably all laws are useless; for good men do not want laws at all, and bad men are made no better by them."
Michel De Montaigne, Essays, 1580: "The laws keep up their credit, not by being just, but because they are laws; 'tis the mystic foundation of their authority; they have no other, and it well answers their purpose. They are often made by fools; still oftener by men who, out of hatred to equality, fail in equity; but always by men, vain and irresolute authors."
Charles de Secondat, The Spirit of Laws, 1748: "In republican governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic governments; in the former, because they are everything; in the latter, because they are nothing."
Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 1849: "I think we should be men first, and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 7 June 1978, Harvard University: "I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either."
Lord Stowell, Attorney General of England, 1800: "A precedent embalms a principle."
16 Am. Jur., Sec. 177 late 2d, Sec. 256: "No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it."
Baron Thurlow: "Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned, or a body to be kicked?"
Dr. F.F. Bruce: "Bearing in mind T. R. Glover's comment on a Roman Emperor's condemnation of the Apostle to the Gentiles - that the day was to come when men would call their dogs Nero and their sons Paul."