Chapter Eighteen, Executioners / by E.M. Hernandez

The following is a quote from Robert Bolt's, "A Man For All Seasons." The play (or its film adaptation) is an indispensable meditation on justice, law, and conscience.

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Western civilization possesses an almost perverse affinity for the law. The Roman empire was sustained by laws and those laws were sustained by religion of a fanatical kind. To break a law was to flirt with divine retribution.

The English constitution, before the 20th century at least, was a millennium long experiment in discovering the natural law via deduction, experimentation, manipulation, and faith. Magna Carta is not a document of democracy. It is an assertion of the rule of law, even over kings.

The shocks of WWI stole much of this love of law away from Western Europe. It all but killed it in Germany for a time. The entire nation became "practical". What was effective was what mattered, not what was just. They were knowing law breakers, supporting the government in its efforts to re-arm, without getting in trouble. Thus they became a nation of sneak-thieves and could not support justice any longer.

Whether on purpose, or not, I have presented my Durians as people of law; from the lowest ranked private, to the rulers of the land, they embrace it as the way to settle their differences. They are prepared to submit to it, even at their own peril. Justice may not be the only native inhabitant of the law, but they know it can only grow within its bounds. 

This is how, again perhaps by accident, I have ended up with a government lawyer as one of my favorite characters. Neils is a policy wonk and the kind of student who finds and loves and hates and memorizes every loophole in the book. He is, in that way, completely different from myself. But we need his kind. The gentle pedant. The merciful martinet. The open-minded obsessive. 

We especially need them now, in these United States. We need those who accept, even demand, that the truth and the law are the last words.

And then, we need the crowds to cry out in one voice, if the law should fail us,




To save our friends, our enemies, and ourselves.