Saturday, September 19, 2020

The ANE is more timely than ever

From chapter 6 of the forthcoming Eisenbrauns book, Law and (Dis)Order in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 59th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Held at Ghent, Belgium, 14–19 July 2013:

“It is a commonly accepted idea that law was introduced in human societies as a shield against revenge and retaliation, both expressions of disorder.[1] It is assumed that order depends on rigorous respect for the law issued by political authorities or local communities.[2] This is true up to a certain point, inasmuch as a legal rule usually meets the implicit requirement of justice, in other words when it does not contradict the notions of fairness, honesty, and rectitude.

“But the assumption that the rule of law is necessarily and always just is far from self-evident. Examples of unjust laws are numerous nowadays, and lead to popular revolts when the brink of acceptance is reached. Law then reveals itself unable to maintain order. What brings peace and stability is basically justice. A rule of law is just a tool, a technical instrument framing the relationship between individuals or institutions. The purpose of the rule is to follow justice, namely the ethical and moral values that are supposed to underlie it. If not, law becomes nothing but a hollow sham or even worse, a means of oppression.”

[1] This opinion is summarized in the following statement by Francis Bacon (1625): “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.”

[2] One of the best modern examples is probably the law and order movement that developed by the middle of the 1960s in America, both as a social ideal and a political slogan. See Flamm (2005) [Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s. Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press.]

<idle musing>
Who knew when she wrote those words in 2013 how timely they would be in describing our world today! We can still learn much from the ancient world!
</idle musing>

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