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April 13, 2017 / Congau

The Justice of Power

Might is right. Justice is controlled by power.

Something is right and something is just, but who is to say what it is? Whoever has a gun in his hand? Few think that the violent thug is in a moral position to give people what they deserve, but many think the state can do it. Yet the state is also ultimately based on violent power.

There are good laws and bad laws. Some verdicts are right and some are wrong. Who can tell which is which? You can. At least you can try. At least you may be in no worse position to do it than anyone else. Don’t trust the power just because it has the power.

But many people do. There is a superstitious belief in power. Whatever the law says, they think is right and when the court has spoken, they think that truth has been told. It is legal! they exclaim as a sign of the utmost moral indignation. Yes, it is illegal, I reply, but so what? it may still be right. He has been convicted, they maintain, but what does that prove? It only means that the power has spoken; the power which is in position to punish. Can it really make a better judgment? Is the man with the gun a better judge?

We need a justice system. Or rather, we need a system for distributing benefits and penalties, but it shouldn’t be called justice. There is no particular reason to believe that justice will come out of it; we can only hope.

We need laws to keep order in society, and whoever breaks the law must be punished, not because they deserve it, but because otherwise people would not care to obey the law.

What is a just punishment for theft and murder? Paying back what is stolen is all that simple justice could expect, but more seems to be required for social reason. Murder cannot be paid back in any way, but the state must make the murderer suffer in order to scare away potential murderers. How much is needed for that is a matter of practical calculation. It is not about what is just and right, for might is not right.

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