June 12, 2020


By Glenn

Justice is at the heart of social stability. Injustice provokes disobedience and rebellion. The American Revolution demanded justice in an era when few could be heard in politics.  Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself, what is justice?

One of the most famous declarations of justice can be found in the Code of Hammurabi (1754 BC).  “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.”  Literally it is a call for revenge. “You hurt me; I’m going to hurt you.”  Historically, however, it is a call for restraint. Punishment needs to be proportional to the crime committed. A person who loses an eye cannot claim another’s life.

Not everyone in Hammurabi’s empire was equal.  “If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.”   Disputes between freemen required equal justice.  Disputes between a superior and an inferior required unequal justice.

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras expressed justice as the number four. We need to remember that the Greeks didn’t have the Arabic number 4 (four).  Greeks used dots to represent an amount. The number four appeared as four (4) dots (.) equidistant from each other in the shape of a square, one in each corner ( :: ).  Pythagorean justice required making it equal on all sides.

Christianity moved beyond mere equality.  Jesus expanded on another idea found in Hebrew scripture: mercy.  Just as God is merciful humans should also be merciful.  Jesus called on his followers to turn the other cheek. This idea rejected the vengeful call for an eye.

Mercy found few supporters in Imperial Rome or the Christian kingdoms that followed Rome’s fall.  Far more common was despotic justice.  A government accusation resulted in death, torture, and imprisonment.  Each crime required a criminal and the government’s need to make a show of force.  As long as someone paid for the crime, guilty or not, justice was served.

The authors of the United States’ Bill of Rights rebelled against despotic justice and developed a modern system of Justice.   Five of the ten amendments protect people accused of a crime.  These amendments limit the ability of the government to punish a person accused.  They establish a process for discovering justice.  Government officials must have a reasonable suspicion, gather physical evidence and convince of jury of the accused peers.   

None of these ideas applied to livestock.  During America’s early Republic, African American slaves were livestock.  Only after the Civil War did the 14th Amendment expand these constitutional protections to African Americans as citizens.  Unfortunately, Jim Crow laws used segregation to turn back the clock.

We are now well over 200 years into the American experiment with justice.   Justice brings peace.  Our Constitution states that every person has a right to due process.  No government official, including police officers, can violate those rights by appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner.  Either we enforce the Constitution or there will be no peace.  Limited government is the only path forward.

Spread the love


You must be logged in to post a comment.