We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Why the rule of law matters

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 is 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, do 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!

Sir Thomas More, played by Paul Scofield in a Man for All Seasons. Even if Tudor history means nothing to you, I definitely urge folk to rent out this movie. It is an object lesson in what integrity means.

Thanks to a commenter for pointing out that I got Scofield’s first name wrong. It was Paul, not John. (Dolt!)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

12 comments to Why the rule of law matters

  • Sorry about that, Johnathan…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    James, what?

  • ak

    When I was a kid, I loved A Man for All Seasons. I’m sure I knew just the basics of Henry VIII and the divorce thing. I was probably more attracted by the personal conflict/family drama and the great performances of Paul Scolfield and Robert Shaw. But I remember the “when the Devil turns round on you” speech as a great revelation to my little mind. Funny to think that I was getting my early social views from watching costume dramas on Sunday afternoons! At any rate, that scene has always stuck with me.

  • dearieme

    The fictional More is wonderful. The real one is wikid as:- During his tenure as Lord Chancellor, he wrote several books in which he defended Catholicism and supported the existing anti-heresy laws. His chief concern in this matter was to wipe out collaborators of William Tyndale, the exiled Lutheran who in 1525 had published a Protestant translation of the Bible in English which was circulating clandestinely in England. As Lord Chancellor, More had six Lutherans burned at the stake and imprisoned as many as forty others, some of whom were interrogated under torture in his own house.

  • veryretired

    One of my favorites. The interviews with Cromwell are also very good. The best line is at the trial, when he addresses Rich’s perjury. I won’t quote it, so as not to spoil it for any who might rent the dvd, which I also highly recommend.

    For those who so disdain all religious expressions that it would ruin their enjoyment, be warned this is a very faith-based story, revolving around the complex demands of politics vs religious fidelity, the conflict between duty to man and duty to god.

    Beyond all that, however, is the very personal story of what price integrity might cause any of us to pay, if we are truly committed to principles above accomodation.

    With all of our concerns here regarding the advance of repressive policies, it is good to consider the possibility that, some day, any of us might be faced with a choice between our beliefs and safety.

    The purest metal is always refined in the hottest fires.

  • guy herbert

    dearime,

    I don’t know that persecuting Protestants is a particular sign of wickedness for an early 16th-century Catholic official. He may well have believed he was saving their souls. That More (though also in common with his contemporaries and successors) became rich on the bribes received for dispensing equity as Lord Chancellor, is a little less easy to excuse. As is his zealous political pursuit of the King’s interests in parliament.

    Jonathan,

    I’m fond of the passage and quote it often. But in defence of the rule of law what we really need is a play about the conflict between Coke and Bacon.

  • mrp

    became rich on the bribes received for dispensing equity as Lord Chancellor, is a little less easy to excuse. As is his zealous political pursuit of the King’s interests in parliament.

    Source? Thomas More was a wealthy and pre-eminent lawyer before he accepted the position of Lord Chancellor.

    Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Sir Thomas More is one of the finest books I’ve ever read. Well worth the time and effort.

  • dearieme

    Guy, “wikid” as in Wikipedia. As for saving someone’s soul by burning him to death while he’s still a Lutheran – well, if you say so.

  • What MRP said. The Ackroyd biography is brilliant. You feel you are right there in London. You see what a dense network of civil society institutions existed and how prosperous and bustling England was. You see that Henry’s reign was a near-death experience for liberty. More’s execution was a legal disgrace. The greatest scene is where he is hauled into court to argue his own cause, no time to prepare, no chance to call his own witnesses, in front of judges in the pay of his mortal enemies, pulled filthy and exhausted from the Tower and put on trial for his life. As a lawyer, I think of this scene as a lawyer’s worst nightmare. And More won. They exectuted him anyway. And he died like a man. Ackroyd limits himself to the known facts, and they are quite enough to make a stirring tale.

    Samizdata readers would find much of interest in the book.

  • guy herbert

    became rich on the bribes received for dispensing equity as Lord Chancellor, is a little less easy to excuse. As is his zealous political pursuit of the King’s interests in parliament.

    I don’t have one. Perhaps I was muddling him with someone else. Withdrawn.

  • mrp

    The greatest scene is where he is hauled into court to argue his own cause, no time to prepare, no chance to call his own witnesses, in front of judges in the pay of his mortal enemies

    A nice, concise review, Lex. If memory serves, Ann Boleyn’s brother and father were members of the jury that convicted More.

  • George

    It’s Paul Scofield, not John.

    Wonderful characters…Leo McKern as the evil Cromwell, a bureaucrat willing to take political correctness farther than other men and thus advance his career. The Duke of Norfolk as a well-meaning dolt who abets evil by not bucking it and the pathetic Rich (John Hurt) who sells out.

    The movie is a real treasure.