Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Huizinga on the Evolution of Law Enforcement out of Chivalry

Huizinga on Law Enforcement, The Ideal of Chivalry, (Waning, page 68 par 2) writes:

"The passionate desire to find himself praised by his contemporaries or by posterity was the source of virtue with the courtly knight of the twelfth century and the rude captain of the fourteenth, no less than the beaux-esprits of the quattrocento."

Yes and no. Huizinga is seeking to revise Burkhardt here, but was he fails to see is that what we mean by human nature when we speak of the twelfth and fourteenth century man is a different nature not in kind but in quality.

Contrary to the surface impression, the condittore of the 14th century may in fact be more honest than the courtly knight of the 12th. Why is that? Because there is less need to idealize the brutal function of enforcing law and order in the 14th than in the 12th. 

Look at it this way: reality was too much with the man of the 12th century; he had to dress his policeman up in shining armour. By the time we get to the 14th century the glamor of the warrior was no longer part of policing.

When you look at the history of policing (a fascinating issue which I studied in the Great Ideas Today yearbook for 1972), you see immediately that in the age where policing was instituted it was simply a matter of pragmatism. One cannot have police and idealise the rule of law at the same time; police are just the visible expression of the widespread pragmatism of our society today. The rule of law in the ancients needed symbolic power, and in the moderns only the investiture of force is required for the rule of law. The change occurs sometime between the 12th and 14th century.

Likewise, by looking at how the ancients enforce their laws, we see their failure to even imagine the abstract rule of constitutionalism. The human of the twelfth century required a courtly knight to personify the rule of law. By contrast, the sophisticated men of the fourteenth century recognise the rule of law as an instrument in facilitating personal gain, hence their law enforcers are men seeking the most crude advantages of greed and ambition. We cannot have the abstract rule of law without also having cynical, hypocritical, and callow enforcers of the same laws.

Compare today: we see law as the expression of liberty under God, hence our law enforcers facilitate the abstract and impersonal expression of principle in a no-nonsense, pragmatic way. If the legal system seems careless or cold, then, it is also unsentimental and realistic. And if our legal system occasionally falls into cynical or negative or bureaucratic excesses, at least it does not slide the opposite way into idealistic, ideological, and heroic savagery.

Put another way, Huizinga's central insight here is that chivalry idealized the rule of law, because men in the 12th century could not see beyond their own passions to even understand an abstract idea. The courtly knight was a stand-in, a living symbol, for the abstraction of legal and moral right.

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