The purpose of this essay is to describe different views on justice. The American notion of justice (Western notion) and the National Socialist notion of justice (non-Western notion) will be described as well as the evolution of the Greek form of justice into the American form. Views of justice from Plato’s Republic and Wright’s Native Son will also be looked at. My own personal views of what justice and injustice are will also be expressed in this paper.
Western Notions of Justice:
A Greek by the name of Draco introduced the first written code of laws to Greece in 620 BC. The code was based on unwritten laws known only to a few aristocratic judges, who often favored the nobility. Draco’s code enabled people to find out for themselves what the laws were. Draco’s code was said to be "written in blood" because it made almost all crimes punishable by death. Solon later modified Draco’s code, reducing the death penalty. Solon is credited for inventing democracy by creating an electoral system that gave every male citizen exactly one vote. Around a century and a half after Solon modified Draco’s code, the Romans issued a written code of law known as the Twelve Tablets of the Decemvirate. The Twelve Tablets of the Decemvirate dealt with trials, debt, rights, guardianship, ownership, and punishment including the death penalty. In 527 B.C., when Roman law was in a sad state Justin took the throne. Justin established the basic Code, also known as the Justin Code, which contained twelve books based on the Twelve Tablets of the Decemvirate. Justin was the one who closed the Academy in Athens, the institution founded by Plato. This Academy was described as the first European university and one of its main focuses was the political theory.
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In around 1100 the world’s first school of law was formed, fifty years later the school had over 10,000 students. These students spread the Justinian Code throughout the continent. The Code was later incorporated into the Code Napoleon, which spread throughout Europe. This code was divided into three parts consisting 1) of persons, 2) of things and the different modifications of ownership, and 3) of the different modes of acquiring the ownership of things. English justice also contained three parts including 1) right to trial by a jury of one’s peers, 2) the Common Law, and 3) courtroom dueling. The English system of laws spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, US, and to many former British colonies.
After the US gained its independence, it established the Constitution. It was designed to serve the interests of all people, rich and poor, Northerner and Southerner, farmers worker, and business person. The Constitution contained amendments known as the Bill of Rights. The ten amendments in the Bill of Rights were written to protect individual liberties against possible unjust rule by the national government. The Australian form of Justice is a mixture of American and British influences. (Lawson, 26-28)
National Socialist’s Notion of Justice (Non-Western):
National Socialism, also known as Nazism, got its start in Germany. The principals of nazism state that races could be scientifically classified as superior and inferior. (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) Nazism declared that the highest racial type was the Germanic, while blacks and Jews were at the bottom of the racial pyramid. National Socialist believe only pure races that do not mix with inferior groups are capable of creating lasting civilizations. In order to create the perfect civilization the inferior races need to be destroyed. (Kniesmeyer, 1-2)
In the Republic Plato discusses the question of "what is justice?"; he uses a Socratic dialogue to express his views on the subject. The Socratic dialogue is a process that involves proposal, criticism, and rejection of the subject at hand. The dialogue has the following characters speaking and voicing their opinion on justice and related topics: Socrates, Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Glaucon, Adeimantus, and Cleitophon . The Socratic dialogue begins when Socrates, Cephalus, and Polemarchus begin to argue the question "what is justice?" Socrates says that justice is something socially beneficial to society. In contrast, Cephalus suggests that justice is telling the truth and repaying one’s debts, while Polemarchus implies that justice is helping one’s friends and hurting one’s enemies. Thrasymachus’s definition of justice was that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger. After Thrasymachus, Cephalus, and Polemarchus speak their opinions Socrates brings up situations which call these views of justice into question.
Plato’s ideal republic is composed of three classes; the commoners, the warriors, and the philosophers. The philosophers will be the leaders of the ideal state, because they contain the virtue of wisdom needed to make political decisions. The commoners possess the virtue of temperance, and the warriors possess courage. Plato implies that one is born with their place in society already set. (Grube, Number)
Wright’s Native Son:
Native Son by Richard Wright is the story of a young black male, by the name of Bigger Thomas, living in Chicago in the 1930’s. Bigger and his family are poverty stricken and they live in what is known as the Black Belt. Bigger is given a chance to make himself a little richer when a rich white family, the Daltons, hires him to be their chauffeur. Bigger has to drive the Dalton’s daughter (Mary) and her boyfriend (Jan Erlone), who are both communists, to a political speech. When Bigger returns Mary home she is drunk and Bigger has to carry her to bed. Mary’s blind mother comes into the room to check on her daughter while Bigger is still there. Bigger tries to protect himself in this situation by trying to keep Mary quiet. To keep her from speaking Bigger "pushed downward with all of his weight, determined that she must not move or make any sound that would betray him." (Wright, 74) A minute later Mary was dead, Bigger had murdered her. As an attempt to hide his crime, Bigger burns her body in the furnace.
Later the Dalton family discovers their daughter’s charred bones. In response Bigger flees with his lover, Bessie. Bigger soon develops a fear that his lover will betray him, so he murders her. Bigger is later captured by the authorities and he admits to the murder of Mary, he is then sentenced to death.
My Interpretation of Justice:
After studying the format of Western justice and then Nazism, I’ve learned what both systems were trying to accomplish. Both forms of justice had the same goal in mind, to form a civilization that is as just as possible. The National Socialist’s goal was to create the ideal state with little or no injustice, where everyone will be created as equals. Unfortunately to accomplish a society where everyone will be created equal, the National Socialism felt all but the Germans should be eliminated.
I do feel that Western justice has tried through history not to create as perfect of a civilization as the National Socialist have. I believe Western justice has tried more to create a system that can last through time.
The National Socialists, in my opinion, were similar to Plato in their view of the ideal republic. Plato implied in the Republic that the ideal city would have certain classes that distinguished ones place in society. The National Socialist also divided people into classes, but their classes were based on race not knowledge. Plato also thought that one was born with their place in society already set. The National Socialists believed one was born with their place in society already set based on their race, Germans being at the top of this ladder of society.
In Wright’s Native Son I got the impression Wright was trying to express that justice could not achieved by doing injustice. After killing his white boss’s daughter, Bigger tries to account for his act by mentioning the injustice white girls have done to blacks. To me that’s like killing all the sharks in the world because three have attacked humans. The girl Bigger kills did not express racism towards Bigger. I think Bigger was nothing but a murderer. He might have been born a murderer, his place in society may have been responsible for him becoming this way, or another part of his life could have resulted in his later development as a murderer. I feel no matter what the reason that Bigger killed Mary is, he still committed an act of injustice.
At the end of Native Son Bigger is sentenced to death. The death sentence is a topic still being debated as just or unjust today. Is killing someone just if they have committed an unjust act, or is it just to let someone spend some time in prison abusing taxpayers money. I believe that it’s not just to kill someone because they committed murder themselves, but if someone shot my sister I would be more than willing to shot them. I feel killing someone because they killed someone themselves is unjust, but I do still strongly support it. I feel injustice is necessary sometimes to aid in the creation of a just society. The need for injustice to create justice, is somewhat like what the National Socialists were doing when they tried to eliminate the Jews.
Injustice is a highly beneficial thing to me when done to a certain point. I feel injustice is somewhat crucial to modern day life. I feel doing nothing but just acts in today’s society will leave you in a lower class. I believe doing a few unjust acts throughout your life can be the difference of making $15,000 compared to $125,000 a year. If doing an unjust act like fibbing on a job application or cheating on a test can be the difference in $100,000 a year, than do a little injustice. I consider most of the acts law enforcement and the military perform to be unjust, but I feel those unjust acts are needed to aid in the control of injustice.
After viewing Western’s, Nazism’s, Wright’s and Plato’s notions of justice, I’ve became even more unclear on my own definition of justice. Before I looked at justice as doing what is right, no matter who it hurt in the process. Now I’ve seen justice through new eyes, I can understand where the National Socialists, Wright, and Plato were coming from when they defined justice. Like me the National Socialist believed justice could be achieved by hurting those who stood in its way. I started to support the National Socialist idea of justice over Plato’s view more and more. I just hate Plato’s class system because of the way it implies that one is born with their class predetermined, but I still do not believe in the National Socialist racial ranking though. I do however feel that some races are born better suited to do task and jobs than others. I feel certain physical characteristics common throughout a race may make them more able to do certain things, such as longer limbs may make a race better at certain sports. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe treating people differently because of race is unjust.
My final interpretation of justice would have to be that justice is doing what is acceptable in a society. I feel that the US army killing other armies who threaten us to be unjust, but at the same time I feel that justice is being done. I think it is unjust to kill someone who committed a crime, however I believe that justice is taking place when that person pays for their crime. I believe doing these few unjust acts aid to control the level of justice in society by making a major proportion of society scared to perpetrate a crime.
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