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Friday, 6 May 2011


For all Americans speaking in the media, the killing of Osama Bin Laden is self-evidently an act of justice. For a good many speakers heard in the British media this was more like vengeance.

The split seems to be between those who define justice in terms of law and due process, and those who see justice as an attempt to rebalance the moral universe — good actions cancelling bad.

The two principles are complementary in normal circumstances — but these circumstances are far from normal. Do we have the right to question the Americans' conviction that justice has been done?


  1. Francis Bacon was typically lucid on this topic.

  2. You want me to quote the whole essay?

  3. A link would be helpful, Brian, or even the name of the essay.

  4. I seem to be posting in New York time!

  5. The essay's called "Of Revenge". I haven't read it since I was at school, and have been trying to mask my failing memory by being elliptical. Apologies.
    The only part I can actually remember is: "Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out."
    As for David's question of whether we have a right to question the Americans' conviction - I suppose it depends on how one regards "rights": we have the freedom to adopt whatever attitude we please vis-a-vis the opinion of the Americans; whether we have a "right" to do so is a question of moral philosophy beyond my competence to answer.
    We would have to start, I suppose, by deciding where we stand on capital punishment, since that, de facto, is what happened to Bin Laden. For my own part, I'd have shot the bastard for being such a smug prig.

  6. I'm sure we can legitimately accuse some Americans as rejoicing in revenge, but that misses the point, I feel.

    Most of us now condemn capital punishment, but that doesn't necessarily extend to executioners. Or to judges who pronounce death sentences. Or to the prosecutors. Judicial execution served as a substitute for 'wild justice'. One might argue that it was the means by which law weeded out the wildness.

    I would be very surprised if the super-trained SEAL who shot Bin Laden did so in a fit of wildness. Surely he was as calculating and dispassionate as a professional judicial executioner. Yes he might have calculated that Bin Laden posed no threat but he'd kill him anyway, but I don't think we have any right to assume that he did.

    I asked Do we have the right? because I feel that those who criticise the American rejoicing are assuming the moral high ground. The Archbishop of Canterbury was careful not to do this, but some speakers, naming no names, rather disturbed me. Some seem to be fetishising the nuts and bolts of law enforcement, rather than seeing it as a means to an end. Some seem to be pathologically anti-American. Some seem be guilty of both.

  7. I've found a few sites for 'On Revenge'. This seems the more easy to read, at least on my screen, despite the American 'labor' and 'honor'.


    The death of Osama bin Laden was indeed an act of revenge it would appear to be acceptable to him as 'public revenge'

    PS I think you have told us how to make links appear as hyperlinks. I must look for that.

  8. I'l repeat it, Douglas:

    < a href = " URL " > NAME < / a > (without spaces, of course)

    It should work with this link. Scroll down to my first reply to Attila.

  9. Douglas, the URL


    is the bit that goes between the quotes inside the opening tag. Between that and the closing tag, you write whatever text you want link to display — for example


    Put it all together and you get


    With inserted spaces, that's

    < a href = " http//www.authorama.com/essays-of-francis-bacon-5.html " > revenge < /a >

  10. Bacon seems to be on the side of the Americans:

    Public revenges are for the most part fortunate ... But in private revenges, it is not so.

  11. revenge

    When I try that in 'Preview' is says 'Not found'. I hope it's OK when I post.

  12. Thanks, David. I've got it now.

    I'm having a bit of a problem though. I have twice appeared to have successfully posted a reply only to find that it has disappeared.