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Heroism and Vigilantism
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I've been thinking quite a bit about heroism and vigilantism recently, both in terms of the individual and the state.

Obviously, I balked at the movie Hero, in which the hero is one who subserviently conforms to the desires of a totalitarian state "for the good of the people".

Eugene Volokh quotes a defense of vigilantism espoused by a fellow law professor:


But as Bacon pointed out: "Revenge is a kind of wild justice." It will inevitably and arguably rightly become the resort of decent people when law and government fail to deliver justice.


This goes to some of the arguments we've had in threads here, in terms of the invasion of Iraq. Is it always right to follow the law, or the democratic consent of the majority? Well, seemingly not, since slavery was once sanctioned by our very own democracy.

And if a man killed your entire family, then bribed the police not to press charges, would you be right to try to enforce your own justice outside the framework of the law?

I generally balk at vigilantism, especially when I see it in movies. I thought, for example, that A Time to Kill was a reprehensible movie, primarily for it's tacit endorsement of vigilantism. Though in that film, the father of a raped and murdered black girl gunned down the suspects before there had even be a trial. He was certain that the corrupt system would free them, so he hid in a closet and blew the guys away. And he was then found innocent, which was ridiculous. I would have had much more sympathy for the character and the movie had the father actually tried to let the system run its course. If corruption and injustice actually had prevailed, then he might have been well within his rights to seek the justice that the system had failed to provide.

I guess that's the thing...it seems much more legitimate to try to achieve what's right through legal avenues, and then only resort to illegal measures if legal remedies fail.

On this theme of heroism, I also noted this response from writer/director John Sayles in an interview the the Onion, when asked why he doesn't write movies with a single, iconoclastic hero:


For me, I'm just not that interested in a heroic interpretation of what goes on in our society. You know, I admire individual heroism when I see it, but I don't think it's a very useful model for us as a nation, or individually.


And he says he liked Spider Man, who is essentially a vigilante, along with Batman. Superman, the other "big three" superhero is actually one of the least popular these days. He's seen as a goody two-shoes, and Frank Miller played on this image in The Dark Knight Returns, in which Superman is basically a lapdog of the government.

So we're a nation of laws, and part of an international community that admires treaties...but we admire lawlessness in the name of justice, when normal legal channels fail. Is this a failing?

Certainly it would seem that if you're standing on a streetcorner while an old woman is being mugged, and a police officer is there but for whatever reason he refuses to lift a finger, it would be the right thing for you to do to try to help...would it not?

This notion is that what is right or moral might be out of step with what is legal, and that if the governing body refuses to act, or is unjust, then an individual or nation is justified in acting in lieu of official channels.

Is this way of thinking moral, or is it just a juvenile fantasy?


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