Home Criminal Defense Liberty and Conscience—For All Seasons – Douglas B. Rasmussen

Liberty and Conscience—For All Seasons – Douglas B. Rasmussen


Eleanor Everett Schneider’s glorious and measured evaluation, “A Wolf For All Seasons,” of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy obtained me to desirous about why I liked immensely Robert Bolt’s 1960 play, A Man For All Seasons. I notice that Bolt was not doing historical past, and positively by the requirements of our time, there have been issues that the historic Thomas More politically advocated, and certainly practiced, that should be morally rejected. However, all this being stated, and despite our present woke world, I discover the character of Thomas More as offered by Bolt transferring and philosophically essential.

To start with, as Robert Bolt notes within the preface to his play, the Thomas More he wrote about was a person

with an adamantine sense of his own self. He knew what place he started and left off, what space of himself he may yield to the encroachments of his enemies, and what to the encroachments of these he liked immensely. It was a considerable space in each instances, for he had a correct sense of worry and was a busy lover. Since he was a intelligent man and an incredible lawyer he was in a position to retire from these areas in splendidly good order, however at size he was requested to retreat from that ultimate space what place he situated his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and complicated individual set like steel, was overtaken by a completely primitive rigor, and will no extra be budged than a cliff.

I belief that this viewers is conversant in, or no less than is aware of of, Robert Bolt’s play, and if not the play, then definitely the 1966 film model directed by Fred Zinnemann and for which Bolt was the Oscar-winning screenwriter. It featured the excellent efficiency of Paul Scofield as Thomas More. Bolt’s work is usually a fictional drama, however it’s impressed by the precise Thomas More’s refusal to assist Henry VIII’s divorce and makes use of accounts by More’s daughter and son-in-law. However, it’s rather more than that. As already steered, it’s a work of philosophical perception that raises elementary questions in regards to the place of morality in human life and within the political/authorized order. It was one of many causes I turned a thinker, and it continues to encourage me to this very day.

I first learn the play and noticed the movie about 55 years in the past. i’ve used each the play and the movie efficiently for Liberty Fund colloquia, for movie collection i’ve directed, and even for some programs i’ve taught. At the tip of this transient effort, I’ll observe a number of the issues i’ve discovered from this work. But first, I wish to share some passages (with out the stage instructions) from the play which have substantial import for our understanding of human nature, morality, political philosophy, and regulation.

  1. “More: Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they lead their country by a short route to chaos . . . .”
  2. “More: And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You’d hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it—I do—not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my other appetites but I do—I!”
  3. “More: For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . But for Wales!”
  4. “More: Oh, now I understand you, Will. Morality’s not practical. Morality’s a gesture. A complicated gesture learned from books . . . .”
  5. “More: But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all . . . why then perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.”
  6. “More: What, Cromwell? Pooh, he’s a pragmatist—and that’s the only resemblance he has to the Devil, son Roper; a pragmatist, the merest plumber.”
  7. “Margaret: Father, that man’s bad. More: There is no law against that. Roper: There is! God’s law! More: Then God can arrest him. . . . Alice: While you talk, he’s gone! More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law! . . . . More: Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
  8. “Cromwell: There are no rules. With rewards and penalties—so much wickedness purchases so much worldly prospering . . . . No, it’s not like that, it’s much more a matter of convenience, administrative convenience. . . . [T]he constant factor is this element of convenience.”
  9. “More: The world must construe according to its wits. This Court must construe according to the law. . . . The law is not a ‘light’ for you or any man to see by; the law is not an instrument of any kind. The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely. . . .”
  10. “Cromwell: The conscience, the conscience . . . More: The word is not familiar to you? Cromwell: By God, too familiar! I am very used to hear it in the mouths of criminals! More: I am used to hear bad men misuse the name of God, yet God exists. In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bounden to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing. Cromwell: And so provide a noble motive for his frivolous self-conceit! More: It is not so, Master Cromwell—very and pure necessity for respect of my own soul. Cromwell: Your own self, you mean! More: Yes, a man’s soul is his self! Cromwell: A miserable thing, whatever you call it, that lives like a bat in a Sunday School! A shrill incessant pedagogue about its own salvation—but nothing to say of your place in the State! Under the King! In a great native country! More: Is it my place to say ‘good’ to the State’s sickness? Can I help the king by giving him lies when he asks for truth? Will you help England by populating her with liars?”

A Man For All Seasons has much more to supply than what these passages can convey, and if one sees the movie, the efficiency by Scofield permits one to experience a person who’s self-perfecting with out self-aggrandizing, brave however cautious, and concurrently principled and sensible. We have the concrete presentation of an ethical perfect what place abstractions are made actual. We have Aristotle’s man of sensible knowledge.

Bolt’s traditionally knowledgeable account of More’s championing of the regulation in his protection in opposition to Cromwell’s cost of treason reveals a foreshadowing of the moral perception of pure rights classical liberalism, although with out the social-contract theorizing of both Hobbes or Locke.

There is, nonetheless, one other dimension to this work, for one grasps the chance that one can maintain a view of human nature and private accountability that requires a strong position for morality in private and social life, and but nonetheless sees the authorized order not as an instrument for making males ethical however as offering safety for their very own self-directed pursuit of a morally worthwhile life. To ensure, that is no simple matter. Recognizing this chance requires conceptual sophistication, and making it a actuality requires true statesmanship. Bolt makes this abundantly clear early within the play when he has More reply Cardinal Wolsey that he would certainly like to control the nation with prayers and has Wolsey retort, “I’d like to be there when you try.”

Governing requires that the statesman be each principled and sensible, however right here the precept is to not be understood aside from the fundamental downside for which it’s supposed to provide the answer—specifically, the way to set up a political/authorized order that has an moral grounding and on the identical time acknowledges that every particular person has a conscience to which he should morally reply. To put it in neo-Aristotelian phrases, despite the fact that abstractly we could converse of human flourishing that’s frequent to all human beings, human flourishing solely exists uniquely in every human self or soul, and it’s to the perfection of this self or soul that every of us is finally answerable. So, the statesman should be morally principled with out being a moralist. As already proposed, which means that the ethical perfection of human beings is just not the purpose of the state or political/authorized order. Here is the purpose of Bolt having More converse of the regulation as a causeway and never as a lightweight, as well as having More emphatically insist that he would “give the Devil benefit of law.” Bolt’s traditionally knowledgeable account of More’s championing of the regulation in his protection in opposition to Cromwell’s cost of treason reveals a foreshadowing of the moral perception of pure rights classical liberalism, although with out the social-contract theorizing of both Hobbes or Locke.

A Man for All Seasons stays heady stuff as a result of it offers in a strong creative kind an antidote to a tradition that more and more tends to see no room for conscience in social and political life. We needn’t solely to reject moral relativism and personally and socially be inclined to take an ethical stance, however we additionally have to reject the assorted types of amoral pragmatism. Contrary to what Cromwell implies, we should always see that some details have ethical options embedded in them and that human private, social, and political life is rather more than merely a strategy of discovering essentially the most environment friendly means to no matter ends are desired. Administrative comfort won’t suffice.

Finally, if we notice that the sure regulation and the actions of the political/authorized order are topic to ethical appraisal and thus will be discovered wanting, then we should not be glad with Cromwells. Indeed, we have to recall Jefferson’s declare that we now have the fitting to change or abolish a type of authorities not devoted to establishing and defending particular person rights. However, this requires the acceptance of the opportunity of conditions that may require that we be heroes in a method or one other. This doesn’t imply, although, that we should throw ourselves within the path of a juggernaut. Again, Bolt has More provide sensible counsel when he notes that God made man “to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind! If he suffers us to fall to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and yes . . . then we may clamor like champions . . . if we have the spittle for it. . . . But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to that extremity! Our natural business lies in escaping. . . .”

Truly, this can be a work for all seasons.


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