Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Louis L'Amour: Laconic Law - From Cicero to Blackstone to You



During vacation last week I made a point of trying to 'keep it light'.

I'd just finished Cicero's works 'The Republic' (treatise on the Commonwealth) and 'Laws', and Seneca's 'On the shortness of life/Life is long if you know how to use it', and for the first time in many a moon, I was looking to read something that didn't have a weighty nature. Boethius's 'Consolation of Philosophy' kept tugging at me through my PocketPC, so when we were going through a store, I looked for some light reading, and picked up Louis L'Amour's "Sackett", it has been decades since I've read a Western, and thought that'd be nice, safe, harmless shoot 'em up fun.

Louis L'amour fans are probably chuckling right about now.

While Sackett mostly sticks with a 'simple' action story of Good vs Bad, the laconic hero, William Tell Sackett, in between brushes with bad guys, picks up a book at his brother's house and draws meaning and order from it, into his life. Tell, while not a strong reader, is drawn to this particular book, and a favorite of mine, Blackstone's commentaries on the Law. He thumbs the pages and locks in on a passage that is part of,


"...And this is what we mean by the original contract of society; which, though perhaps in no instance it has ever been formally expressed at the first institution of a state, yet in nature and reason must always be understood and implied, in the very act of associating together: namely, that the whole should protect all its parts, and that every part should pay obedience to the will of the whole, or, in other words, that the community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection should be certainly extended to any...."


Tell says to himself,


"It took me a spell, working that out in my mind, to get the sense of it. Yet somehow it stayed with me, and in the days to come I thought it over a good bit."


, and this short action Western, is the 'simple' working out of that passage into everyday life by a man facing the option of living outside of, or within, the Law - and discovering where The Law truly lives. He comes into conflict with the women of his dreams who is repelled by his shooting of two men he knew to be villains intending to kill him, and in response to her angry "Do you believe in killing people?", he responds,


"No, ma'am, not as a practice. Trouble is, if a body gets trouble out here he can't call the sheriff... there isn't any sheriff. He can't have his case judged by the law, because there aren't any judges. He can't appeal to anybody or anything except his own sense of what's just and right.
There's folks around believe they can do anything they're big enough to do, no matter how it tromples on other folks' rights. That I don't favor."


That I don't favor. I'll second that. He continues,


"Some people you can arbitrate with... you can reason a thing out and settle it fair and square. There's others will understand nothing but force."


She responds "You have no authority for such actions!" and Tell replies,



"Yes, ma'am , I do. The ideas I have are principles that men have had for many a year. I've been reading about that. When a man enters into society - that's living with other folks - he agrees to abide by the rules of that society, and when he crosses those rules he becomes liable to judgment, and if he continues to cross them, then he becomes an outlaw.
In wild country like this a man has no appeal but to that consideration, and when he fights against force and brutality, he must use the weapons he has."

I had to laugh. I ran from Cicero and Seneca and into Louis L'amour and right smack dab into taking their high falluting ideas and bringing them down to how they work out in the real world... and if any of you think that "In wild country like this..." applies any more to the lawless western wilderness, than to modern America in which laws are seen to be flexible and of no fixed meaning... I'll put it to you that you are very much mistaken. L'amour, through his character of William Tell Sackett, shows clearly how the Law exists, not in books, codes and regulations, but in people's understanding of what is right and what is wrong, and refusing to stand by as other's seek to use their power, their ability to do what they want "no matter how it tromples on other folks' rights."

And I tell you too, that I don't favor.

Let me see if I can distill Tell Sackett's laconic understanding of Blackstone's Law (which, btw, was central to our Founding Father's concept of Law), a little further, because I think we desperately need to let loose of our high fallutin' words and terms - they are doing far more to shield from our eyes what they mean, than revealing their meaning to us.


Choices, Zombies and Westerns
There is... a bit too much of a fixation on names and terms today for my taste. 'Capitalism', 'Socialism', 'Fascism', 'Statism'....add to it that the names and terms have so many alternate or even competing definitions, that little or no actual meaning is any longer being conveyed through them. More to the point, and to each of our concerns, is what each of these names and terms seek to accomplish in the end, and it is central to what L'amour's 'simple' Western tale deliberates upon - Choices.

People's simple, day to day, situational, moment to moment, choices. And what someone does in seeking to compel another to act as They see fit, is that they are substituting your ability to make a choice, with the choice that they have pre-selected for you.

Your life is made, formed, deformed, reformed - for better or for worse - through an unending succession of choices which you make. Choices are that point where You lean out from the confines of your skin, and intersect with reality, by making a choice to act in one way or another. As govt power grows bigger and stronger, able to remove more and more actions from your ability to choose them (whether for, against or other doesn't matter), there is less of You in your life.

The more choices that are made for you, or removed from your ability to make any choice at all - the less Life you have to actually Live. The more choices you have available to you, which we call Liberty, the more You are involved in living your life. The more choices that are removed or restricted from you, or made by someone else for you, which we call Tyranny, the less you are present and living in your own life.

If You aren't actively living your own life... who is? Is that life that is lived according to the disembodied, predetermined choices selected by distant legislators and functionaries... Life?

Zombies and Westerns are far less fictional than we like to think.

Intelligence or Stupidity, Life or Death - your Choice to make
Also, consider something probably witnessed first hand by most of us - who hasn't seen the difference between when people 'in the field' are allowed latitude in making decisions - or when decisions are sent down through the chain of command via bureaucratic policy (whether corporate, sales, military, govt is immaterial), who among us hasn't shaken their heads at the 'stupid' things their company, manager, commander, superiors, have done?

The closer to the facts, to their full context, a decision maker is, the more likely it is that an intelligent choice is may be made. The further removed from the relevant facts and context of the actual situation a person is, the less likely it is than an intelligent choice will, or even can, be made. Don't we all understand this? Don't we all see this in our daily lives? The difference between making your own choices and being compelled to follow predetermined 'choices', is the difference between potentially making intelligent decisions, or having to carry out enforced stupidity.

Not for nothing was East Germany under the USSR described as a grey, lifeless city.

Google up one of the satellite images of South Korea and North Korea at night - better illustrations of making your own choices or having choices made for you, are hard to find.

Call it what you will Capitalism, free market, socialism, fascism, statism... it comes down to intelligence or stupidity, life or death - That is the very real choice we are in the process of facing. And it is your responsibility, as a civilized person, someone who is a Law Abiding citizen, to understand the Law and give it a place to abide, and act from and through. L'amour has his character William Tell Sackett again sum up the situation admirably,


"Only, the way I figure, no man has the right to be ignorant. In a country like this, ignorance is a crime. If a man is going to vote, if he is going to take a part in his country and its government, then it's up to him to understand."

The Truth of the Law, whispered down the ages, from Cicero, to Seneca, to Blackstone, to the Founding Fathers, to a 'fictional' American Cowboy's lips... to you - will you take heed of it? Will you give the Law a place to abide?

7 comments:

lance said...

Hey Van, "Sackett" is one of my favorite books. I have read I believe all of Louis Lamours books. I know for a fact I have read the Sackett series several times over.

To answer you question about living alone. Yes that relates to the Grey Gees post. While life for me in terms of work has been really amazing lately on the personal side of things it has been kicking my tail. Only time is going to tell how things shake out. Thanks for checking in. I do appreciate it.

lance said...

Oh I just realized I didn't mention my deep and abiding interest in Boethius and his "Consolation of Philosophy" I did my senior thesis for Philosophy on it and his defense of Free Will. There is some great stuff in the book.

Van said...

Lance, sorry to hear about the tail kicking... painful, but as you know, it does pass. Eventually.

I don't think I read Louis L'Amour before, but did see a Sackett movie years ago, with Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Glen Ford, if I remember right, and that was what prompted me to pick up the Sackett book in the store. The last thing I was expecting to come across in a western was Blackstone!

I've done a bit of checking into L'Amour... quite a character, if anyone was ever qualified to write the type of stories he did, he was. Eventually, I want to read the whole series, and so I have a question for you, looking at the 'Sackett' list, it looks like I started in the middle of the series, but then book series don't always go chronologically... any particular starting point you'd recommend, or just start off with the 'first' "Sackett's Land" circa 1600?

"... my deep and abiding interest in Boethius and his "Consolation of Philosophy" I did my senior thesis for Philosophy on it and his defense of Free Will."

No, I didn't know that... interesting (thinking back to a couple of your posts, I'm guessing you didn't buy his defense of Free Will?), I'm going to post on it eventually, and will definitely want to drag you in! I did read it years ago, but it's been my PocketPC book over the last couple months now, something I read in small bites, make some notes on, and have in mind as I'm reading other books.

Once I finish with the series of posts on Justice (which that long argument on your site between me, David & Charles over libertarianism, got me going on), I want to begin doing some posts on individual books I've found to be key, and that'll definitely be one of them.

lance said...

Van, thanks for your thoughts. I know things will get better it is all just such a shock right now.

I would recommend starting from 'Sackett's Land' it isn't specifically a western but it has some good stuff to say about England and why people came to America and then went West. I highly recommend them all.

As to Boethius. I felt that his defense of Free Will did not work due to the concept of God and his Omnipotence and his Omniscience. The main idea for me being that if God know everything and is all powerful and he exists outside of what we think of as our time line then. I will know all I do and do not do. So since he wrote the book of my life. I do not have free will it has all be pre-ordained by God writing my book. I think my mind lets me believe I have free will to cope. I will gladly send you an electronic copy of my thesis if you are interested. I am sure you would enjoy slicing it up. ;)

mushroom said...

I read this yesterday and meant to comment before being distracted by some shiny object or another. Another L'Amour book I like is a non-western, Last of the Breed. I don't know that there's any great philosophical message, but the Soviets get a smackdown.

My wife recently had a similar experience watching the Dark Knight. She had a hard time reconciling the impact of this Batman movie with what she remembered about the old TV series.

God bless Julie Newmar.

Van said...

Lance said "As to Boethius. I felt that his defense of Free Will did not work due to the concept of God and his Omnipotence and his Omniscience. The main idea for me being that if God know everything and is all powerful and he exists outside of what we think of as our time line then. I will know all I do and do not do. So since he wrote the book of my life. I do not have free will it has all be pre-ordained by God writing my book. I think my mind lets me believe I have free will to cope. I will gladly send you an electronic copy of my thesis if you are interested. I am sure you would enjoy slicing it up. ;)"

Since I don't think any Proof's of God are possible, or even logically proper (any premise to be proved must be contained within the scope of the proof, since the concept of 'God' at the very least, is itself ALL, it can't fall within a valid scope for being proved - I think the best you can do is intuit it, personally, internally), and proof which relies upon such a 'proof', doesn't hold much water with me either. I do enjoy the first half, where he knocks down the illusions of exterior values or bestowed honors as having any permanence or true significance.

For me Free Will is an axiom, a self evident issue, a starting point of all thought, beneath which, we cannot go - there is no thinking possible without choice, it is consciousness in action - you either recognize that as obviously true, or you choose to chase your tail in endless foolishness.

Of course I'd appreciate digging into your thesis, thanks, and thanks for the Sackett tip.

Van said...

Mushroom said "I don't know that there's any great philosophical message, but the Soviets get a smackdown."

I think there is far more philosophy in our imagery and in the tales we tell ourselves, than anyone suspects, and often far more owrthwhile philosophy than in the the wretched philosophical tomes which pretend to philosophy.

I'd take the new Batman movies over the worthless ramblings of John Rawls 'Theory of Justice', any day of the week.

"God bless Julie Newmar."

Imagery indeed!

;-)