Monday, August 07, 2006

Justice wasn't broken in "The Man who shot Liberty Valance", it was held up higer

August 05

There seems to be something in the airy at the moment that is drawing everyone (
Victor Davis Hanson , Dr. Sanity , Gagdad Bob ) to thoughts of Cowboys. I think everyone sees the OK coral at the end of the street, and we all sense what measure of person it is that our Global Frontier Town needs as Sheriff, to make it come out right.

So to put my Too Sense in, I'll ante up one of my favorite westerns, "The Man who shot Liberty Valance".

I've recently heard it said that John Wayne & Jimmy Stewart's characters stand for the need to violate their codes in order to establish a new order. While on the surface I disagree with this, I will go so far as to say that they sensed that the literal rules of their code had reached their limit, the Horizontal guidelines were in conflict with the deeper Vertical Truths which their Codes embodied.

Victor Davis Hanson says "...Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne played stoic Tom Doniphon who is willing to bushwhack the no-good Liberty Valance — if it means saving the bumbling lawyer Ransom Stoddard, whose law books are the proper civilized future of the imperiled town of Shinbone . Both Edwards and Doniphon accept the paradox that there is no future for the brutal defender of society once he has vanquished the savagery that threatened civilization."

To which I would add that there is no future for the brutal defender of society, if he doesn't realize that what may be a proper application of the Code when dealing with uncivilized savagery, would be a completely improper application of the code amongst less savage civilized disagreements. The fact that their concept of Justice is in fact not cast aside or broken, and in fact can be seen to survive in both Stoddard and Doniphon, is apparent by noting that neither before nor after the shooting of Liberty Valance, do either of them come to brutal acts of savagery over that most elemental of conflicts, their desire for the same women.

Jimmy Stewart's character, Ransom Stoddard, realized that his ideal of law and order could not be realized, would not ever be established amongst people, as long as prominent amongst those people there were allowed those who chose to abandon civil reason, and used force to get their way instead. That at some point Someone must put an end to the rabid Wolfman among them, in order to enable the society to establish a rule of justice and law.

The Code of John Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphan, normally demands an open face to face combat and non interference in another’s conflict. What he realizes, as Liberty draws his gun on Stewart who is feebly attempting to draw his own gun, is that by keeping to the Horizontally written rules of his code (whose point is after all to ensure proper behavior and fair play), and if he should not violate the Horizontal letter of his code by shooting Liberty Valance with a rifle from the shadows - without either of the other two even realizing that he's there, then the Good and Fair man would be killed, and the Monster would prevail - the Vertical living truth would be sacrificed to the mere frozen Horizontal etching of rules.

I think that that Wayne's & Stewart's friendship for each other and their own sense of self respect, colliding with Valance, that monstrous speed bump of humanity, drives them Vertically upwards to the realization that their codes were made to serve an ethical life, not the other way around ("The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" - Mark 2:27).

Both Stoddard and Doniphon crash into the fences of their ethical codes, they recognize the Horizontal limitations of them, and have the courage to reach up into the Vertical, to brave the conceptual fears inherent in bringing your soul into contact with the living Conceptual Truth - a contact which inevitably smashes the Horizontal etching's you've lived by up to that point, and each takes the steps necessary to uphold Life, Values and Justice. Stewart does this by (Thinking he's) killing Liberty Valance, and Wayne does so by Actually killing him - and their doing so seems to blast both the letter of the law, and the unwritten Code of the West - to smithereens.

After the killing of Liberty Valance, the re-emergence of their long held codes wreaks havoc on their psyche's. John Wayne can't quite come to terms with the fact that he shot a man down in an "unfair" fight, and that his friend & rival, Stewart, a less Manly Man, won the woman they both desired, and was getting the credit and fame for something he unwittingly didn't actually do.

Stewart, for his part, is eaten up with the self loathing for what he sees in hindsight as sinking to Liberty's level by taking the law into his own hands, and so intends to refuse the appointment to Governor by his new state, because he see's himself as unworthy.

At that point Wayne pulls him aside and tells him that his shot didn't hit the gunfighter, His did, and that if he want's to see that the Law and Justice they both want for their State is enacted, he must be the one who takes it on to establish it, and that the secret of the gunfight must remain a secret.

The tragedy of Tom Doniphan and Ransom Stoddard, is that they never come to realize that they didn't violate their codes, that in fact they both touched the living truths of their codes more fully than anyone else was willing to. Ransom Stoddard the more introspective of the two manages some realization of this, but Tom Doniphan never does. The rest of the people, represented by the newspaper man who says "... When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.", never do. For them, it is the Horizontal myth of the lawyer killing the outlaw, which enables the Vertical concept of Justice to be implemented across the land.

Applying the concept of Justice is something that may shift with the context, that particular refraction of the Vertical and Horizontal which we experience as the moment, the best Lawmakers have always realized that writing down the Rules of Justice is a dangerous thing to do, since people tend to fixate on the written word, not realizing that the word was written on the contextual paper of but one moment – similar though it may be to most moments experienced in life. The Horizontal etchings that make up our laws and codes, is but the attempt to freeze the Vertical into this plane as best as possible, but those moments which differ in sharp relief from the normal, require a Conceptual, Vertical, understanding of Justice, and actively applying it to THIS contextual moment in time requires an independent, mature mind, willing not only to judge, but to be both faithful to reality, and responsible within it, for his decisions.

The best lawmakers, such as the American Founding Fathers, have always kept their laws brief and as close to pure principle as possible (as opposed to the leftist fetish for enumerated rules out the wazoo), and will always require Judges seated above (... ugh...) lawyers (... yech!) to implement them properly.

In this respect, the Cowboy does embody America at his and our best - High ideals, few words, restrained action and if necessary violently commited to seeing Justice done.

[I wonder how consciously the names of the characters were chosen RANSOM (to redeem the innocent) Stoddard, Liberty VALANCE( a shade placed over a sunlit window), Tom BONIPHON (I probably take too much... uhm, liberty, with his name by equating it with the Greek myth of Bellerophon who rode winged Pegasus to spear the monster Chimaera... still it's my Blog and I'll do what I want to)]

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