Posted in coronavirus, Fragments

Fragments on Fragments 31

For an introduction to this series, look here

People must defend the law like their city’s walls

In an age of independent city states, always vulnerable to invasion, the walls of the city could be the only thing between you and death or enslavement. Once the walls were breached, it was all over.

Heraclitus is trying to make his readers realise that the law is just as important as that. I am struggling though to think of an example which would have the same immediate, life or death significance for those of us in a dispersed, global community. Maybe it’s because governments even in democratic countries seem increasingly to think they can get away with breaking the law: I write this in the week when a UK government minister admitted in Parliament that they were introducing legislation which knowingly broke an international treaty. They know that for most people it won’t feel at all important.

Times of crisis are exactly those in which the rule of law is most challenged. Emergency legislation restrains our normal rights, extensively so in this pandemic. The danger is that we become used to it: that law becomes something which only reflects the needs of the moment, unmoored from any deeper principles of justice or equity, from a vision of what we believe society should be like.

At times when exceptions have to be made, we need to defend all the more vehemently the walls which mark out the normal boundaries within which our society is kept safe, secure and free.

Detail from Heirloom, part of the Broken Beauty residency in Southwark cathedral, 2018. Photo credit: Alison Clark

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