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Resist Not Evil by Clarence Darrow

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When Woolwich suspect Michael Adebowale was seen on video saying: “We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" I have to confess my first thought was 'Why is a Muslim quoting the Bible'.


He wasn't of course. The Bible says the exact opposite. Matthew 5:38-39 says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The idea of an 'eye for an eye' can be traced back nearly 2,000 years before Christ to Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was a Babylonian King.


By chance I had recently downloaded Resist Not Evil published by Clarence Darrow in 1902. The American lawyer achieved fame (or infamy) for defending John T Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and the teenage killers-f0r-fun, Leopold and Loeb (the inspiration for Rope by Patrick Hamilton).  He claims in the preface that he wished to "state the reasons which appeal to me in support of the doctrine of non-resistance" but he's perhaps foiled by living in a pre-internet age. He confesses a search of libraries and bookstores revealed next to nothing on the subject. Perhaps for this reason, this reads like an unfinished book. He demolishes the current systems of justice and the punishment of criminals but fails to make any convincing argument that non-resistance to evil would be a viable alternative. But it's a damn good read all the same.


What comes across is his sharp mind which would successfully be used to write a summing-up speech which would spare Leopold and Loeb's execution in 1924. His arguments are well made, they are succinct and in a crystal-clear English no doubt designed to sway a jury (or reader). How much they would stand up to more sustained criticism I'm not sure.


Take for example his view on guns - a topical theme in America now and always. The gun lobby continually trots out "It is not guns that kill people, it is people" but he turns this on his head:


"It is the bayonet that is evil and all of its fruits are bad" and argues that a bayonet in the hand of one man is no better than in the hand of another.


Darrow points out that all forms of 'punishment' (prisons, execution, fining etc) are merely revenge by another name since they have never been shown - he says - to reduce crime. "There is but one cure for malice and that is malice" he writes. He points out the impossibility of judging someone for one act without balancing it against the many good acts

 they have done - or will do in the future ("No life is wholly good, and no life is wholly bad"). Nor does he have any faith in the infallibility of the men chosen to judge others.


But while he's good at pointing out what's wrong with society and its treatment of criminals, he's far too light on any answers. We can certainly all agree that the money spent currently on prisons could be better spent on prevention but is he really suggesting we ignore crime and criminals on every occasion? 


Crime and punishment is always a timely debate and one that impinges on all our lives. I'll conclude with just one example which illustrates its rich complexity. I volunteer at my local arts centre and have spent many hours cleaning, painting and generally tidying up the building and its surroundings. Working alongside me have been a "community payback" team - men and women ordered to spend their weekends cleaning and painting the arts centre as punishment for some misdemeanour. It's baffled them that I choose to be there voluntarily!



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