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A judge of honorable families

The Marquis and his nephew talk about the decline of civilization in France at the beginning of the French Revolution. Tale of Two Cities, chapter IX, Charles Dickens:

“In effect, sir,” pursued the nephew, “I believe it to be at once your bad fortune, and my good fortune, that has kept me out of a prison in France here.”

“I do not quite understand,” returned the uncle, sipping his coffee. “Dare I ask you to explain?”

“I believe that if you were not in disgrace with the Court, and had not been overshadowed by that cloud for years past, a letter de cachet would have sent me to some fortress indefinitely.”

“It is possible,” said the uncle, with great calmness. “For the honour of the family, I could even resolve to incommode you to that extent. Pray excuse me!”

“I perceive that, happily for me, the Reception of the day before yesterday was, as usual, a cold one,” observed the nephew.

“I would not say happily, my friend,” returned the uncle, with refined politeness; “I would not be sure of that. A good opportunity for consideration, surrounded by the advantages of solitude, might influence your destiny to far greater advantage than you influence it for yourself. But it is useless to discuss the question. I am, as you say, at a disadvantage. These little instruments of correction, these gentle aids to the power and honour of families, these slight favours that might so incommode you, are only to be obtained now by interest and importunity. They are sought by so many, and they are granted (comparatively) to so few! It used not to be so, but France in all such things is changed for the worse. Our not remote ancestors held the right of life and death over the surrounding vulgar. From this room, many such dogs have been taken out to be hanged; in the next room (my bedroom), one fellow, to our knowledge, was poniarded on the spot for professing some insolent delicacy respecting his daughter—HIS daughter? We have lost many privileges; a new philosophy has become the mode; and the assertion of our station, in these days, might (I do not go so far as to say would, but might) cause us real inconvenience. All very bad, very bad!”

The Marquis took a gentle little pinch of snuff, and shook his head; as elegantly despondent as he could becomingly be of a country still containing himself, that great means of regeneration.

“We have so asserted our station, both in the old time and in the modern time also,” said the nephew, gloomily, “that I believe our name to be more detested than any name in France.”

“Let us hope so,” said the uncle. “Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low.”

“There is not,” pursued the nephew, in his former tone, “a face I can look at, in all this country round about us, which looks at me with any deference on it but the dark deference of fear and slavery.”

“A compliment,” said the Marquis, “to the grandeur of the family, merited by the manner in which the family has sustained its grandeur. Hah!” And he took another gentle little pinch of snuff, and lightly crossed his legs.

But, when his nephew, leaning an elbow on the table, covered his eyes thoughtfully and dejectedly with his hand, the fine mask looked at him sideways with a stronger concentration of keenness, closeness, and dislike, than was comportable with its wearer’s assumption of indifference.

“Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,” observed the Marquis, “will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,” looking up to it, “shuts out the sky.”

He’s blameless, of course.

4 Responses

  1. The Marquis St. Evremonde, whose carriage runs over and kills a little boy on the street, and stops to complain to the anguished parents that their child should not have incommoded his carriage, and then tosses them a coin and rides away.

    We do not want a violent revolution in this country, with the executing of thousands of the ancien regime, including some who were not guilty. But the righteous anger at the appalling behavior of Judge Ellis needs to bring some positive results. We’ve gone through Watergate, where the sentences were pretty minimal, and where Nixon got pardoned. We’ve gone through Iran-Contra, where the sentences were even more minimal, and where the President said he didn’t remember anything, and the Vice-President said he was out of the loop. We went through the commutation of the sentence of Scooter Libby by the President, and then his pardoning by another President some years later. Judge Ellis would not let the prosecution use the word “oligarch,” probably because he thought the word was an unfair appellation to use against his friends.

    Manafort got a ridiculously low sentence, mocking the national guidelines for the crimes he was convicted of, because the Judge, appointed by a Republican, does not really believe in white collar crime, and was so blind and lazy that he thinks that Manafort had basically led a blameless life. What Ellis did was immensely damaging to any faith that people might have in the fairness of the justice system. But Ellis does not care. He liked Manafort, he did not like Trump’s campaign chairman being prosecuted, he thus did not like the prosecutors, so he did everything he could to help Manafort. He probably would have let him off entirely, except that he was convicted on eight counts, for each of which Ellis gave him six months of prison, less time served. Ellis will not feel one minute of uncomfortableness at the outrage at his decision, because he is proud that he did everything he could to protect his class against the hordes which are trying to destroy it. And I cannot omit saying that this is just a hint of what are going to see after Trump and McConnell have finished packing the court with judges who will have made up their minds about every case even before they have heard even a minute of evidence.

    • If we get firm control of the White House and the Congress, what will it matter what the wingnut judges say? How will they enforce their laws if the executive and legislative branches refuse to enforce them?

      If that great day come, then let us channel Andrew Jackson:

      “The Federalist Society has made its laws; let us see it enforce them.” 😈

      • That’s the great question: would Democratic governors actually ignore decisions of the judicial branch? It may well come to that. It would engender lawsuits; e.g., if the Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill banning assault weapons, and the stacked courts declared it unconstitutional, violating Second Amendment rights. Then a state enforced the ban, and was promptly sued by gun owners, for flouting a Supreme Court decision. And the gun owners won in the same courts and got a billion dollar award, and the state refused to pay it. Or even more likely, if Congress and the President enacted legislation to help to arrest climate change, and the stacked courts said unconstitutional as an illegitimate taking of property or some such thing. And the states implemented the restrictions on pollution anyway, and the corporations kept polluting; so the states arrested the corporate heads? Or shut down their plants? And the corporatists sued and won ten billion dollars but the states didn’t pay?

        Fascinating ideas, but we’d undoubtedly have a real civil war. Perhaps the best way is for the Democratic President to simply assert executive power, make a bunch of orders, shut down the plants or the gun dealers, and then see it play out in the courts; although the courts would again come out on the wrong side every single time. So I guess it ends up in a civil war either way. Do Democrats dare to go that far? Thinking it out aloud, it seems like the most effective course is to add seats to the Supreme Court, just do it. It is not unconstitutional. Probably would lead to a civil war, though! The nutcases with the guns are now at a point where they will never accept any restrictions upon their liberties to shoot people or ruin the environment. So the next Democratic president had better vastly increase the size of the national guard, and Democratic governors should increase the police force–except that Bill and even Hillary Clinton are still somehow being blamed for doing that, with a bill which the Black Caucus in the House, and a majority of the Congress and the population supported.

        • Also, would a Democratic Congress have the power to investigate, retroactively, the wingnut judges? You know those people, being the kind of people they are, must have broken a tax law here and there. A few humiliating removals from office, and the rest might get the message.

          And, I think you worry too much about civil war. The real problem will be a few mass shootings, and maybe even another OKC-type bombing. Those are evil enough, but there will be no mass insurrections by the wingnuts, because the vast majority are old and/or cowardly.

          It’s hard to aim straight with cataracts, or to make a Hoverround goose-step. 😉


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