Coke on the Virtues of Obedience to the Common Law

Sir Edward Coke was a lawyer, an MP, Attorney General, and Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of the King’s Bench. He is widely considered one of the fathers of the common law. Here is a fragment of the preface to Part Two of his Reports. I was struck by the terms in which he discusses the common law:

To the learned Reader

There are (sayeth Euripides) three Virtues worthy [of] our meditation; To honor God, our Parents who begat us, and the Common Lawes of Greece: The like doe I say to thee (Gentle Reader) next to thy dutie and pietie to God, and his annointed thy gracious Soveraigne, and thy honor to thy Parents, yeeld due reverence and obedience to the Common Lawes of England: For of all Lawes (I speak of humane) these are most equall, and most certaine, of greatest antiquitie, and least delay, and most beneficiall and easie to be observed; As if the module of a Preface would permit, I could defend against any man that is not malicious without understanding, and make manifest to any of judgement and indifferency, by proofes pregnant and demonstrative, and by Records and Testimonies luculent and irrefragable: Sed sunt quidam fastidiosi, qui nescio quo malo affectu oderunt Artes antequam pernoverunt [MOD trans.: But there are some disdainful types who hate every high calling with which they are unfamiliar, I know not for what reason]. There is no Jewell in the world comparable to learning; No learning so excellent both for Prince and Subject as knowledge of Lawes; and no knowledge of any Lawes, (I speak of humane) so necessary for all estates, and for all causes, concerning goods, lands, or life, as the Common Lawes of England….

Their example [that of the “Sages of the Law”] and thy profession doe require thy imitation: for hitherto I never saw any man of a loose and lawlesse life, attaine to any sound and perfect knowledge of the said lawes: And on the other side, I never saw any many of excellent judgement in these Lawes, but was withall (being taught by such a Master) honest, faithfull, and vertuous.

If you observe any diversities of opinion amongst the professors of the Lawes, contend you (as it behoveth) to be learned in your profession, and you shall finde that it is Hominis vitium, non professionis [MOD trans.: the vice of man, not of the profession].

“Politics of Religion/Religions of Politics” (Welchman ed.)

In November, Springer releases “Politics of Religion/Religions of Politics” edited by Alistair Welchman (University of Texas at San Antonio). The publisher’s description follows:

The liberal enlightenment as well as the more radical left have both traditionally opposed religion as a reactionary force in politics, a view culminating in an identification of the politics of religion as fundamentalist theocracy. But recently a number of thinkers—Agamben, Badiou, Tabues and in particular Simon Critchley—have begun to explore a more productive engagement of the religious and the political in which religion features as a possible or even necessary form of human emancipation. The papers in this collection, deriving from a workshop held on and with Simon Critchley at the University of Texas at San Antonio in February 2010, take up the ways in which religion’s encounter with politics transforms not only politics but also religion itself, molding it into various religions of politics, including not just heretical religious metaphysics, but also what Critchley describes as non-metaphysical religion, the faith of the faithless. Starting from Critchley’s own genealogy of Pauline faith, the articles in this collection explore and defend some of the religions of politics and their implications. Costica Bradatan teases out the implications of Critchley’s substitution of humor for tragedy as the vehicle for the minimal self-distancing required for any politics. Jill Stauffer compares Critchley’s non-metaphysical religiosity with Charles Taylor’s account of Christianity. Alistair Welchman unpacks the political theology of the border in terms of god’s timeless act of creation. Anne O’Byrne explores the subtle dialectic between mores and morality in Rousseau’s political ethics.  Roland Champagne sees a kind non-metaphysical religion in Arendt’s category of the political pariah. Davide Panagia presents Critchley’s ethics of exposure as the basis for a non-metaphysical political bond. Philip Quadrio wonders about the political ramifications of Critchley’s own ‘mystical anarchism’ and Tina Chanter re-reads the primal site in the Western tradition at which the political and the religious intersect, the Antigone story, side-stepping philosophical interpretations of the story (dominated by Hegel’s reading) by means of a series of post-colonial re-imaginings of the play. The collection concludes with an interview with Simon Critchley taking up the themes of the workshop in the light of more recent political events: the Arab Spring and the rise and fall of the Occupy movement.

“The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective” (Mermelstein & Holtz eds.)

This month, Brill releases “The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective” edited by Ari Mermelstein (Yeshiva University) and Shalom E. Holtz (Yeshiva University). The publisher’s description follows:

Contributors to The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective treat one of the most pervasive religious metaphors, that of the divine courtroom, in both its historical and thematic senses. In order to shed light on the various manifestations of the divine courtroom, this volume consists of essays by scholars of the ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, Talmud, Islam, medieval Judaism, and classical Greek literature. Contributions to the volume primarily center upon three related facets of the divine courtroom: the role of the divine courtroom in the earthly legal system; the divine courtroom as the site of historical justice; and the divine courtroom as the venue in which God is called to answer for his own unjust acts.