09 October 2005

The Nuremberg Trials

When one day Western civilisation is a crumbling ruin, and the hordes are poised to sweep across Europe and North America, intelligent educated people will look back and say "What happened?".

They will identify, I believe, the Nuremberg trials as the turning point.

The Nuremberg trials represent the end of the rule of law.

The Nuremberg trials established the principal that conscience, morality, ethics trump the law.

Thus we, more and more, will start to use our moral compasses, instead of the law as our guides in acting, with all the ramifications that that entails.

In fact, we are obliged to do so. Look what happened to those Nazis when they didn't.

Of course, where law and conscience conflict, we will likely be punished by the state for choosing to follow our consciences. But if we follow the law, we will be despised by our superegos, our family and friends, society at large, and posterity.

It is a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. Not so good for the poor individual.

For example, you are a journalist who scoops a scandal involving legally protected information. The information could only have come from a civil servant illegally leaking that information. You are bullyed by the police, summonsed by a court, put under oath by force, but your conscience dictates that you can't reveal your source. Post-Nuremberg theology dictates that your conscience, your individual conscience, must determine what comes next.

I would like to think that I would go to jail rather than reveal my source. I would also like to think that you'd make this choice too.

The consequences, of course, wil be lots of well-meaning people casuing chaos.

A bit like the Nazis, really.


Blogger Toutie said...

Sorry I am one of the dummies you will have to spell it out for - as I don't know much about the Nuremburg Trials.
My understanding is that the top Nazis were punished with death for making the orders to commit "war crimes" etc and I understand that lower down officers were punished in some way for committing these war crimes despite merely following orders.
Didn't they disobey the "law" of the Geneva Convention or some such by obeying the "law" of their military superiors.
In which case it should be a case of referring it to the highest legal principle. You can walk on private property to save a person from a mauling dog.
I also believe that "military orders" to some extent, cannot be disobeyed in practice, and perhaps there needs to be a distinction between doing things to "follow orders" and doing things that are "legal".
I love your anti-conventional viewpoint and contraversial mindfucks but I am just a bit confused.

Blogger Patrick Henry said...

Dear Toutie

You are pretty much right.

One of the defences used at Nuremberg was "I was obeying the law at the time" - which has since become known as the 'Nuremberg defence'. It is a rather good argument in my view, and was defeated only by the judges saying "Er...er...you have to behave morally. You have a moral obligation to disobey an unethical law".

Rather opens a can of worms, I would think.

Even if a decent principal of law, it is grossly unfair to punish someone when the law changes. That is why, in modern common law states, when a judge decides to change the law of torts (as they often do), and the respondent therefore has to pay damages to the plaintiff (and respondent always loses), then the STATE pays the damages from a special fund. This is because it is unfair to make the respondent pay when what he did was not tortious under the law as it stood. After that, respondents have to pay because they are supposed to know what the new law is.

Basically, the Nuremberg trials were hypocritical, carefully dressed-up show trials. This is not to say that the Nazis on trial didn't get what they deserved.


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