Adventures in Low Culture II

Over the weekend I finished book 11 in the Aubrey/Maturin series, The Reverse of the Medal. At the risk of spoiling it for you, there is a truly marvelous scene at the climax of the action where Jack Aubrey is booted out of the Navy and sentenced to an hour in pillory after being found guilty of trumped up charges in a kangaroo court. Men are known to be blinded or otherwise maimed as people throw things at them in pillory, so Aubrey's friends fear for him in addition to rueing the shame of the matter. O'Brian builds the scene beautifully so your heart is pounding --Aubrey has so many political enemies and rivals, you don't know what may be about to befall him. But at the moment the lock closes on his neck, someone in the raucus crowd shouts, "Off hats," and it turns out the entire square is nothing but men who have sailed with Aubrey, and they stand there saluting him for an hour, running off anyone hoping for a moment of Schadenfreude. The whole matter turns into a public relations disaster for the politically motivated Judge, who is seen to have vastly overstepped his authority. Even Aubrey's naval rivals consider it a blot on the Service that a post-captain should be so treated.
Although a mensch of a seaman, Aubrey is stunningly naive about matters political and economic, so he's always being suckered by sharps of various kinds. As he awaits trial, blithe to trust himself to the impartial justice of British courts and a jury of Englishmen, his friend Maturin --aware that the fix is already in-- tries to soften the blow a bit by telling him the true nature of the case. Aubrey will have none of it, but see if this sounds familiar to you. Citing Gibbon, Maturin starts in:
I do remember the first lines. They ran, "It is dangerous to entrust the conduct of nations to men who have learned from their profession to consider reason as the instrument of dispute, and to interpret the laws according to the dictates of private interest; and the mischief has been felt, even in countries where the practice of the bar may deserve to be considered as a liberal occupation." He thought --he was a very intelligent man, of prodigious reading-- that the fall of the Empire was caused at least in part by the prevalence of lawyers.
I should quit, but can't resist a little more.
Men who are accustomed over a long series of years to supposing that whatever can somehow be squared with the law is right --or if not right than allowable-- are not useful members of society; and when they reach positions of power in the state they are noxious. They are people for whom ethics can be summed up by the collected statutes. . . . .To the question, "What are your sentiments when you are asked to defend a man you know to be guilty?" many will reply, "I do not know he is guilty until the judge, who has heard both sides, states that he is guilty."
With apologies to my friends who are lawyers, the passage goes gloriously on an on. The last line above, however, is akin to what I was saying in an earlier post today --we need more jurists who can think critically about what judges do rather than assuming that judges are infallible.