Natural Law and Vengeance: Jurisprudence on the Streets of Gotham

Abstract

Batman is allied with modern natural law in the way he relies upon reason to bring about his vision of ‘true justice’, operating as a force external to law. This vision of justice is a protective one, with Batman existing as a guardian—a force for resistance against the corruption of the state and the failures of the legal system. But alongside his rational means, Batman also employs violence as he moves beyond the boundaries of the civilised state into the dark and violent world outside law’s protection. He thus sacrifices his own safety to ensure the safety of others—he is a Dark Knight, a sentinel, fighting the nasty and brutish underworld of criminality in his effort to bring rational order to the world and protect the people of Gotham from criminal harm. This fight for justice is fuelled by a deeply private trauma: the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents: a private desire for vengeance that Batman transcends. In navigating Batman’s jurisprudential dimensions, we are ultimately reminded that private desires and motivations are enfolded within the public structures of justice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See [15: 51–74] for an account of the development of this kind of natural law theory.

  2. 2.

    But compare theological readings of Batman, such as [18].

  3. 3.

    Lon Fuller’s moral account of law is an example of this kind of impetus, giving us a list of moral precepts based on reasoned logic to which a ‘true’ legal system must adhere (see [6]).

  4. 4.

    For a detailed examination of the harm principle in law, see [22: 35–88].

  5. 5.

    It may be possible to simply rely on law’s legitimisation of violence, and hold that legitimate violence is that which is authorised by the state (see [26: 66]). But to say legitimate action is that which is deemed to be legitimate is unhelpfully circular, and ignores the question of what grounds or justifies that authorisation. Such an approach would also dismiss Batman as a mere vigilante, overlooking his potential nature as a resistant ‘natural’ force against problematic and failing state systems.

  6. 6.

    But, for discussion on the associations between Batman and Obama in the context of Agamben’s state of exception, see [2].

  7. 7.

    Smith and Alpert [24] focus on the US context, but in UK law the requirement of reasonableness in self-defence cases is enshrined in caselaw such as R v Williams [1984] 78 CR APP R 276. Although one’s response need not be ‘weighed to a nicety’ in the heat of the moment (Palmer v The Queen [1971] AC 814), it still needs to be broadly reasonable and not excessive. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 also requires that a citizen arrest is grounded in reasonable suspicion and that it would not be reasonable to allow a police officer to effect it instead (s24A(3)).

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Acknowledgments

Timothy Peters and Stephen Skinner both read previous drafts of this paper, and helpfully shared with me their dissatisfaction with various aspects of my work. I’d like to thank them for doing so. (The mysterious peer reviewers did a similar thing, and so attract similar thanks.)

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Giddens, T. Natural Law and Vengeance: Jurisprudence on the Streets of Gotham. Int J Semiot Law 28, 765–785 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-014-9392-7

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Keywords

  • Batman
  • Natural law
  • Violence
  • Justice/vengeance
  • Public/private
  • Resistance