The idea that civic justice is dispassionate, cerebral, cool-headed, impartial, and rule-governed while archaic vengeance is passionate, visceral, obsessive, hot-headed, partisan, and wild is challenged by the observation that all attention to injustice, even in the most modern societies, is selective. The principle of selection is seldom the degree of injustice, moreover, but usually something much more emotionally searing, namely the distinction between them and us. The inevitable selectivity of all attention to injustice, even in purportedly civilized societies, raises the Eumenides question: can justice transcend revenge?
Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law. He previously taught at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. His fields of specialization include the history of liberalism, the disappointments of democratization after communism, and the difficulty of combating terrorism within the limits of liberal constitutionalism. He is the author of Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (1984), The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (1993), Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (1995), and The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror (2007). He is co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (1999) and (with Moshe Halbertal) of The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (2017) as well as The Light That Failed: A Reckoning (with Ivan Krastev, 2019).