In Defense of Political Trials

By Charles F. Abel; Frank H. Marsh et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter Four
Justifying Political Trials
In our civilization, where people deliberately change their institutions from day-to-day in courts, legislatures, and administrative agencies, we need some practical way of taking our bearings and employing our courts appropriately toward necessary ends. We need a coherent and realistic framework to help us decide what to do and how to go about doing it. The purpose of this chapter is to show how we might determine what is happening around us so that we can properly evaluate the political trials that are occurring and cope with our civilization by using the right kind of political trial at the right time.We have shown that our political and legal situation is a reflection of our social experience. That experience is the basis for deciding what trials are political and which political trials are justified. To do this, we suggest a framework for comparing these experiences as offered by Philip Nonet and Philip Selznick in their book Law and Society in Transition: Toward Responsive Law. 1 Nonet and Selznick suggest that the varieties of political, economic, and social experience (i.e., a civilization's "form of life") result in a legal system with three "characteristic postures:"
1. repressive (the legal system is the servant of a repressive power)
2. autonomous (the legal system is a differentiated institution capable of taming repression and protecting its own integrity)
3. responsive (the legal system acts as a facilitator in response to social needs and aspirations)

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