Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

IF Mr Chris Patten has not suggested that the IRA should sit on the police boards in Ulster, it is a great shame.

Self-help was written into Roman law. Individuals had the right to defend themselves, and the state depended on private citizens bringing criminals to court for prosecution. It was up to the court to decide who had acted legitimately. This produced interesting consequences for thugs in the provinces.

Provincial bandits under the Roman empire often legitimised their activities by attaching themselves to a rich landowner and protecting his property (many a mafioso started in the same way). But since there were laws against both harbouring bandits on estates and building up private forces, the landowner was going to require some means of demonstrating that the bandits in question had worthwhile, legal jobs.

After all, as a respectable member of society, an aristocrat needed to maintain his wealth in order to compete with others and win the esteem of the public by his benefactions. He could not do this if his thugs were wreaking havoc everywhere.

This consideration became even more important when the landowner carried out duties on the community's behalf. …

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